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My best friend Jessica recently gave in and became a knitter. I’ve been playing a very long and patient game of waiting for her to get hooked on knitting and it finally happened this year. She’s texting me about patterns, yarns, techniques, and tips. So as I am helping her along on her journey into knitting, I started to think about ways we can all help each other as knitters, whether you’re a newbie, intermediate or advanced. I came up with two very easy concepts for us to master. 

Be Kind.

I know that sounds cliche but too many of us need a reminder to be kind to ourselves. The beauty of knitting is that you are constantly learning new things and no one, I repeat NO ONE, is a master of anything on a first try. The frustration of messing up a stitch or a project can be real, but we also need to be kinder to ourselves when we make mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn! 

As many sweaters as I have knit—and I’ve knit a lot—I still make mistakes. I take it as a moment to learn something instead of beating myself up about how or why I made the mistake. Most recently I knit a neckhole too tight after I had already reworked it. Instead of being mad, I pulled it back out and took a mental note to do a stretchy bind off in the future. 

Be Fearless.

Knitters say things like, “oh I could never do that” or “I am too scared to try that.” Well, if we don’t try, how will we ever learn to do something new? Every year I think about a new technique I want to try. I usually start with something small like a hat and then progressively work up to larger projects. When I wanted to do colorwork I started with swatches, then a hat, then a cowl, and then a sweater. Each project gives me chances to practice and a confidence boost as well.

When Jessica was looking for another project to work on I suggested we knit the Boxed Pullover by Norah Gaughan together. A sweater for a newbie knitter? Why not? I suggested we knit it together because I’ve knit it before (and wanted a new version), so I know I could  answer questions along the way. I also picked this project because it is a seamed sweater, so she can work on pieces and not feel like she’s messing up an entire sweater when maybe she makes a mistake on a sleeve. It’s a little less intimidating.

Plus, it’s a simple pattern with decreases and knit and purl stitches, but it isn’t overly complicated or so challenging she will want to give up. Added bonus, it’s knit in a bulky weight yarn so she can feel like she’s making good progress along the way. She swatched and cast on before I could even wind my yarn and is already making great progress.

As the year goes on and I’m back to writing regularly, I’ll be thinking about some of the different types of projects that you can tackle at different stages in your knitting. My hope is that as Jessica explores her love of knitting more, it will also help really rekindle my love of knitting if I think about it from her perspective. And, please, share tips for knitters (if you have them) in the comments! 

About The Author

Dana Williams-Johnson knits every day. Knitting is what brings Dana joy, and she shows that through her use of color (hello, rainbows) and modifications of favorite patterns into replica sweaters for her dogs.

You can read about it all on Dana’s blog, Yards of Happiness, and watch her video podcasts on YouTube.

76 Comments

  • Love having you back more often. Always love your vision onknitting.working with new learners who are fearless is exciting!

  • When trying a new technique start with a small project, even a swatch, is the best tip ever! I remember froging a whole sweater that had a huge intarsia work on it. At the time I did’t even know what intarsia was. But I was bold!

  • Practice new to you pattern stitches, cables, etc with light colored smooth yarn so you can see how they work. And don’t try to follow a conversation or watch tv while you’re starting out, just concentrate on your knitting! One thing at a time!

  • What is that sweater Jessica is wearing??

    • It is the Groovy Genser by Shay Johnson.

      • Did you knit it for her?

      • Thank you, it’s what I’ve been wanting for my next project!

  • Welcome Jessica! I’d say with Dana as your guide, you will be addicted sooner father than later. Is that pink yarn what you bought for your first color? Love it and best wishes to you!

  • Just enjoy the journey, and make what you love. And remember every “mistake” is an opportunity to learn . It is just yarn that can be undone and reknit.My biggest tip would be go ahead and set aside room for all the yarn and other things you will acquire for your new passion!

  • It’s so good to hear your voice! Thanks for your boundless encouragement to every knitter. Your joy of teaching and joy for teaching knitting is contagious.

