Skills needed – are you ready?
I advocate learning the two basic stitches, knit and purl, before you worry about knitting anything in particular. It takes a little while to get the hang of it, and you don’t want to worry too much about fixing mistakes when you are still trying to figure out how to hold the needles. If you are brand new to knitting, and reading this with your first ball of yarn and needles in front of you, please take a little time to learn and practice the basics before you start your first project. You can find help here:
Alright, if you can cast on, knit and purl, you are ready for your first knitting project. There are a few things that are worth considering when choosing your first project.
Considerations before choosing your first project
For you, or a gift?
You are probably excited about the idea of knitting gifts for your loved ones. A sweater for your husband, a baby blanket for your soon-to-be-born niece, a shawl for your mother, socks for your teenage son. I understand – giving away a labor of love is a fantastic feeling. This may even be what motivated you to learn to knit in the first place. However, you may want to consider dedicating your first knitted project to yourself. First of all, you deserve it! Secondly, you will not care so much about the imperfections when it’s for yourself, and thirdly, you are free to choose a project that fits your skill level. You will get to the rest soon enough, but for now, you need a beginner project that will give you confidence in your brand new skills, and teach you a few new ones.
Knitting is a slow hobby – really slow when you are a beginner. A fast, experienced knitter may knit a sweater in as little as 15 hours of actual knitting time, so that is a couple of weeks to a month in project time. Most of us take several months to a year to knit a sweater. For a beginner, a small dishcloth may take a couple of weeks to complete, or it may take an evening or two if you are a fast learner.
What I am trying to say is, you will need some patience. If you are an impatient person, I will encourage you to start with a smaller project or a heavier weight yarn. People often suggest you start with a scarf, and that is indeed an excellent beginners project because it’s knitted flat, with no shaping. Still, if your choice of yarn is a DK weight or thinner, it will take you a long time to finish 60+ inches (150+ cm) of knitting. A super chunky yarn, on the other hand, knits up really fast, but you have to knit with huge diameter needles which can feel a bit awkward.
When choosing your first knitting project, think about how much time you are willing to spend on it. If you decide to knit dishcloths, you will be able to finish an entire stack of cloths, each with a different stitch pattern, in the same amount of time you could have knitted a single scarf. You can learn more in a shorter time that way, and it might be more enjoyable.
To fix or not to fix your knitting mistakes
It really comes down to your temperament and whether or not you are a perfectionist. If you are knitting something for yourself, you may not care at this point. On the other hand, you could use every mistake as an opportunity to learn how to fix it. When you encounter your first problems, take a look at the knitting SOS category of my blog. There’s already a few typical beginner mistakes covered, and more is on the way.
Three excellent choices for a first project
Dishcloth or washcloth
I love knitted cloths. They are fun and fast to knit, and they are excellent for testing new stitch patterns. It’s just a small square – no shaping, no worries. Once you start using hand-knitted cloths, you will never go back to store-bought. And all your friends will want a set. You can use the same patterns for a dishcloth or a washcloth, but you may want to choose a different yarn, depending on the intended use.
If you are knitting a dishcloth, intended to be used in the kitchen, you should use a sturdy, 100% cotton yarn of medium (worsted) weight. Preferably, choose a cotton yarn that can be machine-washed hot, or at least warm, to avoid it becoming a bacteria bomb. There are yarns specifically marketed as dishcloth yarn or kitchen yarn. Lily Sugar ‘n Cream is a good example. It’s cheap, available in both physical stores and online, and it comes in a wide variety of colors.
If you are knitting a washcloth, you should still go for 100% cotton, but you could perhaps choose a yarn that’s a little softer. It will feel better against your skin. Local yarn stores often have a selection of luxurious organic cotton yarns. Typically, these can still be machine-washed, but in cold water, although the label may state that it’s hand-wash only. I like the Blue Sky Fibers Worsted Cotton. Organic cotton is more expensive, and you can use the kitchen yarn just as well if you want to save the money.
I have designed three easy patterns for dish- or washcloths, and they are available for free. They come with a handy guide for all the steps to complete them.
A scarf is a classic choice for a first knitted project. A simple garter stitch, i.e. knit stitches only, makes a really lovely, thick winter scarf. You don’t even need a pattern for a garter stitch scarf. Use the information on the yarn label to decide how many stitches to cast on for your desired width, and keep knitting until you have the length you want.
Along the way, you will have to learn a few new things: How to change to a new yarn ball, how to cast off, and how to weave in the yarn tails. Note that stockinette stitch (knit 1 row, purl 1 row, repeat) is not a good choice for a scarf unless you add a 3-5 stitches border on all sides with a different stitch, such as garter. Stockinette fabric curls! Writing a post with beginner-friendly scarves is on my list, but it might be about a month before I get to it. In the meanwhile, you can get some inspiration from a project, I am currently working on – a season scarf for the San Jose Sharks hockey team.
As I mentioned earlier, scarves take forever to finish. If you are not excited about knitting dishcloths, but you don’t have the patience for a scarf, why not knit a cowl? Cowls are short tubes, worn around the neck. You can knit it flat and then seam it together to form the tube. You can use something called a mattress stitch for a seam that’s invisible on the outside. Remember to make the cowl big enough that it can go over your head. I will be sure to add a cowl pattern or two in with the scarf ones when I write the future post about beginner scarves.
Whichever project you choose, have fun with it, and be kind to yourself.
A guide to begin, and complete your first project
I have written a series of posts with the skills you will need to begin and complete your first knitting project, including a guide for how to read a basic knitting pattern, and how to finish a knitting project. You will find the full guide here: Guide for your first knitting project. I continue to write more articles with the new knitter in mind. Please follow me here on the blog, or on Instagram or twitter if you want to stay updated.