Knitting month: what to buy to get started
Welcome to the Cosy Craft Club's knitting month! We really want to encourage you to have a go at knitting yourself, and we'll be sharing the key things you need to know to get started. You can find all our knitting posts in one place here.
If you want to have a go at knitting, all you need to try it are a pair of needles and some wool (or technically, yarn). Simple, right?
Recently I started knitting again for the first time in 20 years, and I was just totally overwhelmed by the options, especially in yarn. If you look on LoveKnitting (like I did) you'll find literally thousands of balls of yarn for sale.
So where to begin?
I'm going to give you the short answer first: if you just want to have a go at knitting, I'd suggest you get 4mm straight needles and double knit acrylic yarn.
Let's start with knitting needles first. There are 3 main types of needles: straight (like the ones pictured above), circular and double pointed.
Circular needles are two short straight needles connected by a wire. They're useful if you want to knit in the round (i.e. knitting a tube rather than a flat piece) but can be used for knitting flat as well, especially if you're knitting something quite big. My main issue with them is that they come in different lengths as well as different diameters so you'd probably need a different one for every project. Personally, I've got my eye on a set with interchangeable wires and then I'll have every size I'll ever need!
Double pointed needles are also used for knitting in the round and they're good for things like sleeves and socks. They're a bit more advanced and you won't need them when you're getting started.
If you just want to have a go at knitting, grab some straight ones!
Ok, so you've decided to buy some straight needles. Now you need to choose a size. In the UK knitting needle sizes are in metric (mm), which is the diameter of the needle. However, they can also be measured in old UK or US sizes. This chart will help you to convert between the sizes.
The needle size is usually set by the knitting pattern or the yarn that you’re using. If you have a knitting pattern you want to try, it will say what size needles you need. Or if you find some yarn you like, it will say on the label what size needles to use with it. Websites like LoveKnitting also tell you what needle size you need for each yarn.
Knitting needles are most commonly made from metal, plastic or wood/bamboo. Any of these are fine, although for thinner needles (say, less than 3mm) plastic ones are a bit flimsy. Wood and bamboo needles are less smooth which you might like because the yarn is less likely to slip off the needles accidentally.
For a beginner, I'd suggest 4mm metal or bamboo straight needles.
Right, you've chosen your needles, let's look into yarn.
There is a bewildering array of types of yarn, but the first thing to know is that the different thicknesses (weights) of yarn have different names, like Aran, double knitted and chunky. The chart on this page shows the differences between them and the different names used for each weight. A knitting pattern will tell you which weight you need for it.
The other key thing is the material that the yarn is made from. Some examples are acrylic (cheap), wool (longer lasting but can be itchy), alpaca (hypoallergenic), cotton or more exotic materials like cashmere and silk. This guide tells you more about the different types of yarn, and this article gives guidance on what to choose.
My suggestion to you when you're starting out is to get some double knit (DK) acrylic yarn, but not the really cheap stuff as that isn't so easy to knit with.
Most often, a knitting pattern will recommend a yarn to use, and to be honest, I'd suggest you get that since you know it will work well. But sometimes it's really expensive or just not available in the UK, so what do you do then?
The most important thing is to get a yarn of the same weight. Depending on what you're knitting, you might also want to choose a similar material e.g. cashmere and wool mix. Or you could go to a yarn shop and feel the different types so you can choose one you like.
If you'd rather buy online, the yarn sub website is really useful for giving you alternatives to the specified yarn.
If you're knitting an item where the size is critical (e.g. a jumper), it's really important to knit a tension square in the yarn you've chosen - especially if it’s not the specified yarn - to make sure your knitting will be the right size. This guide explains more what I'm talking about here.
Where to shop
So, by now you should have some idea what needles and yarn you want to buy. But where to get it from?
Firstly, I'd like to say, please don't spend a lot of money when you're starting out - you don't have to at all. In fact, you can often find knitting needles and yarn in charity shops! Or you may well know someone who has some you can use.
I would also suggest going to your local yarn shop and chatting to the owner. They will be able to show you the different types of yarn and needles and help you to make a good choice. The 'Love Your Local Yarn Shop' campaign has a map of yarn shops to help you find one close to you. Although, I have to admit it doesn't have my locals yarn shops on it so maybe just google it instead!
My final suggestion is that you could buy a kit. There are loads of retailers with beautiful knitting kits suitable for beginners. They make great gifts too, if you're looking for Christmas present ideas! A few of my favourites include Stitch & Story, Wool Couture Company, Wool and the Gang and We Are Knitters.
So, if you want to try knitting for yourself, I’d suggest you get some 4mm straight needles and double knit acrylic yarn and you’re ready to start!
Whew! That was long! I hope it's not been too much information overload and it's been useful for you. Now you should know what types of needles and yarn there are, and what to get to have a go at knitting. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next time, I’ll be showing you what to do with those needles and yarn so check back soon!