  • Dana, That green lampshade sweater pic is hilarious! Hands up for whoever has done that! Or anything like it…
    So glad you’re on the mend, the last couple of years have really put you through it, and so recently too. Best wishes for good health this year.
    And what a lovely sweater Jessica is wearing; good luck to her in her knitting journey. We all understand how difficult it is at times to “get” those instructions, but also how calming the process can be. And never be afraid to frog! So liberating and so different from sewing, where ripping is mostly destruction, not renewal. Please post more as you can.

  • I am looking forward to reading you reularly in the coming year!

  • For beginning as well as experienced knitters it is easy to focus so very much on each stitch, that we forget about keeping our eyes on the big project. A dear friend, and amazing knitter (PP) taught me to stop knitting every so often, step back (literally) from the next stitch, to assess what you are making. Ask yourself: “Does this look like a sleeve?” “Does this look like a hat” “For an infant?” “Or an adult?” It’s that gauge thing, you know.

    • I tell them, “Admire your work often.” And so, they can compliment themselves and catch little things that need adjustment.
      I try to phrase everything in a positive way.

  • Be kind, be fearless! Great advice for knitting and life! Thanks for your wise words!

  • Learning how to drop a stitch down to fix a mistake many rows below is a game-changer. No ripping back!

    • I’d agree and also suggest learning about using lifelines early, even if the pattern isn’t hard. The most disheartening thing for me when I first started was seeing all my work accomplished disappear by frogging back to where I made an error. By using lifelines, I had to a) learn to read and evaluate my work at regular intervals, and b) “protect it” against future flubs that have to be fixed.

      PS I think Jessica is lucky to be learning from you. Welcome back to this column!

  • Nothing better than to share your passion with a bestie! And thank you for the reminder that the learning is the most fun part, and mistakes are an important part of that learning.

  • Good to “see” you again. Knitting has helped me to understand I’ll be a beginning knitter as much as I want to. New stitch, new pattern, new yarn, new things to move into the “conquered” column. Endless exhilaration. Beats back boring. Teaches humility. Expect all that. There’s fun there.

  • 100% on the “be fearless” advice. What’s the worst that can happen? You mess it up and start again. The stakes are VERY low. That’s got to be my second favourite part of knitting, knowing that it has zero impact on the world if I make a mistake (or a lot of mistakes). In case you’re wondering, my first favourite part is the yarn collecting

    • IF you take the interchangeable needles off the cable, ALWAYS hang a tag showing the size needle you were working with. You never know exactly how much time (and how many projects) will pass before you pick up that project. And it is such a gift to your future self to leave that information.

      Also, indicate on the pattern EXACTLY which row you just completed. Again, your future self will thank you.

  • So timely to get this advice, as I struggle with knitting from a chart I just don’t “get”. It’s been ripped out once (about 22 rows) and started again. With the great help of my knitting friends, I did it again, carefully. It’s still not right. I think I’ll abandon this pattern and find a simpler one for this lovely yarn. Be kind, be fearless. Excellent advice. Thanks so much Dana, and so happy you’re back to sharing with us.

  • So glad you’re back, Dana! Such great advise. (Especially to be kind. To myself. Noted. Learn it and live it! ❤️)

    • *advice. Sigh.

  • A friend of mine was knitting her first hat in bulky variegated yarn. She ended up with the wrong stitch count and asked me what happened. I found the mistake and told her that I’d rip it back and fix it because it would bug me if I knew it was there, but nobody was going to notice (bulky, lots of colors), so she didn’t have to if she didn’t want to. She was so relieved! Assess what you can live with and go with it.
    More recently, I knit a sweater with lots of crossing stitches. After I was almost done, I noticed a wrong cross at the bottom of the back piece. I decided I could live with it. You know what? Now I can easily tell the back from the front and nobody will ever see that mistake.

  • Be Kind and Be Fearless do not just apply to knitting. They are lessons that I often tell my children (and myself)!
    Good luck Jessica. Remember, it’s only sticks and string so have fun with it.

