Learning a skill like knitting requires you to immerse yourself in the process and embrace the virtue of patience. But Jenny Benjamin thinks quick wins are important too.
“A scarf seems like a great, simple knitting project. You just go straight and keep going. But to get a scarf that’s long enough you need maybe six balls of yarn. For a slow beginner, that’s going to take a while. Some people will get fed up and never finish,” she tells Broadsheet.
That’s why the co-owner of fabric shop The Selvedge Society, in Sydney’s Stanmore, says to start small. “I’m busy; I’ve got three kids. The thing that gives me the most enjoyment is the quick stuff. Dishcloths are fantastic. You knit 20 or 30 rows and you’re finished. You get such a buzz, not to mention you’re making something sustainable. I love to give them to friends as gifts.”
A Google search will turn up an overwhelming list of dishcloth patterns, so Benjamin created a lovely, simple dishcloth pattern for Broadsheet. A $7 ball of Australian-made cotton yarn from The Selvedge Society or similar will make three.
Deb McDonald, co-owner of wool shop The Skein Sisters in Sydney’s Dulwich Hill also cautions against doing a scarf, but suggests another neck garment for a first project. “To make a scarf worthwhile, [it] takes a huge amount of knitting. With something like a cowl, you just need it to go around the neck once, so it’s a good small project. Don’t do things that take too long or you’ll get bored and disheartened.”
Before getting stuck into any project, a beginner needs the basics: how to cast on (get the yarn onto the needle), how to do knit or garter stitches (interlocked vertical stitches that look the same on both sides) and how to do purl or stockinette stitches (stitches that look like rows of horizontal Vs). The website of American shop Purl Soho has a beginners’ section with easy-to-follow tutorials and notes to help you practice.
It’s inevitable that your first project won’t be perfect. For example, while you you’re your technique, your tension – that is, how tightly you pull the wool as you knit – might be inconsistent, resulting in lumpy, uneven work and a lot of frustration. At that point it’s best to put the needles down and search for inspiration. “I always recommend people visit Purl Soho online,” says Benjamin. “The products themselves are quite expensive, but they have excellent free patterns, video tutorials, and it’s very curated so you don’t get overwhelmed. The photography is really well done and it’s beautiful to spend time there.”
Another strategy is to opt for a beginner-friendly wool that forgives a bit of uneven tension. “Fluffy, chunky yarns can be knit loosely. They drape well and hide problems with tension,” says McDonald. And if you make a mistake? “You’re the only one that will know there’s a mistake,” she says. “Don’t undo it unless it’s glaringly obvious. Everyone else will think you’ve done an amazing thing. Nothing of mine is ever perfect.”
While the cost to start knitting is low – often less than $20 for a ball of yarn and a set of needles – it’s easy to get caught up buying beautiful wool and attempting projects that are too ambitious. “Knitting can be an expensive thing to get wrong.”
The Skein Sisters (which is trading online only because of Covid-19) and The Selvedge Society both have starter projects that combine a cool pattern with the right yarn to keep the costs down.
That could be a cowl made with a chunky terracotta yarn that knits up quickly because it’s thick. The Selvedge Society sells a classic beanie kit with Australian-made wool in contemporary colours such as sage green. Benjamin also carries pompom makers to add a classic topper to your beanie.
A pattern to begin
The Selvedge Society’s Easy Dishcloth Knitting Pattern
1 ball 8 ply cotton yarn
4mm knitting needles
Cast on 40 stitches
Rows 1 to 3: Knit (plain) all stitches
Row 4: Knit all stitches
Row 5: Knit all stitches
Row 6: Knit 6 stitches then purl stitches until 6 remain, then knit those 6 stitches
Row 7: Knit all stitches
Row 8: Knit 6 stitches then purl stitches until 6 remain, then knit those 6 stitches
Row 9: Knit all stitches
(Rows 4 to 9 make the pattern)
Repeat this pattern 7 more times
Rows 52 to 55: Knit all stitches
Cast off and using a wool needle thread in the ends