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DIY Toolkit: Knitting and Crochet

Filed Under: Crafts, knitting and crochet


Knitting and crochet are relaxing, interesting hobbies which have become very popular in the last few years. But with so much information out there, it can be hard to decide where to start!

We hope that this page will demystify these crafts, help get you up and running, and become a permanent resource for any of our readers who are interested in learning to make stuff with yarn.

Join us after the break for a comprehensive guide to all the basics you need to know about yarn, hooks, needles, tools, and the best books and sites for knitters and crocheters.

DIY Toolkit for Knitting and Crochet(click thumbnails to view gallery)

Straight needles for knittingMeasuring tools for knitters and crochetersKnitting needles - DPN and circularNotions for knitters and crochetersNotions for knitters and crocheters


Beyond the obvious, what's the difference between knitting and crochet?

Knitting is done with at least two needles. Except in special cases, you can only produce flat pieces and tubes (though you can sew them together to create other shapes). All your stitches are on a needle or a holder. In most stitch patterns, knitting produces a fabric with drape and elasticity that is well-suited to garments, particularly for the top half of the human body.

Crochet is done with a single hook, and can create three-dimensional pieces, because in most kinds of crochet, you are only working with one stitch at a time. The structure of crochet is such that you can work at several different angles, and work many stitches into a base of a single stitch. It's possible to create garments with crochet, but the fabric it produces is stiffer and less fluid than the fabric you get from knitting.

If you compare similar items, crochet uses more yarn than knitting. This does not necessarily mean that knitting is more economical than crochet: you'll probably never need more than one of any size of crochet hook, but knitters usually end up needing multiple sets of needles in the same size.

Knitting is an old craft, popular in the middle ages and older in origin. Contrary to modern stereotypes, knitting is historically a men's craft, with knitting guilds operating in many of the larger towns of medieval and Renaissance Europe. (See this article about the history of knitting, and this article about nålebinding, a predecessor of knitting.)

Crochet was developed much more recently: almost nothing was heard of it until the mid-19th century, when Irish nuns began producing crocheted lace (in a style still called Irish crochet) to support victims of the infamous Potato Famine. Prior to that, the earliest known printed crochet pattern, for a silk purse, was published in a Dutch magazine in 1824.

What you need to get started:

YARN:

Yarn is sold at your Local Yarn Shop (LYS). Not every area has one; some areas have a few. This is not a chain craft store where yarn is one of the many things available for purchase. It's a small, independently-owned shop that primarily sells yarn, along with accessories that some knitters and crocheters might need. Some LYSs may sell supplies for related crafts, like needlepoint or bobbin lace. LYSs usually host classes and clubs, serving as meeting places for knitters and crocheters.

Yarn comes in a variety of fibers, natural and synthetic.

The natural fibers are divided into plant fibers and animal fibers. The most common plant fibers are cotton and linen (flax), but newer yarns like bamboo and "soy silk" have hit the market in the last few years. Animal or protein fibers include wool (sheep), silk, mohair (goat), and alpaca, and less common luxury fibers like cashmere (goat) and angora (rabbit). (Don't worry: these are harvested from live animals.)

Plant fibers tend to be inelastic, which means that they can be hard on your hands when you work with them. Thus, in yarns meant to be used to make garments, you'll often find plant fibers blended with animal and/or synthetic fibers.

Many crocheters use cotton thread extensively. This thread is fine, tightly spun, smooth, and shiny. It makes beautiful lace and jewelry. But due to its weight and inelasticity, which can cause garments to sag and grow in length over time, experienced knitters don't usually make garments from 100% cotton: they go for blends.

Animal fibers have different properties and are used for different things:

Wool comes from sheep. Wool is warm, water-resistant, and elastic, meaning that it's easy to work with if it's spun well. The character of a given type of wool yarn is mostly dependent on the breed of sheep that it came from; it can also be dependent on the conditions in which the sheep lived, how the wool was processed before it was spun into yarn, and the structure of the yarn itself. There are rough, itchy wools, with minimal processing. There are smooth, soft, silky yarns like those made from Merino wool. Even Merino wool yarns can vary greatly, from inexpensive, simply spun, lanolin-rich Merinos like Paton's Classic Wool to higher-end Merino yarns with a relatively complex structure like Karabella's Aurora 8.

Silk comes from silkworms. It's heavy, warm, lustrous, and less elastic than other animal fibers. In yarns, it's often used for a slubby, organic feel, and in garments, it has a nice drape.

Alpaca comes from a (freakishly adorable) llama-like animal. The majority of alpaca yarn seems to come from Central and South America, but you can now find alpaca farms all over the place. Alpaca is softer than most wool, and extremely warm: most sweaters made from 100% alpaca fiber are too hot to wear. As a result, it's usually blended with other fibers. 100% alpaca is expensive, and more likely to be used in accessories or to knit shawls than to knit full, body-hugging garments.

Cashmere is a cuddly-soft, warm luxury fiber that comes from a goat raised mostly in Asia. A cashmere sweater of good quality is an heirloom. Cashmere items are nearly always cheaper to buy in garment form than to knit. However, cashmere is available in several yummy, less-expensive blends, like "Cashmerino."

