Lacking in Skills

As a reader of this blog, you’ll know that I knit here and there. I took it up during the last year of my PhD as a way to relax. I love and adore it. I like that it takes creativity and skill, and that you get a product at the end too. It suits me perfectly as a hobby – it gets my brain going, taps into a rarely used creative side, and it’s quite and solitary.

My skills are very basic at the moment. I can knit and purl and do other basic stitches based on those. I can do basic colour changes, but that’s about it. When I see things like this, or receive books like this, it makes me realize I am sorely lacking in the knitting skills department.

I really want to amp things up – either learning how to make things like socks or sweaters or shawls, or learn new techniques like colour-work, cables, or lace, or being able to fix mistakes. I’d like to feel confident enough to follow a more complicated pattern.

I do hold myself back from trying new things because I don’t want to fail. I know I can make decent looking things using my beginner skill set. and I enjoy it. I don’t want this nice, relaxing hobby to become frustrating. On the other hand, learning new things and improving any skill is always a good thing. Also, there are really no consequences for failing, are there? The only way to learn is to just try and see how it goes. So what if I have to pull out rows of stitches, or the whole project? It wouldn’t hurt anyone, that’s for sure! Just my pride a bit, maybe.

For the knitters out there: any suggestions on how to learn new techniques or some intermediate patterns to try out that aren’t too much a step up from beginner?


Comments on: "Lacking in Skills" (29)

  1. My beginners book had a sock which had a seam up the side so was knitted on two needles as a flat piece then joined rather than in the round – they made perfectly comfy socks for wearing around the house, let me practice some skills I'd need for socks (shaping the heel) and provided a sense of achievement.

    Or you could start off on knitting in the round by making a simple hat where you basically make a tube then join across the top as you cast off – you are left with a hat with two pointy 'ears' when you pull it on. Again, I found a simple pattern for a child's hat with tassles on the ears which suited my niece!

    Oh, and I've found that knitting in the round is actually quite a good place to start doing fair-isle type colour work (where you carry the second colour at the back of the work, stranded colour work you Americans might call it?) because you are only using the knit stitch and going in one direction (rather than on flat work when you are going in alternate directions AND using knit and purl on alternate rows). One skill at a time!


  2. Anonymous said:

    I'm also a beginner/intermediate. When I pick new projects, I read through the instructions to see if I understand all of them. If there are abbreviations or instructions that seem to assume something (ex: 'shape the heel' with no other instructions) then I don't take on that project. If the instructions are clear though, I feel like I can take on the project even if it's complex. That has worked out for me so far. My very first project was socks, and I picked the pattern based on the clarity of the instructions instead of how simple/complex the result was, and it worked out fine. One book that I liek for socks is this one: . It has a very basic project and then a bunch that introduce one specific skill…. like fair isle, cables, etc.It could be a good book for building up skills. I got it (and the yarn) at Michael's. If you want more ideas along those lines, facebook or email me, I might not see comments here. Isabel D


  3. YouTube has some great videos for learning more advanced techniques. If there is a local yarn shop nearby, they often have classes or one-on-one time (which is especially great if you don't want to commit to a class, but you get stuck somewhere along a pattern). Like you said, it's most important to remember that it doesn't matter if you have to rip everything out and start over!

    {Just make sure you know if you're a continental combined knitter before you try to start anything in the round. I learned from my grandmother without realizing that I knit “differently” than most people, and it took me forever to realize that my increases/decreases are opposite slanting, and all my stitches were twisted when I tried my first projects in the round! Chances are you're not — it's fairly rare, and I've never seen in used for teaching in a book, so I'm assuming it's just handed down by generation?}


  4. Small projects! Cowls, shawls, and arm warmers are how I learned to knit both cables and lace. My first lace project was an ideal starter project, in retrospect – it only had one motif that repeated itself over and over, which helped solidify the skills involved. It starts with a garter tab or something like that – mine isn't perfect, but I powered through and the rest of the shawl I'm quite happy with (it's the fuscia Shetland Shawl on my ravelry, I got the pattern book from the library!) In terms of fixing mistakes in lace too, the only one that I consistently run into is forgetting a yarn-over, which just means I pick up a stitch where it should have been on the return row.

    Bonuses of small projects: quicker satisfaction, and you don't get such a drastic variation in skill from the start of the project to the end (i.e. the beginning has a different gauge than the end, not that that has ever happened to me on every. frickin. sweater. ever.)

    There's definitely some great resources and videos online too! And if you can't find what you're looking for, I'd gladly skype with you to help you out!


