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Beginner Knitting: Getting Started vol. 1

I know! I am a day late again. Truth be told, I was a bit overwhelmed by my chosen topic. So, I decided to split it into two parts, with the second in the series being posted Friday. We are talking about choosing the two main tools for knitting, needles and yarn. Today we are going to discuss how to decide on the yarn for your project and in volume 2 we will discuss the types of knitting needles and which one is best for your project. We may also go into a few other things like stitch markers, yarn needles, etc, depending on how much I ramble on.

In order to choose the right yarn for your project, you need to know what your project is. This does not mean you cannot buy a yarn because it is pretty and it feels good. This is how you create your stash. Every knitter I know has one and mine is quite large. There is no shame in this, even when the person at the checkout counter asks you what you are going to make with it. I stopped lying long ago and quite happily say I have no idea, it is just pretty. But even if you are just going shopping in your stash, you need to have an idea in mind of what you are going to make first (you can find the pattern to match the yarn, but that carries the risk of you not having enough yardage, experience, needles, etc and I rarely start a project that way). If this is your first or second knitting project, I suggest either picking out and easy/beginner level pattern or starting with a simple knit stitch scarf. The reason for this is you haven't figured out your tension yet. Tension is how tight or loose you knit. This will affect your gauge (how many stitches per inch). You and I could knit the same exact pattern with the same yarn and needles, but I could have 10 stitches per inch where you might have 14. Your end product will be larger than mine. Now don't panic! You can do a gauge swatch before each project, because your gauge will also change between types of yarn and needles. But you will find over time that you either tend to knit loosely or you tend to knit tightly. I have tight tension, so I tend to go up a size in knitting needle to make up for this. I also prefer a looser knit so that my finished product flows better in most of my projects.

Wow. That was a lot of info, I know. Deep breath. I'll do a summary at the end of both posts.

Alright. Let us start with the assumption that this is your first time knitting and you want to knit a scarf. Pretty much everyone starts with a scarf. It is a rectangle and size doesn't really matter. This also means that gauge doesn't really matter, so you have time to figure yours out. You go to your nearest craft store and stare at the bins of yarn. This is your first project, so let's rule out the funky fashion yarn. No fun fur, no boucle. A simple twisted yarn is best. Most beginners have a tight tension which makes it easy to split the yarn. Next thing you know, you have added 10 stitches to your project and you have no idea how. I know. I did it. All of the yarns below are good examples of yarn to begin with. They vary greatly in size, so it does depend on how much time you want to spend. It takes a lot longer to knit a project that is 10 stitches an in than it is to knit one that is one stitch per inch. The larger the yarn, the bigger the needles, the faster the project will knit.

So how do you know if a yarn is larger? Yarns go by weights. More mass produced yarns have a number assigned 0-7. Independent dyers and some other small batch yarns will have the name (fingering, sport, dk) instead of the number. The larger the number, the "heavier" the yarn. Medium is generally a good weight to start with for a first scarf, but Bulky would also work well.

Here is what a label generally looks like. Not pictured but important to look at is the yardage included in the skein. This is where it is handy to have a pattern, even for a simple scarf. This way you know you are getting enough yarn for your project. This yarn is 5 Bulky. On the right it tells you that the standard knitting needle size is a US 9 (the yarn is a US brand bought in the US, so the US standard size is implied, though it also gives you the millimeters). There are 14 Stitches and 20 Rows in a 4"x4" square, which is the gauge. Yours might differ slightly due to tension or if you use a different size knitting needle. It also gives the same relevant information for crochet. Care information is also here, as well as what the yarn is made out of (this is an acrylic/wool blend). Did you happen to catch that bit at the bottom? Dye lots are yarns that were dyed together. There can be some slight differences in shade with different dye lots. If you need multiple skeins for your project, try to get the same dye lot. You cannot tell just by holding the skeins together (unless there is a big difference!) so definitely look at the numbers. I managed to not grab a single photo of a dye lot number in my photos today, so I will be sure to include examples in the next post.

Here are more examples of different labels, weights, and types of yarn. You will notice that the last label does not have a number, but instead has Fingering in the name. This is yarn from an indie dyer, so she used the name rather than the weight number. The last picture is so that you can see the skeins and get an idea of what different weights look like.

Alright, let's sum up.

-Yarn comes in weights, which says how thick or thin the yarn is.

-Know your project before you pick your yarn. Bulky yarns aren't good for lacy shawls and Sock yarn isn't great for thick scarves.

-Tension is how tight or loose you knit. This will affect gauge, or how many stitches are in an inch.

-If you do not know your normal tension yet, it is a good idea to stick to items where size does not matter (i.e. knit a scarf or shawl instead of a hat or sweater).

-Many yarn labels will tell you the suggested knitting needle size and average gauge with the size needle.

-If you need multiple skeins (balls of yarn) for the same project, try to get ones with the same dye lot number. (more on this on Friday)

Let me know if you have any questions or think of something I missed! If you are starting out knitting and have a topic you want me to cover, just comment below.

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