Mohair yarn is made from the long, spun hairs of the mohair goat. It's allegedly soft, but as with wool, that seems to vary: some people find it unbearably itchy. It's unusually lightweight, even for fine yarn, and has a "halo" of fiber around the main strand. The halo tends to want to stick to itself. The light weight and gleaming haze make it a nice choice for lace accessories, but the halo makes it difficult to knit with: if you make a mistake, it's difficult to pull out.

"Kid Mohair" is the mohair equivalent of lambswool, and may be softer than other varieties.

Angora is from a very soft, hairy breed of rabbit; it's also a luxury fiber. In the mid-20th century, angora was very popular for sweaters; nowadays, it's more likely to be blended with other fibers or used for accents or accessories. Caveat: people who are sensitive to cat fur usually have to avoid angora as well.

Allergies:
If you think you can't wear wool, try to find something in a soft merino before you write it off entirely. If soft merino is still too rough for you, try cashmere. Your "allergy" may just be skin irritation from the mild abrasion of very scratchy wools, or from wools that are minimally processed and still have bits of twig and grass in them, left over from the sheep's outdoor lifestyle. Real wool allergies are rare, but do exist, and can be diagnosed by a doctor.

Synthetics:
Popular synthetics include acrylic, which mimics wool to varying degrees of success, and nylon, also called polyamide. Nylon usually feels silky, particularly in microfiber form. Some yarns add stretch by blending in a strand of elastic. Rayon, sometimes called viscose, is actually a highly processed plant fiber that is used for its softness and drape. There are newer synthetics like Tencel out there, too.

None of these fibers "breathe," so if not blended with a natural fiber, they can be sweaty without being very warm. However, when blended with natural fibers, synthetics can counteract the natural fibers' negative tendencies.

Sometimes you may also wish to work with something that isn't strictly yarn, like jewelry wire or liquorice. Unusual yarns exist, like silk-wrapped steel, or a "paper tape" that is actually a strip of processed woven nylon. You can make your own yarn from fabric strips, raffia, ribbon, and so on.

Yarn Weights:
Yarn comes in various thicknesses, often called "weights." The thickness of the yarn usually dictates the size of hook or needle that you'll use to knit it, to create a fabric that isn't too stiff (when you use a needle that's too small) or too droopy (a needle that's too large). Sometimes you will intentionally use the "wrong" hook or needle, when you want a very firm or very soft and drapey fabric.

(Examples: Stuffed toys require a firm fabric so that the stuffing won't show through. Scarves need to be slightly drapey to conform to your neck, but not so much that they stretch out. Knitted lace items are usually made with larger needles than the yarn would require for a solid fabric.)

This handy chart shows yarn weights and their ideal gauges and hook or needle sizes. It's part of the Craft Yarn Council of America's Yarn Standards site. These standards are a general guideline rather than a rule: most books and magazines have not adopted the practice of referring to yarn weights by a number, because everyone knows what worsted and fingering weight are, and it's difficult to recall which number is associated with which weight.

Gauge is simply the number of stitches and rows per inch. When you follow a pattern, you almost always have to make something called a "gauge swatch." It's recommended that you measure gauge over several inches. Using a single inch can be inaccurate, but a few inches give you an average.

If your gauge is off by even half a stitch, it can greatly affect the size of a finished item. The directions in a pattern for a particular size are written with the assumption that you're getting the same number of stitches and rows per inch that the designer did.

You may need to make gauge swatches with several different needles before you match the one that the pattern is intended for. Needles recommended for a specific project are a ballpark idea of where to start, not necessarily the needles that will give you the correct gauge.

A note on yarn substitution: The "ideal gauge" of a yarn, printed on its label, can help you decide whether one yarn is a good substitute for another in a project. The other main consideration is how the fibers in each yarn behave.

When you substitute yarn, you need to make sure you have a similar length of yarn, not a similar number of balls, since different yarns come in different lengths per ball. (This means to multiply the recommended number of balls by the yardage per ball, and buy a similar yardage of the new yarn.)

Some other yarn terms:

  • Ribbon is a flat, woven, ribbon-like yarn, often made from something like silk or nylon.
  • Boucle is a yarn with one straight strand and one strand making loops around it: it makes a very textured fabric (Lion Brand Homespun is a common boucle yarn).
  • Chenille is a yarn that's like a chain of velvet, with little fibers coming out of a central core.
  • Railroad or Ladder yarn is a sort of ribbon: it has parallel edge strands, but only "ladder rungs" in the middle, and has been popular for making scarves over the last few years.
  • Eyelash or Fur yarns are sort of like chenilles with very long strands. They're used mostly as accents and in accessories. While a "real fur" yarn or two exists, most "fur" yarns exist specifically to create an animal-friendly, faux-fur fabric.

None of these novelty yarns are particularly easy to work with, so they aren't recommended for beginners.

NEEDLES AND HOOKS

These come in many sizes (which are mostly standard, but not completely), and various materials. Popular brands include Clover, Susan Bates, Boye, Addi, Brittany, Crystal Palace, Colonial, and others.

Needle materials:

Metal: Aluminum, teflon-coated aluminum, brass, nickel-plated brass, etc. These have the advantage of being fast: they don't have a surface that grips yarn. On the other hand, I can't stand the nails-on-a-chalkboard feel of aluminum needles, like those from Boye, scraping together. (These unfortunately tend to be the most economical needles out there.) If you also have this problem, try nickel-plated brass needles like the ones in the Addi Turbo line.