  • I used to automatically begin mentally hollering abuse at myself every time I made any kind of mistake. When I got interested in learning how to do counted cross stitch and needlepoint, I sat down with myself and said, “Self, you are going to make mistakes. That is simply a normal part of the processes of learning and living. So learn from your errors, and stop with the harsh comments!” Now that’s how I look at learning to knit, too. My whole life has been much better ever since I turned that corner.

  • In a word, Lifelines!

  • I look forward to seeing you here more. I wholeheartedly endorse these tips!

  • I’m so glad your friend has jumped in with both feet!! The things that I always share with new knitters is:
    1. Everyone’s biggest fear seems to be having the needle come out of the stitches so I sit with them, pull the needle out, and pick the stitches back up.
    2. I like to show them the architecture of their knitting. What does a knit stitch look like on the needle and in the fabric. Ditto for the purls. It leads into learning to read your knitting early in your practice.
    3. There are knitters who take a great deal of pride in never using things like stitch markers and life lines. These are the same people who bungie jump and eat gas station sushi. Tools are your friends. Ask any carpenter.
    4. There is no right or wrong way to knit. You’re pulling a loop through a loop in one direction and then you’re doing the same thing in the other direction. Your hands will eventually tell you where they want to be and how they want to hold the yarn.
    5. Finally, the best thing you can say to a new knitter who has made a mistake and is overwhelmed by it is “Don’t worry. I’ll fix that for you. Sit with me and I’ll show you how.”
    Happy knitting!!

  • Wise words as always from Dana. Kindness is probably the best way to teach anything. We were all beginners once. Let no one forget that.

  • Love the photo of the too-tight neck! Looking forward to getting to read more of your tips for knitting & for life in 2024.

  • I am glad you are back, Dana!
    Besides being kind to yourself, be a kind teacher. As adults, I watched my mother trying to “help” my sister with her knitting. My mother wasn’t being very kind and my sister was getting frustrated. Admittedly, my little sister has a strange knitting style but it works for her. Be a patient teacher and your student will go far!

  • So lovely to hear from you, Dana, so very glad you are feeling up to it.

    My advice for a new knitter would be to investigate any pattern or yarn that you fall in love with before you begin to work. Check the yarn out on any of the large knitting sites…enter the name of the yarn and look at Projects that have been made with it. People will tell you how they rate it, and if it is splitty or sheds or otherwise difficult to work with. And the same with patterns. Welcome to the community of knitters, you obviously have great taste in friends so I think you’ll be fine!

  • I’ve knit sweaters where the neck is too tight. Stretchy bind off is the way to go!

  • Give Jessica a little lesson on yarn. I knew nothing about the qualities of different yarns and would make my choices based on color! I would use the same thickness, but mostly I got lucky.

  • So glad to see a Dana post!! One thing I’ve always enjoyed is a knitting group – I learn so much from my fellow knitters and I love how we encourage each other along the way. Don’t be afraid to rip stuff out, put a pattern aside, and to take a class or two in something completely different. Enjoy the process.

  • Lovely to have you back Dana, and welcome Jessica. I will look forward to seeing your progress, I am still stuck on scarves so I hope that I will be able to learn from your learning 🙂

  • Dana, thank you for such an inspiring article. I have been knitting since my late teens (now 76) and have never ventured out for a sweater or using multiple colors in a hat or other projects. I believe it is time to do this. I will check out your podcast on YouTube and Yards of Happiness.

  • I have learned to how to “fix”most mistakes when knitting, but here’s a good tip– Don’t knit when you start to feel sleepy!! That is a formula for mistakes that tomorrow you will be asking yourself, “What happened here?” Sometimes your stitch count on a row can get off also. So beware. Put the knitting down for later or tomorrow.

  • Love this!

