7 Tips for Anyone Who Wants to Start Knitting in 2021, According to a Knitting Pro

published Jan 13, 2021
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So you got a knitting kit for the holidays, but you’re not quite sure where to start. Should you try arm knitting? find a pattern first? Picking up a new hobby as an adult can be intimidating, but thankfully, experts have plenty of tips for anyone who’s just starting out.

Take it from knitting extraordinaire Lauren McElroy, also known as Mother of Purl, who not only is an expert knitter — she also spins her own yarn, creates new patterns for others, and offers knitting classes, too.

McElroy said she was originally drawn to knitting because she wanted to make her own clothes. “My mom made a lot of my clothes when I was younger and then when I moved out, I didn’t have access to that anymore,” she says. “I was not good at sewing. I saw someone who was wearing a shirt that they knit. I really liked it and said ‘how do you do that’, and they taught me the basics.”

She makes it sounds so simple, right? And if you follow McElroy on Instagram or TikTok, she makes it look simple too — not to mention downright cool. Here, she offers her advice for beginner (or pre-beginner) knitters.

Just start.

“There’s a big blockage for some people before you start,” says McElroy. “They think they don’t have the time or patience. Knitting is time-consuming and it takes practice to get good at it.”

She explains that knitting is more muscle memory than anything else, so just get going. “Once you know how to do it, it’s like riding a bike,” she says. The best way to get better at both tasks? Plenty of practice.

Get a few projects behind you.

A lot of people give up after that first project — it’s really wobbly. It’s not perfect,” says McElroy, who adds that her first knitting project was just a long, wobbly rectangle that couldn’t really be made into anything useful.

So get through your first couple of projects, and just understand that they are probably going to be ugly, she says. By then, you’ll get a sense of whether you really like the act of knitting or not.

“If you don’t love doing it, you’re not going to do it. If you do love it, you’re going to keep going,” she says. “There’s no end to what you can learn and achieve with knitting. There are countless techniques — I don’t anticipate running out of things to learn.” And she’s an expert!

Gather beginner-friendly tools and materials.

“If you’re just starting out, pay attention to the tools that you have. If you get some really nice silk yarn, and you’re using standard aluminum needles, you’re going to have a really hard time because it’s going to slip off,” McElroy says.

McElroy recommends starting with wooden needles and wool, which are easier for beginners because they’re less slick. She also encourages you to keep a loose tension — something that can be hard for beginners to remember.

“If you knit really tight, it makes it hard to come off the needle,” McElroy says.

You don’t need to set aside a ton of time.

McElroy was actually spinning yarn as we were doing this interview. She says she is almost always knitting or doing something related to knitting, as long as she doesn’t need her hands for something else. While waiting in lines, watching TV, listening to audiobooks, she’s knitting.

Once you have the technique down, knitting is something you can enjoy while also experiencing other forms of entertainment, and, once you get the hang of it, you will likely find it relaxing.

But even in the early stages, you don’t need to devote hours at a time. In fact, you might find it easier to stick with your hobby if you take advantage of smaller time chunks rather than waiting for a full free afternoon.

Before you go, make it easy to tell where you left off.

Of course, but McElroy says that you’ll need to figure out your own way of marking where you left off.

“If you’re working on something that’s a little more complicated, wait until you finish a pattern repeat or use post-it notes to mark your pattern,” she says. “I use a magnetic board, since that’s what works for me.”

She says that since she makes her own patterns, she’s not usually following one — but if she is, she always marks her place or writes down how many rows she’s made.

Credit: Belka10/Shutterstock

Look for beginner-friendly patterns and resources.

McElroy has a ton of resources on her site, Mother of Purl, and she also encourages beginning knitters to join Ravelry, a free community of knitters, crocheters, and other fiber artists where you can connect, get patterns, and learn more about what the knitting world is all about.

Beginner-friendly kits from brands like We Are Knitters also include the full array of supplies you need for any project, including the yarn, correct needles, and a pattern to follow.

And, as with many hobbies, there’s a Reddit community just for knitting where you can get inspired by completed projects or ask questions about what you’re working on.

Know that knitting mistakes are fixable.

If you make a mistake, it doesn’t mean you have to throw the whole project out.

“Take a break. Set it down. Come back to it later,” urges McElroy. “Or if you don’t like it and you make a mistake that you’re not going to be able to live with, just take it out. Yarn doesn’t expire. It’s not going to be the end of the world. You can use the yarn again.”

Worst case: Slip the yarn off the needles and use it to start a new project you like better.

“Try everything,” says McElroy. “You’re going to want to make everything, and you never really know until you try it. There are techniques that I don’t like to do and other techniques that I absolutely love.” 

For example, she says even if you don’t fall in love with plain stitch knitting, you might really like stranded color work. “It’s about figuring out what feels good in your body and your hands, and the way to hold the yarn in your work,” McElroy says. If one technique doesn’t feel good, try another — it might be the winner.

So get your wooden needles and wool, take a breath, and just get started.