Wood: Brittany makes popular birch needles. Colonial, Lantern Moon, Suzanne's, and other companies make rosewood and ebony needles: quite expensive, they are usually made from wood that is left over from the manufacture of musical instruments. Either way, wood needles are warm and flexible in the hands. They're good for beginners, because they aren't as slippery/"fast" as metal needles, and therefore make it easier to keep track of your stitches. It can help to polish these lightly with waxed paper every so often. (We gave away a luxury set of Colonial rosewood needles to celebrate the opening of this site.)

Bamboo: Bamboo needles have many of the same strengths as wooden needles, but a slightly different feel, with ridges that run the length of the needle. In most brands, these ridges are not pronounced, but I did return the only set of Colonial bamboo needles I ever bought. In bamboo, I like Clover Takumi and Crystal Palace needles.

Both wood and bamboo, aside from being great for beginners, are also good for knitting complex patterns.

Plastic: Several varieties available; these tend to be smooth and lightweight. It's very rare to find large-gauge needles, above a 17 or so, in anything but plastic: almost all 35s and 50s are plastic, and people have been known to substitute twin turkey basters for 50s.

Not all plastic needles are gigantic: some people do almost all their projects on these. Bryspun needles have a special curved point that may help some people get into their stitches more easily. Pony Pearls are another popular plastic needle, available in pretty colors. Clear acrylic needles also exist.

Other: Novelty needles are around, like the plastic needles with a battery at the finial and a light in the tip. There's a variety of flexible, pearly casein (milk protein) plastic needle by a company called Swallow; these can be hard to find, and pets are often attracted to chew on them (see a quick review of Swallow casein needles). Vintage needles made of materials like tortoiseshell (which casein plastic mimics) and bone also exist, but are no longer sold.

Types of needle:

There are several different types of needle used in different applications. Some are more adaptable than others.

Straight needles: These are long sticks with a point at one end and a finial on the other. You usually use two at a time. They can only be used to knit flat pieces back and forth. If you're knitting a large or heavy project, they can become uncomfortable, because the weight of the project is always held by your hands and arms. Available in the widest variety of materials. Two lengths are the most common - around 10" and around 13-14"; I find the shorter needles more convenient, but a large sweater would get crowded on one of those. Smaller needles are also sold for children. (See our gallery photo of several kinds of straight needle.)

Double-Pointed needles (DPNs): These are like straight needles, but with another point instead of a finial. They come in sets of four or five and in various lengths: very short ones are perfect for glove fingers, mid-length needles make great socks and mittens, longer ones work for hats. They seem to be the oldest style of knitting needle.

When arranged properly, DPNs allow you to knit in the round, and are great for smallish circumferences. You're only using two at a time; the others function as stitch-holders until you knit back around to them.

Circular needles (Circs): The workhorses of the knitting world. You can use these to knit things in the round, but you can also use them to knit back-and-forth, with the weight of the project resting in your lap. They travel easily, because they wrap up into a coil with short ends. They're like DPNs, but replace the non-working stitch-holder needles with a flexible cable.

The bad news is that it's a little more difficult to find wood or bamboo circs, though they exist. Also, some circs have stiff plastic cords which the manufacturer ships in a coil. These need to be dipped into hot water and straightened out; otherwise, they'll never be tamed.

Addi Turbo needles, in nickel-plated brass (a smooth and glossy metal that clinks together nicely without scraping), are probably the most popular circs. Addi Turbos have a cord made from plastic-coated metal cable in the smaller sizes, and clear plastic tubing in the larger sizes. The joins, where the needles connect to the cable, are smooth. Smooth joins are vital in circular needles.

(Addi now makes a needle specifically designed for lace knitters. The needles themselves are done in yellow brass and have sharper tips than their other needles, but otherwise resemble the original nickel-plated Turbos. Addi also manufactures needles in other materials.)

(See our gallery photo of a variety of double-pointed and circular knitting needles.)

Interchangeable needles: Circular needles are available with cords in various lengths, but you must decide on the length when you buy the needle (24" or so is good for most applications). Good circular needles tend to be expensive, especially if you need three or four sets of the same size with different cable lengths. This dilemma inspired the creation of one of the most interesting and useful options for knitters: the interchangeable needle set. Several popular versions exist on the market:

  • Denise Interchangeable Needles: This is an inexpensive set of smooth, lightweight plastic needles which snap into cables of varying lengths. Outside of a garage sale, this is one of your few opportunities to pick up most of the needles you'll need for around $50. (More about Denise Interchangeable needles.)
  • KnitPicks Options: Made exclusively for the proprietary discount yarn retailer, these needles are nickel-plated brass, comparable to Addi Turbos, and can be purchased a la carte. They are known to have sharper tips than other circular needles. (More about Knit Picks Options needles.)
  • Boye Needlemaster: This one is only for people who don't mind plastic cables and colorful aluminum needles. Widely available in craft stores and yarn catalogues.
  • A few other interchangeable needle sets, like Plymouth's Bamboo Sisters, also exist.

You may also find novelty or single-application needles, like those meant for knitting afghans (they have the cable of a circular needle, but one end has a stopper instead of a point), which allow a knitter to work on a lot of stitches without technically using circular needles. Interchangeable sets usually offer the option to create this kind of needle, if you really want it.

