To Knit or Not to Knit?
November 19, 2007 8:12 PM   Subscribe

Should I learn to knit? Or crochet?

I work a desk job, on the phone all day. I've been looking for something I can do whilst on the phone that will occupy my hands. Knitting or crocheting seems perfect. But which is better? My grandmother tried to teach me to knit when I was a kid, but I'm left handed and/or didn't have a long enough attention span so it just didn't take. What are the pros and cons to each? I've heard crocheting can be easier. Would that be more appropriate for someone who isn't the most coordinated person or does it even make a difference?

Any helpful links you may have would be appreciated as well. I've perused both the knitting and crocheting threads and found some good links, but can't hurt to get more!
posted by heavenstobetsy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (29 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I crochet. Pros: I can do it ten times as fast as knitting, and I think it's much easier to learn. Cons: there seem to be more patterns and books for knitters, and crocheting uses about a third more yarn.

There used to be a great page that had little videos showing how to do various knit and crochet stitches, but it seems to be gone now. However, I was interested to see that you can find instructional videos like this one on YouTube (of course!).
posted by TochterAusElysium at 8:20 PM on November 19, 2007

Crocheting is easy, you can zone out and crochet without thinking too much about it. Your first project will look fine. Knitting is harder -- you have to count and follow sometimes-inscrutable directions and there's a learning curve. Your first project will look odd. On the up side, you can make cooler stuff by knitting.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:20 PM on November 19, 2007

I must disagree, Claudia. You can make stuff like this with crochet!!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 8:26 PM on November 19, 2007

I respectfully disagree with ClaudiaCenter above — I began as a self-taught knitter and later taught myself to crochet. There are two basic stitches in knitting and everything else is built on those two. That's part of what makes it so easy. And most projects do not require counting.

I of course love knitting and am much faster at it than crochet but the general concensus is that crochet "grows" faster, that is you end up with more fabric doing less work than in knitting. Crochet is sometimes easier for lefties, although if you are just learning you can learn to do it with either hand. In knitting, you can knit left-handed or right handed and both hands do pretty much equal share of the work.

I also think you can make cooler stuff with crochet. Knitting for the most part is two-dimensional, but crochet stitches are 3D which means you can build off of them in any direction. That's why things like softies and amigurumi are more frequently done in crochet, whereas garments are more frequently knitted.

I guess the biggest question, then, is what would you like to make?
posted by Brittanie at 8:28 PM on November 19, 2007

If you like crossword puzzles or math games, reading and such, knitting is the way to go.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 8:28 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

My wife learned to knit recently and this site has been a big help to her. It features videos of many stitches. The videos are close-up shots of the person's hands as she demonstrates and describes the techniques.
posted by harmfulray at 8:30 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

It may be "grass is greener" for me -- I can crochet nearly any shape, but have mangled every knitting project I ever attempted.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:36 PM on November 19, 2007

Response by poster: Honestly, I hadn't thought much about what I wanted to make other than maybe a scarf? Though I love softies. Wouldn't mind learning to make those, for sure. I probably would do that over sweaters, etc.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 8:38 PM on November 19, 2007

I vote for crocheting, though either is fine. (I crocheted simple things for awhile, but never got the hang of knitting.)

But more importantly, make sure to learn from a left handed person -- it really works differently, and my sister couldn't learn until she had a leftie to teach her. If you ask around at yarn shops, or fibre arts groups, you can probably find someone left handed to show you.

(And I haven't looked at the videos, but the same applies that it may be different from how you would do it. It's not easy to flip some moves.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:42 PM on November 19, 2007

I have to say, knitting is more conducive to multi-tasking - it's a lot easier to knit speedily by touch than it is to crochet without looking at the work. You can knit even complex stitches while reading, browsing, whatever - but since you're always needing to find and work into foundation loops in crochet, it's tougher to make progress with touch alone. Then again, I think crochet is easier to pick up and put down for a few minutes at a time.

Then, as Brittanie says, what do you want to make? I think knitting makes a lot more sense for most garments - better drape, lighter, less yarn overall. Crochet is better for toys and accessories and other structured items.

