Knitty gritty
August 1, 2020 8:50 PM   Subscribe

I know the basics but am in a funk and struggling to find some good beginner-to-intermediate level knitting projects to pass the time while the pandemic continues. (Crochet would be fine too.) Recommendations welcome!

I am self taught in knitting & crochet from the internet circa 15 years ago. I know some basics— how to knit and purl. Know about different yarn weights. Have never blocked anything or knit anything more complicated than a scarf. However, I’d like to try!

As to why I don’t go googling around figuring this out for myself, I’m getting fairly depressed hanging out in my house all the time and have defaulted to draining myself with social media, so I’m trying to break the cycle. But every time I pull up a website or something to learn more I end up feeling overwhelmed. I basically want someone to say “this is a fun/cool/useful beginner-to-intermediate project, here is a good yarn brand and the kind of yarn you want, here are the kind of knitting needles you want, now go knit!!” I have the mental energy to choose... colors. That’s pretty much it. I don’t mind looking up technical stuff, like YouTube videos for a stitch I don’t know, I just honestly don’t have the creative juice to find a project and identify the correct materials. Very much in oatmeal brain mode. Looking for something along the lines of “here is a kit that contains everything you need,” but the “kit” can just be a bunch of links.

To be more specific (maybe) I’m looking for is suggestions for a baby project that is more fun than a knit-purl-knit-purl scarf or potholder but less ambitious than... idk, a sweater? (I honestly don’t know how relatively difficult various projects are.) I’ve always liked the idea of learning to knit hats or socks to donate to hospitals for newborns or something like that, but things I can give as gifts to my friends and family would be neat too. We do a homemade Christmas exchange every year and it would be nice to make something for that (so, something I could make four of in the next 6 months). I even considered just buying and doing one of those little yarn work kits where you make little pop culture figures out of yarn. But yes, what I basically need is just a kick in the butt.

Please share your fun semi-challenging beginner projects, along with recommendations for basic tools and materials. I have heard of Ravelry and will probably look for knitting subreddits, but if you have any good recs for online sources I’m definitely interested.

(As mentioned, I can also do basic crochet, have made scarves and blankets out of granny squares. If there are fun things to do with crochet I’m welcome to those recommendations too.) Thanks!
posted by stoneandstar to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I’m similar to you in “just tell me what to do and what to buy” preferences when it comes to knitting projects and I find Purl to be a great resource. This is a great intermediate project, it was my first hat and my first attempt at colorwork, and they tell you exactly what to buy.

Purl’s yarn can be super expensive so I will often look up their patterns on Ravelry to see what other kinds of yarn people have used. Ravelry is a great resource because it’s filled with expert knitters happy to share what they did so I never have to figure out alternate yarn or sizing problems on my own.
posted by cakelite at 9:11 PM on August 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Tin Can Knits has an excellent free pattern collection with how-to tutorials on each project, called The Simple Collection. I think you should start with the Barley Hat, because you already know how to knit a scarf.

The patterns are arranged in order of difficulty/level of skill and technique you need.

For yarn, I would recommend looking at the KnitPicks site. They are reasonably priced, reasonably good quality, and have lots of options. The original Barley Hat uses worsted or aran weight yarn, so if you are OK with wool, you could use two skeins of Swish Worsted*, or if you would rather use acrylic, you could use one skein of Brava Worsted.

*Swish is listed as superwash, but the comments on Ravelry suggest that it should be handwashed to prevent pilling and wear and tear.

Have fun!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:22 PM on August 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

I'm probably at about the same skill level as you. I couldn't dream of making a sweater. The next project that I completed after I got tired of scarves were these fingerless gloves. This particular pattern is nice because you're just knitting a tube for a while, then adding stitches for a thumb tube. Good for building your "working in the round" and "adding stitches" skills.

This fingerless glove pattern is nice too if you want to build your more decorative stitches repertoire.
posted by pdxhiker at 9:25 PM on August 1, 2020

You've gotten good answers, but sometimes when I'm looking for a project, I go to etsy and search for kits. It's a relatively expensive way to do things, usually, but it also removes all the potential road blocks like, "Do I have the right kind of yarn?" and "How will I ever decide what color to use?" and "Do I have the hook size I need?"