Finally, you may see a device that looks like a cross between a straight knitting needle and a crochet hook. This is a Tunisian crochet hook, made for one of the few times in crochet when you'll need to have a bunch of stitches on the hook at a time. Knitters sometimes keep one around to pick up dropped stitches: these are very efficient at reaching down into a knitted piece, when the dropped stitch is many rows below the current one.

Hooks:

In general, it seems like the material the hook is made of matters less than the hook's design. You can find hooks in metal, wood, bamboo, and plastic, and vintage hooks made of materials like bone, but you're usually only working with one stitch at a time, which is only on the hook end. Because the hook will never scrape against itself the way the point of a knitting needle scrapes the side of the other needle, there aren't many "annoying" crochet hook materials. And because of the nature of crochet, the slipperiness of the hook probably isn't much of an issue.

Your concern is whether or not the head of the hook can get into your chains, and whether or not the hook can hold the yarn loops well. Some crocheters feel that a hook with a sharp angle in the throat, creating a deep hook, is easiest to use because it grips stitches well. One brand with this kind of hook is Susan Bates Quicksilver. This photo from our gallery compares the heads and throats of different hooks.

Materials can affect your comfort, though: some people prefer a hook with a padded comfort handle (Clover makes these), or one made from a flexible material. Those who don't like the existing comfort handle hooks have the option of slipping a cushioned tube over their preferred model.

Some hooks only come in metal: the tiny steel ones used for crocheting with thread. These are generally numbered backwards down to 14 (the smallest), and the largest size is comparable with an E in the standard numbering system. Most people won't use these until they're relatively advanced.

VINTAGE TOOLS AND PATTERNS:

If you're working with vintage materials, standards and systems have most likely changed a lot since a hook was made or a pattern was published. Use a diameter gauge to check the size of any vintage needles or hooks you buy or inherit. (See our gallery photo of vintage crochet hooks, including one made of bone.)

If you're using an old pattern, keep in mind that yarn weights probably weren't standardized when the pattern was published. They didn't need to be: there wasn't a large variety of materials available.

2-ply, 3-ply, and 4-ply once referred to specific weights of yarn, but now it refers to a yarn's construction. A pattern's gauge, if given, may help you puzzle out what kind of yarn and needles to use with it.

SUPPLIES AND NOTIONS:

There are a lot of things that you can use that make knitting and crocheting easier; some are necessities and some aren't. They tend to be the same items for each craft.

In general, I recommend supplies made by Clover and Susan Bates. They're widely available, well-designed, and of good quality. Clover also makes an "Antique" line of very decorative accessories that cost a little more than others and look like they date from the turn of the 20th century.

Gauge Measuring Tool and Needle/Hook Sizer: The most popular kind the is the Knit-Chek, made by Susan Bates, though you can find slightly different styles made by other brands. All include an L-shaped window to check the number of stitches and rows over several inches, rulers along the side, and holes where you can check the diameter of a needle or hook to find out what size it really is. (See our gallery photo of a Knit-Chek and a retractable tape measure.)

You may think you know the diameter of your needles, but wait until you've used them enough that the printed numbers wear off, or until you inherit a stack from a relative: then you'll want to check the diameter. Always start in a hole you think is too large, and work your way down, to avoid damaging your supplies. (If you have a cardboard version of the Knit-Chek, like the one that comes in a few popular "knitting notebooks," you'll destroy your sizer the instant you push a needle through a hole that's too small. If you have a metal needle sizer, you'll scrape up your wood and bamboo needles by pushing them into undersized holes.)

You can also use the Knit-Chek as one way to figure out the general weight of a mystery yarn. Double the yarn and try to pull the doubled strand through one of the needle gauge holes. The hole it slides through most easily without sticking, but also without too much extra space, is probably the one for the needle size you should use for that yarn. From there, you can work out the yarn's basic weight. May not work as well with eyelash yarns.

Measuring Tape: Handy for measuring yourself and others, sure, but you'll probably mostly use this to check the length of something you're working on. Sometimes instructions will say something like "sc each row until piece measures 9 inches." The Knit-Chek already has a ruler, but it's only about 6" long.

Scissors/Yarn Cutter: Something you can use to snip yarn. Small, sharp scissors may be more useful all around. However, yarn cutters, which are shielded blades with a tiny notch in the shield for thread or yarn, are safer for travel and around small children and pets. (See our gallery photo of scissors, a Clover Antique yarn cutter, a cable needle, and a basic yarn needle.)

Yarn Needle: This is a thick needle with a blunt or ball tip and a large eye, not a sharp sewing needle. Plastic tapestry needles are fine, but you can also find items like the Clover Chibi needle set, which gives you a few suitable metal needles in a little cylindrical case. You'll use these to weave yarn ends into your work.

Stitch Markers: Knitters can use closed ring markers, since they slip the stitches from needle to needle and the marker along with them. Markers are even available that can be knit into a piece along with a stitch, but have to be cut out later (by cutting the marker, not the knitting).

Crocheters cannot use closed markers, except the cuttable ones I just mentioned. Markers for crocheters have to be open, like a circle/curlicue with ends that slightly overlap, or they have to open and close. The reason is that they slip onto a stitch rather than onto a needle.

My favorite style of stitch marker for both crafts is one made by Clover, which is constructed like a small, durable plastic safety pin: it locks and unlocks. They are available in two sizes, up to a fairly large gauge. These can slide from needle to needle like ordinary knitting markers, be knitted into a stitch like cuttable markers, be hooked in and out of any stitch or row (mark the place where decreases began, or mark your crochet turning chain). And they can be used to hold your working crochet loop while your needle is elsewhere, or during travel. They're incredibly versatile and useful.

