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Years ago, perusing a craft fair in Brooklyn with a friend, I looked at a knitted headband with an attached flower and said, “I could make that.” My friend agreed. The only problem was that I didn’t know how to knit.

On a whim, we walked to the yarn store across the street from the playground where I took my son. I’d never been inside, but now I asked the proprietor to teach me to knit. She got me set up with yarn, needles, and a few simple techniques, and suggested a website I could visit if I got stuck.

I think she was surprised when I returned the next week, having mastered the knit stitch and taught myself the purl stitch. But all I’d done was take her advice and invested some time in practicing. She helped me find a more challenging project, and nine years later, I’m still learning and loving this timeless craft.

First things first

There are a couple of things you need to know about knitting. First, knitting is a craft that uses two needles and creates stitches that are either columns of “v”s or bumps or a combination of the two. Crocheting is a craft done with just one hook, and the resulting stitches tend to be rounder. Either craft can be used to create sweaters, blankets, accessories (like that headband that I did end up making), stuffed toys, and more.

Second, knitting can be as expensive a craft as you let it be. Acrylic yarn can be purchased from stores like Michaels for just a couple of dollars, while fancier fibers (wool, cashmere, linen) can run to over a hundred dollars per project. There’s also a range in price and durability of needles.

In most cases, you get what you pay for. I wouldn’t recommend starting with mohair, but more luxurious yarns do create better drape and fabrics that will feel softer against your skin. Also consider that your purchase yields not only the finished project, but also hours of entertainment, stress release, and intellectual stimulation (and, okay, sometimes frustration as well).

Don’t start with a scarf

It’s a good idea to get the hang of moving the yarn on a swatch, or square of fabric created to gauge the size of your stitches with a particular yarn-needle combination. But please, please don’t let your first project be a scarf. Scarves are long and repetitive and can get boring pretty quickly.

Consider instead starting with a hat, either for yourself or for a baby or child. With a hat, you can learn basic stitches, as well as how to decrease the size of your fabric and more quickly come to the end of a project. Even if you make some mistakes, it is better to have a finished project in hand than a strip of fabric that feels like it will never end!

Almost a decade into knitting, I still look forward to learning a new skill or technique when I start a new project. There are basically only two stitches in knitting (the knit stitch, where you pull the yarn through from behind, and the purl stitch, where you pull the yarn through from the front), but these can be combined and manipulated in myriad ways to create zig zags, stripes, lace, cables, and more.

The earlier you get instruction, the better

After that impromptu lesson at the yarn store, I took advantage of an offer at another shop, where I learned I was twisting my purl stitch. It’s something I might have eventually figured out on my own, but guidance from a more experienced set of eyes helped me continue to gain confidence and try new things. The beauty of knitting is that you can always rip out your mistakes and try again (knitters call this “frogging”—“rip out” is nearly “ribbit”; isn’t the lingo fun?).

If you’re not able to go into a store for instruction, many are now offering virtual lessons. For recorded videos, I recommend KnittingHelp.com (the first site I used) and the blog at Purl Soho.

This isn’t your grandma’s knitting

New patterns are released every day in the world of knitting. Patterns are available in books (check out your local library), at yarn manufacturer websites, and on blogs. Basically every pattern on the internet also has a home at Ravelry, a social media site for fiber artists.

As you search what’s available, look for a designer whose style suits yours. On Ravelry, you can see how other people used a pattern and what their finished objects (FOs) look like. This real-life point of view means a lower likelihood of a Pinterest-fail-type result, plus you can see other color combinations come to life and interact with other artists.

Knitting is better with a friend

My last piece of advice is to find a friend to learn with. It could be someone you know from work or someone you meet at a lesson at your local yarn store (LYS, for those in the know). This is the person with whom you’ll share pattern ideas, text progress updates, and get excited with when you finish a new project.

Knitting is a way to celebrate life—think knitting wedding gifts or baby shower presents—and to decompress from stressful situations. When learned properly, it’s a skill that lasts a lifetime and can create thoughtful items that last even longer. 

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