Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lesson One; Let's Go Shopping!

Alright, the first thing we need if we're going to knit is some supplies. There are hundreds of specialized tools available to knitters. We will get to most of those later. There's no need to go drop a pile of cash at the craft store on stuff. To begin, we only need a few basic tools.

You will need yarn, a pair of knitting needles, scissors, and a yarn needle or tapestry needle. That's it. Don't let all the shiny bits and bobs on the knitting aisle confuse you. You'll learn about all that later. There are one or two extras you may opt to pick up, but they're really not necessary yet. You should be able to get everything you need for less than $20 in most craft stores or yarn stores.

So, now we have our shopping list. Where do we go? Option one is your local "big box" store. There, the knitter on a tight budget can find very inexpensive yarn, needles, and scissors. The downside is that all of the yarn will be made of plastic. If using plastic yarn to practice is what you're into, go for it. Plastic yarn absolutely has its place. Don't let the fiber snobs tell you any differently. You might also try a craft store, like Michael's. They have a much better selection of not-plastic yarn, and even some nicer needles than you'll find at the big box store. The best option, in my own opinion, is a local yarn store. You'll hear knitters call this the "LYS." This is where you'll meet some of your new friends. My LYS is The Yarn Basket in Petal, MS. If you're nearby, go tell Teresa hello, and marvel at all the pretty pretty things in her shop. Some new knitters may find the LYS a little intimidating at first. But, get to know them. Having a LYS owner who can show you stitches in person is invaluable. Plus, they often have classes, workshops, and social knitting groups.  In our digitally connected age, there's also online shopping. When the time comes that you need a very large amount of yarn in the same dye lot, so you can be sure it matches perfectly, online shopping may be your best bet. The downside is waiting on shipping while your fingers twitch to get started.

Now, let's get into a little more detail about what kind of things to buy.

Your yarn is obviously the heart and soul of your project. Pick something you will enjoy handling for a long time, and something that is tightly twisted, and smooth. Yarn is sorted by its "weight," which refers to the diameter of the yarn. Worsted weight is sort of the middle of the road size. It's a good choice for your first project. Aran or chunky weights will also work. Hold off on lace weight, fingering, and super bulky until you have a bit more experience. They can be a bit harder to hold onto. Solids or variegated colors are both fine. You will want to choose something that comes in a center pull ball or skein as opposed to a twisted hank.

This is a skein:

This is a hank:

The key difference is that hanks are not ready to use. They must be wound into balls before you can use them. A LYS may be able to do this for you, so if you love a yarn that comes in a hank, ask them. It's possible to wind hanks into balls at home, but, without a yarn swift and a ball winder, it is a giant pain in the butt, and you really don't want to do it. If you use a lot of yarn that comes in hanks, (ask me about how much I love Cascade 220,) it may be worthwhile to invest in a swift and winder. But you don't need to do that yet. You'll know when you need one, and it's not right now.

Fiber content is only important if it matters to you. Some vegans do not knit with wool or silk, for example, some people can have fiber allergies, and some people are fiber snobs who won't touch anything with acrylic in it. All you really need to know is that you like what you're working with. Cottons can be a bit stiff for beginners, while animal fibers have more stretch, making them easier to handle. Silks and bamboos can be slippery, which is annoying when you're first learning to keep your stitches on the needle. Wool and wool blends are my favorite for beginners, but as long as it's nice to handle, not very slick, and a nice medium weight, you should be good to go.

You will need 1-2 skeins or balls, approximately 200 yards each. Most likely, you will want two, in case you mess some up. Make sure the lot numbers match. 

A special note on "slubby" yarns. You will be tempted by something "homespun," or "homestyle," or "slubby." Leave that on the shelf. It is not good for beginners. It's frustrating even for old pros. You want smooth and tight. If you get slubby yarn, you will quit in frustration, and we don't want that.

Needles are somewhat simpler than yarn. You have only two decisions to make on your needles. What they're made of, and whether you'd like straights or circulars. Knitting needles come in a lot of materials. Most commonly, you will find metal, plastic, and various kinds of wood and bamboo. I recommend metal needles for beginners. You're going to get a tight stitch here and there, and wood and plastic will break if you're putting too much tension on them, which all new knitters do. For the purposes of the beginner projects in this blog, you will want something between a US9 and US 101/2. For those of you in countries with metric sizing, that's 5.5 to 6.5 mm. Needle size does not correlate with clothing sizes. It's a measurement of the needle itself only. Different sizes change the size of the stitches, and how tight your knitting will be. Tiny little 00 needles make fine lacy socks with wispy lace yarn, and big honking size 17 needles make big chunky blankets with super bulky yarn that looks like rope. Sizes 9 and 10 are big enough that you can see what you're doing easily, but not so big you feel like you're working with broom handles. And they make a nice soft finished fabric with worsted weight yarn. Aha. The concepts are coming together now, yes?

Your next choice is purely a personal preference. Will you go with straight needles, or circulars.

These are straight needles:

These are what most people think of when they think of kitting needles. They're a fine choice. Classic, really. And they have a certain stylistic appeal, because they look like knitting needles to most people.

These are circular needles:

A little different, right? Circulars have a few advantages, for all their strangeness, though. Since most of your knitting is going to rest on that cable between the two needles, they make it easy to store a work in progress. They require a bit less space to maneuver, which is handy if you knit on public transportation or in waiting rooms. And there are some pretty spiffy tricks you can do with circular needles that you can't do with straights. Like making socks and sweaters with no seams at all. Plus, they're attached to each other. You can't lose one. Some beginners like straights, because you can hold them under your armpits if you need to use both hands to work at a stitch. You will see me working exclusively with circular needles. For our first few lessons, the only action will be happening at the tips of the needles, though. So, which you start with is not important.

The Other Needle is a yarn needle or tapestry needle. I have not yet discovered the difference, if there is one. This is a large sewing needle with a blunt end and an eye large enough for your yarn to fit through. They can be steel or plastic, and look something like this:

Scissors are also a necessity. Small ones are fine. You probably have some lying around the house. They don't have to be special. But you will need to cut yarn at some point, and you don't want to have to chew through it.

Optional Tools Include a set of needle caps if you're using straight needles, to keep your work on the needle, and the needle from stabbing a hole in your bag if you travel with your knitting, a bag, basket, or other container to store your project in, and wool wash if you decide to use wool for your first project. I will be teaching you to make your own later, but, if you want to buy some, go for it. You will not be needing stitch markers, stitch counters, cable needles, or a tape measure right now, but if you're following this blog long term, some of our lessons will call for those later. No need to buy, but you might enjoy browsing them.

Summary of Lesson 1:

Buy 1-2 skeins of yarn, preferably wool or wool blend, no "slubby."
Buy a pair of knitting needles, preferably metal, size 9-101/2
Buy a yarn needle
Obtain a pair of scissors.

You are now ready for lesson 2, where you will learn how to put your yarn onto your needles, and get ready to start knitting!

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