How to become a better knitter in general and Knitting Socks on circular
March 11, 2014 12:25 PM   Subscribe

So I have been knitting on and off for years. I took a few classes. I am in grad school now and I want to pick up the sticks again for stress relaxation. I have made a hat and I made socks for women from this DVD Basically knitting on two circulars. I never did a gauge for those socks and it just worked out. When I tried to alter and make the socks for men I got the wrong fit and my stitches were not consistent. I guess because I have been on and off with my knitting. So how do I become a better knitter??, I know the basics, but how do I make my knitting look good, "pretty", consistent and could give as a gift?Should I just start with a scarf again- sounds boring! And, for knitting on 2 circulars how do I do the gauge? do you do the gauge in the round? any links to swatching in the round is much appreciated. I want to pick up the sticks but my perfectionism is getting in the way ;(
posted by TRUELOTUS to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Learning to knit continental (ie, yarn in your left hand rather than in your right and having to swing your hand over for each stitch) has made my stitches MUCH more even and consistent. I decided to learn continental halfway through a sock and good god is it ever apparent. My stitches went from being all uneven and to now crisp and even and lovely. The sock looks like it was knit by two different people. And I knit faster now. I learned to knit continental (among other knitting techniques) from a youtube video.

I also would just keep practicing. Just keep knitting and frogging (aka. pulling apart a knitted item) and knitting again. You won't waste yarn and you won't be stuck with "imperfect" items. It is like a yarn chalkboard.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:26 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lots of knitting questions lately!

Consistent, smooth knitting is mostly just practice - regardless of how you knit, you can learn to do it in a consistent way. So just knit more - make more socks until you like the socks you make!

Smart needle/yarn pairings is the second step. Needles that are too big for a yarn will result in lumpy, uneven stitches with wonky tension. Needles that are too small for a yarn will result in stiff, tight stitches with wonky tension. Make your gauge swatch in the round by just making a smaller tube knit on two circulars (like, if your socks are knit on 60 sts around with 30 sts on each needle, try making a tube of 30 sts around with 15 sts on each needle). If it's a REALLY small tube, cut it open along one side and lay it flat to count the stitches.

Blocking is the third step. Nobody's knitting is perfect straight off the needles; yarn has twist in it, which creates all sorts of interesting tensions as it makes its way around the curve of each stitch. Knitted fabric takes on that "finished" look once it's been washed or steamed and allowed to relax.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:35 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. Join Ravelry if you haven't already. Lots of help, pattern ideas, etc. to be found there!

2. Practice. You will produce crappy projects; everyone does, especially at the beginning but even with years of experience. Ravelry even has an "ugh!" gallery where you can browse people's knitting fails and commiserate.

3. I always knit flat gauge swatches, even for projects worked in the round. I guess you're technically supposed to knit your gauge swatch in the round, but it's easier to knit a flat one.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:39 PM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do you block your knitting? My stitches usually look a bit wonky and inconsistent until I block them.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:56 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

At the risk of sounding obvious, I recommend it's a really great reference.
posted by Violet Femme at 2:30 PM on March 11, 2014

Best answer: Like Metroid Baby, I just knit flat gauge swatches for every project, even when I'm working in the round. The stitches are being made with the same size needle whether they are joined in a circle or knit flat, so it makes sense (in my brain at least) that the size of the stitch would be the same either way.

Also, if you don't already, I second PuppetMcSockerson's suggestion to try knitting continental. When I switched from English to continental, everything just clicked - I swear it was like a switch flipped in my brain and knitting just made so much more sense, and as a result my tension was more consistent and final product looked better.

I'm the rare person who really has never found much use for blocking, even though I knit almost exclusively with natural fibers. This isn't to say that you won't either; give blocking a try, but also don't expect it to magically fix a whole piece knit with inconsistent tension. Instead, I think you should focus on learning how to keep a consistent tension (how tight you hold/pull the yarn feeding into newly knit stitches). I've been an on and off knitter for 10+ years and find that long-winded (3+ months consistent knitting time) projects really helped to set proper technique.