How do you want to make stuff? If you want to follow patterns, there's a lot more support out there for knitting than for crochet. If you want to do freeform stuff and explore, crochet - which can take its finished shape with every stitch - is really satisfying. This is possible in knitting, too, but it just doesn't have the inherently sculptural structure of crochet fabric, and isn't as good for that sort of thing (that said, I have to disagree that there are no cool engineering possibilities in knitting - there are lots of incredibly architectural, satisfyingly mathematical ways to construct and shape knitted garments. I mean, look at the stuff Norah Gaughan is doing).

They're very different crafts - they both turn string into fabric, but the planning, execution, and end results are pretty dissimilar. I say learn both!
posted by peachfuzz at 8:49 PM on November 19, 2007

I'm in your reverse history: I'm left-handed and my grandmother attempted to teach me to crochet, but it didn't take. I figured out knitting (with my left-handed mother) when I had a bad case of bronchitis in high school. I still can't crochet.

Random note, though: I find that my friends who crochet make much bulkier scarves than I do when I knit, and I don't like the way they drape as much. Yet I resort to sewing when I want to make anything 3-D; like Brittanie says, crocheting is almost more useful for 'objects,' in my mind, whereas knitting is more useful for clothing.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:51 PM on November 19, 2007

Yarn Harlot is a fantastic knitting blog by a Torontonian. If you cruise around there -- or pop into the comments section -- you'll be able to get some leads on good yarn shops.

Also check out and the book Knitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmerman.

Probably the best thing to do is go to a yarn store and try both things out with live people to help you.

My mom loves to crochet and I love to knit; I think it's partly a matter of whichever you learn first being more natural.

Knitting is wonderfully flexible and rewards inventiveness. (Might be true of crochet too; I don't know.) If you like programming or anything like that, you will like the mental parts of knitting. Once you get the hang of a few basic techniques, you can design your own stuff pretty easily. And with things like scarves, the counting is very minimal. Counting only comes in with complex color patterns or garments that need to be a certain size to fit.

Also, for what it's worth, there are two major styles of knitting: "English" and "continental". When you're trying to learn, one of these will probably work better than the other, though I can't predict which. Just, if you're trying to learn and can't get it, see if you can find instruction for the other style.

If you're going to be doing it while on the phone: Knitting takes both hands; I don't know if this is as true with crochet.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:52 PM on November 19, 2007

I love knitting! I'm sure crochet is fun too (I've been wanting to learn for a while), but I really, really love knitting and I think you would enjoy it. I am left handed too, and while it did take me a little while to catch on (I don't know if that has anything to do with my left handedness), knitting is really quite easy once you get the hang of it. There are plenty of things you can make, like hats, scarves, purses, washcloths, etc. that are simple enough that you can put them down and pick them up without forgetting where you left off. Like others have mentioned, there seem to be a lot more knitting patterns out there (try and!), and I think that knitted items tend to look more elegant than crocheted items. And the site that harmfulray mentioned is a really great resource.

On preview -- if you want to make softies, then maybe you should look into crochet, and specifically, amigurumi. I'm always seeing really, really cute amigurumi projects that people have made. Of course, there are a lot of really cute knitted softie patterns out there, but I get the impression that crochet would be easier than knitting in this case.
posted by kitty teeth at 8:54 PM on November 19, 2007

I've done a very tiny bit of crochet, and quite a bit of knitting.

Knitting may be a wee bit trickier than crocheting, but I've seen PLENTY of complete morons learn to knit successfully, so I'm convinced anyone can master the essentials with a fair bit of practice.

As others have said above, you're going to find a greater, more stylish variety of patterns with knitting. It really comes down to what you want to make. If you want to make basic hats and scarves and blankets, you'll find plenty of crochet patterns that'll work for you. And I think since the yarncraft became trendy a few years ago, the available patterns are only getting better.

But if you want to make stylish cable-knit sweaters and other trendy wearables (especially if you're hoping to hear "where'd you buy that?" instead of "did you make that yourself?"), knitting is still a better pick.
posted by katieinshoes at 8:59 PM on November 19, 2007

This is such an interesting thread. I wonder why it is that people seem to have a preference for one or the other even if they know how to do both? My grandma knew how to knit and crochet but preferred crochet, and I know how to knit and crochet but greatly prefer knitting.

