Beginner Knitting FAQ

How old is knitting?
No one knows exactly how old knitting is. It's generally thought to be older than other handcrafts, such as rug hooking, but not as old as weaving. Scraps of knitted fabrics have been found in Egypt, dating back to 1200 A.D.

Is straight knitting more difficult than circular knitting?
There are conflicting theories on this question. Many knitters claim that circular knitting is far easier than straight knitting while others say that straight is easier. In most cases, a person will find the easiest to be the one that they learned first. In the United States, most knitters learn straight knitting before circular knitting.

What yarn fiber is best for learning?
We recommend using 100% wool worsted weight yarns. It is best to buy light colored yarns since it is easier to distinguish the stitches on light colored yarns. Never buy browns, dark blues, dark greens or blacks for learning.

Should I keep the labels from my yarns?
Yes, it is best to always keep the labels from your yarns. We recommend carefully removing the labels from the yarn and writing on the back of the labels the date when the yarn was used and the project that it was used for. Though it seems unnecessary, you may find that it will be an invaluable reference later on.

Can children learn to knit?
Absolutely! Children as young as 4 years old have learned how to knit. Depending on their determination level, younger children may find it boring and aggravating due to their short attention span. Oftentimes, they will put aside knitting for several years, then take it up again after they are a little older. Tip: Giving a child something to look forward to at the end of each ball of yarn can help to keep their attention on the knitting. Roll a piece of candy, money of a small toy into the center of each ball of yarn as a reward and you will find they will be probably be more willing to learn.

What is the best yarn fiber for knitting in general?
That depends entirely on what project you intend to make with it. Every yarn has its place. Look at what yarns other knitters have used to make the pattern you want to make, or look for yarns similar to the one recommended in the pattern (try YarnSub, an easy to use tool for yarn substitution and comparison).

What kind of needles are easiest for beginners?
Most beginners find that bamboo needles are the best for learning because stitches don't slip off the needles as easily as other needles. They're warm to the touch and they are not as noisy as metal needles. Size US 8 is the most common size for beginners.
What is the difference between 'Continental' knitting and 'English' knitting?
Continental knitters hold the yarn in their left hand, while English knitters hold the yarn in their right hand. For those who know how to crochet, Continental will likely be easier to learn, since the yarn is held in the same hand as in crocheting. But most American knitters learn to knit in the English style. We recommend trying both methods to find the one that works best for you.

How many different stitches are there?
There are thousands of knitting stitches and, surprisingly, new ones are being created all the time. There are endless possibilities, some of which you may even discover yourself! Stitch Dictionaries are a great way to discover new knitting stitches. Look for them online or at your local yarn store.

Who invented knitting?
No one knows where knitting originated, or exactly when. The term 'knitting' has had various definitions over the years. Ancient Peruvian tapestries and wire decorations, which have a knitted structure, have been referred to as 'knitted'. But they were not made using knitting needles, as we know them today.

Why are my stitches so tight on my needles?
Tight stitches are common for beginners, resulting from lack of experience in holding the yarn and the fear of the stitches slipping off the needles. Purl stitches are usually looser than knit stitches. Tight stitches will go away as you master the techniques. Try to knit a little looser, or work more purl rows, to loosen up your stitches.
 
What’s the difference between a skein, ball and hank of yarn?
The difference between a skein, ball and hank of yarn is how it's wound (put up). A skein has two yarn ends and can be used as is, without being rolled into a ball. Skeins are especially common amongst synthetic yarns. A 'ball' of yarn can desrcibe either a hand rolled spherical ball, or a sudo-ball shaped commercial put up, which is similar to a skein and also has two workable yarn ends. A cake of yarn is a short cylinder shaped put up, which doesn't roll away when being used and also has two workable yarn ends. Few yarns come in cakes, but cakes are commonly used by natural knitters, because they are formed by mechanically winding a hank of yarn, using a ball winder and swift. A hank is the put up in which most natural yarns are sold and has a twisted appearance. It must be carefully unwrapped and rewound into a cake or ball, before using.
Is there more than one way to cast on and cast off (bind off)?
There are many of different ways to cast on and cast off. Some are stretchy, which is ideal for rib patterns, while others are stiff or decorative. For beginners, a simple loop cast on, such as the one demonstrated in this video by Staci Perry, is usually the easiest to master. But if you're looking to learn more, consider purchasing Cast On, Bind Off by Leslie Ann Bestor.
How much yarn does it take to make a scarf?
The amount of yarn needed to make a scarf, the most common beginner project, can vary greatly depending on the size of the scarf, the yarn and needles being used and the stitch the scarf is made of. The following table is an approximate estimate for a plain 60" long, stockinette stitch scarf without fringe. If you want fringe, add an extra 5%. If you are planning to use a more complex stitch pattern, add 10-20% more than specified. Most beginner knitting books will give you directions for basic scarves, with the exact yarn quantity needed.
How many grams are in a yard of yarn?
The number of grams in a yard of yarn depends on the yarn in question. It's thickness, the fiber it's made of and other factors all affect its weight. To determine exactly how many grams are in a yard of a specific yarn, use the following calculation:
Y÷G = YPG (number of yards ÷ number of grams = yards per gram)

