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27 October 2009

Wool, cotton and sticks

I love knitting. I'm not particularly good at it, but I get by. There is something about winding a long piece of wool or cotton around sticks that is very appealing. I relax when I knit and I feel connected to all my grandmas who would have sat by a fire knitting clothes for the family. Knitting is a gift I give myself. As well as the relaxation, it exercises my brain, makes me feel productive, even when I'm sitting down, and it produces beautiful items that I happily use in my home or give as gifts. Knitting is part of my day to day life and I believe it should be part of everyone's. If you're not knitting for the productive rewards it gives, then do it to relax.

I still get emails from readers who like the idea of knitting but don't have anyone to teach them. This post is to encourage new knitters, and those who have yet to take up their needles, to start on simple projects and not give up. Knitters are very much like gardeners. I am convinced that if you see a knitter or a gardener anywhere and ask about what they're doing, they'd be pleased to tell you.

Knitting looks complicated but as soon as you learn how to hold your needles and realise that almost all knitting is just casting on, knit, purl, casting off, it seems doable. Learning a few extras like slip stitch, knit two together, yarn forward etc., will give you some lovely pieces that you can't buy at the shops. The thing that really appeals to me is that you can choose your own wool or cotton, and there are some beautiful yarns on the market now. A preknit cardigan from China just doesn't cut it for me anymore.

I noticed a thread over at the forum yesterday about casting on and untidy loose edges. A few techniques were offered and here is mine, I don't know what it's called. I do the normal, for Australia, cast on, then on my first knit row, I knit into the back of the stitch, not the front. It gives me a beautiful firm and tidy edge. The photo above shows where to place the needle, otherwise it's just a normal knit stitch. I find the American way of casting on quite complicated and always use the UK/Irish method taught to me by my mother.

I have looked for what I think are good sites for you to learn from. Remember, it is up to you to put the time in, overcome frustration and keep going. Whether it be knitting, sewing, cooking, growing or anything else in this simple life, don't give up if you don't get it straight away. These are crafts - skills to learn, you have to rediscover how to hold your hands and techniques that, although once commonplace, now are not. That takes a little time. Give yourself that, be patient, and it will come to you.

That learning aspect of knitting is why I encourage new knitters to knit dishcloths. They are the ideal project to learn the stitches as well as cast on, cast off, and you can experiment with fancy patterns if you feel like it. It doesn't matter if you don't do a perfect job, it is the practise that counts, and you get something at the end that can be used in the home. So start off with dishcloths and then progress to other small projects. There are some in the links below.

Set yourself up properly. It's not expensive. Buy or barter some good cotton or wool, I never knit with acrylic but there are many ladies who do. I think if you're putting the time in to knit, it should be the best yarn you can afford. For me, that means watching out for sales, or buying online occasionally. You'll need needles, I think aluminium are the easiest to knit with, just get one pair to start, maybe size 7 or 8. So when you have your needles and either wool or cotton, find a bag to put them in. You'll need to protect your work and if you intend taking it with you when you go out, a bag will keep it all together for you. I use an old flour sack made of calico. I gave a similar kit of cotton, needles and a flour sack to my friend Fifi at work. She is now madly knitting away on her first dishcloths, and loving it.

I hope I've encouraged you to try, or re-try knitting. If you get stuck, go to the knitting ladies over at the forum, post your question and someone will help you. Don't give up on it, or yourself, and have fun!

UK how to cast on
This is a beautiful and simple, ideal for your first double pointed needles project
Dishcloths with patterns
A knitting glossary with videos
Explaination of yarn weights and needles
Free patterns
Lots of free patterns, including wearables and household knitting.


  1. Hi Rhonda,
    Thanks for that post, very timely for me. I'll get out the knitting needles, some practice wool and have a good read of it.

  2. Just the encouragement I needed. I'm right in the middle of crocheting an afghan right now. As soon as that's finished I'm going to knit some cotton dish cloths. Stellar idea for a rookie like me!

  3. I am teaching 4-H knitting to youth and their moms. Everyone enjoys it so much but none more than me. I encourage seasoned knitters to teach another - it is like immortality because no one ever forgets who taught them to knit.:)

  4. Hi Rhonda,
    Thanks for the post. I learnt to knit when I was a kid, but I came across a YouTube video on doing it the European method that I wanted to try, so learnt all over again.There are heaps of videos through YouTube and Google on knitting techniques for beginners, and you can just pause and replay to your hearts content.

