Help for the knitting-challenged

Hi crafty Dopers,

I can cast on; I can cast off. I can perform both knit and purl stitches. I vaguely understand the mechanics of yarn forward, and the reduce (reduce?) thingy when you stitch two stitches together. But for the life of me, I can’t knit. I could maybe do you a scarf. Maybe. With those massive one inch diameter needles, so it only takes a few hours and I don’t get bored. Provided I have some lovely, lovely yarn.

What am I missing? Why can’t I follow a knitting pattern to save my life? Can anyone recommend a book/website/technique that will, once and for all, lodge this in my brain? One of my old housemates was a textile artist, and, bless, tried her hardest to educate me. (She did almost suceed in teaching me to crochet - but, similarly, I’ve got the basic crochet steps down, but trying to decipher instructions? Nah.)

I’m going to the 130th National Sheep and Wool Show this weekend, and I intend to buy yarn with my tax return. Can you save it from languishing in my yarn bag for all eternity? Or, worse, becoming another ugly, lumpy scarf?


Stitch markers. They’re cheap and they’re very useful. What you do is read the pattern and note where any particular repeats of the pattern stitch start. Then, once you’ve cast on and gotten to the point where the pattern stitch begins, you mark the beginning and the end of the pattern area by slipping the markers on when you come to that point. After that, you don’t have to worry about counting stitches between the pattern repeats, just about keeping track of the actual pattern stitch when you’re knitting it.

There are other uses for them, as well, and you can just add stitch markers if you’re doing something like a shawl where you’re adding stitches every row or every few rows.

Just keep making scarves until your comfort level catches up with you. Knit an afghan if you like. By the time you’re done, you’ll be ready.

Then get Knitting Without Tears. You’ll never cry over a misread pattern again.

there is a series of books by Sally Melville “The Knitting Experience” Starts with the knit stitch and goes into detail about how to knit from the very beginning, how to read patterns, how to size etc. They each have lots of interesting things to make and different levels of ability and even have an “how to fix my oops” section. I highly recommend them.

If you’re me, you’ll take up crochet and then knitting will be dead to you. :slight_smile: Crochet is much easier to frog out and revise because its built stitch-on-stitch rather than row-on-row like knitting. Yes, you can backtrack in knitting but it is much more difficult.

Come to the dark side!

I second the Sally Mellville book recommendation! In fact, I’m giving you an assignment. Get the first one - the one that focuses on the knit stitch only. Got it? Good. Now, go to the Einstein coat pattern. You’re going to make this. It’s a whole coat made just in knit stitch with only two smallish seams and just some decreases in the sleeves and five yarn over buttonholes. It’s done on large-ish needles with a bulky wool and, as the pattern says, it’s a lot of knitting but it’s also a huge confidence builder and, once blocked, a really nice coat. I used Reynolds Lopi (which is very cooperative if you have to frog) and it cost me over $100 but you can get much cheaper wool from (US addresses only) or perhaps the wool festival you’ll be attending will have something.

What’s that you say? You’ll boil in that coat? Okay, make the Not So Warm Coat. Oh, you like knitting for children or babies? Make the smaller Einstein or the Baby Albert.

I, personally, am not a fan of Zimmerman (sorry, lissener ) and I dislike crocheting. But I love that Sally Melville!

Start with simple patterns…knitting and purling. Michael’s has good pamphlet-sized books for dishcloths…they’re simple, not a huge project, and you can get comfortable with following instructions.

Learn the abbreviations. YO is yarn over, k1tbl is Knit one stitch through the back loop, etc. Most books will have definitions of the abbreviations.

My book of choice is The Idiot’s Guide to Knitting. She covers a lot, and that should get you far enough along that you can learn the more intricate stuff from there.

I agree with Keep On Making Scarves until your comfort level catches up.
You could always switch to wool potholders to felt. I have a handful ( ha) of mismatched potholders that I love and made in my first months of knitting. I am into my third year of this fantastically obsessive obsession.
Just take your time and don’t compare yourself to That Person Who Knit a Sweater on Her Very First Try. Those people are very far and few between. and freaks of nature.
I’m just grasping the concept of reading and following a pattern myself. I’ve done socks but reading a pattern makes my brain hurt. I’m pretty sure I have some kind of glitch upstairs for Reading Instructions in general. I wing it on just about every aspect of life ( cooking and whatnot). My husband refers to this as Freeballin’.
I will second Knitting without tears. EZ is a Goddess. If you get a chance to find or rent A Knitting Glossary with Elizabeth Zimmerman and Meg Swanson pick it up. It is a wonderul DVD to hold your hand through those pesky newer stitches, casts on and cast offs with video clips that are concise. It is like having your grandmother teach you to knit.

