Why is knitting difficult to learn

Want to learn how to knit but not sure how to start? Are you afraid it will be too hard? Learning how to knit can be very overwhelming at first, but these tips will make it much easier!

Knitting has been going in and out of fashion with women for at least a century. Periods where it has been unpopular have generally coincided with huge victories for women’s rights. For instance, in the 1890s, knitting went out of style when women began wearing bloomers (so scandalous!). Knitting came back into style in the 1900s, only to go out of style again in the 1920s when women attained the right to vote. It came back into style during WWII and then went back out in the 1970s (shocker).

Today, it’s not only trending again…it’s more popular than it has ever been. So popular that even men are jumping on the bandwagon (which is great, because it’s a very useful skill).

I can’t even begin to explain why, but I would say it has something to do with 1) it being so useful, 2) being able to sell the items for a little extra household income (thanks, Etsy!), and 3) the expense of actually buying a product when you can just make it yourself. Knitting is still pretty expensive, especially if you buy fancier yarns. But you can still get some really nice yarns cheaply enough that knitting is more budget-friendly than buying.

finally picked up knitting back up in October 2013. Learning was difficult and time-consuming. I’m still no expert, but I do have some tips for making it easier to learn.

(Note: Know the basics, but ready to move on to patterns? Get all kinds of FREE patterns here from Craftsy! For tips on what supplies to get, go here. For some easy patterns to help bump up the learning curve, go here.)

Photo courtesy of Pezibear.

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Knitting is actually quite easy once you’ve figured it out. The hard part? Learning the basic stuff. Now that I understand it better…I understand WHY learning it was so hard. First, some concepts are simply too difficult to explain to someone. Casting on? It’s so simple to do, but explaining how to do it is really hard.

And if it’s that difficult to explain, it’s even more difficult to learn. In fact, I tried to show my sister how to cast on. She took one look at what I was doing with my needles and said, “Um…nevermind.”

Knitting is easy once you've figured it out. The hard part is learning the basic stuff. Click To Tweet

The second reason learning is so difficult? Because finding the right tutorials is such a chore. There are some books and tutorials that, though they’re meant to teach you the basics, they’re written as if the reader already understands how knitting works. It’s as if you have to already know how to knit in order to learn how to knit from some of these “beginner” books. Some of it has to do with what I mentioned earlier–explaining things is difficult to do. But some of these books don’t even try.

Figuring out where to start is also extremely overwhelming. There are so many different needle and yarn sizes. All I wanted when I started was just one simple guidebook. But there are so many of those, too! I wanted one that was easy to read, explained everything I would need to know, and maybe had some easy patterns to get me started. I finally found one, but I can’t tell you how difficult it was to find. And I only found it because a friend of mine told me about it.

So for those of you who are in the same boat I was, here are my top five tips for beginners:

1. Start big

Get the thickest (and longest, so about 14 inches) needles you can, as well as thicker yarn. I actually prefer to use circular needles as straight needles because they don’t put such a strain on my wrists. However, you may find it confusing to learn how to knit with them.

I actually didn’t even start out with needles, though. I began by arm knitting, which I highly recommend doing. By starting with arm knitting, I was able to actually see what it was I was trying to do and transfer those techniques to my needles. This video was helpful. Now, I know this video says you should use chunky yarn. That is true if you want to actually make something with it. But use whatever yarn you have or get the chunkiest you can find in a store (I used one that looked like ribbons). Once you’ve figured out what you’re doing, you can just unravel it and use it on needles.

Learn to knit by learning arm knitting. It works the same way, but it's easier to see. Click To Tweet

Once I was ready to use needles, I started out with Bernat Baby Blanket Yarn and a pair of US 13 needles (I get the aluminum ones because they’re cheaper, but my preferred needles are stainless steel). The reason I found the baby blanket yarn easier than regular chunky yarn is because it’s not made of multiple strands woven together. So you can’t split it like you can with most yarns. As a beginner, you’ll probably be a little clumsy with the needles and accidentally split your threads, which can weaken the stitch and even cause the yarn to tear. The baby blanket yarn won’t give you that problem. It can be somewhat difficult to work with because it’s a little more stiff than regular yarn, but it will be worth it. Just be sure to cast on loosely.

Thicker needles will also help you see what you’re doing and I found them easier to hold and control than thinner needles. I recommend the US 13 (9 mm), because many patterns call for this size, so you’ll use them again.

