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Friday, January 15, 2016

Learning to Knit (if you already know how to crochet)

I learned to crochet first, and then learned to knit.  Why not, right?  I already had some spare yarn lying around and thought that knowing crochet should be beneficial in learning knitting.  In this case, it turns out that I made some major assumptions about knitting that I probably would not have if I started knitting first.  The key is figuring out which bits of information transfer to knitting and which do not.  I've been knitting for 2-3 years now and it's a wonderful addition to your arsenal of crafty knowledge.  Hopefully this little mini-guide will help save someone else the frustration I went through.  Here's what I learned:
  1. Learn how to look things up and keep yourself organized.  If you get stuck, google it or youtube it.  Especially in knitting, a video is worth a bajillion words.  I keep a bookmark folder on my browser for helpful tips I find and things I want to be able to refer back to later.  I also have a pinterest board just for knitting so I can keep everything in one place.  Also - if you don't already know about - go there!  It's a library of patterns for crochet and knitting plus a forum, plus help, plus awesome people.  You will need to make an account, but you'll probably end up wanting one anyway so you can keep track of projects you want to make.
  2. Holy crap there are so many abbreviations!  This may be true for crochet too, but you're already used to those and it doesn't seem like a big deal anymore.  You're going to have to get used to a whole new list of letters.  Get ahold of a nice guide to knitting abbreviations, like this one from
  3. Where to start with knitting needles?  There are three main types of knitting needles.  (Crochet only really has 1.  It's a hook.  You hook with it.  There is a slight style difference between in-line and tapered hooks and you can put a fancy handle on it, but it's still a stick with a hook on the end and there's just one kind.)  Knitting needles are what you will be using to create your knitting projects (just like your crochet hook in crochet).  There need to be more than just one type of needle, because in knitting, you make all your loops for a row at once, so you need somewhere for them to hang out until you come back to them.  For knitting a flat item, you will either want to work it on straight needles, or on circular needles with a cable (but don't join, just work flat).  For working an item in the round, you will want to use either a set of double pointed needles, or circular needles with a cable.  So here are the three types of needles (and keep in mind that there are different sizes, lengths, etc for each type):

    3A. Straight needles.  These look like a big old toothpick with a stopper on the end.  Here are some pictures of straight knitting needles.  These needles come in sets of 2.  For a typical project worked on these needles, you will 'cast on' (in crochet you start with a chain, but in knitting you will start by casting on, or placing your first set of loops on your needles) stitches to one needle and then use the second needle to work the loops into stitches.  Your work will travel back and forth between the two needles.  In my completely ignorant opinion, I'm guessing these were the first kind ever made way back in the day.  You make some flat panels and if you want, sew them together to make clothes.
    3B. Double pointed needles.  (Nobody says 'double pointed needles' be the way, they say "DPNs".  See? Another abbreviation, just for the damn needles!)  These come in set of 4 or 5 and they are smaller versions of the straight needles except they have no stoppers on the end.  Here are some pictures of DPNs (double pointed needles).  These are used to work items in the round.  You will 'cast on' stitches onto one, and then distribute them onto 2 or 3 more needles to form a circle and work around and around, using a spare needle to work the stitches.  So this was probably the second kind or idea of needles.  "Hey!", said someone, "Let's just make the garment in the round so we don't have to sew up the seams later.  I hate weaving in Ye Olde Yarn Tailes!"
    3C. Circular needles.  These are the weird looking ones.  They look like two straight needles connected by a flexible cord.  Here are some pictures of circular needles.  You can work both flat and in-the-round items and they allow you to make very small or very large items.  Because these are a combination of straight and double pointed needles, you can use these exclusively to make any project.  (I'm sure there are exceptions, but these are my go-to needles.)  Important note about these needles - you have some options (of course you have more options, like three different styles of needles were not enough!).  These come in two different styles, fixed and interchangeable.  Fixed means that the cords are stuck onto the needles and don't come off.  If it comes off, it means it's broken.  With interchangeable, the needles and cords unscrew from each other so you can use different cords with different needles.  (You can also get cord connectors to make a super super long cord.)  This is the exact set that I own: Knitter's Pride Dreamz Deluxe Interchangeable Long Tip Knitting Needle Set 200601  Just one more note about using these.  One of the limitations of the circular cords is that they are fixed lengths.  If you try to make a small item on a long cord, your stitches will stretch and you won't be able to continue.  There is a method of knitting called the Magic Loop Method (look this up!!) that fixes this and it will be your new best friend and you will plan a June wedding with it.  These needles are my favorite!  This is the needle of the era of having plastic and glue and stuff.

