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Sarah E. White

Did You Find it Hard to Learn How to Knit?

By December 30, 2008

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With the beginning of the year coming on, I'm thinking a lot about new knitters and what it was like to learn how to knit. I don't remember a lot about learning to knit, but I know from some of the scary looking swatches still in existence that I must have struggled with it a little bit.

This week I'd like to know how learning to knit was for you. Did you take to it easily or was it (maybe it still is) a struggle for you to make the stitches and follow patterns?

I'd also love to hear if some of you knitters with more experience have any advice for those who might be struggling to master knitting. The most important thing, I think, is to keep trying and have patience with yourself -- the odds are good eventually it will click and you'll be off to the races, wondering what you thought was so hard about knitting in the first place.


December 30, 2008 at 3:59 pm
(1) Christine says:

I’m just learning how to knit. I’m still struggling with how to hold the needles in my hand and wrap the yarn with my index finger (picking).

December 30, 2008 at 4:17 pm
(2) Carol says:

I have 3 bits of advice for knitters who are struggling to learn: (1) Keep your hands relaxed; gripping the needles and yarn tightly will make you sore and produce ugly and/or tight stitches, which will make you more discouraged. (2) Try a variety of ways of learning. If a well-meaning relative has tried to teach you, and you’re not getting it, that might only mean that your best mode of learning is something else. Try videos (there are many online, or you can borrow them from library), books with plenty of close-up photos of techniques, take a class, try a different mentor, join a knitting group so you have friends you can approach for help. (3) Try process knitting, that is, just knit away without trying to create a specific object. That way you can just focus on technique, without the added pressure of following a pattern or worrying about how the scarf (or whatever) will come out.

December 30, 2008 at 6:39 pm
(3) Lynne says:

Don’t give up! If you’re tired, hungry or stressed, put your knitting aside and walk away. It will still be there later.

December 30, 2008 at 10:36 pm
(4) Angela says:

I learned how to knit when I was so young that I don’t even remember learning. I enjoy the challenge of learning new patterns and techniques, but the knitting and purling are like instinct… I should thank my mom for teaching me so early!

December 31, 2008 at 2:16 am
(5) sandra says:

I know there are some really good sites and books to show knitting, but honestly believe it is so much easier if one is shown how to knit by another knitter. Even if it is just cast on, knit, purl, cast off, once those are mastered the learner can hopefully progress further on their own.
I know knitting techniques can be improved by the way pins are held, yarn is draped over certain digits etc. But let the learner accomplish some stitches before insisting on certain methods. It is like writing, we all learned to print before doing “joined up”. It didnt mean we could not print afterwards. So let the “correct way” come into place once the confidence has been built. And, as for the “correct way”, many competent knitters have their own favoured “correct way”, and they do not all use the same method.
Knitting is to be enjoyed and this can be marred if restrictions are placed on the learner inhibiting their initial enthusiasm.

December 31, 2008 at 9:31 am
(6) Mireille says:

I don’t remember specifically having difficulty learning to knit, but then I knit garter rectangles for years before branching out. I do distinctly remember the first time I couldn’t tell knit rows from purl rows because it wasn’t a “struggle” to remember to purl. That’s when I decided I could really do this and branched out into hats, garments, etc.
So it was a struggle to move beyond beginning knitting for me. I agree with the other posters who have all said, if you can’t learn from someone or some particular book, try another!

December 31, 2008 at 9:47 am
(7) Sarah E. White says:

I completely agree, Sandra, that beginners shouldn’t focus on a “right way,” just whatever way works to get the stitches made for them. And you can always improve your techniques later if need be and if those methods work better for you.

But a lot of people get so hung up on wanting to do it right they end up not doing it at all, and that’s no good.

December 31, 2008 at 10:34 am
(8) Helen says:

My mother taught me to knit when I was about 6. the first project was a washcloth which instead of being a rectangle, was more like an hourglass because of all the accidental increases, decreases and split stitches!
I agree with what all others have said. relax, be patient with yourself, choose a simple project that will give you an immediate feeling of accomplishment. Enjoy the feeling of the wool and the beauty of the colour you’ve chosen.
Repairing mistakes was the best way to really learn the structure of the stitches, but that should come after you have some comfort with the basic knitting and purling. Practise makes perfect, not that we need to be perfect! Have fun.

December 31, 2008 at 12:39 pm
(9) Amy Simmons says:

I’m a decent knitter now, but I remember the hardest part for me when I started is to remember how to handle the needles & the yarn, and to make sure to keep the yarn behind everything. There are just details that you don’t realize matter until you’ve knitted and torn out your first few rows.

I’ve taught a couple people to knit since then, and they seem to have the same problems I did – hopefully that isn’t because of my teaching!

December 31, 2008 at 4:29 pm
(10) Brenda says:

I agree ! Relax and be patient with whatever you’re trying to knit. I use knitting to help me relax and calm my nerves.
If your stitches are uneven, too tight or too loose; if you drop stitches or pick them up accidentally; if you become frustrated and tear the project off of the needles — know that most all of us have done this, too.
Cast on and try again. Practice on small swatches and go slowly to watch the rows form.
In all my years of knitting, I have found that I resort to this “starter” method when I take on a more difficult project that requires a little more patience and results in a positive learning experience.

