Now that you’ve got the basics of knitting, I’ll bet you’re ready to tackle a real project. The first time with a pattern can be a little overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect.
What should you choose? There’s always the go-to beginner project: a scarf. There’s nothing wrong with a scarf for a starting project, but it can get a bit tedious. I vaguely remember a turquoise scarf-ish shape knit on bamboo needles. I quit knitting for about 4 years after that experience. The project after that? In 2010, I dove straight in and started a cabled blanket, which I quit after 2 feet.
My point is, find something you think you’ll like. I’m a diehard fan of fearless knitting, but it’s not for everyone, especially at the start. Go to Ravelry and browse. In the search area, scroll down to near the bottom of the page. You can adjust the pattern search by Difficulty. Pick where you feel comfortable.
I think hats, fingerless mitts, and cowls are great first projects. Knitting in the round is very easy once you get the hang of it, and if the project is stockinette, you just have to knit round and round and round. Prefer flat? There are seamed hats, mitts, and cowls, too!
Ready? Let’s get started.
You don’t have to follow these steps, but this is how I approach a pattern.
1. Yarn: Take a look at the yarn. The pattern should tell you what weight. If not, check out the name and brand of the yarn and do an Internet or Ravelry search. You can usually find the weight that way. If you’re going to use a different yarn than what the designer chose, make sure your yardage matches up. More yarn is always preferable than running out of yarn before you’re done. I usually buy one skein/hank extra specifically for the swatches.
2. Needles: What size needles are recommended? That’s right, I said recommended, not required. I’m a loose knitter, so I know I need to automatically start 2 sizes smaller. You? You might be the same, you might knit tighter. Needle size is more of a suggestion.
3. Notions/Tools: Will you need a cable needle? Stitch markers? Buttons or safety eyes?
4. Gauge: The gauge swatch is how you find out what size needle you’ll actually use. Why swatch? I don’t worry too much about the gauge when working on something that doesn’t have to fit a body (like a blanket or toy). If I’m making a hat, mittens, or a sweater, I need to know it’s going to fit the intended person.
So how do you swatch? Easy. Look at the gauge in the pattern. It should say something like so many stitches (horizontal measurement) by so many rows (vertical measurement) for a 4 inch by 4 inch square. Guess which needle you think you’ll need based on the pattern. Cast on a few more stitches than what the horizontal measurement calls for. Knit in stockinette stitch until you have a square. Cast off.
Some people knit a long swatch, changing needle sizes at different points, like what I did when showing you how to knit. I have a hard time with my measurements that way, so I keep everything separate. Go up a size for one swatch and down a size for another swatch. When I need something to fit, I make 3-4 swatches.
Now, block the swatch. This seems like a long process, doesn’t it? I mean, you’re dying to get started! I’m dying to get started. If it needs to fit, though, you (and I) need to just suck it up and go through the process. Once the swatch is dry, measure. Pick the needle size that got you the proper or closest to the proper gauge size.
5. Abbreviations: Read on in the pattern. There should be a list of abbreviation definitions. Here are some examples you might run into:
- K: Knit
- P: Purl
- K2Tog: Knit two together (type of decrease)
- SSK: Slip as if to knit, slip as if to purl, knit the two stitches together (type of decrease)
- PM: Place (stitch) marker
- KFB: Knit front and back in one stitch (type of increase)
- TBL: Through the back loop, usually but not exclusively knit
- M1: Make one new stitch
- YO: Yarnover
- PSSO: Slip one stitch, knit the next stitch, pass the slipped stitch over the knit one (type of decrease)
- RS: Right side, usually the knit side of stockinette
- WS: Wrong side, usually the purl side of stockinette
If I run into an abbreviation I don’t recognize, I’m off to YouTube. I know I’ll be back when I actually get to that stitch in the pattern, but I find it helps to know what’s coming ahead of time.
6. The Instructions: I don’t do a close read at this point, though I probably should. I’m mostly looking to see if there are going to be any surprises. Is the project knit in pieces and seamed? What kind of assembly is required? Anything weird I might have to look up later? Are the instructions asking for a certain kind of cast-on and cast-off?
Deep breath. You have your yarn, with at least one extra skein for safety. You’ve picked out your needles. You’re familiar with the pattern. Now’s the fun part. Get started!
For those who have already been knitting: What was your first project?