(See our gallery photo of Clover Locking Ring Markers, some point protectors for needles, Kacha-Kacha and rolling counters, and special marking pins for knitting and crochet.)

In a pinch, or if it's all your budget allows, you can also use scraps of yarn, tied into a ring for knitting and laid or tied into a stitch for crochet.

Counters: These are little tools, made in a variety of styles, that allow you to count stitches or rows. I have a complex version, the Peg-It by Susan Bates, that allows you to use tiny pegs to count stitches, rows, pattern repeats, and all sorts of other things. It requires an instruction sheet. Most are simpler.

Clover makes a "Kacha-Kacha" counter, which is named for the noise it makes: you press a spring-resistance button, the numbers click and roll over, kacha-kacha! (If you are like me, you will play with this one much more than you ever use it.) Someone makes a digital version of the Kacha-kacha, but it works in the same way - you press a button, it counts a row. It is not as much fun to fiddle with as the analog version.

Even simpler counters are little barrels with numbers that you have to roll over manually by twisting a cylinder. You can get this in a version that hugs your needle or hook at the top, or you can get a version made for circular needles that hangs from a little ring. If you are forgetful, the circular needle version stuck into your stitches near the end of the row like a stitch marker may help. No help that I know of for forgetful crocheters, though, except possibly using a stitch marker to clip the circular version to your work.

Stitch Holders (Knitting only): These come in various sizes, and often look like a DPN with a protective frame, or with stoppers on the end.

If the stitches don't need to be held for long, you can use a long piece of waste yarn (3+x longer than the area of stitches you need to hold): run it through the stitches with a yarn needle. Then, without pulling the held stitches tight, tie the ends together.

If they need to be held a little longer, but not securely, or if you have a problem picking up stitches that have been held on yarn, try using a circular needle a little smaller than a working needle as a stitch holder. (If you have an interchangeable needle set, there should be an option to use one of the cords with stoppers on each end).

Cable Needles (Knitting only): Cable needles are temporary stitch holders used in cable-knitting projects. They look like short DPNs with some kind of kink or bump in them. If you find a style you like, it can be useful, but you may not technically need them.

Rust-Proof Pins: These will solely be used for blocking your work. You will often block wet items, so regular pins won't do the job.

Nail File: Whether it's a snagging nail or a too-sharp tip on a needle, a little nail file can help smooth over minor problems.

Hand Cream: Some yarns suck all the moisture from your hands, and most don't slide nicely over rough skin. Special creams are made for knitters and crocheters, but you can just use whatever works for you. I like something thick, with shea butter; I've used a hand cream meant for gardeners, and ointments meant for things like feet (Badger Balm) and cows' udders (Bag Balm).

Accessory Box or Bag: Something to hold all these little bits and pieces. Many people like to use zippered cosmetic bags. I like hard-sided zippered school supply boxes: I have one for general supplies, one for crochet hooks, and one for my circular needles and DPNs.

Hook/Needle Roll: You can just keep your needles in their original packaging when you aren't using them, or in a basket or wide-mouthed vase, but lots of people wind up buying some kind of case for them. This could be a roll or a zippered portfolio. Some people buy them, and some people make their own. I never like the ones I see in stores, so I suggest making your own, buying one on eBay or Etsy, or ordering from a site like The Organized Knitter.

Bag/Basket: Something to keep your projects in. I like a fabric-lined basket in metal or wood, with a lid or another piece of fabric across the top. You can carry the bag around with you, in which case you'll want something big enough for your project, accessories, pattern, and maybe a quick reference book.

Little Notebook and Pen/Pencil: You're going to want to make notes of where you stopped in a pattern, any changes you made, what needles you used to get gauge, how you feel about certain yarns, the name of that one color you like in the line that has hundreds of colors and identifies them only by number (that would be Koigu, my friends), and so on. You can buy a knitting notebook, or you can pick up any blank book you like.

Calculator: Sometimes you may have to do math. If you don't want to do it on paper in your notebook, pop a basic calculator into your kit.

Other Supplies:
There are some supplies that you just don't need unless you're an advanced fiber crafter, or that you might not want to invest in until you're sure there's a good reason.

Support Gloves: If your hands hurt while you're knitting or crocheting, try purchasing a pair of the smooth elastic fabric fingerless gloves often sold to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome sufferers.

Ball Winder and Swift: These are usually used together, often clamped to the edge of a table or shelf. Yarn usually comes in a hank or a ball. A ball is pre-wound for use, but a hank needs to be wound into a ball before you can do anything with it.

An umbrella swift is a contraption that holds a hank of yarn, and spins around as you pull on the end of the yarn. As its name suggests, it looks a lot like the ribs of an umbrella. A swift can also be used to unravel a sweater-gone-wrong, so that the yarn can be reused.

A ball winder is pretty self-explanitory. Most involve a spindle where the ball is formed, a loop to run the yarn through, and a hand crank to turn. They make nice, even, stackable center-pull balls of yarn.

It's possible to make your own center-pull yarn balls without a ball-winder and swift. You can roll the yarn loosely around itself in a ball, over and over. You can also use a nostepinne, which is basically a stick with a knob on the end. You can use a process that's a combination of both and requires no special tools. Any of these can get old quickly, if you have a lot of yarn to wind.