Most of the points I would have made have already been mentioned: it's pretty much a matter of personal preference; knitting and crocheting produce different kinds of fabric suitable to different kinds of projects; continental knitting is usually easier for lefties than English-style knitting; amigurumi patterns for soft toys are very cool!

One rather unexpected benefit I've received from knitting is that it has improved my math skills greatly. I was always intimidated by math in high school, but I actually find myself voluntarily doing complex mathematical formulas when I modify knitting patterns or design my own garments.

You may want to sign up for a Ravelry invite: it's got lots of good stuff for knitters and crocheters, but there's a bit of a wait for invites because it's still in beta. WELL worth the wait though.

Here is a site you might want to check out for both left-handed and right-handed crochet tutorials: The Art of Crochet. It also has some attractive patterns.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:10 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I started crocheting when I was five, and knitting when I was 30. I much prefer knitting, and definitely believe it's the more versatile of the two.

However, I picked up crocheting almost immediately: possibly because I was so young, but every time I "relearned" it over the years, it was just as simple. Knitting, I hacked away at several times (took classes, had people try to teach me, tried to learn from books) before finally trying it continental style, which turned the lightbulb on in my brain.
posted by padraigin at 9:15 PM on November 19, 2007

I picked up crochet very quickly and enjoyed it right from the beginning. I can echo all the points made before me here: it's fast, it's easy to jump right in and get decent results right away, it does use more yarn, it does make a stiffer fabric, it's easier to find stuff for knitters that's pretty and modern/fresh and not grannycraft-style, but little animals and so on are definitely more for crochet.

I find crochet more portable, easier to switch up projects (you're not tying up needles, you can just pull your hook out and do something else with it if you're temporarily bored with your current project), and you don't need to think too much about it if you're doing something basic like a blanket or whatever. I do prefer it to knitting.
posted by Melinika at 9:58 PM on November 19, 2007

I've been knitting for seven years and crocheting for four. Over the past four years I've switched back and forth between the two. A year and a half ago I was crocheting everything; this year I'm almost exclusively knitting. I don't consider one to be harder than the other.

There are trends, too, I think - a few years ago, crochet was huge and all the cool patterns were for crochet, but it's swung back around to knitting.

I'd recommend starting out with crochet, for practical reasons - first of all, all you need to buy is one hook. Well, a couple hooks in different sizes for different gauges, but you just work with one at a time and they all work in the same way. (With knitting, you have the option of straight needles, circular needles, double-pointed needles, interchangeable needle sets... none of these are particularly complicated but that's a lot of options for a beginner!) Additionally, with crochet, you can put down your work at any time - with knitting you usually have to work to the end of the needle. And since there's only one live stitch at a time in crochet, you're not likely to accidentally drop and unravel a stitch (which usually makes me shriek out loud).

One more thing about crochet: you can use the cheap yarn. There are a lot of knitters who would look down on using $2 Red Heart acrylic for a sweater, but acrylic is awesome for crocheting softies and amigurumi, since it's so durable, won't be next to your skin, and comes in a million colors. (I use both cheap yarn and expensive yarn for both knit and crochet, however; it's really a matter of personal preference.)

I think once you learn one, you're going to want to learn the other in a few years' time; for now, it's just a matter of picking which one looks more appealing/easier to you.

All of the linked sites above are awesome. Definitely sign up for a Ravelry invite; they've got tons of info and inspiration and answers.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:59 PM on November 19, 2007

I much prefer knitting. I've tried crochet several times, and while I can conceptually wrap my head around it, in practice I find knitting much easier. I think it goes back to that fundamental difference a few other people mentioned, that knitting is very much a linear, back-and-forth progression while crochet can zing off in any dimension at any time. (This frightens me.) Plus I find that crochet stitches have a really bulky look about them, and while that's fine for afghans and toys, I really prefer the look and drape of knitted fabric for anything I'm going to wear.