    How do you go knitting in Summer? I finished my last dishcloth off a month ago, and even then the thread tension was all wrong from clammy hands.

  5. Lovely post Rhonda, I too love knitting and find it very relaxing. Both of my grandmothers and my Mum were avid knitters. My sister and I were taught to knit at a very young age. I agree it keeps the mind active, my Nana lived till she was 105 and continued to knit and crochet up until the last year or so of her life.
    Cheers Lisa

  6. Good morning Rhonda! Last night I picked up my needles for the first time in ten days, I felt so grounded when I did. I look forward to catching up on the forum.

  7. Dear Rhonda,
    I have just started up my daughters cardigan again! I keep just plodding along. I am up to the last section now. I am only a very beginner and this pattern is very easy. Also the pattern is from Panda Australia, so they have a free support line. When I get stuck on the wording in the pattern I ring them up & they are only too happy to explain it to me.
    There are so many things I want to learn and not enough hours in the day. I love to sew, knit, bake, garden and would love one day to learn the piano. My great aunty just turned 90. She is extremely active, lives at home and is always cooking, sewing, knitting & her garden is beautiful. She is the homemaker I aspire to.
    I am only 32 so hopefully I have a few more years to get better at these crafts.
    Take care & God bless

  8. Goodness, you must have read my mind because I was just kinda feeling sorry for myself because I can't knit!
    This post has inspired me to try and learn!
    You are such an inspiration! *Ü*

  9. Good Morning Rhonda
    A good source of knitting needles,crochet hooks and other bits and pieces a new knitter might need are charity shops. I kitted myself out with all the needles I wanted from two wonderful stores near my daughter's. I did learn to knit many years ago but it was you who encouraged me to take it up again. I'm still not up to sweaters but I can knit a mean pair of socks.


  10. Great Post about knitting. I have recently taken crocheting back up. I learned from my Gram 20+ years ago and we made doilies and snowflakes. I didn't know the names of stitches or how to read a pattern so I have found a lady to teach me. I am learning to read patterns and crochet that way now. I have made several dish clothes and will start to use them soon. Thanks for all that you share. Emily

  11. Thanks for the reminder post. I'm halfway through my first knitting project (small soft toy) kit and have kinda stalled. I'd like to knit dishclothes but the cotton/wool I have here is either too chunky or way way to fine (crotchet cotton?)... I think it's like anything, it's just about changing my outlook/attitude and just following 'that' shoe company slogan... and 'Just Do It'... good luck to all the knitty-people out there. :)

  12. In my case, it's crochet. But I know what you mean about it being relaxing. I learned in school when I was in my early teens and then taught my mom to crochet. She took to it immediately and now that she's gone, I have the hooks that she used as well as one of the last pieces she ever worked on. I feel very close to her when I crochet. I use acrylic yarn most of the time, I have several specific allergies and can't use wool for example. I have found yarn in thrift/charity stores quite often. My sister is learning to knit, I think she's going to enjoy it as much as I love crochet and it gives us something to have in common.

  13. Hello Rhonda,
    I grew up in a knitting family, though these past few years have done little because of other hobbies and homeduties like cooking from scratch, soapmaking, cardmaking, gardening etc. Must do some of your dishclothes though. I have some very old cotton. When I was a child I remember my grandmother knitting cotton white singlets...those ones you bye newborn babies...imagine that! They were more beautiful, with grub roses embroidered around neck.
    Melissa, I just want to encourage you to try piano. I am middle age and learnt a little so I could help my children with their music lesson when young. I don't play fabulous by any means but get HEAPS of enjoyment from it and really love to play a few Christmas Carols in December. Just do it! Norma

  14. I've decided recently I've been in a rut, mainly due to my life changing these past couple of years and me not changing with it. :)

    So, I have made a list of things I want to do. Knitting is at (or near) the top of that list.

  15. Thank you for the encouragement!
    I made dish clothes and now I'm trying to knit fingerless gloves for my daughter for Christmas. I tell you, these are knitted with 4 double pointed needles - I have had to start over 7 or 8 times! But this last time it has gone much easier and I am up to the thumb (I'm scared now!) I am a 'bumblebus', but I am determined to be able to knit anything......
    I can't get utube here - we have a very, very slow dial-up here in the bush and can't get those great little videos to download, so I'm stuck!
    Again, thanks for the encouragement! blessings - birdwoman

  16. Dear Rhonda,
    I grew up in Scotland and my grandmother & mother both used to knit.They never sat down without knitting. I learned to knit from them but have not knittted in over 25yrs. You have inspired me to try a dishcloth. I will let you know how it turns out.
    I have wonderful memories of all my knitted jumpers,ponchos, blankets etc.
    Thank you Rhonda, you inspire so many people and touch our hearts with your sharing

  17. I learned to knit in March when I got very sick and had to "be still" for much of the day. Since this illness went on and on I have made several pairs of socks, a vest for myself, several doll sweaters and six dishclothes. I love it. It IS relaxing.

