An Introduction to Hand Knitting
Created | Updated Sep 18, 2016
Knitting is the art of fashioning fabric from a series of interlocking threads using a pair of needles. It has been practised for thousands of years. The origins of this craft are murky as some believe that it originated in Persia, whereas others are of the opinion that it began in Israel, Syria and Jordan, or even North Africa. Knitted socks, which have been dated between the Third and Sixth Centuries AD, have been discovered in Egyptian tombs. Hand-knitting was an important industry in medieval Europe. It has evolved into an advanced craft throughout the years with different materials and equipment being used to improve the condition of the finished product.
Knitting is a fairly simple hobby to begin as the basic equipment required is easily obtainable and will not break the bank.
- Knitting needles are a must. These come in different materials – aluminium, bamboo, and plastic - and also in varying lengths, as well as diameters. The narrower the diameter of the needle, the closer the knit of the finished piece. There are also double-pointed and circular knitting needles that can be used for knitting hats and round doilies.
- Scissors - make sure they are nice and sharp, as blunt scissors will not be able to cut the wool properly and might distort the piece of knitting.
- A tape measure is required to measure the length of your knitted garment.
- A sewing needle with a large eye and a blunt point is useful to weave in those dangling ends of wool.
- A ruler for checking the tension of the knitting.
- A row-counter, which is put onto the end of a knitting needle, and is useful when working with complex patterns.
- A stitch-holder, which is used to secure stitches when they are not in use. It can look like a large safety pin.
If you are a beginner, you should use the yarn suggested in the pattern. This is so that you obtain the correct tension and shape for the pattern. Some of the types of yarn that should be available in your local knitting shop are wool, aran, chenille, denim, tweed, cotton and mohair. These are available in varying shades of colour. Since yarn is dyed in batches (dye lots), it is advisable to buy yarn in the same 'dye lot' so that you will obtain a consistent colour for your garment. Mixing dye lots should be avoided but could add a nice touch to colour knitting.
You should check the label on the yarn that you will purchase, as blends are now available. The label will contain information regarding the fibre content, the cleaning instructions, the approximate length of the yarn, its weight and the suggested needle size and gauge. These blends mix natural fibres (such as wool, cotton, mohair, and linen) with synthetic fibres (such as acetates, polyesters, and polyamides) in the attempt to make the most out of the two fibres. Natural fibres are more absorbent and they pill 1 less compared to synthetic fibres. However, synthetic fibres attract fewer pests and will not shrink. Natural fibres, especially cotton, are prone to shrinking even when washed at low temperatures. The pattern and the instructions provided for it will cater for this shrinkage.
Different kinds of yarn will yield different results. For instance, the denim yarn will fade (much like your jeans) over time. The use of chenille yarn will result in a product that has a rich and velvety look and mohair produces lovely soft scarves and throws.
There are two basic stitches in knitting: knit and purl. Stitches are knitted and/or purled onto the other needle, thus transferring stitches from one needle to the other. This will slowly create a pattern in the knitting. A garter stitch is one where all the rows are knitted, forming an elastic fabric. A stocking stitch is formed by alternating knit rows with purl rows.
These stitches and others can be learnt fairly easily either from someone who knows how to knit, knitting books or from knitting sites on the Internet.
However, before either of these stitches can be put to use one must know how to 'cast on' a row of stitches onto the needle. To end the garment that you are knitting, you will also need to be able to 'cast off' the stitches. If the pattern requires more than one ball of yarn, the art of joining the yarn should also be known or else your whole piece of knitting could unravel very easily before your eyes. If it is possible, new yarn should be joined in at the beginning of a row by dropping the old yarn and starting the next row with the new yarn. The dropped thread should then be darned into the seams of the knitting.
Checking the Tension
This is important when endeavouring to knit a pattern where the size of the finished product is crucial – such as a sweater or a pair of socks. It will be of no use to you if the sweater turns out one size too big and the big and baggy style is not your look. This step determines that you will obtain the same number of stitches and rows per centimetre as the designer of the pattern did. To do this, knit a swatch of about a 13cm x 13cm with the same needles and yarn as the pattern. Lay the swatch out smoothly and mark off 10cm with pins. Then count the number of rows and stitches in between the pins. If this is the same as the tension given in the pattern, then all is well and good. If the stitches/rows are too many, rework the swatch with larger needles and vice versa if there are too few stitches.
Knitting patterns are easily available in knitting magazines, knitting books authored by designers, and also from the World Wide Web.
There are several knitting designers these days whose patterns are used by knitting magazines such as Jaeger and Rowan. These are Debbie Bliss (who is primarily a designer of children's garments), Kaffe Fassett, Erika Knight (she designs furnishings for the house), Zoe Mellor (also a children's designer) and Kim Hargreaves.
All knitting instructions will contain abbreviations. These abbreviations usually vary from book to book or from pattern to pattern. It is therefore a good idea to run through the list of abbreviations before beginning the pattern. Here are a few common abbreviations and how they are usually written:
|k2 tog||knit two stitches together|
|p2 tog||purl two stitches together|
|st, sts||stitch, stitches|
|st st||stocking stitch|
|*…*||repeat instructions between the asterisks|
Now that you have finished that piece of knitting – the one that took you many precious hours - you will want to keep that garment looking good for as long as possible. Here are some tips on how to do so:
- Dust and dirt can damage an item. To avoid this, garments should be stored in closed drawers or wardrobes. If dirty, the item should be cleaned lightly and according to the instructions on the yarn label.
- Snags should not be cut as this will result in the unravelling of your garment. If possible, the loose thread can be threaded back into the garment using a sewing needle with a dull point.
- Only machine-wash your item if the yarn label allows it. If not, hand-wash the item but do not leave it to soak overnight. Then flat-dry the item. The item should not be allowed to hang while drying, as it will lose its shape.
Expanding your Skills
Once the basics have been mastered, feel free to explore the other aspects of knitting. These include using colour in knitting, lace-knitting, aran-knitting – whereby you create textured fabrics using combinations of bobbles and cables, or entrelac – a method creating a patchwork-type fabric.