ALSO - amazing. Lots of well explained and illustrated tips here that have made my own knitting look way less junky through the years. The 3-in-1 TECHjoin saved my hat-knitting life. I think that a lot of basic knitting techniques are focused on teaching the reader HOW to knit. You already know how to knit, but want to learn to knit well. The TECHknitting blog explains how to do just that. Of particular interest to you may be this article about uneven knitting:
posted by Gonestarfishing at 2:35 PM on March 11, 2014

Speaking only to the men's/women's socks issue: using sock yarn on size 1 needles, I do 72 stitches for men and 64 stitches for women and haven't had any fit issues.
posted by fiercecupcake at 3:01 PM on March 11, 2014

I'll point out that even though I'm lazy and often check gauge for the round by knitting something flat, for some people, the gauge can vary greatly. Most people have slightly different tension for purling than they do for knitting, and some people have a markedly different tension. If you're one of those people, the difference in gauge between flat and in the round can be substantial. I was one of those people until I learnt to knit continental, and since then my knitting has been much, much better.

You can swatch in the round either by casting on ~8" worth of stitches and knitting them for a few inches, or you can do what I do and be slightly lazy--cast 4-5" of stitches onto a circular needle, and knit across. Then just push the knitting from the right side of the needle back to the left, and resume knitting at the right side of the project, leaving a long, loose tail behind the swatch. You're not working in the round, but since you're knitting all the stitches (in stockinette), the gauge will be the same.

I actually think that socks are a great first/early project--when I've taught people to knit, I usually have them knit a washcloth or hat, and then a sock. My daughter learnt by going straight to sock. Pick up another one and give it a go. If it comes out too big (or too small), well, lesson learned, and hopefully you have people in your life with feet that size! Also, as a datapoint, I knit socks and shawls almost exclusively, and I still end up with the occasional sock that's a size or two off of what I was going for. It happens.

Some people swear by knitting on two circs, but I personally find that a lot more complicated than knitting on a single circular needle with a very long (80+ cm) cord. Somehow having all the needley bits flopping around drives me to distractoin.

Seriously, though, just keep knitting. It's amazing how fast your skills will improve, even if you're just knitting for fifteen minutes or so a day.
posted by MeghanC at 5:34 PM on March 11, 2014

Get yourself a copy of Knitting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti. (Best learn-to-knit book out there, IMO. It's the one I taught myself out of.) Read it and (this is the important part) make the example garments at the end of the book. Knit "the dumb baby sweater" and "the stupid baby bonnet" and "the idiotic baby booties". They may not be practical (unless you have a baby or doll to clothe), but they're such amazingly good learning exercises they're well worth doing.
posted by Lexica at 7:44 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I get a huge difference in gauge between swatching in the round and flat. To swatch in the round I just cast on the correct number of stitches for the project and start knitting stockinette. It's not quite as quick as when you just carry the loose strands behind, but I find the results more reliable.

I had weird and inconsistent gauge for years when I started knitting. I don't know of any magic cure other than to keep practicing. Ripping out mistakes, or ripping back to a part where your gauge got weird, and reknitting = more practice, and when you get it right, you'll be so much happier with the final result! (I do so much ripping out and reknitting that people think I'm a little nuts, but I'm a perfectionist, and I don't fight it in my knitting. I avoid hairy yarn with lots of flyways, and only choose yarn that I can rip and reknit easily.)

Psychological tension will change the tension in your knitting, so try to work on your project in the same setting, as much as possible. Have one project that you work on while riding the bus, a different project that you work on while watching TV, and so on. (Elizabeth Zimmerman said that she always reserved one project that would benefit from a very tight gauge set aside, for knitting when she was cross.)

Finally: go slow to go fast. Knit slowly and pay attention to every movement until your hands really, really know what they're doing. Don't try to narrate what you're doing in your head, or anything, just be very aware of what your hands are doing, and where the needle is going, what path the yarn is taking, and what your stitches look like, etc. This is also a good mindfulness exercise, so let me know if you achieve enlightenment.
posted by BrashTech at 7:41 AM on March 12, 2014

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