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Intro (feel free to scroll past if you want to go straight to the resources!)
Yarn crafts are really good activities to help combat boredom, loneliness, restlessness, depression, and anxiety. I say that because they’ve helped me in all of those ways. Having a project on the go can give you an achievable thing to focus on (obsess over if you need to), which can make you feel settled, relaxed, calm, and accomplished. I know that some projects can make you feel quite stressed with their complexity but that’s totally not necessary so don’t let it put you off.
I started knitting (which was followed by crochet, spinning, and dyeing…) in 2006 when I was at Dundee University. I was studying architecture, and quite frankly I hated it. I loved doing technical drawings, but it was the time when everything was moving over to computer aided design which I just despised - I never got to grips with it. Furthermore, throughout the four years that I persisted, I was just constantly told that I wasn’t creative enough. Although I was surrounded by people I felt lonely, frustrated, depressed, super-stressed (architecture is not for the faint-hearted!), and it was awful. At that point I’d done my first year, failed it, repeated it, and was about to barely scrape a pass although I didn’t know it then. I repeated the same process with my second year, so in total I did four years but only completed two. And architecture is a seven year course.
Anyway, the textiles department was in the same building and it had inspired me to have a go at knitting. This was before Ravelry (if you can imagine such a thing - I barely can!), and there were no local resources, so I used YouTube and random picture tutorials to teach myself to knit. I used crap yarn, of course, but who cares. I think moving my focus onto learning how to knit really helped me to get out of that horrible architecture bubble in the evenings, and I used it as incentive - I would reward myself with knitting time when I’d completed pieces of work.
In 2007, Ravelry started up and I signed up as one of the original 10,000 testers. It just changed things completely. It put me in touch with other people outside of uni, which was great, and it inspired me with the projects. I think entering into that world helped with my confidence and creativity - not that it helped me at uni if I’m honest, but I don’t think anything would have done! But it greatly helped me get through the long, stressful, lonely days. Eventually in 2008 I quit uni with absolutely no idea where to go or what to do. I moved back home briefly which was tough, and then moved on to Manchester. Throughout it all I carried on knitting and crocheting, spinning, and dyeing skeins now and then. I bummed about for a while, going through various jobs (including Hobbycraft and Purl City Yarns!), and then went on to move to Cumbria, destitute and determined. The rest of this story is in the About Us section so I won’t repeat it here, but all I’ll say is that knitting and yarn crafts got me through another seriously stressful and VERY lonely time.
Why am I telling you this? Well I think now is a good time to think about loneliness, creativity, and how we spend our time. I can’t get my head around what people do who don’t knit or crochet. Do they just sit in front of the TV all evening? I mean, I’ll happily do that but it’s always with a project on the go. I actually really wanted to come on here to create a blog post for anyone wanting to start knitting or crochet but wondering where on earth to start - I want to create a list of resources but have ended up waxing lyrical.. sorry! So without further ado, here’s a compilation which I hope will help you if you want to start getting creative.
Before you do anything else, join Ravelry (HERE). It’s free, it’s awesome, and it’s basically a huge database of resources and inspiration. Get yourself a hot beverage and be prepared to get lost down the rabbit hole! Once you’re signed up I’d go on the patterns section and start digging around. I created a blog post about using Ravelry’s pattern search function HERE.
Next you’ll need materials. I would check your local charity shop (if possible) first for yarn and needles for knitting/hooks for crochet. I’d go for something fairly thick, so look for DK or Aran thickness yarn (it should be on the label), and then if you’ve got DK yarn, see if you can get 4mm or 4.5mm needles or hook; for aran yarn you want a 5mm or 5.5mm needles or hook. If you go for thin yarn it’ll be fiddly and annoying. I would also suggest that you go for wooden ones, as with metal ones you tend to find that the needles fall out of the stitches and it’s a bit of a nightmare when you’re trying to figure it all out. Wooden ones are much lighter so should hopefully be easier. You can use straight needles or a circular needle - that is simply a pair of needles basically with a cable connecting them. The cable holds the knitting, so there’s no needle sticking out past your elbow and flapping about. You can use either to learn with - I think if you can get both then try both, but if you can’t then maybe keep it simple by starting with the normal straight needles that typify knitting! I would also go for a wooden crochet hook if possible, although the ones where the hook is metal but the handle is squidgy silicon type plastic are really good in my opinion.
