12.09.2011

What? You ALL want me to talk about knitting some more? Alrighty then.

After my most recent knitting post, pianochick left this comment:

You truly make the most beautiful things - how long do you suppose it would take a completely-never-touched-yarn-in-her-life kinda girl like me to master this art, assuming it's even possible? And, ps...how much moolah are we talking to make something nice like this anyway?

Now, I could never deny pianochick anything since we are pretty much besties from that time we ran into each other at In-N-Out and she was nice enough not to say anything about Chuck, the zit on my chin that was affecting weather patterns, so this is me responding.

Q: How long do you suppose it would take a completely-never-touched-yarn-in-her-life kinda girl like me to master this art?
A: First off, mastering this is absolutely possible. You will be great. As for me, I started knitting "for rillz" in 2007, and you can see on the blog the kind of stuff I've been doing since then. My problem is that I went the self-taught route. So I'd make mistakes, misread the directions, get confused, start over, etc. I'm finally getting to the point where it doesn't take me weeks and weeks just to do a baby hat.
My mother, on the other hand, took a knitting class from her local yarn store (LYS). She was immediately whipping out hats and scarves and socks like nobody's business. Moral of the story: taking a class is a smart idea. Just about any yarn store will offer them. You may find a free one (Blazing Needles does a free beginner's class on Saturdays), or you may have to pay a little bit, but you will save yourself LOADS of wasted time/frustration while you master the basics.

Because really, once you know how to cast on, do the knit & purl stitches, and cast off, you can pretty much do anything. It's all a variation of that. 
There are also some great books out there (Stitch 'n Bitch as a good one for learning the basics and beyond--plus, bonus points for the naughty name). And through the magic of the interwebs and Google you can find videos demonstrating any stitch/technique you want to learn. (I use this all the time.)
For me, the big benefit of knitting is that I enjoy the meditative, something-to-do-with-my-hands-besides-ripping-off-my-fingernails-or-stuffing-brie-into-my-mouth quality of it. The finished product at the end is kind of an additional perk. I do wish I were faster, though. I don't understand the people who are all, "I had a free night so I knitted this sweater while I watched American Idol, tra la laaa." That's why you won't see me opening an Etsy shop anytime soon. If I had to include a price for my time in addition to the cost of the yarn, everything would be way too expensive for people to buy.

Q: How much moolah are we talking to make something nice like this anyway?
A: I won't lie. Knitting can get crazy expensive, but it doesn't have to be.

Here's a money breakdown for the Big Herringbone Cowl I just made.

image and pattern from Purl Soho

If you use the yarn recommended in the pattern (a wool-alpaca blend that I'm sure is amazing), you are looking at a $110 cowl. That is yikes.

The display version inside Blazing Needles that my mom fell in love with? That's a $45 cowl. Also out of my budget.



The one I made? $24. I had $25 to spend on her Christmas present, so I got the nicest, softest (since it's going to be worn near her neck and face) yarn I could afford.

photo from Ravelry user awesomegan
This knitter used a bamboo-wool blend that you can buy in a regular craft store like Jo-Ann's or Michael's. Her cowl cost $10 to make, and it looks great.

So here are some of my thoughts on yarn:

1. Expensive does not always mean better. (And even if it does, oh well.)

2. Cheap, though, usually means . . . cheap. Most of the yarn you will find in the craft stores is acrylic or an acrylic blend. Don't use that stuff for heirlooms or anything you will be washing regularly. It won't hold up, and then all you will have to show for your hard work is this wonky-looking thing. For Harry Potter costume scarves, though? Absolutely the way to go.

3. Get the nicest yarn you can afford--something that you will enjoy touching and working with for hours. Make sure it fits the project. Example: if it's for a cowl, you don't want anything scratchy. If it's for baby clothes that will get barfed on, look for something machine-washable, unless you happen to know that the new mom in question gets psyched about hand-washing her baby knits. (If she is a knitter herself, this may very well be the case. Knitters be crazy.)

4. Ask the LYS  people for help. Tell them what you are making (take the pattern in with you, even) and what you want to spend (be firm about this), and they will help you find the best options. They are generally very fun people to chat with.