    So - where to start?  What should you buy?  Just like with starting to crochet, you may want to start by buying a little "Learn to Knit", or "My First Little Knitting Thingy Set".  Think about how you started to crochet - probably with just one or two hooks and some standard worsted weight yarn and you learned how to chain and then single crochet or whatever.  That's probably how you should start knitting, too.  You will probably not want to buy my favorite set of circular needles for $60 the first day you start knitting.  (Unless you're made of money, because then go ahead, who's counting?)  Even if you end up loving one style of needles, you'll probably still use the other kinds occasionally.  Get a set of standard size (to match whatever yarn you'll be practicing with) straight needles and get the basics down before trying anything complicated.
  4. What your needles are made out of matters.  With crochet, it didn't seem to make much of a difference if my hooks were aluminum (my favorite), or acrylic or wood or whatever.  You're using the hook part to manipulate the yarn, so who cares?  With knitting, you'll want to figure out what works best for you.  I like wooden needles.  Aluminum, which worked so great for my favorite crochet hooks, feels awkward for a knitting needle because it's so slippery that my stitches ended up falling off the needles before I could work them.
  5. Basic stitches.  So in crochet, you start with a chain stitch to make a long chain, then you work into those chains using single crochet, half double crochet, double crochet, etc stitches.  You can also slip stitch and make big giant stitches by wrapping your yarn a whole bunch first.  In knitting, you start a project by 'casting on', which means adding a bunch of loops to your needles, and then into those cast on loops you work either a knit stitch or a purl stitch (knitting just has 2 basic stitches, the knit and the purl).  Then at the very end, you 'bind off'' your loops and your item is done.  But!!, it's not that easy (of course it's not!).  Although knitting may just have two basic stitches, there is a huge variety of ways you can do your cast on and bind off.  Like a frigging million ways.  But don't worry and don't get overwhelmed - just find one way you like and remember that way to start out.  The first way I learned to cast on was I think just the basic knitted cast on.  My favorite way now is the long-tail cast on.  So why are there so many ways?  Style and structure.  Some look prettier than others.  Simple!  The other reason is structure: one of the benefits of knitted fabric is that you can control how stretchy your fabric is.  So, you will probably want your fabric's stretchiness to match your cast on's stretchiness.  If your cast on is too tight or too loose, it might ruin a garment.  Same with your bind off, or finishing of your stitches.  Here's a nice little guide on Craftsy of some basic cast ons.

    One more point about actually working your stitches.  Where the yarn is when you're working your stitches matters.  There are two options: behind the work and in front of the work.  Pay attention to where your yarn is and what stitches you're working.  Beginner guides to knitting should mention where to put it but here are two basic rules to remember: when you make a knit stitch, your working yarn should be held in the back (before you go to make the stitch, move your yarn to the back) and when you go to make a purl stitch, the yarn should be in front of the work or on the side toward your body (before you go to make the purl, move the yarn to the front.)  If you don't put it in the right place, you'll make an 'accidental yarn over', which is adding another loop of yarn to your work that you didn't want and will look confusing when you come back on the other side of the row.
  6. Increasing and decreasing.  Again, knitting has a lot more options for increasing and decreasing than crochet does.  Normally your patterns will tell you what kind to use.  This is because they can look very different and can be the difference between a nice looking project and a crappy one.  And again with these, they don't have a nice name, they're all abbreviations, so keep a guide handy and be aware that you'll probably have to look them up each time you run across them.
  7. How to place a marker in knitting.  This is one of those examples of something that you think "Ok how hard can this be, I know how to do this in crochet."  Wrong!  The shape of the markers are different and the use is also different.  In crochet, you use a marker with a hook shape to go around the actual yarn of your stitch.  (I use paperclips with the ends bent up.)  When you come back to that stitch, you know your marker means you do something special or it's the beginning of your last round or whatever.  In knitting, markers are closed circles/rings and they slide onto your needle between the stitches.  So instead of referring to a specific stitch, a marker will be a stopping point between stitches and you will know you need to do something special starting at that point.  Your pattern will tell you something like "knit until two stitches before the marker" or "slip the marker (abbreviated "sm")".  Slipping the marker just means move it over to the next needle - nothing special there.  Markers for knitting are inexpensive.  You can buy some here, or make your own.  You can even just use a loop of contrasting color yarn!
  8. Basic types of knitted fabric.  There are a few types of fabric you'll want to master before moving on to more complicated patterns.  You'll be using the two basic stitch types: knit stitch and purl stitch.  The point of this is to learn how those two stitches interact with each other and how they look when worked on the front and back of the same fabric.  Keep in mind that this will be different depending on if you're working on a flat piece and turning it back and forth, or working in the round and only ever working on one side.