  • I recently made a hat with a complicated faux cable pattern that the designer said was easy to master. So I didn’t swatch the pattern, and tried to knit the hat while watching that zombie show “The Last of Us.” It didn’t go well. So my advice to beginners and to myself is swatch any pattern stitches before starting your project, and skip the zombie shows. Also lifelines can be your friend.

  • I was helping a friend just the other day – and your thoughts and words are right on point. Be kind and encouraging — to others and to yourself. It’s so rewarding and exciting to watch new knitters emerge! Thanks for a lovely article.

  • I was helping a friend get back into knitting. she had so many questions, kind of driving me crazy. Then I realized it was her way of making sense of something new. Her questions were things I had never thought of before, and through her “looking glass”, I learned new things along the way. It always amazes me how much we get back by giving. The knitting community is a wonder.

  • I’m a big fan of doing a hat early in the learning experience. I love circulars, so finding an opportunity to introduce those is great. I’m also a fan of introducing charity knitting- sure, you’ll want to knit for those around you, but if the bug bites hard, you may find yourself short of recipients – charity knitting to the rescue! Also, many charity knitting projects like bears, preemie hats, etc. are bite sized, and therefore great places to start.

  • I love the advice to be fearless! I learned so many techniques as a new knitter because I didn’t know they’d be “hard!” Brioche ✔️
    Fairisle ✔️
    Cables ✔️
    Working in the round ✔️
    Thumbs and thumb gussets ✔️
    Turning heels ✔️
    Intarsia has been on my list for years and I’ll need it for my next 3 projects!
    Steeking will not be my next sweater, but the one after it

  • I am so glad you are back sharing your knitting gifts , knowledge and humor
    Love hearing you

  • Dana, what a great knitting mentor you are — and how lucky to have your bestie fall in love with knitting! I always appreciate your posts and I enjoy your blog as well. May 2024 be a great year for you.

  • Dana, wonderful article, as always. My current learning (one that I will share) is brioche. This was on my 2023 list, but I didn’t get serious about it until now. I sit every morning and do two rows on my cowl. I watched videos and made samples. After 29 days I am only on row three. Does that tell you how many times I’ve ripped out? LOL

  • Jessica is a lucky woman, having such a thoughtful, generous, and knowledgeable friend. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your tips with us, too. 🙂

    Your too-tight-neck sweater makes me think of a sweater I bought at a thrift store, which was also green 🙂 and was lovely, aside from the tight neck. I picked out the bind-off, ripped one row of the neck so I’d have enough yarn, and bound it off again, verrrrry loosely. (That was before I knew there were stretchy bind-offs. 🙂 )

    I always felt sad for the knitter of my very nice sweater, when the fix was as easy as it was.

  • Great article and I zlike the part about a pieced sweater. It’s just not so daunting. It’s how we all started in the 60’s. I tried to teach my daughter- in-law to knit this Christmas. She was left handed and I couldn’t do it! Any help for this.?

    • I learned to knit with my left hand doing color work. It was the only way I could keep myself sane switching between two colors on the same row. It took paying attention to how the yarn wrapped when I was knitting and copying that with my left, but know it’s almost second nature and allowed me to show someone that knitting with your lefthand as dominant (very European btw) was possible. However, YouTube would likely help too!

    • My daughter is left handed and she learn on YouTube

  • When I learned to knit in the early 1980s, it was at a class in a yarn shop and the instructor told everyone to choose what they wanted to make from the available pattern booklets in the shop. I wanted to make sweaters (my favorite thing), so my first project was a sweater. It was made in four pieces and had set-in sleeves. Because it was the 80s and it was a pattern from a company that embraced the oversized look, it was sort of BIG, but it came out fine. (Although I wish in retrospect that the instructor had taught mattress stitch for seams instead of backstitch. It was a long time ago . . .) So good going Jessica, make that sweater!