If you get your yarn at a craft store, most of it is already sold in center-pull balls of some kind. If you get it at your LYS, they probably have a ball winding setup of their own; if you buy a yarn sold in hanks, they will probably wind it into balls for you or let you use their equipment to wind it. But if you order it online, and it doesn't come in a ball, you'll be out of luck. If you're ordering a lot of yarn via the internet, you should probably consider picking up a ball winder and swift.

Any time you wind a ball, tuck the yarn label into the center of the ball. You'll be happy later.

Blocking Board: Blocking is a process that you go through to set the size of items made from yarn. When you knit or crochet, your stitches may be irregular, and a finished piece usually won't have a flat, even texture. Blocking helps the stitches relax into the intended shape. Pieces of most sweaters should be blocked before the sweaters are assembled. (Some synthetic yarns shouldn't be blocked, or don't need to be.)

You block purchased knitwear every time you follow a label instruction that says, "Lay flat and reshape to dry." That's one method of blocking: hand-wash an item, squeeze out the water, and lay it out to desired dimensions to dry. Other methods of blocking may be more aggressive than others. Sometimes you'll pin the item to the dimensions and shape you want. If the item isn't wet, you may be misting it with water or steaming it with an iron held a few inches above the piece.

Some pieces need more extensive blocking than others. Lace, notoriously, is small and crumply and uneven-looking until it is pinned out to its full intended size and shape. A lot of people will block pieces on towels on the bed or floor in a spare room, but if you make many items that require blocking, you'll eventually want to invest in a blocking board. It's a surface that is easy to pin into and has a grid for measurements.

Yarn Management Supplies: Some yarns are slippery, so crafters have come up with various solutions to keep them from getting out of hand: mesh bags, canisters, etc. Some projects require working with several colors at once, so people have created bags to feed different strands, "butterflies" (plastic tabs) to hold small amounts of yarn, yarn guide rings that run specific colors across specific fingers, and so on. Only buy these if you find that you need them.

Point Protectors: Stoppers that keep knitters' stitches from sliding off the tips of needles. Available in a variety of cute shapes, like sweaters, socks, and teddy bears. Most useful for travel; completely useless for crocheters.

LEARNING TO KNIT OR CROCHET:

The truth is, there are a lot of different teaching styles. It's best to learn from another person, in a class, from a friend, or through meeting with a group. However, there are also a lot of great books and online references, and plenty of people learn that way, too.

Since what teaches one person may totally confuse another, don't stop until you find a resource that makes sense to you.

A quick note about learning to knit: There are two popular styles of knitting (as well as several obscure ones). One of the popular styles, English, is the most common in the US. The other, Continental, used to be more common in Europe but is now gaining ground everywhere. Newer books often show the basics in both styles.

Continental knitting is faster than English knitting, because you don't move your hand to pick the yarn up to make a stitch: you just do a little scooping motion with the tip of your needle. The working yarn is held in the left hand.

English knitting is more popular, though, which means that there's a lot more English-language material available for it, it's what you see in most knitting-book diagrams, and it's easier to get help with it. In English knitting, you use your right hand to move the working yarn around, and usually have to let go of your right needle to do it.

Online references for learning to knit or crochet:

BOOKS - YOUR KNIT AND CROCHET LIBRARY

Knitting has been a trendy publishing topic for the last few years, and crochet has been hot on its heels. (This trend is supposedly on its way out, though.) The upside is that a lot of cool new books have come out in the last few years... along with a bunch of cash-ins, as every publisher thought they needed to put out a knitting book.

The downside is that bookstore shelves are awfully crowded, and something had to go to make room for all these shiny, trendy new titles. In many cases, what went were the classic reference books. The end result is that you may not see many of the following titles in your local Barnes and Noble or Borders, though your LYS may carry them. If you can't find them locally, try to get them from the library, and if you like them, order them. (A few are worth ordering even without the library visit.)

Sometimes it's hard to find the good books among the cash-ins, because knitting magazine "book reviews" tend to just be blurbs for the book. I have never seen a negative review in a knitting magazine! You have to go to Amazon.com to get that kind of honesty.

So many books have been published over the last few years that I can't cover them all: I can only recommend some that I know to be good. If none of the following information helps, hit the bookstore and take a look around. A lot is available, and you're bound to find something that makes sense to you.

In general, there are a few series of books that are reliably useful. These tend to devote at least a volume to each craft. The Teach Yourself Visually series, Maggie Righetti's Plain English series, and Debbie Stoller's Stitch 'n B!tch series all function as both good learning tools and decent references. The Answer Book series won't teach you to do either one of these crafts, but it'll help you understand them better as you learn.

You will also find basic stitch information, but maybe not enough to learn from, at the back of every knitting or crochet magazine, and as an introductory section in most books that focus on patterns.

Books to start with: several potential choices:

Teach Yourself Visually: Knitting, by Sharon Turner, and Teach Yourself Visually: Crochet, by Kim P. Werker and Cicely Keim. You really can't go wrong with this series: everything is clearly illustrated in detailed, full-color photos. They're recent, and the basic projects are nice. "Quick Tip Guides" are also available.

The same imprint once produced a great book called Teach Yourself Visually: Knitting and Crochet, which was the clearest and most "visual" instructional manual of its kind that I've ever seen. It seems to have been reprinted as Maran Illustrated Knitting and Crocheting.