  5. I also recommend starting small- make a colorwork washcloth! Or a lace swatch! It'll decrease the frustration level a lot. That said, what I actually did was try things that were always kind of too hard for me, and swear a lot. It was very humbling. I still remember sitting on the couch one night, seething with frustration, and the spouse said to me “Why do you do this if it's so hard? You don't really seem to enjoy it.” I said “One day I will be good at this and then it will be fun. And lo, it is so. But it took a couple years.


  6. Anonymous said:

    I second youtube videos, you can find them for practically any stitch, technique, etc.
    For patterns, I would recommend Ravelry (, there are thousands of free patterns available for download. Also, I usually download only patterns that have been made by many other Ravelers (there are patterns with thousands of finished projects), which means the pattern is usually well written and explained, plus you can see from the many photos how the finished objects look like (sometimes quite different from the pattern photos). And I read comments from other people before I decide upon one pattern or another.


  7. What kind of learner are you? Do you do better if you can watch somebody else do it or do you like to follow written directions? If you are a visual learner, Craftsy has a bunch of online classes that will teach you a new skill and you “own” the class once you sign up so you can watch/rewatch the videos as often as you like. If you do good learning from books then I'd suggest buying a beginner book for the technique or finished object you want to learn and working your way through it. Either way, you'll learn as you go and just to comfort you, there really are only TWO stitches that knitters use which you already know (knit and purl) — every other technique relies on those stitches but just does some interesting things with them. You'll find it a lot easier to branch out than you think!


  8. I made a sweater when I was a teen. Most of a sweater anyway. I'm sure if I'd made a second sweater it would have turned out better. 🙂 It really is amazing how doing pretty simple things results in complicated patterns. For me the only hard part was spacing things to be even. But the end of the sweater was a lot more even in that respect than the beginning. Remember, you can always tear out the yarn from your practice attempt and use it again in something else. It's not like you mess up and then you've lost a lot of money or anything. It's just time and practicing takes time.

    My grandma taught me casting on and knit and purl. Everything else I taught myself from old copies of her knitting magazines. Casting on was the hardest technique. But if you're knitting already you can do that.

    Maybe start with fancier scarves. The fancy patterns are not a big deal.


  9. I'm a huge fan of just googling when I can't figure something out or need more explanation. I crochet instead of knit, but I'm assuming that there are just as many blogs and tutorials out there for knitters as there are for crocheters.

    I also like to get a bit of scrap yarn to work on stitches or patterns that I may need to practice a few times before I work it into a bigger project.

    I use a lot to find patterns, too. It's nice because you can filter the results by a lot of different factors, including experience level.

    Finally, I wouldn't consider anything that didn't turn out right as a failure, just look at it as practice instead. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten halfway or more through a project and pulled the whole thing apart just to start over. I'm not sure how easier it is to pull apart something knit, but crochet is extremely easy to unravel.


  10. *too easy*
    (especially if you have pets or small children)


  11. JaneB – great tips, thank you! Do you know what the name is of the beginner book that you mentioned?


  12. Isabel – I do the same with patterns! So, if there's something I don't know, I don't try it. I'll look into the sock book you mentioned! I like the idea of working on new techniques while doing an otherwise simple project.


  13. Sugar Scientist – Oh, that must have been so confusing in the beginning! I'm pretty sure I knit “normally” (as far as I can tell from the YouTube videos I've been learning from!)


  14. Lyss – thanks for the tips! I think working on new techniques on small projects makes sense! I'll see if I can find you on Ravelry


  15. Jenny – LOL! Yes, those conversations have happened in our house too 🙂 I guess I could just take a small part of a larger pattern than uses a new technique and make a smaller project – great idea!


  16. Wool Free – I'm definitely a visual learning – so books have always been really hard to learn from for me, so online videos are better. Or maybe I'll check out if there are any classes in the city, or maybe a knitting group/club that could help!


  17. nicoleandmaggie – Yes, I have to keep in mind that it's not a big deal if I mess up, especially since I can just reuse the yarn and try again! I tend to just buy cheap acrylic for this reason – I don't want to “waste” good yarn!


  18. Good Witch – yes, there are tons of video resources out there that I find useful. Looking at things as practice is a good tip! And, yes, I agree with nicoleandmagge 😀


  19. All – can I just say how much I love this thread? It's like I have my very own knitting group in my living room!


  20. And duh…we are already connected on Ravelry!


  21. Carolina (@braziliancakes) said:

    I love knitting simple things and I've been knitting for years. I suggest if you want to make more complicated things start with small swatches. You could make a bunch of squares to test out different patterns and then sew them up for a big blanket to display you're accomplishments.

