Introduction to Knitting Part 1: Casting on and the Tools to Get There.
Written by Liona Graves
To get started with knitting is fairly simple, in theory. You need a skein of yarn and your knitting needles. Simple, almost; that is what I was thinking many years ago when I got the inclination to try to pick up the hobby.
There is a wide variety of both yarn and needles to choose from. Various brands, thicknesses, colors, fibers, and prices. To get started I recommend using an inexpensive brand of needles and yarn such as Boye and Red Heart. This can be found in most stores that carry crafting items such as Micheal’s and Wal-Mart.
I recommend for beginners to start with a size US 8 knitting needle set. This size is often used in a majority of projects and is a great size as they're not too bulky, but also not too fragile. Straight needles are also what you need to look for when starting out. Double pointed needles and circular needles are wonderful for specific projects but not necessary for learning the basics and starting out.
There are several different companies that make knitting needles out of several different types of materials. It is very important to pay attention to needle size based on where your needles come from. Needles that are labeled with “US” and a number are sized based on measurements recognized in the United States. Needles that are measured in millimeters, written as “mm” for short, are sized based on the metric system; which is often used in European countries. So an example of what to look for would be needles that are labeled as US 8 would be the equivalent of 5mm needles.
When I chose to pick up the needles roughly 17 years ago I also picked up a “how-to” book from my local Wal-Mart. This happened to be part of a kit that included needles, stitch holders, and a row counter with the booklet. Yarn sold separately.
Picking out your yarn is the one aspect of learning to knit that can bring you almost as much joy as completing your project can. My personal favorite way to pick yarn is to go yarn squishing. This is where I go to the store and give skeins of yarn a quick squeeze, enjoying the feel of the various textures and levels of soft thicknesses. Of course with the world in the current state that it is, I do not go yarn squishing anymore. Instead, I rely solely on reading the labels and the colors.
On the labels of the skeins, you will be able to see what type of fibers the yarn is made from, including: the thickness, the color name, how to care for the yarn, the size of knitting needle recommended to use with the yarn and the dye batch that each skein came from. That is a lot of information, you say. Yes, but it is very important as it all plays a part in helping you be able to make your project Your Project.
Fiber type is important to pay attention to as it will play a big part in what you make with your yarn. Yarn that is 100% cotton is the go to fiber most knitters go to for dish towels and pot holders as it will not melt when near heat. It is also the most absorbent with water, making it a great yarn for washcloths and bath towels, too. Acrylic blends are often an inexpensive go to for clothing, bedding, and toys. Easy to wash and easy to take care of. A word of caution though, do not use near heat as it will melt! Wools, silks, and other blends are wonderful for soft and fine lace projects but be prepared to follow a variety of special care notes to keep your projects in good repair.
Picking the Right Pattern
Patterns are the blueprints that each project needs in order to be constructed correctly. The part of the hobby I have enjoyed the most I think has been “window shopping” patterns, specifically online. There is a limitless wealth of patterns to be found on a nearly endless amount of social media groups, websites, and search browser inquiries. My personal social resource that I use is Facebook. I simply did a group search for knitting and yarn and came up with probably too many choices. It was from there I was introduced to Ravelry.com. This website is incredibly amazing so much is there. The most amazing part is all the wonderful people that you can socialize with and get tips and answers to questions as a new knitter. Oh my gosh, there is such amazing moral support too!
Other resources, though definitely less personable, include subscriptions to knitting magazines, and themed pattern books. For those who still want to look online, you can go through eBay, Etsy, Amazon, and Pinterest.
Now you know where to find patterns and information about your patterns. Why do you actually need a pattern? Can’t you just make things up as you go? The answer is: absolutely, yes. But I will tell you that following a pattern can make things a lot easier. A pattern gives your work guidance and direction, like having a cookbook to reference before making apple pie. You may already know the general idea behind how to make it, but without the cookbook, you risk forgetting something or adding too much of an ingredient. The same applies here with patterns. It tells you how many stitches to cast on, how many rows you need, and what type of stitches, yarn, and needles to use.
There are two primary formats for patterns: those that are written out row by row, often with abbreviations for the stitches, and those that are depicted with charts and graphs. The stitches here are shown as symbols that are described in an adjacent key. Another difference between the two types is that a written one is read like normal, meaning read top to bottom and left to right on the page, while a chart/graph is read with odd rows right to left and even rows left to right.
Now that you have your tools, what is the next step?
To cast on is to create the first set of loops, or stitches that you will use as the foundation for your entire project. The very basic way of starting this is to tie a loop onto the left needle if you are right-handed, and on the right needle if you are left-handed.
Make this loop tight enough to not fall off of your needle but leave enough room to fit both needles into it without losing its tension. Once this loop has been made, insert your right needle into the loop so the tip is on the far side of the left needle, facing away from you. Then, wrap your yarn around the tip of the right needle, and pull this down through the loop that was tied onto the left needle. This should form a figure eight between the two needles. Pass the new loop from the right needle onto the left needle. There should now be two loops on your left needle, and none on your right needle. Repeat this process until you have the desired amount of stitches cast on to begin your project.
How do I know how many stitches I need to make?
Casting on can be a challenge for some. I encourage you to not give up. I encourage you to keep trying. Once you have mastered this basic step you will be able to pick up the knit stitch fairly easily.
Keep your first “project” very simple. When teaching my knitting classes I often have my students start by being able to successfully cast on between 10-20 stitches. This will give you the width for your project, I often go with having my students make a simple bookmark. This gives them the feel of how to do things, without overwhelming them with stress and/or the worry of perfection.
Take a deep breath, pick up your needles and yarn, and let us begin!