Last week I talked about shopping for gifts for the beginner sewer, as the holidays are a great time to grow your creative tool, supply, and inspiration collection. At the Studio, I teach a lot of beginner knitting classes and one of the most common discussions during and after classes is what tools do I need to pursue this at home. The other question I get a lot is what to buy for a child or how to teach a child who is interested in knitting. Today I’m posting my Studio How-To guide to gifts for the beginner knitter. I’m not putting the luxury items here because they really aren’t necessary when you start or if you only intend to be a casual knitter for now. If you decide knitting is your thing, you still don’t need much more than the beginner tools, you just may choose to spoil yourself or be spoiled with fancier tools and accessories as time goes by.
Personally, I feel this list should be the same for an adult and child, especially for knitting. Knitting seems to resonate best with kids starting at age 8, but can be successful earlier for kids that are highly motivated and enjoy tasks that take focus and fine motor skills. Kids may do better with certain sizes or types of needles, but these are still adult needles, so it makes it easy when shopping.
Knitting is fabulous because it is so accessible and portable. It can be very inexpensive to start this hobby, as you need very little to start your first project. It’s the ongoing love for yarn and accessories that makes it addictive. This list is great for gifts for yourself or a friend at any time of year and helps explain the purpose of the basic tools, as well as showing what they look like.
Knitting Needles - There are three kinds of knitting needles: straight, circular, and double pointed (DP). I constantly debate which is easiest for learning, but currently I lean toward circular. Mostly because your stitches can’t fall off the needles as easily. Circular needles are also great if you’re making something large, like a blanket because you can hold so many stitches on the cord. Needles come in sizes from US 0 through US 50 (or sometimes even larger). The rest of the world refers to needles in mm, and both sizes are usually given on the needles. A set can be a good gift for a new knitter because each size of yarn and pattern requires different size needles. If you know the knitter wants to make socks, go for size US 0 - 3. If they're more interested in heavy yarns, look for size US 10 - 11. If they want to do something in between, size US 6 - 9 works nicely.
I recommend wooden needles for beginners because the yarn does not slide off the needles as easily so stitches aren’t dropped as easily. Of course, many beginners knit super tight because they are so worried about dropping stitches. If that is the case, metal needles may be better. I have been really happy with wood because my constant enemy as a beginner was stitches falling off needles, but a lot of my students knit so tight, the wood makes it harder for them. Choices. Currently I use both wood and metal, depending on the yarn and project. When I first started building my needle collection, I thought there should be a single answer on the best needles for me. Turns out, any and everything can work fine. The price of the needle does not necessarily make a needle better or worse, so pick something that is pretty and functional and they'll probably get the job done for a long time.
- For circular needles, you can choose between fixed and interchangeable. Fixed needles mean the needle tips are permanently connected to the cable (the plastic cord between the needle tips). Interchangeable means you can change the tips and cables out to your heart’s content. I find the interchangeables to be most economical because my options are much greater with less total cash outlay. I have used my Knitpicks interchangeable sets for three years and been very happy. I say sets because I have both a standard set (works for most knitting) and a short set (great for small projects in the round, like hats). Circular needles let you knit both flat (back and forth) and in the round (great for hats, pullover sweaters, cowls, socks). Things to consider are flexibility of the cords (flexible is good), smoothness of joins, type of tips (short or standard and wood or metal).
- For straight needles, you’ll see different lengths to choose. Longer holds more stitches than shorter. That’s the main difference. If you need to hold a lot of stitches, I still recommend circular needles.
- Double Point Needles (DPNs) - These are essential when knitting small circumference projects unless you use the magic loop method (which uses a really long cord with circular needles). You’ll need DPN’s in the same size as your circular needles for a project with decreases like a hat, or for socks. These come in a set of 5+ needles and it’s what you see when someone looks like their knitting some insane project using four needles. Crazy, but surprisingly doable.
Yarn Needle / Tapestry Needle - These are very helpful for weaving in ends when you finish a project. You can get the super simple plastic straight yarn needle, or upgrade slightly to a bent tip which helps maneuver around the stitches more easily.
Row Counter - This is not essential, but it’s really helpful for those of us who easily forget where we are in counting, and it’s not very expensive. Not so good for those of us with kids who like to click buttons when we aren’t looking. As an alternative, let your knitter know that smart phone apps exist to help with this, and old fashioned marking things on paper also works well.
Cable Needle - A wonderful little needle, the cable needle simply holds stitches to the front or back while you knit stitches from the main needle. Cable needles come in many shapes - some have a little ribbed texture carved in the wood, some are hook shaped, and some just have a thin middle ith thicker tips. Some people don’t even need them. You can improvise with your fingers, a pencil, a DPN, a paper clip, etc.. I happen to really love the particular needle pictured.
Stitch Markers - These are essential for any project in the round and to help mark off sections where you may want to work decreases, special patterns, etc. They are at their simplest, little rings that fit around your knitting needles and go between the stitches to signal you to do something specific when you reach them. You can get fixed ones, oversized ones, and safety pin style ones that you can open and move. I use them for marking stitches and to help me remember right side from wrong side at the beginning of a project before I’m familiar with the look of the pattern.
Crochet Hook - While you’re knitting, a crochet hook is handy for fixing errors (like a dropped stitch) and for a provisional cast on. Most any size will do unless you’re dealing with super thin or super fat yarn, then you might need a hook more closely suited to your size yarn.
Needle Gauge & Ruler - A needle gauge is useful if your needles aren’t marked, or if your knitter is like me and can’t always easily see the tiny print on the needles. It’s simply a collection of holes that fit each needle size and have a legible label (similar to screw gauges at the hardware store). Many needle gauges come with a ruler to help measure gauge when knitting a swatch or testing your gauge in knitting. If you’re not sure what gauge means yet, just know that every knitting pattern identifies the gauge
Tape Measure - This is useful for measuring your work to figure out where you are in your pattern. Most patterns will tell you to knit until 6” from cast on edge, which means you should probably use some kind of ruler. A tape measure is nice because it’s easy to trasnport.
Knitting or Project Bag / Basket - This one is not essential, but it is so nice to have one logical place to dump all your needles and projects in process. I have accumulated several and sometimes go crazy trying to find the one I’m looking for at the moment between the car, the house and the studio. Anything that looks fun, possible with a way to close it, and with pockets, will likely make your knitter a happy camper.
Yarn - Duh, yarn is the most exciting part. A knitter can probably never have enough yarn. This makes no sense to a non-knitter, but anyone who knits or crochets will likely agree with this very knowingly. Find something pretty and inspiring for your knitter. Make sure it’s something you would like to wear because it could even turn into a gift for you in the future if you’re lucky.
Where to buy all these lovelies? One of the wonderful things about knitting is the world of the Local Yarn Store. Find the one you love and frequent it. The owners are very knowledgeable and love the craft so they can help answer your questions and help you find exactly what you need. My favorites around Cleveland are Cast On Yarn Studio and The Artful Yarn. The owners are lovely women and they carry a modern stylish selection of high quality yarns, tools, and more.
You can also buy several things at your nearest craft store, but it's not as delightful of a shopping experience.