What size needles should I buy to learn to knit?
Most beginners start with size US 7 (4.5 mm) or US 8 (5 mm). These are the standard sizes recommended in beginner knitting books and work well with worsted weight yarns. We recommend bamboo for beginners because stitches don't slip off the needles as easily, making them easier to control.

Why do I have to knit a gauge swatch before I begin my knitting project?
While there is no requirement that you knit a gauge swatch, it is highly recommended, especially for beginners. It will ensure that your finished product will match that of the pattern. If your gauge is 4.5 stitches per inch on a sweater pattern that calls for 4 stitches per inch, your 40" diameter sweater will end up being 35.5" diameter sweater and most likely be too small for the intended wearer. In some patterns, such as scarves, gauge is not as important. Making a gauge swatch first will ensure that your finished product comes out as expected. The larger the project, the more important the swatch, because you could lose weeks or even months of knitting if you don't realize until the end of a large pattern that your gauge was wrong.

How many grams are in an ounce?
1 gram = 0.035 ounces.

What do I do if my gauge is off?
If you have too many stitches per inch, the knitting will be too tight and you should try using the next size up of needle (ie., if you're using US 8, then try US 9) until you reach the correct gauge.
If you have too few stitches per inch, then your knitting will be too loose and you should try using the next size down of needle (ie., if you're using a US 8, then try a US 7) until you reach the correct gauge.

What is the best book to use for learning how to knit?
There are many books available today to teach people to knit. Please see our Learn to Knit page for a list of our recommendations.

Can I machine wash my knitted items?
That will depend on the yarn that you're using. Check the label on your yarn for washing instructions. Many yarns, especially natural fiber yarns, need to be handwashed and laid out to dry. Even if the label says that a yarn is machine washable, it's best to work up a quick swatch in the yarn and try washing that first, to be sure it holds up properly, before committing your whole project to the washer machine. If you're using numerous colors in one project, you need to consider the possibility that one or more of the colors could bleed when washed, which could spoil your whole piece. In this case, you'll want to make a swatch with all the colors and try machine washing it, to check not only the yarn, but also the colorfastness of all the colors.

For circular knitting, are circular needles or double pointed needles (DPNs) better?
This question is mostly a matter of preference. Each has a purpose. Obviously, you couldn't knit a sweater body on 6" double pointed needles without having to use so many needles that it would become obnoxious. But for making the small sleeves of a baby sweater, or knitting socks, double points can be easier. For projects whose size allows you to use either, try both ways and you'll likely find that you have a definite preference for one style of needle.

What is the best brand of needles?
There is no 'best brand' of needles, although some are more highly regarded than others. See our Needles page for a listing of some of the most popular needles.

What is the best brand of yarn?
There are hundreds of yarn brands, some owned by major companies and others by small families. There are far too many to choose a 'best'. Please see our Learn to Knit page for our recommendations for beginners.

Is it OK to use synthetic yarns just for learning--to avoid having to invest in more expensive natural yarns?
If you want to knit naturally, it's best to start that way from the beginning. Although your first few projects will likely be far from perfect, they can still be used. Children especially, will not notice if you give them a scarf with a few unintentional holes in it.. And remember, the messy scarf you make as your first project today will be a precious memory and keepsake one day when you become a master knitwear designer!
Where can I find videos that teach knitting techniques?
There are lots of online videos and DVD's available to teach you to knit and to teach you more advanced knitting techniques. Knitting Help and the Very Pink Knits series by Staci Perry are excellent resources.
 
What do the symbols on knitting charts stand for?
Please see this page for a list of the standard knitting chart symbols. Some pattern designers may add their own special symbols, which will usually be explained in the book/pattern.

What does the              symbol on a yarn band mean?
These symbols refer to the yarn's weight. Please see this page for a list of yarn weight classifications. 
Yarn weight symbol