Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Teaching Knitting: Getting Started

(First let me say how hard it was to find a picture of something simple that I had knitted! This is the hat pattern I hope to teach ladies next Saturday, if they show up and still want to knit a hat. Of course, they won't be making it in kettle dyed Malabrigo wonderfulness!)

So, as I was saying yesterday, I really enjoy teaching knitting. People keep saying they are impressed at how much I know about beginning knitters, and my reply is that it's just a matter of observing them--I am sure there are many, many instructors out there with similar hard-won knowledge, and I am glad they exist. It's a lot easier to embark on a lifetime passion for knitting if you have a teacher who helps you avoid certain pitfalls and learn to correct mistakes easily and simply, right from the start. I am sure I am not the best beginning knitting teacher in the world, but I seem to be pretty good at getting folks started!

So, I thought I'd add a series of occasional posts here in the blog with some tips as to what works for me, in case you ever get the chance to start a newbie on the road to knitting addiction and want to ensure they are successful. It's important to note that the way I do it is NOT the only way to do it, nor necessarily the "best," but it works for me. All teaching ideas posts will come with the label "teaching ideas" so you can search for them easily.


Before getting your student started, be sure that he or she has good starter knitting equipment. Here are options that work for me:

  1. Needle material: either bamboo or high-quality plastic (I like the Bryspun needles with the extra pointy tips that make the first pokes through the stitches easier. I like bamboo because it feels good for tactile learners and is not slippery.)
  2. Needle length: usually shorter ones. They are less awkward to hold, which is especially good for younger knitters.
  3. Needle size: appropriate for the yarn chosen. I know a lot of people use large needles, but it's hard to see stitch definition if the fabric is really loose and lacy, and I've seen students very disappointed in how their output looks if the yarn is too thin for the needles.
  4. Yarn type: wool or cotton that is smooth and does not easily come apart. You need smooth so that the new student can learn to identify what a good stitch looks like, and you need something tightly spun or solid, to reduce the frustration from splitting the yarn. Sometimes you will need to compromise on this, of course. Wool is my favorite, because it has bounce and is a bit more forgiving of uneven stitches. However, many people like to start making dishcloths, which aren't really "wool" items. A nice quality cotton is fine for dishcloths. I find Sugar and Cream splits a bit, but hey, that works, and is a bargain.
  5. Yarn size: generally worsted to bulky weight. Super bulky is too hard to manipulate (though I demo on it, so folks can see what I am doing). And thinner yarn works, but doesn't show much progress--new knitters need to be able to see that they've accomplished something fairly quickly, to maintain interest.
  6. Yarn color: this is up to the student, but I have found that self-striping, pooling or otherwise variegated yarn is useful for a couple of reasons. For one, having the yarn you are knitting with a different color from the yarn you are knitting into lets you see what you are doing more easily. Also it can be easier to count rows if the color changes. And for those who are discouraged easily, striped yarns provide encouragement. You can see you've done two or three colors. Or you can knit hard, hoping for the pink section to show up. Knitting five feet of a tan garter stitch scarf could bore anyone, even an eager knitter who really wants a tan scarf. I've had a lot of success with young people on yarns that slowly change color. They are fun.
  7. Pattern: it's nice to have whatever you are teaching written in a very simple pattern. It will get folks scared of patterns a chance to break one down into its components and learn that it is their friend.

What Not to Choose

There are some choices that make teaching more difficult:

  1. Shiny aluminum needles: these are slippery, are often a bit too long, and make irritating noises. People often proudly bring them in to learn on. Often they buy bamboo before they leave, when they see that the other students are having more success that way. Of course, if a student feels they can't afford new needles, they CAN learn on shiny aluminum!
  2. Poorly made acrylic yarn: I am not 100% anti acrylic--I liked that Sirdar Toddler Aran I knit with last week, for example. But, the worsted weight stuff that comes in giant balls in Big Box stores is not a great choice for a new knitter. Why? Well, it feels awful. You spend many hours with your first knitted project--it helps if you spend many hours feeling lovely wool or high quality cotton. Your finished product will last longer and look better if made from nice materials, as well. Poor quality acrylics are very uncomfortable in a scarf or a hat, for example.
  3. Novelty Yarn: you can't see what you are doing in novelty yarn, so you can't tell when you have made a mistake. Promise the student that a shiny or fluffy scarf can be their third project. Thankfully, that trend is passing, anyway.

Next: What to teach before casting on a stitch!

Remember, the above is just what works for me, and not "rules." These are guidelines, which means you can change them if you find something else works better for you!


  1. Great advice! I look forward to your next installment.

  2. Leuk! (nice in Dutch) and didactical! You would make a great teacher.

  3. I cannot thank you enough for putting this on your blog! I want to be able to teach it correctly and wasn't sure where to start. Now, I do.
    I have taught shuttle tatting and did teach my son how to knit.
    Thank you for your precious time!


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