Another brilliant instructional DVD, which will probably be a pistol to find down under is Lucy Neatby for sock knitting.
Ppppppsssssssttttt: have you heard about Ravelry . It is still in its beta phase and I just got my invite after 2 months of jonesing. It’s pretty impressive so far, even with glitches.

Take your camera for some pictures for knitters who cannot attend because Australia is too far away. It sounds like loads of tradition and fibery goodness.

Have fun!

I’m still waaaitiiiiing… I see they now have a look up where you are on the list thing though. There’s still 1388 people in front of me. :frowning:

As for following a pattern. Start small. Take a pattern which only uses the stitches you know, and as was suggested use the stitch markers for repeats so you don’t really have to think about what you are doing.

And try to be patient! Not everything knits up fast, I’ve been working on a lacy scarf for almost 2 months now (I think) because I’m a slow knitter. If you want instant gratification try a pattern using big needles or small patterns. If you feel up to douple pointed needles, fingerless gloves are good for nearly instant graitification (I can do one in a couple hours in front of the tv) or dish cloths… I made a lot of dishcloths when I was younger (still do, when I need a new one).

I agree with knitting scarves till you feel more comfortable. Maybe start with some pretty multicolored yarn (but stick with regular wool - eyelash yarn and other novelty yarns look great, but they are a pain when you are getting started and need to see your stitches clearly) and do a whole scarf in garter stitch. Then maybe use plain wool and try different stitch patterns as you move along, to give it texture and give yourself some practice.

I know for me, I cannot read a pattern and have any clue how it will actually work out. This is probably the area of my life where I come closest to having faith! I just sit down and start knitting, following the instructions. Soon it starts to become clear how the pattern works, and I have an easier time.

I even conquered a two-color brioche stitch with I-cord edging, with the help of knitting message boards and the ladies at the yarn shop. Can’t show it to you because my camera software’s gone missing, but it’s really cool. So anyway, definitely look for a good local yarn store, and get help from the staff, especially if you have to rip out work!

Also try Knitting Help. They have a glossary of common knitting pattern abbreviations, plus videos for a lot of different techniques. It helped me a lot when I first started knitting. The videos are easier to understand than diagrams in books.

Start simple, and just practice. Patterns looked like another language to me at first, and now I understand them much better.

<---- **You are #14210 on the list.
7902 people are ahead of you in line. **


I’d also recommend these books, if you insist upon learning how to read a pattern. BTW, what does go wrong when you try and do a pattern?

But if you can cast on, cast off, knit, purl, increase, and decrease, you can knit.

Patterns are wonderful for people like me who are too mathematical for our own good and need to impose insane amounts of order on our creativity in order to be comfortable.

But there is a voice that knows that the a basic sweater is two squares and two trapezoids that get sewn together and if I just cast on for a while, knit for a while, cast off and then blocked, I could get a decent sweatshirt. I won’t do that, because there’s no counting and I psychologically need counting. But I’m well aware that it could be done. Over the weekend, get some yarn you like and try it.

Also, your scarves won’t be lumpy if you block them.


Then we shall have tea, and knit, and wait our turn.

2 stories.

  1. I have a psychological block against counting. Really. I basically can’t count higher than 10 without my attention wandering off (one summer I worked in a bank and simply HAD to count money by tens. If I counted by 20s, somewhere around 16 I would think, “…how many was that? crap!”) I am pretty much incapable of following a pattern… although I can apply global ordering rules as long as I never have to count higher than 10. I do most of my work freestyle though.

  2. I learned to crochet “rag rugs” from strips of fabric. The basic design comes out as an Octagon. Due to an error, mine had 9 sides and wouldn’t lie quite flat. I defeated it, though, yes I did:
    I nailed it to my deck and steamed the crap out of it. :slight_smile: My knitting group was amused.

I think it’s a confidence level. Some of this stuff can be daunting, but once you’ve done three or four pillows and three or four blankets and half a dozen pot holders, you can see not only that a pattern is off, but you can figure out where it is off and make corrections accordingly.

And if not, so what? You’ll be the only one who knows it’s wrong. If that bugs you, like it does me, you’ll tink or ribbit. Otherwise, you’ll suck it up, make a joke about it, and be proud of your work anyway.

I think Fuzzy Feet are a great pattern if you want to get more comfortable with shaping. They knit up fast, and since they’re felted, mistakes will just disappear in the wash (literally). They make fabulous presents, so you can knit dozens of pairs if you want (and the yarn is reasonably priced). You can learn to do colorwork by experimenting with the cuffs.

this is why I knit socks, once you cast on you are pretty much set, after that there is very little counting to do. They knit up quickly so my short attention span doesn’t get in the way and they are pretty forgiving as to size.