Sunday, September 2, 2012

Let's Get This Party Started

Week 2: Casting On, Knit Stitch

Hopefully everyone understood  the information presented in our last lesson, and got a chance to go  purchase some supplies. To get started today, you will need your knitting needles (straight or circular), and your yarn. Today's lesson has three main parts: how to tie a slip knot, how to cast on, and how to knit your first stitches.

The Slip Knot

Before you can start making loops and pulling other loops through those loops, you have to attach your yarn to the needle. If you don't, the whole thing will just unravel and fall apart. The easiest and most effective way to do this is by tying a slip knot. The cool thing about a slip knot is that it automatically will adjust to be the right size, and works kind of like a little noose around the knitting needle. There are three steps to tying a slip knot:

 Form a little loop with your yarn, making sure the tail of the yarn is behind the loop where you can easily grab it.
 Using the needle (or your finger), pull that tail through your loop. If you do it with your finger, you can then transfer the loop onto the needle.
Pull on the loop and the tail until it tightens up around your needle. You don't want to pull too tightly, but you don't want the loop to fall off the needle either (if the loop falls off the needle, it will come undone).

For those of you that do better with videos instead of pictures: 

Not only does your slip knot attach your yarn to your needle, it actually counts as your first "stitch". Now that your yarn is on the needle, you can start casting on, which is the process of putting more loops on your needle that you will then knit.

Casting On

Now that you have one loop on your needle, you need to add some more. How many you cast on will determine the width of your fabric. Remember last week when we talked about gauge? Well, if a four inch by four in piece of fabric is 15 stitches wide, and you need to make an eight-inch wide piece of fabric, you're going to cast on 30 stitches. If you only want to knit a two-inch piece of fabric (for say, a super-skinny scarf), you want either 7 or 8 stitches (since we can't cast on 7.5 stitches).

There are a bunch of different ways to cast on depending on what you're trying to do (certain types of cast-ons look different and lend themselves to different types of projects), but my personal favorite is the backwards loop cast-on. It's super-duper easy to do, and is suitable for a lot of different projects.

To do this kind of cast on, you repeatedly make loops of yarn, twist them around backwards, and slide them onto your needle. Give the tail of yarn a tiny tug to pull it snugly onto the needle, but be careful not to do things too tightly. This goes for knitting too--- if things get pulled too tight, it'll be very very difficult to knit.

And again, here is a nice little video demonstrating the backwards loop cast-on, with a brief review of our slip knot:

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The Main Event: Getting to Know the Knit Stitch

The part you've all been waiting for! The knit stitch is, obviously, the foundation of knitting. It's the reverse of the purl stitch (which you will learn next week), and looks like a purl stitch from behind. The knit stitch, which done over and over and over creates little rows of "V"s, like you see in the picture below. This type of fabric is known as "stockinette", and is probably the most common type of fabric made by knitters:

The back of this knit-stitch fabric looks like a bunch of bumps, and is is equivalent to a bunch of rows of purls (this will make more sense after next week). This fabric, shown below is known as 'reverse stockinette':

Now keep in mind, the fabric you are about to knit isn't going to look like either of the above pictures. Why is this? Because the fabric you are going to knit is going to be worked on both sides. On your first row (and every odd-numbered row), you will be working on Side A of the fabric, and on your second row (and every even numbered row), you will be working on Side B. Because you will be using ONLY the knit stitch, and working the fabric from different sides, every other row will look like purl stitches when viewed from one side. You will not get those pretty little V's on one side of the fabric, and those pretty little bumbs on the other. Instead, each side of the fabric will have alternating rows of knits and purls. This type of fabric is known as garter stitch, and is another extremely common type of knitting. It looks similar to reverse-stockinette, but if you stretch it out a little bit, you will see those little "V's" on every other row:

This week, you are going to practice making a swatch (otherwise known as a "test piece") of garter stitch. You will do this by casting on a certain number of stitches (I suggest trying fifteen, or enough to make a 4"x4" piece if you are using different size needles and yarn than I recommended last week), and repeating the knit stitch until you reach the end of the row, flipping your fabric around, and then knitting across those stitches. You repeat these steps over and over to create more rows.

How to Make a Knit Stitch

There are two different ways to knit: Continental and English. In Continental knitting, the yarn is held in the left hand, and in English, the yarn is held in the right hand. There are definite advocates of both methods (and I would chance a guess that English is more popular), but I'm a personal fan of Continental for a couple of reasons. While any sort of knitting is going to be slow and awkward at first, Continental is much, much, much faster than English once you get them both down pat. Also, it'll be easier to learn other needlecrafts if you are comfortable holding the yarn in your left hand (crocheters hold yarn in their left hand). I also find that tension is much easier to control in continental knitting once you learn how to do it.

Feel free to choose your own method. It'll probably be easier to start out with English knitting, but I really recommend that you at least give Continental a shot. 

And for those interested in learning English style: 

So I Knit All My Stitches: Now What?

So you cast on fifteen stitches, and have knit all of your stitches off of your first needle and onto your second. What now? Simply take the needle in your right hand (the one with all your stitches now on it), and swap its position with your left one. Then repeat the process. Each time your needles switch hands, you've completed a single row. Each row should have the same number of stitches as the row before.

Um.... Ooops?

So you might find yourself with a couple of problems as you learn to knit. Try these simple tips if you're having any problems:

I started with fifteen stitches, and now I only have 12---- what'd I do wrong? 

You're accidentally dropping stitches. Either you've completed the stitch properly and let it somehow fall off your right needle, or you didn't actually create a stitch properly while it was still on the left needle. Maybe you did this by wrapping the yarn around the right needle in the wrong direction, or not wrapping it at all. Watch the video super closely and make sure you're completing all of the steps exactly as shown. 

I started with fifteen stitches, and now I have 20! What did I do wrong?

You're not actually sliding the stitch off the left needle once you finish, and are knitting repeatedly into the same stitch. Make sure that once you pull a new loop through one of your stitches, you slide that stitch off of your left needle so that you don't accidentally knit through it twice. 

Your Turn!

So practice making a slip knot, casting on with your backwards loops, and knitting a few rows. To really get comfortable with it, I'd recommend knitting at least 30 or 40 rows about 15 stitches wide. 

If you have any questions, feel free to post videos or pictures of your knitting to /r/beginningtoknit. 

Also, keep an eye on this blog during the week--- I'm working on a post linking to other resources you may want to check out now that you know some of the basics.

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