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Share your love of knitting with others

Jul 15, 2011

A simple garter-stitch square might not seem like a big deal to you or me, but to a new knitter it's quite an accomplishment!
I had a bar-b-que this weekend, and some of my knitting friends brought their projects. It was a great mix of people; and it was fun to see all of the people in my life mingling and laughing together.

There's a recurring issue that comes up whenever my knitter and non-knitter friends meet: a non-knitter wants to learn how to knit! What a happy "problem" to have, right?

I've taught a lot of people to knit, both through organized classes and the ad hoc coffee-house Saturday afternoon when a stranger gathers her courage and comes over to ask about knitting. There's something so wonderful about sharing my love of the craft with others.

It's not easy, though, this teaching of knitting. Remember when you first learned to knit—how you felt all thumbs trying to manipulate loose loops of yarn? It can be a frustrating experience to learn, and to teach!

Knitting expert Vicki Square wrote a wonderful piece in the Summer 2009 issue of Interweave Knits, all about how to teach someone to knit without creating frustration for the student or the teacher.

Teach a Friend to Knit

You are sitting in a richly colored velveteen chair at your favorite coffee shop, enjoying a bit of knitting time. The friend you are waiting for appears, and you ask, "Do you mind if I knit while we visit?" Of course she doesn't mind, and you are delighted to knit on. Could you be more content? Only if she were knitting, too.

Interest is in her eyes, and the words just pop out: "I could teach you how!" You want her to know the sense of adventure you experience every time you pick up your needles. And then: You realize you've never taught someone how to knit before, and a mini jolt of panic hits.

It's easy! You don't have to be a walking encyclopedia of knitting knowledge in order to share what you know. If you can make a slipknot, cast on, knit, and bind off, you can show a friend how to make something fun. Guarantee success with felted first projects: Felting covers up a multitude of sins, such as uneven stitches, inadvertent increases, and holes that seem to come out of nowhere. Your friend will be more lighthearted about any mistakes, knowing that they will all be obscured in the felting process.

I like to choose a worsted-weight yarn and midsize needles for a beginner to work with. With too-small needles, the results are too slow in coming. Too-large needles make it awkward to achieve even tension right away. A size 8 needle with a nice worsted-weight wool will make for a pleasurable first experience. It doesn't matter whether the needles are straight or circular, but I find that beginners tend to like the stability of short, straight bamboo needles. I like to have new knitters start with small squares of about five inches—just like gauge swatches. With small pieces, the sequence of making a slipknot, casting on, knitting, and binding off is easily repeated several times, cementing the process in the new knitter's mind.

Have your own yarn and needles to work with when you teach a friend to knit. To begin, demonstrate each of the four basic techniques: making a slipknot, casting on (use the long‑tail method), knitting, and binding off. Have her repeat the motions a few times to get the hang of them. If you can't quite find the right words to describe each action, simply read the text out of your favorite knitting technique book. You will be showing your friend how to find necessary information, and you will refresh your own knowledge at the same time. Now make some little squares. Cast on twenty to twenty-five stitches and knit every row until the square's length is equal to its width. This won't take long, even for absolute beginners. Bind off and show your friend how to weave in the ends. Make several squares.

What do you do with four, six, or eight little woolly squares? You felt them into coasters! Make them to match or in a nice palette. Show your friend how to felt them in a sink or in the washing machine. Stack the felted squares and tie with ribbon for a boxed set! The practice squares become the real deal-instant accomplishment.

The next step in the fun is to make something larger. A felted tote bag is just the thing: a few rectangles, a few seams, a spin in the machine, and voilà (see box)! A container for your friend's sure-to-grow knitting universe. You've just shown someone down the knitting path, and it may be that you enjoyed the giving as much as she appreciated the receiving. Time together meant sharing more than simply knitting-what a great path to a deeper friendship.

Easy Felted Tote Bag
Use larger yarn and needles: a bulky wool with size 10 or 10-1⁄2 needles. Cast on about 50 stitches, knit for about 30 inches, and bind off. Make two handles 8 stitches wide and 26 inches long to attach to the sides of the bag. To finish, fold the bag rectangle in half and sew side seams with mattress stitch for garter stitch, working from the cast-on/bind-off edge toward the fold.

Turn the bag wrong side out to box the corners of the bottom for volume: Fold so the side seam lies parallel to the center fold of the bottom; sew a running stitch seam perpendicular to the side seam 2 inches from the point. The seam should be 3-4 inches. Attach the handles to the sides with an overlap of 3 inches. Felt in the washing machine.

—Vicki Square

Now you know how to share your love of knitting, so go forth and spread the craft! And if you need more inspiration, get yourself one of our back issues or digital downloads, such as the Summer 2009 issue of Interweave Knits that Vicki's article originally appeared in.