  • It took me a long time, but it’s important to learn to accept some mistakes. I have a pair of socks that I made that the stitch pattern on each is totally different. I call them my humility socks. I wear them often. I tell new knitter’s especially early on that they are “designing” their own pattern. If we do that pattern consistently it is their unique work of art. It’s good to finish and be proud of their work. The next time they are more open to a swatch and a little practice and really want to figure things out. If they look back and hate the 1st project it can always be undone. Only God is perfect.

  • I’m a newbie! I knit for almost 2 years now!

    I wasn’t lucky as Jessica to have a Fairy God knitter with me! So I learn to knit on Youtube. I started with a pair of socks and after a couples, I get bored! I knit a couple of mittens: same story! I discover that I’m more a project knitter and I start knitting a cardigan with a full tutorial on Youtube! And I discover Purl Soho with video tutorial technics with the pattern: it help me a lot to built my confidence! I discover other nice knitting channels and create a nice librairy that i can consult in case of need or inspiration!

    By talking with my yarn pusher (lol) she suggested me to join a knitting groupe on Facebook. I’m part of an amazing knitters community and knit together in cafés. I can learn different technics and shared my mistakes for a good laugh! (Of myself of course!)

    I also realized how much it calms me and ground myself after work. After a day in Custumer services, knitting keep my sanity! Lol

    The things that I appreciated of my knitting group? Their patience, their generosity (there is always someone with extra needles for your new project!) and their sense of humour! I realize how good it feels in your soul to be connected with such an amazing sisterhood.

    I will probably die with needles in my hand!

  • I think that your thoughts were very accurate Dana. As a knitting instructor, I like to relay calm to the process of teaching someone to knit. Especially for adults. We are trying to teach a skill that can be clumsy and frustrating and that seems to be totally beyond what our fingers can do. Patience and and sense of calm are so necessary. Thank you for sharing.

  • Show what you’re working on! As a new knitter and even now years, I love to see what people are working on. It always gives me ideas for new projects and helps me see possibilities.

  • Buy your new knitter a set of “Fix a stitch” tools, and let them know how much they help you! I agree totally with being fearless and kind, great advice. Also that we all make mistakes and learning how to fix them is huge. I made a sweater known as my frog sweater, not because it is green, but because I ripped it 3 times!

  • It’s so exciting when a friend asks you to teach them how to knit, it’s hard to contain MY excitement. One friend I taught not too long ago asked to learn one thing at a time and then he would practice that for awhile. So I taught him long tail cast on, and he did that over and over for 1-2 weeks. Then knit stitch and a couple weeks of just practicing that. Then purl stitch, then bind off. Once he felt like he conquered those, I told him ‘go forth and knit anything.’ And he has!

  • I tended towards being a perfectionist, until my niece said to me, “it’s handmade and the imperfections are what make it so special.” From then on, I’ve not been afraid to complete a project and to embrace the imperfections. Right now I’m knitting a 10 stitch blanket for my aunt. I’m not really loving the look of it, I’ve started over 5 times. But, I’m moving forward with it and choosing bright, fun colors. And I believe it may turn out better than I think. Onward!

  • I’m new to knitting! But I would like a simple pattern to make something other than a dishcloth. Easy and basic. I just need to make things other than scarves and dishcloths!
    Any help would be appreciated!!
    Thanks,
    LiaRose Moore

    • Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      A LYS uses the pillow for those learning to knit: https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/basketweave-pillow-5 It teaches the basics, including seaming. One person lined it with fabric, added a handle, and made a knitting bag out of it – which I thought was so clever!
    • Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Hats are a great way to try out lots of techniques. They provide quick gratification. think about what you want to learn and find a hat with that technique. I’d look on Ravelry for a hat that thrills you and jump in! Alternatively, socks are a great learning ground. You can learn a variety of techniques, again with relatively low investment. I have taught many to knit socks using this simple pattern on Ravelry. The Facebook group Strictly Sock Knitting is very active and fabulous source of support https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/basic-ribbed-socks
  • Any project is easier if you like the feel of the yarn in your hands. Beginning knitters often think their skill level doesn’t warrant investing in ´good’ yarn or that they will waste or ruin it if they do. Good quality yarn comes in lots of different price points and we hold it intimately for hours, weeks or months. Yarn is such a forgiving medium. It’s okay to love it and love ourselves a little by choosing materials lath at spark joy before they are even cast on.