5. Sign up for Ravelry. You can look up any pattern to see what kind of yarn other knitters used, how their finished projects turned out, and any helpful tips they're passing on. Also they have loads of free patterns on there and it's a great place to create a brag wall of the beautiful things you will make

6. To save money, I go for smaller projects. You will generally need to buy all your yarn for a project at once, which can mean dropping a lot of money for a man's sweater or a blanket. And then if you are like me you will be sick of it before you are even halfway finished. This is why baby stuff is awesome. Much instanter gratification.

7. Another money saver: Get all your knitting needles and accessories at the craft store, not the LYS. Do a Google search beforehand for "Hobby Lobby coupon" (or whatever craft store is close to you) and print off one of those 40% off coupons that are always online. That extra money should go to nice yarn, not to needles you can get anywhere.

8. Check out Knitpicks. Their yarn is more affordable but is supposed to be the same quality as the stuff in your local yarn store. Of course, if you ask the LYS people they will say that's not true, but maybe they are a little bit biased, you know? I've used their yarns for several things now and so far they seem to be doing fine.

I'm sure this is a much longer answer than pianochick needed, but there you have it. Yay for knitting! Ask for a gift certificate for Christmas!

I know there are other knitters who read this blog. Care to add your wisdom?

18 comments:

Kelly said... [reply]

I agree with everything Nem has said.

I taught myself how to knit from a book a couple of years ago. As a result, it turns out that I actually knit incorrectly. It works for me, but it turns out it's some sort of variation of "Continental" technique. I'm concerned that if I ever try to do fancy colorwork (which I would like to try) that I'm going to have to relearn my technique. I think taking a brief class is probably a great way to start out.

Don't let yourself succumb to yarn pressure! There are many yarn snobs out there, some of whom are my dear friends. One friend works in an LYS and she helped me pick out a nice yarn to make something for my mom. Sometimes the stuff at the LYS is not so clearly marked. Sometimes you might wind up spending $20 on 1 hank of yarn without meaning to. Eek!

I have sensitive skin and have found that I can't knit with wool at all without getting itchy. The only exceptions are merino wool blends. Just something to keep in mind if you have sensitive skin.

My favorite recent discovery is Berroco Comfort yarn. It comes in DK, worsted and bulky weights and has a ton of great vibrant colors. It is really, really soft, doesn't make me itch and is not super expensive.

But you can TOTALLY do this! I work with teenage girls at church and have introduced one of our girls to knitting. She's already made 2 scarves and has told me she really enjoys having something to do when she's watching TV or just hanging out with her family.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Kelly, I was knitting incorrectly too! I learned from a Martha Stewart Baby magazine, and the stitch they used was the Continental, but I was knitting into the back of the loops instead of the front. Didn't realize until much, much later that I was doing it wrong.

Another reason why a class = good idea.

coolmom said... [reply]

Also, because I was in our RS presidency - I used my super powers to start a knitting group in our ward. It was inspired. These ladies all love to knit and will take the time to teach the newcomers what they want to learn to make. It's wonderful and free and fun!

emandtrev said... [reply]

This post makes me (a) want to learn how to knit now even more than ever and (b) cry a little that you won't open an Etsy shop. COME ON! :) Kidding--I totally understand your logic, but just know that I think your creations are beautiful enough to sell. To me. :)

Learning to knit and taking a class are absolutely on my list of things I need to do!

Jessica said... [reply]

I love love love ravelry- it is such a great place to find awesome patterns for free (free!), and it's just a wonderful community- I love that I can see how other peoples' attempts at various patterns have turned out.

Also, While I love a good yarn store, let's not deny that, if you're going for cheap, you can get some great deals on yarn at a place like Jo-Ann's (especially when they have sales on...which is basically every week I feel like). They definitely have more variety now than they every used to as well. But you can find deals at your LYS as well, AND support local merchants, AND get fancy wonderful silk-blend yarns that I just love to look at.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Jessica is absolutely right--I snagged a bunch of Patons Classic Wool from Michael's during a 2 for $5 for all that slipper knitting I did a couple of years ago. So the yarn for each pair of slippers cost about $3.75. BOOM.