I enjoy kits for hobbies I don't do and don't expect to take up long-term, as well as my usual crochet (amigurumi). I've enjoyed trying needle felting and book binding this way, for instance.
posted by Orlop at 9:34 PM on August 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The thing about sweaters is that they aren't inherently more difficult than other things you could knit. Bigger, yes, so more work, but not more difficult work. If you can make a hat, you can make a sweater with similar textural elements.

Knitting lace or cables or colour-work is more difficult than simple knit/purl textures, so whichever of those are included in your pattern determine the difficulty much more than the type of garment that results.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:39 PM on August 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think the project you want is a hat with a little bit of colorwork. That will be a step more complex than a ribbed scarf without being a huge investment of time and materials. Also, unlike gloves or socks, you only have to knit one of them.

I've knitted Tincture, and can recommend it. You only need to work one color at a time, and it's a simple pattern with a simple chart. Swish DK should work. I haven't used it, but I've never run into trouble with Knitpicks yarn, and I can see that people on Ravelry have used it for this pattern.
posted by Akhu at 10:14 PM on August 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've made multiple hats using this crochet pattern for the Divine Hat. Sometimes I make it with the pattern as written, but usually I add a couple of extra rounds and then tighten up the band to make a slouchy hat instead of a beanie.

It's fun to crochet and you can make it with any worsted weight yarn. I like Cascade 220 or Berroco Ultra Alpaca for this project, but I've made it with lots of other worsted weight yarns and it's always turned out well. I've also made it with a worsted weight yarn + a fuzzy lace weight yarn in a different color, and it turned out great.

Ravelry has a pretty neat feature that shows you all the yarns people have used for a project. Here are all the yarns folks have used for the Divine Hat.
posted by burntflowers at 10:46 PM on August 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Hm, how do you feel about double pointed needles? If you're going to do a hat, you're most likely going to need to learn that, but it's a neat skill to have and you'll need it for sweaters (for the sleeves) if you want to do them. If you want to learn that and 1-2 more things you can find very easily on youtube (knitting through the back loop, knitting two together) you can do this hat which I made a kajillion of years ago. The needles you'll need are listed on the pattern (which, itself, costs a few bucks). I'm trying to remember what yarn I made it out of and I think one was Woolfolk Far which is expensive but VERY soft and one was probably Cascade Superwash 220 which costs half as much and is still pretty nice and comes in a lot of colors.
posted by less of course at 10:47 PM on August 1, 2020

Socks. There’s a lot of recipes out there - this ones pretty good. You’ll need a set of ~2.5mm double pointed needles and 100g sock wool, I like Regia 4ply.

Knitting small things in the round is tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty mindless. I’ve been knitting socks for years and they are my favourite portable projects. Also, the wool comes in great colours.

Use a very stretchy cast on, 64 st for feet over size 8 (6 for men), 56st for size <7. Knit the sock the length of your foot.
posted by kjs4 at 11:48 PM on August 1, 2020

Socks and hats are probably a good choice.

Socks are potentially a wee bit more difficult but are also fast. Don't be put off - I am not a very skilled knitter and I love making socks! This is a good first time sock pattern.
posted by mmmmmmm at 12:12 AM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

So, I realize I forgot to include needle recommendations in my previous comment.

One thing I really wish someone had told me when I first started knitting in earnest about 15 or so years ago is that rather than amassing a collection of straight needles and fixed point circular needles and double pointed needles, if you think there’s a possibility you will stick with knitting, it’s a good idea to invest in a set of interchangeable circular needles. I use circulars whether I’m knitting in the round or flat—I never use straight needles anymore. I never need to search for or buy a size a pattern calls for, because I have the ability to make any size and length needle I need, and I can even use them for a technique called “magic loop” to knit small circumferences instead of using double pointed needles.