Knitting in Plain English and Crocheting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti. These books are older, but do what they promise: explain the basics without a lot of jargon. They have diagrams and clear black-and-white photos, where necessary, but no color photography. Excellent for people who want word-based instruction, and worth a look for everyone else.

Stitch 'n B!tch, Stitch 'n B!tch Nation, Stitch 'n B!tch Crochet: The Happy Hooker by Debbie Stoller. The author is the founding editor of BUST magazine, and as such, these books skew young, sassy, and feminist. But the explanations and diagrams are clear, the tone is friendly, and lots of people from the newest wave of knitters learned from these books. Stitch 'n B!tch Nation is mostly a pattern book; the first knitting book and the crochet book are where the instruction is.

The Knitting Answer Book by Margaret Radcliffe and The Crochet Answer Book by Edie Eckman - Both books in this series are great. They're arranged in a Q&A format, and extremely beginner-friendly. If another book has confused you, these may help set you straight. They're the perfect size to keep with your projects, too.

Knitting:

Vogue Knitting - Aside from publishing a magazine, VK also produces books, including this technical guide and three "Stitchtionaries" (Knit & Purl, Cables, and Color Knitting). The rest are mostly pattern books. The 25th Anniversary book has a lot of technical articles with tips and tricks, reprinted from the magazine's modern run. VK's technical books are probably not something that beginners need to buy, but are worth having eventually.

Montse Stanley - This late European knitter wrote an excellent, comprehensive technical guide that was published in the U.S. as The Reader's Digest Knitter's Handbook.

This book is known to contain a ton of useful information, some of it found nowhere else. Some of her work has recently been revised, and given a girly makeover, as Simply Fabulous Knitting; it has not been received well in the new format. Stick with the original.

Barbara G. Walker - Barbara Walker is the author of several stitch guides that are knitting library standards, with an astonishing variety of ribs, cables, lace patterns, and so on. They are A Treasury of Knitting Patterns and its three sequels. Her book Mosaic Knitting is another stitch guide, dedicated to slip-stitch colorwork patterns that look more difficult than they actually are. All her knitting books are keepers. (She has also written books on esoteric subjects.)

Elizabeth Zimmermann - English knitter who moved to the U.S. as an adult. Praised for her wry, no-nonsense writing style, experimentation, and vast technical knowledge, but some people don't like how her designs look in fashion terms, however ingeniously constructed. One of the major proponents of knitting in the round as much as possible, which allows you to avoid purling.

EZ is a beloved and inexpressibly strong influence on the modern knitting scene. She was also the mother of Meg Swansen, another well known designer and teacher. Any of her books are worth reading, but Knitting Without Tears is where most people start.

Mary Thomas - Author of several knitting books published in first half of the 20th century, which are kept in print by Dover, a publisher of high-quality paperback editions of rare and out-of-print books (they also publish Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac). These have a serious vintage flair, but are also full of useful info. Look for Mary Thomas's Knitting Book and Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns.

Knitting Tips and Trade Secrets by the editors of Threads Magazine - Threads is a popular needlework magazine that formerly covered knitting. This book is a compendium of tips and solutions submitted by readers and professionals. Contains the infamous stay-on baby bootie pattern, along with topics like "how to keep yarns from tangling when you're doing colorwork." Invaluable for some people, completely useless for others.

The Knitter's Companion by Vicki Square - Similar to the "Answer Book", this is a quick, concise reference for your knitting bag. People love it for its clear explanations of things. If you take your knitting out of the house a lot, and find yourself unable to remember details like which type of increase slants which way, you might appreciate this little book. Vicki Square is also the author of a number of interesting pattern books, like Folk Bags.

Harmony Guides - This is a series of large, thin paperback books from the UK. They are illustrated with full-color photos and the occasional clear diagram. The first Harmony Guide is a basic knitting reference book with a small stitch dictionary; the next few are stitch dictionaries through-and-through. Another option along the same lines as Barbara Walker's books and the Vogue Stitchtionaries. Much of the content of these books, minus the information from the volume about Aran stitches, is also in the Reader's Digest Ultimate Sourcebook of Knitting and Crochet Stitches.

Nicky Epstein's "Edge" Books - To my eyes, a lot of Nicky Epstein's designs seem a little eccentric, too whimsical for most people to wear. However, several of her recent books became instant classics: Knitting On the Edge, Knitting Over the Edge, and Knitting Beyond the Edge. Each one is a compendium of knitted borders, trims, and embellishments, from intricate braided cables to necklines to fringes to flowers, with a handful of nice patterns thrown in.

Crochet:

Donna Kooler's Encyclopedia of Crochet - A relatively recent book, but very influential... part history, part instruction, part stitch dictionary, part pattern book. Covers all major crochet styles. If you can get only one big crochet reference book, get this one.

Crochet Inspiration by Sasha Kagan - This recent book by the UK designer, full of crochet stitch patterns and motifs, is another instant classic. If you are interested in designing your own projects, it's a great book to have.

Harmony Guides - This series has published two books of crochet stitches, too (see entry under Knitting): Vol. 6 and Vol. 7. The stitches cover many different styles, from filet lace to Irish crochet to the popcorn and bobbles we all remember from our childhoods. Most of the information from the volumes devoted to crochet is also contained in the Reader's Digest Ultimate Sourcebook of Knitting and Crochet Stitches.