    A. Stockinette stitch.  This fabric is the classic knitted style featuring neat rows of V's.  (If you look at any of your t-shirts or sweatshirts, you will see tiny rows of machine made V's - same thing!)  To make this as a flat piece, you knit every stitch on the right side (which makes the V shape) and purl every stitch on the wrong side of the fabric (purls and knits are sort of the opposite of each other, so a purl on the wrong side will look like a knit on the right side).  In the round, you will knit every row, because you will only be working on the right side of the fabric.  Pictures of stockinette stitch.

    B. Garter stitch.  This fabric looks like little rows of ruffles.  In a flat piece, it's made by knitting every stitch.  In the round, it's made by knitting and purling alternating rows.  Pictures of garter stitch.

    C. Rib stitches.  Ribbing refers to vertical stripes of alternating knits and purls on the same side (instead of working all the stitches knit or purl like in stockinette or garter, you will switch between knitting and purling on the same side in the same row)  So ribs are made by alternating groups of knit and purl stitches of any number, but commonly you will work ribs of knit 1/purl 1, or knit 2/purl 2.  The knit stitches (looks like a V) tend to push out toward the front of the garment while purl stitches (looks like a horizontal bar) tend to push backward.  This creates a wavy, stretchy, ribbed fabric.
    More info on knit stitches.
  9. How to hold your yarn and needles.  In crochet, you hold the hook in your dominant hand and the yarn with your other hand.  Makes sense - you're doing all the real work with just one hand.  In knitting, both hands are a little more involved.  There are two styles of knitting: 1. English (hold the working yarn in your RIGHT hand) and 2. Continental (hold the working yarn in your LEFT hand).  The difference is pure personal preference.  Here's the interesting part to me.  Because you already crochet, and probably already hold the yarn in your left hand, most people will tell you that it will be easier to work continental and just keep holding that yarn in your left hand.  I found the opposite to be true.  You're not used to actually manipulating the yarn with your non-dominant hand like you will need to do with knitting.  You will probably want to learn both eventually because there are benefits to both, but I suggest starting with the English (yarn in the right hand) style.  I liked starting with this because each stitch felt like it's own separate, distinct process, so I could get used to making the stitches without a lot of finger waggling and stitch dropping.  This way also helps you use the yarn's own tension to pull the stitches where they need to go.
  10. A note on how to use the needles.  Because I crocheted already, I found myself subconsciously trying to use the needle as a crochet hook, and it will probably happen to you, too.  If you find yourself trying to coax your yarn with the tip of the needle, you're probably having this issue.  The key to knitting is to poke the needle into and out of your loops and slide the needle back and forth to manipulate the yarn.
  11. Dropping stitches.  This is apparently like the boogey man of knitting or something.  The crochet version, if there is one at all, would be accidentally pulling on your working yarn and ripping out the stitches you just made.  It's a bit of a bigger deal in knitting, because you have all your loops open and on the needles.  If you accidentally drop a stitch off of your needles, each loop below that loop in a vertical line can come unworked, all the way down to your cast on edge.  Fixing dropped stitches is not a big deal.  It's really not.  It may be difficult at first to identify exactly what's going on, but you have an advantage as a crocheter, because... you fix knitting mistakes with a crochet hook!  That's right!  You're already set up and ready to go because you already crochet.  (When I knit, I like to keep an appropriate size crochet hook nearby in case this happens.)  There are already a lot of guides out there that show you step by step exactly how to pick up dropped stitches, so I will just outline the process: (step 1 is don't freak out because you'll make it worse.  Gently set your knitting down on a flat surface and don't touch it until you identify exactly what's going on) basically you find where your stitch has stopped unraveling, stick your hook into the loop to keep it from ripping out more and chain just like in crochet, using the yarn in each row above to pull up a new loop to replicate what your knitting looked like.  I would suggest (after you learn how to make stitches) that you do this on purpose so you can learn what it looks like and how to fix it.  Make a little swatch of stockinette, work a few rows, then drop one stitch off your hook and tug on it a little and watch how the knitting unravels down each row.  Then figure out how to fix it so it won't be a big deal later during a project.  The more stitches that drop off, the harder it will be to fix, so do knit carefully!