  18. Hi Rhonda.
    Just last night I was looking for the pattern, wool ply and round needle size for your cowl scarf that you had mentioned in your blog in Feb 08. But I couldn't find that info. Could you please tell me? I've been reading you archive blogs and have got thus far so will continue to try and catch up on all as spare time allows me. I find it all so inspirational and the cowl scarf is one project I would love to do in readiness for next winter. I was in Spotlight yesterday but walked out again after deciding to ask you first before spending money. Many thanks for the work you do. My first job after breakfast each day is to read your blog and I devour the info. My husband and I are in the same situation as you and we are gradually getting used to live as pensioners. It's been, and still is a pshycological challenge as much as changing our life style. Owning our house I beleive is the biggest advantage. Anyway I just wanted to take this oppertunity to thank you. Have a great day
    Carla from WA.

  19. This post has come at the exact RIGHT TIME for me. :-) I am just learning - trying to teach myself how to make squares via the Knitters Bible Book. I have such a desire to attain this skill - indeed, a desire to acquire many of the gentle arts skills. You have inspired me to dedicate some more time to this this afternoon.

    Have a lovely day,

    Tracy (Brisbane)

  20. The lady, now co-worker, who helped teach me to knit wore to work today a sweater she not only knitted herself...she dyed and spun the wool too! :) Love it!

  21. Rhonda,

    I just taught myself to knit this year and I love it!! I learned a lot by looking at the people on you tube...I just watched their hands and practiced a lot:) I think it took me about a month to get the hand of I can sit for hours and knit.

    I am making many dish cloths for Christmas presents. I am excited about making other projects but I am in no hurry...I like the slow easy click of the needles. My favorite are bamboo:)

    Many Blessings,


  22. Now I am more determined than ever to try this.

  23. Thanks a lot for the encouragement. I tried to learn from my mom...but had to rip out way too much and could never see my mistakes soon enough. Now crocheting is another matter, though I confess it was the 3rd person who tried to teach me who succeeded in that. Now I crochet a lot...have discovered that it helps my arthritic hands and wrists a great deal...just a half hour several times a week will do it. I generally work at it a bit more than that...but that little amount does count. I will keep track of your links here and also send onto my daughter who is an avid knitter. I did teach both of my girls to crochet, but so far they have left it in their childhood. Like typing or playing the piano however, once you learn, it can come back again.

    One aunt who lives a continent away from me makes the most beautiful things...and now uses no patterns. Plus I have watched her fix mistakes many rows later!! But it makes no sense to me watching! I still have gobs of crochet (and sewing for that matter) that is waiting however.
    Thanks for sharing such practical things. It is a grand way to relax, this doing handwork!! I have the goal of doing a certain amount before my eyes fail my girls will have some things I made.

  24. im back rhonda...and this is a nice post. it reminds me of my knitting and crochetting years ago IN SCHOOL!

    hope to see you in my blogs too
    life round me N you
    earthy me

  25. Hi Rhonda,
    I learned to knit when I was about 7 or 8, but didn't continue. You inspired me to pick up my needles again, a bit rusty at first but much better now. I've knit about 2 dozen dish cloths for me, gifts and to have on hand.

    About 2 weeks ago I found some camouflage yarn and decided to use circular needles to make the cowl for a hunter friend. I probably tore it out 4 times before I had my "Aha" moment. I'm about a third of the way done and am looking forward to giving it to him.

    I've also made a hat on straight needles for his wife, and some fingerless gloves for his daughter.

    Thank you for the inspiration, you are the best.


  26. Oh, I also wanted to give you a web address for a lady that knits very simple scarves and dish cloths. Her name is Mary Anne and her blog is

    I think you will enjoy it.


  27. I'm an avid knitter and love all the online resources available. People might also be interested in - a fabulous community with patterns, forums, personal tracking of projects etc. - the best online videos for all knitting techniques, beginner and advanced.

    Also You Tube has a lot of videos.