  • I like to wear sweaters I’ve knit all the time but especially when I teach. Yes, I hear the “I could never do that.” comment but I tell the newbie that it all starts with the knit stitch. That’s how I started and then went from stitch to technique to projects great and small.

  • My BFF is a crocheter and just last week at the yarn store asked me to teach her to knit and her name is Jessica! Thanks for the advice to get us started, ideas for both the beginner and the continuing knitter.

  • I first took up knitting after my girls were born in 1992. With the help of a cousin I transitioned from quilting. Laying out fabric on the floor and lots of straight pins was no longer an option.
    When I proudly showed off my first finished piece to my cousin she said “Did I ever tell you want a good quilter you are?” But I was undeterred. Without missing a beat, I said it didn’t matter, it was “the process’. I was hooked!
    Carry on new knitters!!

  • I hear a lot of “I could never do that” from people just learning to knit. I suggest they use “Oh! I haven’t learned to do that yet” instead.

  • Hi Jessica and welcome to our obsession!

    I guess my advice is to embrace the excitement of learning a craft/art that can be endlessly fresh. Learn to own your mistakes as “Aha” moments, and either rip back or duplicate stitch your way to success. Many are concerned about what the insides of sweaters look like, and I admire them for doing so, but that’s not my standard. I’m a get ‘er done knitter, and have all kinds of mistakes and strands displayed on the insides of my sweaters. But I don’t wear them inside out, and no one knows but me. I find that liberating – they’re my little secrets. And ripping back can be cathartic. I have made three different coats *from the same yarn* because the first two patterns I chose didn’t suit me when knitted up. That third coat? Feels great to wear!

    In short: Go for it!

  • I like to remind my new knitter friends that there are only two stitches, knit and purl. We just learn what to do with them. And when we have to frog a section, that was just practice.
    I love the idea of a mini KAL, working on the same project. I’ve been knitting for over 30 years, and recently knitted the same sweater with a dear friend who is a relatively new knitter. It was fun to work on them together.

  • Great advice!! I’m going to be teaching a dear friend how to knit and I’ll keep your words in mind. I’ll share them with her and remind myself of them as well. She’s been going through some rough times lately – financially, physically and emotionally (lost her beloved dog recently ) – and asked if I’d teach her to knit. She’s hoping it will help her focus on something other than the things swirling around her right now. I’m hoping it will bring her some peace and relaxation. On a different note…I love your wonderful dog sweaters!! We have cats who love to “assist” with my knitting but would never allow me to put a garment on them.

  • Newbie-ish knitter here (2020)… lovely advice, and so nice to have a knitting friend who can guide us. My thanks to my pal Robin. Grace to ourselves and others in all things yarny and otherwise. <3

  • I love these two tips, especially the idea of being kind. I also add that the difference between a long time knitter and a new knitter is the long timer has ripped more stitches.

  • Yes we should always be kind to ourselves and others! Totally agree. In learning we usually make mistakes. That’s life. As knitters we are always learning and progressing. We should try to enjoy the process. So we make mistakes. We have to forgive and move on just like in the rest of life.

  • Love the photo of your too-small neck…reminds me it is ok to make a mistake!

  • Use Lifelines.
    About every 10 rows or whatever is comfortable for a new knitter. I taught my friend to knit and forgot to mention lifelines. She restarted her scarf 3-4 times before I remembered to tell her to put in lifelines, which changed her relationship to her knitting!

  • My advice to a new knitter: knitting offers a way to process a difficult life situation and heal. Weather it is a complicated pattern that requires intense focus/concentration, or a simple pattern that allows the mind to soar, knitting has meditative effects, while keeping the hands busy. To me, it’s like a meditation and a prayer.

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