January 1, 2009 at 9:10 am
(11) Teri says:

I agree keep it simple and relax. I too was taught to knit at a young age. My Aunt taught me both how to knit and purl. I found it so easy that it was second nature.
It is all practice, practice. practice. I have taught my grandchildren to knit both like it but aren’t keeping up with it. That’s ok they have the ground work down pat. So if and when they want to start again they will be able too.

January 2, 2009 at 12:33 am
(12) Hilary` says:

Please could someone tell me the easiest way how to teach my granddaughters to knit? Also to crochet? They are 8 and 10 years old.

January 5, 2009 at 12:34 pm
(13) mousepotato says:

You should have had a *It was so long ago I don’t remember* category here . I’m sure I struggled as a child, but then by the time Nana taught me to use the needles myself I’d been watching her for a few years.

January 5, 2009 at 1:41 pm
(14) Diane says:

I learned to knit in my teens from a lady who worked in the same office as I did. I really didn’t have any problems – I think – because I was older. However, my knitting wasn’t anything to brag about…loose, uneven stitches, etc. It just takes practice, the more you knit, the better you become. I am now 70 and still at it…my eternal problem is guage…….cheerio!!

January 5, 2009 at 3:12 pm
(15) Edil says:

I had a better time learning to crochet and sewing,but learning to knit has been very different .I am left handed so using a book was useless,I was able to learn purl and knit from a right handed friend and from thre I had to figure out the rest.One thing I would like to do is to learn toknit lace. At the end more like the beginning I end up with a terible knot in the neddles and complatly frustated. Somebody must remenber us the silent 15 percent minorities of left handed and publish a book for us.

January 5, 2009 at 3:51 pm
(16) kazbels says:

I don’t remember it being hard to learn to knit – and I’m left-handed! I learned more than 40 years ago, and knitting and cross-stitch are my hobbies. Right now I’m learning to knit lace, and that is challenging!

January 5, 2009 at 10:15 pm
(17) Taylor says:

My Nanny taught me when I was just little… I remember winding balls of yarn at 3 or 4 … its hard to remember a time when I didn’t know how to knit… I’ve shown many people how and the best advice I can give is take your time, count stitches every row until you’re comfortable and find out where the best local knit shop or “stitch & bitch” is so if you need help you can easily find some knitters who can help you out….For anyone with an iPhone, great APP called StitchMinder to keep track of patterns rows etc….. Happy Knitting!!

January 6, 2009 at 5:03 am
(18) Alison says:

I can’t remeber how hard I found knitting but I can remember my Aunt taught me how to knit. Christine you may try using your little finger as the wrap around or tension finger and your index finger as the push the wool around the needle finger. Hoave a good new year every one and happy knitting.

January 6, 2009 at 2:08 pm
(19) Joan Elkin says:

I learned to knit so long ago that I can’t remember if I had trouble learning. It was a good 45 years ago or more.

January 8, 2009 at 7:33 pm
(20) Katie says:

I agree with all the writers who said “I was too young to remember”. I know I was 4 and my great-aunt taught me, but I don’t remember a time when I didn’t knit. I used to knit very tight and had to go up several needle sizes to get gauge. I worked at it and now knit true to gauge on the needles called for almost all os the time. Keep practicing and the techniques will become a habit you don’t even have to think about.

June 16, 2009 at 8:56 pm
(21) Jackie says:

I tried to learn how to knit earlier this year. I signed up to take a class for “beginners” at a yarn shop near Atlanta that was going to be for two hours on Saturday afternoons. Imagine how discouraged I was at the first class to discover everybody in the class HAD knitted at some point before in their lives! There were even two women in the “beginner’s” class who had taken this same class in November and were there because they needed help on the projects they had started. As a result, the class wasn’t a beginner class at all. The instructor spent all of her time helping people in the class who were having trouble with things like dropped stitches or binding off. I was barely able to get the instructor to show me how to make a slip knot or start casting on! The rest of the time, I was totally ignored. I did return for the second Saturday, but it was more of the same. I left that lesson after only an hour in tears and never returned for any more lessons. My advice is NOT to sign up and pay your hard-earned money to take a “beginner’s” class at a yarn shop unless you are assured it truly is a “beginner’s” class. The needles and yarn I purchased for the class with such high hopes are now collecting dust in a tote bag in a closet. I don’t know if I’ll ever try learning how to knit again since this was such an awful experience.

December 30, 2009 at 11:03 pm
(22) JDM says:

I came from a knitting class tonight–my first–and I am almost in tears. I’ve tried to learn the past 2 months from a video. I was the worst in a class of 8, including the token guy. My swatch looked like crap and by the time I sort of caught on to stitching, I failed to pay attentiohn to how to cast off, bind off or whatever the hell it’s called. I don’t do well in classes. I think I need a personal teacher.