    Lifelines: Something you should learn about right away is how to use a Lifeline.  All this is, is yarn of a contrasting color that you weave into your knitting with a yarn needle to keep it from unraveling in case you drop a stitch.  You may want to do this every few rows as you start out, or after you finish a particularly difficult row.  It works just like your knitting needle does.  There's something inside the loop, so it can't pull out.
  12. Learn how to 'read' your knitting.  You should also do this with your crochet.  (And if you can't look at your crocheted work and figure out what you did, now is a great time to take a moment and learn - it will help you when you start to knit as well!)  It will make you a better knitter/crocheter, help you fix your mistakes, and help you look at completed knitting/crocheting and identify how it was made.  Also - you will be able to figure out exactly where you are in a pattern or row so you don't have to start over.  Learning to read your work does take some time and experience, but keep in mind that it will come faster if you pay careful attention to what your stitches look like when you make them.  Don't just concentrate on getting it done, watch how the stitches are getting formed and what they look like before and after they are worked.  The main step to getting started is to be able to identify the difference between a knit stitch and a purl stitch.  When you look at the work directly below your loop on the needle, you with either see a "V" shape (that's a knit) or a little horizontal bar (that's a purl).  Be sure to work loosely enough so you can see the difference.  Here is a great guide I love about how to read your knitting.
  13. Learn how to do Tunisian Crochet.  Tunisian crochet is a great transition from crochet to knitting because it's like a combination of both of them.  There are special tunisian hooks you can buy, but you can also just use your current crochet hooks.  You'll learn how to pull up stitches onto your hook all along the row and then work them so you can get used to having a bunch of loops on your knitting needles.  My absolute favorite tunisian guides are from Mikey at the Crochet Crowd.
  14. How do you knit something that is longer than your needles?  This was a big burning question I had when I first started knitting.  In crochet, you can go as long as you want because you're completing each stitch as make it.  Not so with knitting - all those loops need a place to live until you bind off.  There are really two answers to this question.  One is - make a bunch of pieces and then sew them together to get the length you want.  The other - using very long cables on circular needles (and connect multiple cables with connectors) to get the length that you want.
So - getting started and some final thoughts...

There are a million knitting 101 guides, so really just pick one and start going.  (Just don't pay for one.  Remember that any company that wants to sell you yarn will give you information and patterns for free.  And there are a lot of yarn companies out there.  For example, here's a complete free guide on how to knit from Lion Brand.)  I would suggest learning how to cast on (any method) and then pull it off your needles and do it again until it feels natural.  Then learn how to work the knit stitch and just knit all your loops back and forth until that feels natural too.  Then learn to purl, then learn to use knit and purl to make patterns.  Then learn to bind off (any method).

Ok so once you've got all that down, you'll probably want to know what your first project should be.  I recommend making a scarf.  It's simple in design and has no increases or decreases.  You can make it any dimension you want and use any combo of knits and purls you want.  If that sounds boring, google 'first knitting project' and find something you like.  Keep in mind that your choice of yarn will make a difference.  Pick a fiber content that is slightly stretchy and can take a bit of a beating.  Acrylic is perfect, but I would not recommend cotton (no stretch).  No need to spend a boat load of money for your first try.  Make sure it's a light color because they are easier to work with.  Pick a thickness of yarn that will be easy to use as well - the bigger the better in my opinion.  Worsted weight will work just fine too, just don't go too small that you can't see what you're doing.

One last little tip.  I like to keep a project journal for all my creative endeavors, whether it be knitting, crochet, origami, sewing, etc. where I write down the date, the project, the materials, etc so I can look back on it and see what I've done already.  This is especially helpful for recalling what brand/color/size/hook/needle that you used for a project.  If you ever want to know, it's all right there in your journal.  I use a big graph paper notebook just like this one.

I hope you give knitting a try!

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