2. Invest in a decent book.

I started out with this, but it’s gone way up in price and it’s really not worth it (read my Basic Knitting Supplies for Beginners for more on that). First, the book sucks. It was SO unhelpful. But it came with

  • Two pairs of needles
  • Stitch markers
  • Yarn needles
  • Gauge
  • A cable hook
  • Knit tallies
  • Point protectors

So if you don’t know what to buy, it’s helpful in that regard (again, if you want to know what supplies to get, read my post on Basic Knitting Supplies for Beginners). Also, it has some patterns, which is nice once you’ve learned the basics. But you’ll have some trouble learning them with this book.

My favorite book so far has been Stitch ‘N Bitch by Debbie Stolle. A friend of mine recommended this book and it has been so handy. She explains things in the simplest terms possible, has some nice diagrams to illustrate what she means, and she’s wickedly funny. She also has a lot of pretty cool patterns in the back.

However, Knitty Gritty is amazing. It only teaches a few very basic things, but I can’t stress how handy it is. The pictures are the best I’ve ever seen. It’s a little pricey for how thin it is, but wow! If I’d had this book when I was learning, I wouldn’t have experienced so many problems. If you’re determined to learn from a book and nothing else, get this one, hands down.

3. YouTube!

Never underestimate the power of a YouTube video. There is something about seeing something done that makes you go, “Ohhhhhh!” It’s also way easier to watch a video and try to mimic it than it is to figure out what in the world a book is talking about (also, have you tried balancing a book, holding your needles, and reading at the same time? It’s not as easy as you would think). It took me weeks to figure out how to cast on properly…until I saw a video of it being done. My mind was blown by how easy it seemed after watching the video.

When learning a new skill, never underestimate the power of YouTube videos. Click To Tweet

I found GoodKnitKisses channel quite handy (watching her is how I learned how to purl and bind off). She explains things very well, she speaks clearly, and she makes sure you can easily see what she’s doing with her hands. Since I started watching her videos, I haven’t had any problems. The only issue is that she seems to do more with looms than she does with needles. Search around and find a channel you like, though!

Craftsy also has videos (and I probably should have made this its own section). For instance, Stefanie Japel runs a class called Knit Lab, where she explains the fundamentals of knitting, beginning with what supplies you’ll need. She discusses everything from casting on to blocking. For more information, go here!

4. Find a friend

If it’s an option for you, having a friend who can help is really nice. The difference between a video and having real-life assistance is that the person in the video can’t see what you’re doing wrong and correct you. I was making a very huge mistake in my cast on (because I misunderstood a video) that caused everything else to come out wrong. A friend of mine saw what I was doing and corrected me. Videos are great as reminders (like when another friend of mine showed me how to purl, but I forgot). And sometimes, no matter how hard the person in the video tries, their hands can still get in the way of the needles. So having someone there with you can be extremely helpful.

If you don’t have a friend who already knows how to knit, convince one to learn with you. Knitting with friends is a lot of fun, even if none of you know what you’re doing. 🙂

Learning to knit with a friend is more fun and will help keep you both motivated. Click To Tweet

5. Keep a list of abbreviations handy.

At some point, you’ll start knitting from patterns. (FYI, a great pattern to start with is this. It uses chunky yarn, thick needles, and two basic stitches. It’s also really pretty. Lion Brand is a pretty nice brand, as well.) Most patterns (like the one linked) will explain what abbreviations they used (k = knit, p = purl, sl = slip, etc.). When they don’t, though, you don’t want to have to go digging to figure it out.

Keep a running list with abbreviations and a short description of what it is. As you learn a new stitch, add it to the list. Keep it with the rest of your knitting supplies and within sight in case you come up on an abbreviation you either don’t know or can’t remember.

(UPDATED March 1, 2014–I have created a nice little knitting conversion chart that includes abbreviations. You can download it for FREE here. Print it off and keep it with your knitting supplies! It’s made my life a lot easier.)

Everything about knitting seems so hard, but once I figured out how to do it all I could think was, “Wait, that’s it? Why does everyone make it sound so complicated?” It’s really not. Once you’ve figured out the basics and had all your little “AHA!” moments (there will be so many and you’re going to feel a mixture of pride at figuring it out and shame that it took so long…just remember that we have ALL felt that way), the hardest part is getting your hands to cooperate, but that will come with practice. Eventually, you can just turn on the TV, relax, and knit your little heart out. It’s extremely rewarding when you walk out the front door in clothing and accessories that you made yourself.

Click here to see part two of this series.

What tips do you have for learning how to knit?

5 Essential Knitting Tips You Need to Know was last modified: May 22nd, 2017 by Chelsey