I recommend, if you can afford the investment, that you buy an interchangeable short tip set like the Mosaic Options Shorties, which comes with two 16” cables, plus you should buy separately two longer cables, one 24” and one 32”. (If you ever need a 40” cable, you can connect your 16” with the 24”.) My reasoning for suggesting you start out with a shorter tip set rather than the longer one is, you can use short tips with longer cables but you can’t use longer tips with shorter cables, so this way you get the best of both worlds. If you really end up loving knitting, you can be like me and also get a longer set so you can have twice as many projects on the needles 😂.

If you stick with knitting and work your way through the patterns in the Tin Can Knits Simple Collection I linked above, you will be able to knit a sweater eventually. jacquilynne is right; a sweater is a bigger project but not necessarily that much more complicated than a hat. I know from experience that working your way through scarf—>hat—>mitts—>socks->sweater is a nice natural progression, skills-wise, and helps you learn the techniques you need as you go.

I absolutely love knitting and it’s gotten me through some rough times. I hope you find yourself invigorated by it and find some projects to do that you love!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:24 AM on August 2, 2020 [6 favorites]

You could also think about branching out into fancier scarves - with lace or cabling or color patterns. The advantage I find with a scarf is that it’s much more forgiving of size than a lot of other clothing. I knit this scarf (Ravelry link) recently, and it’s a bit more than just knit-purl, but is still pretty easy once you get the hang of it, and as it uses chunky wool it knits up fast.
posted by scorbet at 1:44 AM on August 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

I’ve recommended this crochet pattern to a couple of beginner/intermediate crocheting friends. All you really need is some yarn and a hook that’s on the small side for that yarn, and filling (which you could get from an old pillow or something). It’s nice because there’s very little sewing, and it’s pretty much all single crochet.
And if you have different thicknesses of yarn, you can make a bunch of different sized elephants!
posted by Karmeliet at 4:07 AM on August 2, 2020

Do you know about Ravelry? It is a social media/database/archive entirely for knitters and crocheters. Others use it for the social aspect - you can contribute to the discussion groups online, post photos of your work, and suchlke - but the thing I use it for is the EXHAUSTIVE pattern library.

There are thousands of patterns archived in their library, and they have a robust search engine that lets you customize your search across a lot of factors - you can filter your search by your skill level, the amount of yarn you want to use, the KIND of yarn you want to use, the weight of yarn, the type of thing you want to make whether the pattern is free or not, and even what language it's in. Every pattern they list also often has a gallery of pictures from other people who've made that thing, and sometimes they have notes about their own experiences making it. And often the patterns are on Ravelry's site themselves, available for download; or, they link you to where you can get them.

I feel like you could stumble upon ten things to make from just one search. And Ravelry is free.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:18 AM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

I crocheted this banana a few years ago. It wasn't just a fun, fairly easy, very fast project, I also can now tell people "I can crochet a banana." I may even have included it in my professional bio.
posted by Mchelly at 5:25 AM on August 2, 2020

Seconding Tin Can Knits. The first hat I did was their Barley pattern.

Sweaters are not inherently much more difficult in terms of actual knitting, but gauge and fit matter a lot more than they do for scarves, blankets, or even hats. And bodies can vary a lot - if the sweater is intended to fit someone with a less-standard shape, then some modifications can be helpful, and that can get more complicated.

That said, a baby sweater can teach the basics of sweaters without worrying about potential adjustments for variations in body size and shape.

Here are a couple of baby blankets I made when I was just beginning - both are free and fairly straightforward but more than just knit and purl, and you can use pretty much any yarn, though if you are making as an actual baby blanket I would go for something durable and washable:

They could also be made larger for a lap blanket or even a full sized blanket. Both have thousands of projects on Ravelry so you can see what yarns people used.

Some people use DPNs (double pointed needles) for anything small and round. You can also use the "magic loop" technique and do everything with long circular needles, used either back-and-forth for anything flat (they just happen to be held together with a cable) or with one or two loops in them for anything in the round. You can do this with a set of interchangeables as someone mentioned above, or just by buying long circs in each size. This is what I do. I suspect small animals or toys, and fingers on gloves, really would be best done with DPNs, but I have used long circs/magic loop with just about everything else including socks, mittens (including thumb), sleeves, and the tops of hats.