June 28, 2010 at 10:32 am
(23) Dave says:

I am still learning. Very frustrating. I tried to learn from scratch last fall, and made a halfway decent amount of progress for a beginner (with no knowledge or experience who wasn’t even sure which ends of the needles the yarn went on) in making simple rows of basic stitches. Didn’t make many (maybe a few dozen of about 10-15 stitches each on two different tries), but I did notice I was going faster and faster (still super-slow by regular knitter standards). This was over a two or three day period in which I only practiced a few hours at a time. Casting on was a pain — only could do it once after several attempts following step by step instructions with huge clear pictures. I thought I had caught on to the simplest aspect (knit stitch) well enough that I could go back anytime to practice more.

I was wrong.

I had to relearn everything about making a simple knit stitch, and then I found I was doing much much worse than last time in every way. I had trouble pulling the yarn through the loop, in trying to get the old stitch off the main needle, everything. No speed, no consistency. Just a horrible struggle which got worse with each row. And I haven’t enough experience to understand and fix my mistakes so if a knitter isn’t around to help me I sometimes can only go a few minutes on my own before getting stuck. Soooo… my advice is that IF you start and IF you make any progress at all, do not stop practicing. You can and will forget the basics and starting over again is supremely frustrating.

July 5, 2010 at 2:36 pm
(24) Dottie Gardner says:

I have just started to learn how to knit. I have mastered how to Cast-On and I know the Knit stich but stitches are too tight. Knitting should be soft with some elastic give to it. Mine is very firm with no give. How do I learn not to knit tightly.

January 20, 2013 at 2:15 pm
(25) Anon says:

Someone above said ‘if you’re hungry, stressed or tired’ put down the needles and come back to it…I’m not tired, hungry or stressed until I PICK UP the needles.

Recently bought a knitting magazine called ‘How to Knit’. Should’ve been called ‘How to KNOT’ and I’m already a professional at that. That is why I picked up a ‘How to KNIT’ magazine. If I picked up a How to Fish magazine I wouldn’t expect to be taught how to snare rabbits…

What annoys me is the ‘specialist language’ instruction manuals or people who knit assume the human species are born fluently speaking. Every instruction and human I’ve so far sought the advice of goes from ‘hold the needle’ to then speaking a separate language with no explanation inbetween. I’m not trying to learn Latin (linguam Latinam loquor!), I just want to knit. It doesn’t make a book or person sound clever to offer knowledge only to then use that knowledge to belittle somebody who is earnestly asking for help.

I can cast on, but beyond that…nothing. I’ve emptied the library, pleaded with my family members and friends who knit and subscribed to magazines. It makes me want to kill myself to think I’m not capable of something that all the people around me find so easy…If you’re going to be useless at something I imagined maybe it’d be brain surgery or rocket science, not knitting.

My last attempt ended in me stabbing myself with the needle to relieve the absolute agony of having wasted three hours of life proving I was not capable of a simple garter stitch.

A heroin addiction caused me less pain…physically and mentally.

I won’t give up, but I am beginning to wonder after three years of trying how much of my life I am going to lose and if I’ll ever gain anything for all the time and tears I’ve put in. Anything beyond suicidal thoughts, that is.

January 26, 2014 at 11:57 pm
(26) Shae says:

I just started learning to knit. I wanted to make home made gifts for friends and family for Christmas so I purchased a rectangle loom and made scarves. They were a hit!! My children and partner gifted me with yarn and needles for Christmas since it looked like I wanted to learn to knit, which I did. I have watched hours and hours of online videos and read a few books but still find my knitting practice to end in a knit of nothingness and stress and frustration similar to algebra in college. I love love love the idea of learning to knit and the idea of being able to knit objects with the needles along with the loom, so I come back to the needles daily, unfortuantely the outcome isn’t improving so I fear I will be wasting my time and unfortuantely a very thoughtful gift. Any help from those of you who know what you are doing. I have tried holding needles different, different needles, different yarns, watched a number of videos all teaching me very slowly, read instructional books, and even had my 14year old who does knit show me how to. My knits fall off the tip of my needles, i can’t seem to get my needle inside the stiches very easily and when I do it is so tight i can hardly move it. I drop my needles because they are slippery and I feel like my hands are 3 sizes too big (yes I know football players whose hands I can only assume are much larger than mine, knit) I just get so frustrated I need help, I believe I can do this I just so want it to be an enjoyable activity.

January 27, 2014 at 1:29 pm
(27) knitting says:

I’m not sure what to say except I hope you’ll try to stick with it! Have you tried any in-person instruction? Sometimes having someone there who can really show you what to do is better even than watching videos. Good luck!

January 31, 2014 at 6:04 pm
(28) Emily says:

Ive gotten much better through practice at the basic knit and perl, but following a pattern is my biggest challenge now, when I read the instructions its hard to conceptualize it all and how everything is supposed to fit together. I find sewing patterns difficult for the same reason….

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