knitting article

5 Beginner Knitter Mistakes

I don't know what is more annoying about starting up a new hobby: the lack of skill to produce something satisfactory or the fact that I have no idea if what I'm doing is correct or completely wrong.

Taking up knitting was no exception. During my first months of knitting I made all kinds of errors that would result in a less than pleasing product. Thankfully the internet was there to correct me. So if you recently discovered the magic and addiction of this wonderful craft, here are some mistakes to watch out for and how to avoid them!

1. Not Doing a Gauge Swatch

If I was going for the oversized sweater, this would have been ok.

If I was going for the oversized sweater, this would have been ok.

Ok, most likely even those just starting out in knitting have heard of doing a gauge swatch or at least have seen the word. And more advanced knitters will probably roll their eyes at this one because they have heard it time and time again. But I'm going to repeat it here: if you are going to attempt a fitted garment or accessory (such as a hat), you have to do a gauge swatch.

If this is your first time hearing this term, here's a quick rundown:

Gauge refers to the number of stitches and rows a knitter or crocheter makes per inch using a certain yarn and needles or hook. Gauge varies from person to person, so it is very important to make sure you are achieving the gauge of your pattern. Your gauge determines the size of your finished piece.

Take note of that last sentence. Gauge determines the size of your finished piece. 

I once took on the task of knitting a hoodie for my husband. This was my first time knitting a garment piece and I had been knitting for about five months at this point. I had seen the words gauge here and there but never really payed any attention to it. The pattern notes highlighted to make a gauge swatch but I ignored it. I started knitting.

And knitting. And knitting. I knit the large size (for my husband's small-medium frame), because I had found out over the months that I knit tighter than most (meaning I have to go up a needle size in order to achieve recommended gauge in most patterns). And not surprisingly, my sweater was much too big (even bigger than the large size). 

However I didn't learn my lesson. I frogged the entire project and started over knitting up the medium size. Without working a gauge swatch. Again. That sweater remains unfinished to this day.

2. Thinking Yarns in the Same Weight Category are the Same

Pictured: flowers and four different types of fingering weight yarn.

Pictured: flowers and four different types of fingering weight yarn.

Not all yarns are created equally. For example, Cascade Yarns 220 and Lily Sugar'n Cream are both worsted weight yarns. However Cascade 220 is 100% wool and Sugar'n Cream is 100% cotton. You would use these yarns for different projects and for different seasons. And most notably, these yarns knit up differently. If you were working a pattern where the designer used a 100% wool, worsted weight yarn with a 100% cotton yarn, your finished object will look different from the original sample. Textured, cabled and lace stitches will vary in appearance and even the drape and the "hold" of the finished projects will differ.

Look through a popular pattern's project page on Ravelry and you will see a variety of different yarns knitters used for their projects. Take note of the yarns and compare the results. 

If the recommended yarn is out of your price range and you want to find a comparable substitute check out this website, YarnSub first. They have a large database of both major and lesser known yarns that can help you get started.

3. Not Blocking

This is probably because we've heard horror stories about throwing wool sweaters in washers and dryers and discovering that they shrunk and felted. And even more frightening, this process can not be undone. So why throw your hard work into water?

It's the temperature of the water that determines the success or failure of the blocking process. Tepid water will not cause the micro fibers in the yarn to felt. In fact, it will do the opposite in some cases. In animal based fibers, it can loosen up the fibers, even out the stitches and smooth out the sides.

Blocking is highly recommended for projects with any lace in it, as the water opens up the stitches and you can pin the project to really highlight the pattern. 

4. Thinking That Blocking Will Solve Everything

On the flip side, while blocking can take your project to the next level by giving it a professional look (I've had many non-knitters and knitters alike look at my work and declare how "perfect" the finished results were), blocking can not solve everything. Any major mistakes in the pattern many actually stand out and while the gauge can change slightly (especially after aggressive blocking), you can not add or subtract inches to a piece due to a miscalculation in gauge (or failing to do so).

I was once commissioned to knit a formfitting garment. Once again, I didn't measure gauge (this was around the same time I was knitting my husband's sweater). My stitches per inch were correct, but my rows per inch were not. And up until that point, I had been blocking shawls which are blocked differently from garment pieces. Once I finished the piece according to the pattern, I figured I could aggressively block the piece to the final measurements (I did not want to have to frog the piece, as I had done so many times). This aggressive blocking was to add two inches to the body of the pullover but once the yarn dried, I encountered something that I call "snapback". For every two inches you try to aggressively block a piece, once off the needles and having been worn for a while, it will recede back about an inch. 

While I was lucky that the FO fit in the end without too much trouble (my first seaming attempts had to be re-done several times), the amount of stress of trying to get the garment to fit made me reconsider my career as a knitter for a while. Thankfully I learned my lesson and now I always knit a gauge swatch and frog my work if I'm not happy with the result. Blocking might seem like magic, but even it has its limitations. It's up to you, dear knitter, to decide whether the risk is worth it.

5. Not Attempting a Project Because You Think It Is Higher Than Your Skill Level

I think this is a mistake that everyone makes, no matter their knitting level. Don't let you hold yourself back from trying to knit a pattern that may seem to be out of your comfort level. Doing so is a disservice to yourself. The internet is full of resources and tutorials that you can look up. Practice! Ravelry has plenty of forums and references to look to if you are stuck. In some cases, you can even contact the designer directly if you are stuck! So don't not try a pattern because you think it might be out of your range. As Shia LaBeouf says...

Thank you, Mr. LaBeouf.