(Tin Can Knits also has a tutorial on Magic Loop which, if I remember correctly, is how I learned.)

Good luck and have fun!
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 5:58 AM on August 2, 2020

I semi-seriously think we should start a MetaFilter Zoom knitting group.

I like the idea of doing Tin Can Knits' Barley hat and ordering yarn from KnitPicks. You can also order needles and other supplies from KnitPicks. I'm going to list everything you'd need and then give you some suggestions for alternative yarn and needles if you don't want to order from KnitPicks. (KnitPicks takes a while to deliver, and you might be able to get stuff more quickly from a local yarn store or big box craft store. Around here, the big box craft stores have curbside pickup now.)

Hurdy Gurdy Girl linked to yarn: Swish or Brava. Swish is wool, which is warmer and breathes more than acrylic but takes a little more work to care for. Brava is acrylic, which isn't as warm or breathable and might not feel quite as nice as wool, but which you can throw in the washing machine, plus it's cheap. Either one would be fine, and they both come in lots of colors. The adult Barley hat calls for between 110 and 170 yards of yarn, so you would need two skeins of the Swish or one of the Brava.

The pattern suggests which needle size they think you will need: US #6 and US #8 16-inch circular needles. Every knitter knits a little bit differently, and you may end up using a slightly different needle size. (I am a super loose knitter, for instance, and I almost always use smaller needles than what the pattern calls for.) As you get more experienced, you will probably get a sense of whether you often need bigger or smaller needles than the suggested ones. For this project, which is partly experimental, I would buy the suggested needles. Needles can be made of different materials, and you may already have a preference for wood vs. metal. If not, then it looks like they're out of 16" metal needles in size 6, so you could buy wood needles in 16" length in size US #6 size and US #8 size. They have a couple of different colorways, but these are the most muted. Feel free to get them in one of the brighter colorways: they're exactly the same needles, only a different color.

You also need a set of double-pointed needles in the larger size, which should be made out of the same material as your circular needles. Those are here. You want 8" DPNs (so each needle is 8 inches long) in size US #8.

Stitch markers are to mark the beginning/ end of each round, which isn't otherwise obvious when you're knitting on circular needles. You don't actually need stitch markers: you can make a loop out of a piece of waste yarn and use that to mark your row end instead. But some people prefer stitch markers, and they're cheap, so you might as well get some and see what you like.

If you don't already have them, get some tapestry needles to weave in your ends when you're done with your project. Chibis are popular because they come with a nice little holder that makes it easier not to lose them. (Note: you will probably lose them anyway if you're anything like me.)

And that's all you need. You can get equivalents to all that stuff at Michael's or JoAnn. If you do that, then Vanna's Choice seems to be the most popular acrylic yarn, and Paton's Classic Wool seems to be the most popular wool option at the big-box craft stores. Takumis, which are made by the Japanese brand Clover, are pretty good bamboo circular and double-pointed needles that are available at big-box craft stores. If you're buying from a local yarn store, you should ask them for suggestions, but the most popular yarn choice on Ravelry is Malabrigo Rios, which is pretty, pretty yarn that you would not regret using.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:36 PM on August 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Lots of knitting suggestions, but since you said crochet was fine too, what about the TCL blanket from Esther at It's all in a Nutshell Crochet?

I've gone from not knowing how to crochet at all to being confident in basic stitches over the last few weeks as the pattern and supporting videos have been released. Esther has a lovely soothing voice and the videos demonstrate very clearly what to do.

I'm also learning to read a pattern as I go, handy for future projects!
posted by eloeth-starr at 11:37 PM on August 2, 2020

I know there are many knit designers here and lots of great suggestions above, so I hope no one minds a quick shout out to Mefites elizard (Ravelry) and (my partner) turtlegirl (aka gagehillcrafts | Ravelry).
posted by terrapin at 1:49 PM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

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