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on Jul 18, 2011 12:28 PM

What a coincidence - I'm teaching my friend to knit and you write a collumn on just that subject.    I am a self (and mother) taught 65 year old who has been knitting since childhood.  I found an intriguing pattern for a bag using recycled t-shirt yarn.  My friend expressed an interest.  She has learned to cast-on, knit, use two colors at once and bind-off.  Kitty said that if she had know that one could cuss and drink beer while knitting, she woud have taken it up years ago.  

Seriously, Kitty has to take chemotherepy four times this month with hours in the chair and more hours of sleeplessness.  She has been so thrilled to have something to do during those long hours that it will give me joy forever to know that I helped her in this small way. Nanny-nitsalot in Clarkston, WA

weaversouth wrote
on Jul 16, 2011 9:09 AM

I have twice had broken wrists. (I am rather clumsy).  I don't know what your friend's cast is like, but my fingers were sticking out and I continued with tapestry-weaving AND knitting.  It was tricky, but I worked it out.  As long as you have fingers.....

The thing is, when the doctor took the last cast off he expected the usual case of somewhat atrophied lower arm muscles and was astounded that mine weren't, and, in fact, I was able to give him an "ouch" when he asked me to squeeze his hand "as hard as you can."  He wondered what I had been doing!   My second break was worse than the first one and required one of those "towel racks" (pins withe a kind of "spacer" to keep things in place-looks like you are wearing a towel-rack) to keep the bones aligned....made a great place to hang things!

Oh, yeah, I do not recommend "diving" into concrete....very unforgiving substance!

hselle wrote
on Jul 16, 2011 5:23 AM

My favorite baby blanket was in basketweave so easy

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MarthaH@25 wrote
on Jul 15, 2011 6:04 PM

Vicki;s  method is exactly how my mother taught  when I was old enough to want to make something (I had other lessons and had made the ususal crooked doll blankets).  I went on to use them in an afghan.  I used varigated yarn which was cheap and my mom could afford..  When I had made enough she suggested that I make black squares to put between the varied varigated squares, which I did.   I asked my Mom sewed it together I was about 14 or 15) but I can remember her telling me she was older and the black yarn was impossible to sew at night.  At 68 I sure know what she means.

Paula@3 wrote
on Jul 15, 2011 12:38 PM

To arbranson, I will assume you are referring to ciricular needles when you say round needles.  It is accomplished exactly the same way as with straight needles.  However when the stitches leave the needle area and are held on the flexible part of the circulars (the cable) they will look a bit limp and strange.  Do not let this worry you.  Once they are moved into the working area of the needle they will once again appear like "proper" stitches.  There are a multitude of very good videos on youtube that will show you how to do this.  Food luck and happy knitting.

NicoleF wrote
on Jul 15, 2011 11:20 AM

For the last several summers I have been teaching courses on knitting to adults at the local Waldorf teacher training center. I find that using some simple rhymes for the knit stitch (which we use in the classroom with the first graders) really helps to give a mnemonic device on which to hang the motions of the knit stitch. My students then usually take their square (yes, the square is the best place to begin!) and make a small animal-usually a bunny or cat, although my last class had a number of turtles-out of the square. These adults then go home with a sweet gift for their kids and are so proud of their achievement. It is a pleasure to teach anyone to knit, but adults get a certain glow when acquiring a seemingly mysterious skill, such as knitting.

katskards wrote
on Jul 15, 2011 9:30 AM

Love, love, love this idea!  

Back in the day, (several decades ago), the simplest thing to teach a beginner was a scarf.  I had one student knit dozens and give them away for Christmas.  She was lucky to be blessed with a huge family, all of whom appreciated her imperfectly, but beautifully crafted presents.

Not everyone wants dozens of scarves, though.  What a wonderful thing, putting knitting together with yet another craft - felting!  I will definitely use this idea.  In fact, I already have someone who wants to learn both knitting and felting.  She just thinks they're separate.  Wait 'till she sees we can put them together in yet another beautiful piece!

Thanks for the idea!!!

dustbunny wrote
on Jul 15, 2011 8:25 AM

I  can relate to the twinge of panic when I was asked to teach a beginning knitter's class! Could I teach effectively without causing too much frustration?! Reading this article confirmed that I was on the right track with the methods and projects I chose, right down to the shorter sz 8 bamboo needles! Like DonnaS@28 commented, I started with simple cotton dishrags (yes, I would have prefered wool too!). The excitement of creating more knitting junkies is great!!

arbranson wrote
on Jul 15, 2011 8:23 AM

Can someone tell me how to cast on stitches for a project using round needles????????????????  Thanks.  arb

DonnaS@28 wrote
on Jul 15, 2011 7:26 AM

When I teach someone else to knit, especially kids, I have them make a dishrag ... absolutely YES to the size 8 bamboo needles in the shorter length.  We use 100% cotton yarn (I know, I know, I love wool best, too) because it works for this project, and my goodness, just how good does a dishrag have to look?  Their moms are always thrilled to have a new dishrag.