Definitely sign up for a Ravelry invite if you get into it. There's a MetaStitchers group in there that a few of us are in...
posted by web-goddess at 10:03 PM on November 19, 2007

I am a die-hard knitter, although I know how to crochet. So... take this with a grain of salt?

But I think you should learn to knit instead of crochet, if what you want to make are scarves AND you have the sort of job where you have to at least marginally pay attention while you're working on a scarf. If you crochet a scarf, you have to keep count of how many stitches you've made in a row. If you're not paying much attention, you'll get a scarf like mine, which gets skinnier and fatter over a few inches at a time. (I sort of love it for its wrongness, but still. I wouldn't give it to someone else as a gift or anything.) Once you learn to knit, a scarf takes no attention at all. You just knit to the end, turn it, knit to the end, turn it, knit to the end... Very mindless, especially in the simplest garter stitch.

Seconding the Ravelry suggestion!
posted by adiabat at 10:31 PM on November 19, 2007

Yes, and yes.
I'm fond of these Knitted Chucks.

Heck, we should start a Mefi P(e|u)rlers group.
posted by sushiwiththejury at 11:14 PM on November 19, 2007

Honestly, I hadn't thought much about what I wanted to make

For ideas about all kinds of non-sweater stuff you can knit, I recommend these two books:

Mason-Dixon Knitting - Kay Gardiner and Ann Meador Shayne

I'm currently working on a linen hand towel and a cotton bathmat from this book, and there are lots of other projects I'd like to try. One thing I really like about this book is that they find lots of ways to use the inexpensive cotton yarn that is sold just about everywhere.

Knitting - Sarah Dallas

This book has a lot of patterns for bedspreads and blankets that are very simple and beautiful.

Your taste may be much different from mine, but those books might get you started thinking about what you can make - beyond scarves and dishcloths - without it having to be complicated. (btw, I'm a knitter; I don't really know how to crochet.)
posted by splendid animal at 12:36 AM on November 20, 2007

Knitting, especially if you want to make scarves. I agree w/ all of the people above who said that crocheting produces bulkier stitches. I love knitting, even though once you get beyond knit purl knit purl there is a ton of math involved.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:19 AM on November 20, 2007

Knit knit knit knit knit.

I'm left handed also, and learned how to knit right-handed with no problems at all (since, really, knitting takes two hands, you're going to be busy with both).

As for what to make, socks are my specialty. They're small (you can throw one in a purse and bring it out at any time), they don't take up a lot of yarn (so [in theory] it's less expensive than knitting a sweater), they can be as simple or as complicated as you want, and once you've worn a pair of handknit socks, you'll never go back.
posted by Lucinda at 4:53 AM on November 20, 2007

I was just at the craft store the other day (buying yet more yarn) and a lady staring at the needles asked me this very question!

I learned to crochet when I was about five, and kept at it off and on since then. I tried learning to knit a few times, and never had much success. Then, one day a few years ago, I asked my mom to try one more time to teach me to knit, and I finally got it, and then fell in love with knitting.

I think crochet is easier to learn for someone who isn't used to working with yarn and needles of any sort, and you can make some amazing things with it, but ... I think knitting is more fun and versatile, and even though I am much newer to that craft, I knit much faster than I crochet. I think it has to do with, as someone else mentioned, it's hard to crochet without looking at the stitches, so I can watch TV and knit, but not watch TV and crochet. So maybe start with crochet? You can always try knitting again and learn both giving you even more excuses to buy yummy yarn!

As a side note, I find that crochet is far more harsh on my wrist. I just can't crochet as long as I can knit before my hands and wrists get tired. YMMV on this, but I have heard several of my friends saying the same thing.
posted by Orb at 5:04 AM on November 20, 2007

I can both knit and crochet but I much prefer knitting. In fact, I started up with yarn crafts again after I started working a job similar to yours. I crocheted my way through that job but once Stitch and Bitch came out I taught myself to knit and never looked back. I'm left handed but I knit English.

