Yesterday I picked up my knitting and started a new sock. It’s for a friend from yarn they bought. I have their foot measurements already, so I did a gauge swatch (I know, shocking for me!) and figured out the maths of the whole thing. This is much, much more organised than I usually am in sock knitting, but there’s a reason for it: if I’ve worked it out right, they’ll actually fit my friend.
In the past I’ve been lax about this, bizarrely. I’m a bit of a lax person when it comes to fine details anyway, so it’s not a shock that it transferred over to my knitting. Relaxed, that’s what I am. That sounds a lot better than ‘absent-minded and all over the place’. Sometimes I’ve knitted socks that barely fit my foot and are too loose around the leg, but I don’t care. I kept them, I wear them. I’m stubborn that way, and I still love my creations.
However, it is possible to make socks that actually fit, and I learnt that last year.
I think I mentioned that my friend and I went to a class with Kate Atherley at The Purple Purl. We turned up late because Toronto traffic is evil but even in that time we learnt so much.
Kate Atherley has very strong feelings on socks. I respect that. She showed us how to measure our feet and what gauge to aim for and what yarn is best for socks. By the end of the night I was so inspired by the awesomeness that is knitting and maths that I went out and designed my own shawl – not sure how that is what my brain took out of it, but you can’t account for the little grey cells.
If you want to learn about this magic and set your knitting brain aflame, you should check out Kate Atherley’s book Custom Socks: Knit to Fit Your Feet. No, this is not a sponsored post; I do not yet even own this book, though it’s on my wishlist and one day I shall have it, it shall be mine, my precioussss. However, I’ve had enough looks at it to know that it’s incredibly useful.
Even better, it’s logical thinking that’s tricked my illogical mind into actually planning ahead when knitting something. Sometimes. Okay, occasionally at best, but it’s a start.
Do you use unmodified patterns for socks or do you do your own thing to make it fit perfectly?
Whenever I talk about how much I love knitting with double-pointed needles (DPNs), people who aren’t converts talk about the ladder. It’s that awful run of loose stitches you get where you switch needles, and it does make your knitting look less than tidy.
It took me a long time to get the hang of avoiding that ladder and sometimes even now I’ll end up with one if I’m working at an unusual gauge, but I’ve mostly got the hang of avoiding it and this video shows you what I do.
I wasn’t feeling chatty so you get slightly sarcastic, extremely silly captions instead (which is basically my natural speaking tone anyway).
Oh, and you also get some old timey music to cheer you along. You’re welcome.
When I started this blog it was with the idea of documenting my rise from bemused beginner to a better knitter. I had only started knitting shortly before my first post and had no idea back then how much the craft would become a part of my life.
It’s my fifth year of knitting now and I’m still learning something new every day. That’s not an accident either: I am passionate enough about knitting that I want to get better, and getting better involves more than just idle practice of the same things over again. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I got past the initial stage of knitting straight scarves and grimacing at the thought of anything more complicated and this post is the result.
So here’s ten ways I’ve found helped to be a better knitter. If you have any to add let me know!
1. Know that you suck.
The first time I picked up the needles and awkwardly cast on I was terrified. Not because I might strangle myself with the acrylic yarn or stab myself with the aluminium needles, but because I was trying something new and had no idea whether I would be good at it.
That’s the problem with a lot of people when embarking on acquiring new skills: we expect to be perfect immediately without the normal learning curve or we abandon it. Yet without these times we’ll never get to the part where we can wield our tools without injury and/or embarrassment.
So embrace the fact you suck and don’t let it stop you. No one is an expert at first try.
2. Don’t be afraid.
The thought of tackling another skill, even one as fun and rewarding as knitting, can be daunting. What if you spend all that time learning and still suck? What if you waste money on lovely yarn you never use? What if someone laughs at your modest creations?
These thoughts are normal but they shouldn’t be all you think about. Sure, knitting is hard for most people at first but there’s no need to be afraid of it.
3. Find a knitting group
I’m biased in that I learned to knit purely because my friend started up a knitting group in my hometown but I truly believe that sitting with a bunch of other knitters will help you.