Crocheting School: A Complete Course - This modest book from Sterling Publishing, translated from Italian, is photo-rich and includes some very unusual techniques. Not as complete as Kooler's Encyclopedia, yet it contains some things that are missing from that book. Although its title is probably a misnomer, it's worth a look if crochet has captured your imagination.

The Crochet Stitch Bible by Betty Barnden - a popular, compact, spiral-bound stitch dictionary.

NOTE: If you buy a book from a UK publisher that has not been released for the US market, chances are that it includes UK crochet terms. The situation is confusing, because the same terms are used to describe different stitches. See this US/UK Crochet Term Conversion Chart at YarnForward. None of the books I've recommended here should have this problem, but it's one you may run across eventually.

Design:

These books are devoted to knitwear design: I don't know of any comparable books for crocheters, though crocheters could probably pick up basic garment construction principles from these.

Designing Knitwear by Deborah Newton - Deep, technical discussion. Shows how to construct garments, but also goes into great detail about how certain stitches work, what to consider when using them, and what to avoid. If you plan to design your own pieces, you should purchase this book.

Sweater Design in Plain English by Maggie Righetti - Focuses on identifying body types and what will flatter them, then explains basic sweater construction and how designs can vary, then walks you through the math of creating a sweater pattern for whichever measurements you choose. The only problem with this book is that the copy I've seen shows its age: a few of the pieces in here are classics, and most can be adapted into something decent, but a few are so 80s it hurts.

Knitting From the Top by Barbara G. Walker - a book about knitting sweaters in the round from the neck down; it has been influential on current popular sweater designers, who use this system to minimize finishing time (the time spent sewing together parts of a sweater). This type of sweater construction is also friendly to customization, which the book explains in detail, and to learning to design your own sweaters. Sweater design in the round is also associated with Elizabeth Zimmermann; a more recent book with designs based on similar principles is Fitted Knits by Stefanie Japel.

Modular template pattern books:

These are, again, only for knitters. They're sort of like design books, but your options are more limited. In exchange for accepting the limitations, you get out of doing the math required to design knitwear.

The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns by Ann Budd - very basic template patterns for garments and accessories. This system allows you to choose your own gauge and the size you want to make, then gives you the correct numbers. You choose things like whether you want a cardigan or pullover, what the neckline looks like, how long the sleeves are. You can also choose stitch patterns, as long as you can get them to work with the numbers. (I own this book, as well as its sister volume, and use it all the time.)

The Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns by Ann Budd - Similar to Budd's previous book, but it focuses on sweaters and allows you to choose things like sleeve styles. That's important, because the way a sleeve is attached to a sweater is often as definitive as the neckline in determining whether or not it flatters the wearer.

Teach Yourself Visually: Knitting Design by Sharon Turner - This isn't really a design book, in spite of the title. It's another modular pattern book, similar to Budd's first one but a little more in-depth, that lets you style your own knits from a template.

Other books:

Other great reference books exist, but they're mainly devoted to special interests. Watch this site for upcoming articles on sock knitting, lace, cables, men's knitting, and colorwork, where we'll discuss some of those books in more detail.

ON THE WEB

Magazines:

  • Knitters Review - popular webzine best known for its lucid, intelligent yarn and accessory reviews, and its popular forums.
  • Knitty - Free quarterly online knitting magazine that everyone reads. Patterns, technical articles, forums, etc.
  • MagKnits - Free online knitting magazine focused mostly on pattern publication. Publication is frequent (has been as often as monthly), but not always regular.
  • Black Purl Magazine - Another great free online knitting and crochet magazine, with a multicultural twist. A print issue is on the way.
  • For The Love of Yarn - Free online magazine with both knit and crochet patterns.
  • Crochet Me - The most popular online crochet magazine, with good patterns and technical articles. Its founder/editor is one of the authors of Teach Yourself Visually: Crochet.
  • Canadian Living - not nominally a knit/crochet magazine, but they regularly publish new free projects on their website.
  • Rowan - fashion-forward UK yarn company that publishes a large, book-like magazine twice each year. From a US standpoint, sizes run slightly small in their patterns. Now also operating as "RYC."
  • Rebecca - the pattern magazine arm of Germany's GGH yarn company. Young and fashionable European patterns, sometimes quite complex. The website usually publishes one free pattern excerpted from each issue.
  • Interweave - publisher of several great magazines, like Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, and KnitScene. Home of Knitting Daily.

Helpful and interesting sites:

  • Yarndex - Need information about a particular yarn? Want to see its shade card, or learn whether or not it's still being made? This is the go-to site.
  • Ravelry - A "community site" for fiber crafters, with a powerful interface that will help you keep track of your supplies, make friends, and document your projects. (In beta testing, at this writing: get on the waiting list to get an account.)
  • Knitting-and - A site with a smorgasbord of tidbits for knitters and crocheters: charts, patterns, you name it.
  • Knitting.about.com and Crochet.about.com - Whenever About.com tackles a topic, check it out to see all the resources they've gathered.
  • Actual Size Graph Paper Generator - Because knit stitches are oblong rather than square, knitters shouldn't make pattern charts with regular graph paper. This site generates custom graph paper based on the gauge that you put into it.
  • Elann - Discount and closeout yarn, and lots of free patterns.
  • KnitPicks - Good quality yarn at extremely low prices. They also sell tools, including their own Options interchangeable needle system.



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