Jenny said... [reply]

Purl SoHo NYC is the bomb.

pianochick said... [reply]

Oh, my dear Voice of Reason....I cannot thank you enough. I kept checking back to the comments hoping you'd reply, and after two days, was about to leave a mean comment, like, "FINE THEN!" but instead opened up to find a whole. entire. post. devoted just to my question (angels singing) - thank you so much for the more than helpful info. (starting with - are you even crotcheting or knitting - haha - I seriously wondered that) - and NOW I KNOW! :) Also - one more thing - where do you find your adorable patterns, ie: I'd love to make my girlies some of those super cute knitted beanies with the long side rope-y thingies. I'm sure it won't be hard if I just google "Knitting Pattern for super cute knitted beanies with long side rope-y thingies." right???? Where would I look for such a thing?

And - seriously - thanks. Can't wait to try it out!

PS - Also, what needles should I be looking for? I swear once you mentioned something about getting knitting needles for Christmas or something.

Nemesis said... [reply]

pianochick, I'm so glad this is helpful! I was going to respond to you in the comments section but my response got so long that it turned into a post. :-)

As for where to find cute free patterns, get thee to Ravelry. That's my first stop. You can search for hat patterns and then narrow it to "earflaps." I'm already seeing a few cute ones. Like this one or this one or this one . . .

Nemesis said... [reply]

And to answer your question about needles, the size of needles depends on the thickness of the yarn you use. Your pattern will tell you what "weight" of yarn to use and what size needles to use with it. For a hat you will likely need a set of 4 or 5 double-pointed needles so that you can knit "in the round." It takes a bit of practice to knit in the round, though, so maybe make that your SECOND project rather than your first. :-)

Ana said... [reply]

I feel a little gloat-y now after everyone's stories about self-teaching attempts - I learnt to knit from a child's Ladybird "How to Knit" book when I was 11. I knitted various things (the Ladybird book had basic patterns) for a while and then forgot about it.
When I got married and was pregnant with my first child my Mother-in-law and Grandma-in-law encouraged me to get back into knitting and I knitted a sweater for my oldest boy. I also knitted a cardi for my next boy. Grandma taught me how to do cables and they basically just encouraged me and instilled so much confidence in me that I didn't doubt that I could handle any knitting pattern - I even knitted myself a fairisle vest! Nowadays I have a giant Knitting and Crochet book and if I feel like trying something new I look it up in my book and go for it.
Knitting tips: I would just like to say that fluffy gourmet or novelty Wool/Wool blends are LOVELY but a nightmare to unpick if you mess up - so practise with cheapies = acrylic!
Ditto on the instant gratification of baby/toddler items - knitting is soothing yet arduous and time consuming!!
If you are allergic to any kind of Wool and have to settle with Acrylic choose wisely. $1 Acrylic is $1 for a reason. A soft synthetic alternative is Nylon aka Polyamide - I'd pick Nylon over Acrylic Mohair any day!
Knitting needles - I suggest checking out op shops - go to several though to make sure you get a good deal. And a great investment is a needle size card - I have one made of thick plastic - it has holes in it with the corresponding sizes beside the holes so you can get the size needles you need. Also mine has UK, Metric and US sizes on it :) I've also found that wholesale prices for knitting needles and crochet hooks weren't really that much better than op shops (whose prices shot up due to knitting's new found popularity!) - the best deal I've had yet was buying up bulk on needles at end of season sales - 50cents a pair for brand new bamboo needles! As for crochet hooks I found Kmart were pretty cheap here in NZ - a pleasant surprise! End of season sales are primo for good deals on Wool too.

Annnnd...this is where I duck for cover as I let you all in on a little confession as I run out the virtual blog exit - I'm a Crochet and Knit fashion designer and I make up my own designs and patterns and can figure out to make things from good clear pictures (no pattern!) - well for crochet anyway and now sometimes with knitting as well.
I wasn't always though! ;)

PS Emandtrev - I have an Etsy store! ;)

and pianochick - if you have children, especially young children I would recommend against knitting a hat in the round with several double ended needles - knitting is vulnerable to being undone by children as it is but knitting with several knitting needles in the round? Forget about it! Even more super vulnerable! I have a few hat patterns that are pretty much straight knitting, then decreasing at the top and pulling it tight - then you sew the sides together down one side. Easy.