Maybe it’s osmosis, but I find that sitting with my knitter friends for any length of time makes me feel like I can knit anything ever. Maybe it’s the inspiration of seeing what other people are making or maybe it’s just the assurance of knowing there are people you can turn to when you have questions. Whatever it is, my knitting groups are the driving force behind my knitting addiction.
Plus they’re really fun.
4. Be patient.
As I said, knitting is hard for almost everyone when they first pick up the needles. If it is easy for you right off the bat you are, sorry to say, a bit of a freak. It takes patience to get through that initial stage no matter how frustrating it can be.
The largest chunk of your patience will be when you make a mistake and have to fix or rip it back. This is where you will need to take a deep breath, put down the needles for a few minutes, and back away from the flamethrower. It’s okay. You will get through this.
5. Learn how to fix mistakes.
After a solid week of knitting (I’m barely exaggerating here), I had a very long, far too wide scarf on my needles. I looked at it with pride and then, after a moment, with despair. It was not a rectangle any more. It was a strange off-centred shape where I had been added and subtracting stitches at the end of rows.
To most people it wouldn’t have been obvious but for me it was the end of the project. I threw it down and picked up a crochet hook then didn’t knit again for a few months. This was my first project (which eventually ended up covered in flowers and tied to a lamppost) and trying to fix it scared me too much to bother.
When I went on YouTube and figured out how to keep track of stitches and pick up dropped ones I began to see that fixing errors wouldn’t mean the end of the world and knitting became much easier.
6. Get on Ravelry.
Most knitters who read this blog will already be regulars of Ravelry. If you’re not you need to be. Even if you don’t frequent the message boards (which can be extra fun), there are thousands of patterns available both as a resource and a way of gaining inspiration.
You can search by yarn weight and yardage to find the perfect project for the skein you have instead of falling back on old ideas. You can see the many ways this creative culture shows off its skills. And if you get stuck, you can pop on the boards and ask a question with a few dozen answers in no time at all.
It’s not an exaggeration to say I wouldn’t be the knitter I am today without Ravelry.
7. Count Your Stitches.
This seems like an obvious one but it wasn’t for me. The way I became more than a confused beginner was by consciously counting my stitches both on the live stitches to find my place and the rows to see my progress.
Though this is easy enough on stockinette and only a little trickier on garter stitch, it becomes more complicated when we get to cables and lace-work. Working out how to read your knitting by counting the rows and stitches gives you an advantage as you’ll be able to spot when you go wrong much quicker. Even better, you’ll be able to gauge how to fix it without setting fire to it and/or throwing it out of the top floor window.
8. Try new things.
We are creatures of habit, us humans. We like to settle in with what we know and stick to it.
But that isn’t going to get you anywhere with knitting. Have a look around and find interesting things to try; Pinterest is a great resource for that, as is Ravelry. Pick out a new lace stitch and swatch it just to see what happens. Put a cable or two in your stockinette. Try short rows without bursting into tears.
If it turns out you don’t enjoy that new stitch, oh well. You’ve learned something along the way which is never time wasted.
9. Ignore other people’s fear.
When you whip out the DPNs and fingering-weight yarn you will probably get someone saying how they’ve never tried socks, they’re too hard. Or if you pick up the slender circular and cast on laceweight they will grimace and say they can’t imagine doing something that fiddly.
There is nothing inherently difficult about turning a heel and yet I was terrified of getting to it the first time I knitted a sock. Not because I thought I couldn’t figure it out but because so many people had already told me how difficult it was. They told me to use lifelines and not worry because no one turns a heel the first time successfully.
And then, perched on the edge of my seat with my teeth gritted, I did it. I turned a heel. No fireworks, no triumphant trombones, just an adorable rainbow sock whose twin I never made.
10. Stop reading and knit!
The biggest barrier to acquiring any new talent is time. If you can’t find the time then you won’t have the skill. Knitting is more labour-intensive than many people realise and it gets even worse (or better) once you’re hooked.
Knit whenever and wherever you can: on the train, at work (if you’re allowed), at home in front of the TV, out in the garden. Wherever you can pull out the WIP, do it. Every single stitch you complete is making you a better knitter.
As my friend once said, if you can’t find time to do something then you probably don’t want to do it all that badly anyway. If you want to be a better knitter, find the time to knit.