    To learn how to fix mistakes, the easiest way is to either hand off the needles to a child where they will inevitably drop a few of your stitches or purposefully put in some mistakes and then see if you can go back and fix it. I learned by teaching other people how to knit and had to consistently fix their mistakes.

    I loved reading through this thread as well! 🙂


  22. Carolina – thanks for the tips on fixing mistakes! How did you learn to actually be able to fix them, though?


  23. Carolina (@braziliancakes) said:

    Trial and error. I knew what the final product should look like so I tried to get it back that way. To see it more clearly it is easier to make a swatch with a repeating pattern. Make a mistake in the middle and then try to fix it by getting the stitches to look like they do in the areas that you didn't mess up. Mostly this is picking up dropped stitches or going back down a few lines. There are a lot of helpful videos on as well as


  24. Count me in the camp of 'just try the hard stuff and get through it.' Everything is just knitting and purling, really, and the rest (increases? decreases? cables?) can be looked up. If you're going to try lace, invest in some stitch markers. I knit hats and fingerless gloves when I want to learn new techniques, rather than small swatches or scarves. They're small projects, so ripping doesn't feel like the end of the world, and I have an end goal to knit for. I just can't get motivated for sampler afghan squares or anything like that.

    But everything is just really knitting and purling, so you have your entire skill set already. The rest is just application and practice. Find something beautiful that you really want to make which will force you to learn something new.


  25. Personally, I hate acrylic, but if you haven't tried it yet, knitpicks has this great superwash in dk and worsted, and a linen/cotton blend that's very soft. And they're cheap. And you might like knitting with them more? Just a suggestion. The wool splits a little but the linen/cotton one rips back pretty easily.


  26. FSGrad – definitely good advice, because if it's something I really think will be awesome it will motivate me to keep with it!


  27. Jenny – I did get some 'non acrylic' yarn for Christmas, so I'm very excited to try it! I bet your right that I might enjoy knitting more with better yarn.


  28. fizzchick said:

    If you want to know why something is the way it is, or compare a few different types of buttonholes or something, I love It's only infrequently updated, but the archives are very searchable, and the diagrams are the clearest I've ever seen. She doesn't have any videos, but puts in many step by step diagrams. Also, I n'th the suggestion to pick a small project with the technique you want to learn and just go for it.


  29. Hi Alyssa! I didn't know you were a knitter 😀 Stumbled across your Ravelry profile this morning and was all “HEY! I KNOW HER!”

    Everyone always says to start small but…I didn't. I started with a scarf, where I started with some basic knitting and purling, got bored, and wanted to learn something new. So I bought a cable needle set, and started to do some cables in the scarf. Then I got bored of that and wanted to do something new, so I added in a new colour and did stripes. And then I got bored and did a heart in the middle of a square of a different colour. And then I got bored and tried some Fair Isle knitting (DISASTER. lol. Haven't tried again since). Then I decided the scarf was half as long as it should be, so I did everything all over again in reverse. Right after that I decided my calling was “knitting cute things” so I did a baby mobile as my first real project. I had to knit 8 birds in the round using all different colours with increases and decreases…the first bird took about a month, and the rest I had done a week each. I just started my first sweater at the beginning of the month! Almost done.

    I echo the “make sure you understand the pattern” comment. I also don't knit projects that I don't understand because I get frustrated easily and this is supposed to be fun. But like someone else said, knit things that are practical to practice new skills. Make a pair of cabled fingerless gloves. Or a pair of Fair Isle mittens. Or a hat knit in the round with proper decreasing at the top to make it round. And then if it looks like crap? Who cares! Hats are always warm even if they look silly. I've also seen patterns on Ravelry for “sampler blankets”. Practical, every square uses a different technique, they look AWESOME when finished, and if it doesn't look spectacular at least it's warm. I also like knitting stuffed animals. Kids seriously don't care if you messed up the arm or leg or ear of their monster/bird/frog/elephant/whatever. They love it all the same. GREAT practice for knitting in the round! There are some great books for knitting stuffed animals at Michael's and Chapter's. Take a walk down the knitting aisle sometime and give it a browse 🙂

    Oh, another piece of advice my mom gave me when I started knitting (she used to crochet “back in the day”): don't buy expensive yarn at the beginning. You'll be terrified of messing up because the yarn was so expensive (and YOU WILL mess up. Fixing mistakes is over-rated. lol. Just keep knitting), and it will take the fun out of it. Save the merino yarn for when you really know what you're doing and you're OK with a $45 pair of mittens.

    Aaaaand…novel over. heh.


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