If you can’t get to a charity shop, or if you want to go for decent stuff from the off, then my next recommendation would be to check out your local yarn shop (LYS). You can of course google it, but Ravelry also has an LYS finder HERE (look just below the "popular new yarns" section to find the "local yarn shop directory" search box). If going out is not doable right now, then your next port of call would be to buy online. For getting the basics to start with, you could use a website that sells a wide range of yarn and needles. Here are a few:
Unsure what to order? Look out for DK yarn, anything with wool and/or acrylic should work well as they’re forgiving - avoid things like pure cotton or bamboo until you are more confident. And then you want needles and/or a hook - look out for brands like Clover as they are good value, good quality, and comfortable to use. Again, if you’ve got DK yarn you’ll want a 4mm hook or needles to have a go with. The only other things you'll need are scissors, a tapestry needle (they're quite large) for dewing seams or sewing in the ends of the yarn, and you might want to grab some safety pins to use as stitch markers.
A quick note about gauge (tension)
You don’t really need to think about this *too* much yet but it might be useful to know - we all hold yarn with a different amount of tension. Some people hold it tightly and some people hold it loosely. If you hold it tightly your stitches will be difficult to move along the needles, especially if you’ve got wooden ones. If your tension is loose then your needles are at risk of falling out of the stitches, especially if you’ve got slippy metal needles. For crochet you’ll find that if your tension is tight then it’ll be hard to get your hook into the stitches. As you learn your new skill, your tension will settle. That’s part of the process - it comes with practice. There are different ways to hold your yarn which will also have an effect. I’ll list a few technique tutorials later on.
Learning the basics
For knitting you’ll need to learn how to cast on, how to do knit stitches (if you knit every row you will achieve garter stitch), then how to cast off. For crochet you’ll need to learn to do a foundation chain, then how to do a basic stitch such as a single crochet stitch. Note: crochet uses different terms for the UK and USA. They’re not totally different though, they’re annoyingly similar. Most of us do both regularly, but just be aware of it! I always need to double check what the USA ones are when I start a project!
Knitting cast on tutorials
Knit stitch tutorials
Knitting cast off tutorials
Crochet foundation chain tutorials
Crochet basic stitches (UK and US terms)
Which project to start with?
To start with I would just practice making squares. Once you get bored of those though you’ll want something proper! A lot of people go for scarves, but they are long and quickly get boring. So I would recommend something smaller like a cowl (knit a rectangle then sew it up), or a hot water bottle cover (again, knit a rectangle then sew it up). You could go smaller and make a rectangle to use as a bookmark, or sew it up and use it as a mug-cosy.
Here are a few knitting pattern resources which might inspire you:
- knitty (a free online magazine which goes back years!)
Here are a few crochet pattern sources which might inspire you:
- and again.. of course.. Ravelry.com!
The next step
Ok, how’s that going? Maybe you’re feeling like you’d like to try something a bit different or bigger next? This is where Ravelry’s pattern database is really going to start to help you. Again, check out the blog post that I wrote about using the advanced pattern search. You can filter patterns by craft (knitting or crochet), difficulty rating, and much much more.
Buying nice yarn!
Of course.. it is our remit to sell yarn, so if you find yourself enjoying your new skill and you would like some nice yarn to carry on with then we can help with that. It's a bit of a minefield when you start though - there are so many words, abbreviations, fibres, and phrases that it can be overwhelming. A while ago we created a blog post introducing all of this stuff though, so you can read that HERE if you like - I hope it helps. All of our product listings contain the full information about the yarn as well, so you'll soon get used to knowing what to look for. My tip would be - don't get drawn in just by pretty colours or fluff! You want to choose a yarn that's right for your project (e.g. sock yarn for socks), as well as beautiful. I would suggest starting off with light colours as well so that you can see your stitches.
I hope this is helpful. Have I missed any crucial points? I'm sure I will have done! Please do let me know if that's the case. :) You can always contact us at email@example.com
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tips & advice,
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