How to Level Up in Knitting

I was browsing a knitting forums this morning and came across a post where someone was asking whether knitting will eventually stop being clunky or if knitting is not for them.  Ultimately the answer is yes and no.  It is probably a question that every maker has asked themselves at one point in their crafting lifetime.  The real question is, will I ever be able to master this art or craft?  Even if you don’t think it is the right question, trust me, it really is.

While most of us probably grew up believing that you either had talent or that you needed to have the genes for something or you just couldn’t do it.  Be that math, basketball or crocheting, across the board, many of us believe that there is some innate quality that you must possess to be good at something.  I have blogged about talent before.  Yet, I have never actually written about the steps that you can take to move from newbie to intermediate.  In short, this is about leveling up.

I am mostly talking about skill.  At school learning math was simple, first you learn your numbers, then you add, subtract, multiply and divide.  In that order.  There is a reason why it is done in order, it is progressive and you go on from knowing nothing, to understanding the mechanics of it and finally being able to apply the rules and law on your own.  With time and practice, you can do it all in your head and it stops being so hard.  My other favorite example is driving.  In the beginning it is very awkward, especially if you learned how to do it on a stick shift.  Nowadays, I drive home, park the car and realize that my body does the driving while my brain just monitors the road for dangers that I need to avoid.

Knitting has its rules too.  Add time and practice and your hands will know what to do.  If you want to read more about this check out Thinking Fast and Slow and The Talent Code.

If you are an extremely adventurous person skip the next section and go to the end.

First learn the basic stitches.  Knitting and purling are the fundamental stitches.  Master these and you can make a ton of things.  Scarves are what a lot of people start with and I don’t agree.  Knit a washcloth.  Those are small and easy to carry around.  First just knit a basic garter stitch one.  Then a stockinette one.  Once you are feeling comfortable with the knits and purls, knit one in seed stitch, cast on an odd number of stitches and then knit 1, purl 1, until the end finishing with a knit stitch.

Experiment.  Try needles made using different materials.  If you learned to knit English try Continental.  Use a thinner yarn or a thicker yarn.  You might not, you probably will not, like a lot of these changes but you just might come across a tweak that makes knitting easier for you.  The reason I say this now, is that in the very beginning, I had read a couple of recommendations that bamboo needles are great for beginners.  I hated them with such a passion that I gave them away within a week of purchasing them.  They gripped, they slowed me down and I just hated the way they felt in my hands. 

Learn to read patterns and charts so you can follow them and try new things.  Then you can throw them out and do your own thing if you want.  But you have to learn to read before you write a novel.

Once you have mastered the above you can move onto increases and decreases.  This opens the door for lace and garments.  The easiest increase is the yarn over.  Find a washcloth pattern that has both and make one.  That is it.  Just do it, don’t over think it, make it mistakes, frog and repeat.  The objective is not the finished object, it is the process.

You will eventually learn how to fix your mistakes, either by starting over or by using a lifeline or a crochet hook.  It doesn’t matter, you will get there eventually.  Mistakes are not permanent in knitting and that is a very beautiful thing.  You can always rip back and the yarn will not be ruined, it will just be yarn again that you can enjoy the next time around.

Your next task in leveling up is knitting in the round.  This adds socks and seamless garments to your ability repertoire.

Learn to read your knitting is one of the most useful skills you can learn.  It is being able to see what stitch is what and how many rows you have finished and if there is something that needs to be fixed.  It helps you hit the Ctrl-Z /Ctrl-Y combo on your knitting without having to guess what to do.  It also helps when you have put it down for a while (or minutes depending on your memory span) and being able to find out where you are.

By now you might have already gotten to the Understand Yarn bit by trial and error.  Not all yarn is just yarn, fiber content matters.  Wool has memory, while cotton is great for many things, it does tend to sag and stretch with use.  Acrylic is not my favorite but there are some really soft acrylics that are wonderful because of the amount of abuse you can throw at them.  Test different things.  Try new things.

Never back down from a challenge. Sometimes you might want to put down the needles and walk away slowly, but don’t be afraid.  Get frustrated and put your project bag in the corner while you chill.  Then pick it back up again.  You will get over this hurdle, after all it is just an obstacle and you can find your way over or around it.  Just remember we all struggled with learning how to spell, some of us still do (I am looking at you “believe”).

For all of you brave adventurous souls, disregard everything I said, find a lace sock pattern you love and just knit that.  It might be terribly frustrating but it will be a glorious experience if you can power through it and you will have leveled up in a single project.  I bow my head to you in respect.

Congratulations!  You have leveled up, nothing can stop you now. So …

Do it all over again.  Try cabling or double knitting.  Fall in love with brioche and color-work.  The world is yours for the taking.


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