Anyway, point to all of this: why not try both? You definitely need crocheting skills for some knit finishing, anyway.
posted by sugarfish at 6:00 AM on November 20, 2007

I both knit and crochet. I learned to crochet as a child, from my mother, who wouldn't teach me to knit, because she loathed knitting. I taught myself to knit as an adult because I needed something to do with my hands as I sat on the bus each day and knitting is a lot more versatile than crochet.

Crochet is, in my opinion, a little easier to learn and to do, because there's only the single live stitch. If you drop your project, or or mess up, you can simply rip back to the error and continue, there's no sense of 'dropped stitches' or having to fight to fix errors. (On the other hand, if you make an error 30 rows back, you either leave it or rip all those rows to fix it, whereas really good knitters can drop just the mistake stitches back and fix it without losing all the work in between).

The cons of crochet, though, are that it creates a bulkier, less drapey, more lacy fabric. This is fine if you're making scarves or blankets, but is quite a lot less desirable if you're making sweaters. I learned to knit because I was very unhappy with the selection of crochet patterns available. I could probably design my own crochet patterns at this point, based on things I learned in knitting design, but I'd still be generally unhappy with the limitations of the stitch forms.

Knitting, then, is slightly harder than crochet because of the multiple live stitches at a time. It is, though, easier to do while doing other things, because you always need to work with the next stitch on your needle and you always know where that is. Crochet involves searching for foundation loops, or skipping them or whatever, and is harder to do without looking at it.

Knitting offers much greater pattern and teaching support, and in my opinion, creates a much more versatile fabric. Crochet goes a lot faster though -- the stitches are simply larger.

They're both worthwhile crafts, and I'm glad I know both, because it gives me a lot more flexibility -- a lot of knitting projects have crocheted edgings, for example. But given the choice of one over the other, I'd choose knitting every time.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:34 AM on November 20, 2007

As a fellow leftie, I'll say that if you decide on knitting, try to learn the continental method rather than the English method. I first learned the English method, and my right hand had to do too much. Granted, most of us lefties have a fair amount of ambidexterity, so perhaps it wasn't that the right hand had to do too much, but rather that the left hand didn't do enough. With continental, the left hand does the majority of the fine detailed movements, so it may be much faster to pickup.

Regarding books, Ms. nobeagle is self-profressedly bad at learning physical motions from pictures and descriptions. However, she was able to learn to knit from the book Stiitch and Bitch. That's also how I learned as well.

I've only learned enough about crochet to be able to crochet some borders for the sampler afghan that I'm slowly making. I'm not immediately a fan of crochet.
posted by nobeagle at 10:15 AM on November 20, 2007

Quick beginning advice for knitting:
Start with a medium-weight acrylic or wool yarn. That is, a yarn that is not super-skinny or super-fat. Don't start with cotton, since it isn't "springy"/elastic the way a wool or acrylic is; don't start with silk (slippery) or thin mohair (easily tangled). Don't get a "novelty yarn" with fun fur or ribbon bits etc; these will just be hard to handle when you're starting out. You will want to get two little balls or one big ball.

Get medium sized straight needles. Maybe a US size 8-10. You could go with fatter needles if you have bulkier yarn or want the work to go faster. Your yarn will say on the side what size needles they recommend; don't do too much bigger or smaller than that. Pick needles that feel comfortable for your hand size.

Learn to cast on, or have someone cast on for you (the latter might be good on a first project). Casting on means putting the first row of stitches on the needle. Learn the knit stitch. There are two basic stitches in knitting: knit and purl. Practice with knit first, then move on to purl.

Cast on enough stitches so they extend about 6"-8" if you space them out nicely on the needle. How many stitches this is will depend on your yarn, your needles, and how tightly or loosely you knit (your "tension" or "gauge"). This will be the narrow dimension of the scarf, so make it as big or small as you like.

Turn the knitting around and start on the next row. Knit across, doing a knit stitch through every stitch that you previously cast on. At the end of the row, turn it around again and do the same thing. If you do this over and over until your scarf is as long as you want, you will have a "garter stitch" scarf. (If you get tired of using the knit stitch only, you can learn purl or some other tricks partway through and use it to make different textures in the fabric of the scarf.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:36 AM on November 20, 2007 [3 favorites]

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