The best way I think to learn how to knit is to use the resources available to you (books/old mags are good enough for me!), be confident and have someone that you can call on for help/explanations when you get stuck starting out (Grandma). And if you want to know how it works/how to manipulate patterns/make your own it's pretty much basic mathematics - times tables and looking for patterns, more specifically the frequency of things eg. if the cable pattern you're doing is repeated in multiples of four stitches then if making a hat you need to start off with number of stitches at least in a multiple of four OR if you start off with stitches not in a multiple of four you need to increase your number of stitches to a multiple of four. If that makes sense :)

Ana said... [reply]

yikes! Sorry for a comment-hogging comment to end all comments :/

Nemesis said... [reply]

To Ana--I haaaaaate seaming things together (like hats and such) so that's why I always go for knitting in the round--I'll even modify patterns to avoid the dreaded seaming! Will have to start leaving my stuff high up so the TDL can't get to it.

Ana said... [reply]

I'll let you in on a secret - I never sew things together anymore (ok, 'cept for buttons)- I crochet everything together - slip stitch turns out just like handsewn backstitch and you don't need to thread any needles!

Crochet rocks.

daltongirl said... [reply]

I agree, agree, agree! A couple of additional suggestions: be VERY careful choosing yarn when you're starting out. That's already been said, but I wanted to add that it's a good idea to find a yarn that doesn't split. Your LYS can help you there. It can be very frustrating to have a splitty yarn when you're not used to it. And I second the advice about not choosing one of those cool yarns with nubs or loops or anything other than smooth loveliness. At first anyway. You want your first projects to be as fool-proof as possible.

For needles, you need to experiment with what kinds of tips you like best. Some needles are very pointy and some are more rounded. I like a pointy needle because it's easier to get between the yarn strands. Don't choose cheap metal needles. As much as you want to save some money before you know if you're going to stick with this thing, you need to spend a little bit to make sure you can have the best possible experience. You can always give the stuff away as a gift later on if it ends up not being your thing. I suggest wooden needles. They're warm and comfortable in the hands. You can buy relatively inexpensive ones at Knit Picks, and trust me, they feel like butter! You will want to hold them in your hands all day long.

If you're going to make a scarf or something easy for your first project, I'd start with a size 6, 7, or 8 needle. They're easier to hold and your hands won't cramp up as much as with smaller needles, and they won't be unwieldy like larger ones can be. I'd also start with a worsted weight yarn for the same reasons. Manageable.

If you get on Ravelry, you can search for projects using the weight of yarn you want, a beginner level, and you can even choose the needle size you want to use. Ravelry will find the patterns that fit those parameters, and that will help you weed out all those amazing lacy projects made with spiderweb that will tempt you and make you insane before you're ready.

Also, I taught myself and never took a class of any kind, but I have received a lot of advice from friends. A knitting group is one way to get tons of great knitting (and life) advice, and it's just plain fun. Kind of like a quilting bee--free therapy and you're knitting. Win, win!

Good luck! Knitting is the best. I hope you love it.

Ana said... [reply]

Just thought of another tip - when you're starting out you often tend to knit quite tightly so if you're gonna be brave and try a pattern I would suggest using the biggest size. I am the opposite. I apparently knit very loosely so if I follow a pattern I usually have to make the smallest size.

And yes - I NEVER pay ANY attention to gauge whatsoever - in fact prob why I make my own patterns so I can just pretend gauge doesn't even exist :P

Kristy said... [reply]

I'd like to publicly agree with the tip about small projects. There are more than just baby items too, that are small. Socks, wrist warmers, cowls, leg warmers, grown up hats, belts, bags, mittens! All of these can be done with one or two skeins of yarn and they give your ensemble that certain kick that can wake up your whole wardrobe!
That's the kind of fun I'm talking about. Also, think about the entertainment value of knitting. I can spend $10 on a movie and be entertained for two hours. I can spend the same amount of money on yarn and be entertained for days or weeks, depending on how slow/fast I knit.
This is the kind of logic I apply to the grand total of the yarn bill when confronted by my husband! It sort of works...

Kristy said... [reply]

One more thing?
I once got nine skeins of Patons Wool Classic for $1 a skein at the Deseret Industries, so there, I guess I just needed to brag. You can also find some snobby yarn at Tuesday Morning for cheaper prices. Give it a whirl.

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