  28. I taught myself to knit nearly a year ago now. Mostly used the internet/ videos on youtube as I found those the easiest to use (rather than books). With a little bit of perseverance, you can do anything! And there are also plenty of knitting groups around where people will be more than happy to help with problems!

  29. Thank you for that link. I am just printing it off and will knit those hot pads up as little gifts for my "Aged Aunties" this Christmas!

    I have been knitting hats, leg warmers etc for great nieces and nephews this Christmas too, so I never sit idle.

  30. I learned to knit 40 years ago from one of those little "learn to knit" booklets. I was ten so it must have been fairly easy to understand. To make a nice edge (when using the basic garter stitch), slip the first stitch as to knit.


  31. That was a very timely post! I've knitted a bit, but I've been a bit afraid to step out and actually work on something- too worried about messing it up. It was also hard to figure out what to try, since there are so many projects one could pick. Dishcloths are perfect, looks simple enough and they are something I actually need. Thank you so much for this post!

  32. I crochet instead of knit, and I think I would only learn to knit for the socks. But I do love yarn! Sure, most of mine is cheap acrylic but most of what I make is kids toys etc so it's not all that bad. I do love buying handspun yarn from Etsy though. LOVE IT! My favorite shop is

  33. I love knitting and crochet. With some practice and perserverence pretty much anyone can do it.
    I taught myself to knit using the videos on Then when I joined I got adventurous and have learned so many new techniques. I love Rav and spend way too much time looking at wonderful patterns and yarn. :)

  34. I whole heartedly agree!!! knitting is very satisfying. The one thing I would like to add is- If someone has pain issues especially with their hands, wooden knitting needles really help. They are not as cold as the metal ones. I have found that now I do projects that I can use my wooden needles with.


  35. The first thing I always tell my beginner's classes is that learning to knit is mainly about developing muscle memory - that's why long-time knitters can knit in the dark at a movie. So, like learning to ride a bike or type or snowboard, the most important thing is practice, practice, practice. If you've sufficiently etched that motion into your subconscious, you will never forget. It might suck at first - you will think it is hard and the results will be less than stellar, but if you persevere, you will be rewarded.

  36. Earlier in the year you had made a post about knitting. I bought everything needed about 8 different colors of yarn and "knitting for dummies" I read it and went "huh?" I made my dear hubby read it, learn how & teach me. (he's a good "read it" learner, I'm more of a "watch it" learner) I did 2 wash cloths and haven't gotten the urge to start again.
    Now I've gotten that urge...but I can't remember how to do it. LOL I'll have to have hubby teach it to me again. :o)

    Have a lovely day!

  37. Great advice for the non knitters Rhonda...i too can knit although not really a pro i seem to get by and learn from my third daughter went to a Rudolph Steiner school where all children learn to knit from class one onwards...they all love it even the boys and made many beautiful things. Why cannot all schools offer this? so simple and definitely seemed to 'calm' some of the children as well. Those links are fab..i particularly love Mrs Beeton's wrist warmers...have linked this site before but thank you for the reminder...i must add it to my side bar...happy day :)

  38. Hi Rhonda,
    Great post!
    I've just recently taken up knitting. I used to sew quite a bit, but I have a baby who likes to nurse a lot, so I needed a couch-friendly craft, and knitting fit the bill! I like that I can just take it row by row, whenever I get a few minutes, and sooner or later I have something to show for it. :)
    Have a great day,

  39. If you wanted to torture me stick me in a room with no knitting. I'd give in very soon!
    I have knitted since I was three years old...every day of my life except for two when I broke my back (by the third day I was so bored and fed up that my sister went home and got together the bits needed to knit gloves on 4 needles. It is surprising what situations you can knit in if you try....

    I did gloves for all the nurses before I got out of there....

    Anyone who wants to knit but can't should be able to find some older person to teach them....most of us love to share our skills.

  40. Don't be discouraged if you can't find someone to teach you to knit... teach yourself! That is what i did... I bought a little book called "How to knit" and worked through it.
    You can do it!
    I absolutely love knitting and have made many projects over the years... I always have a dishcloth going - it's the easiest project to have in my purse in case I have some down time in a waiting room, etc.
    My personal favorite needles are bamboo - I find them the easiest.

  41. Thanks Rhonda. Brilliant help.

  42. My mother and I are both avid knitters (my mother is now 85), when casting on, after the first cast on stitch, we increase by inserting the needle straight between the last two stitches thus ensuring a stronger edge.

    Knitting into the front of the stitch when casting on in the middle of a project is fine.

  43. Rhonda,

    I look forward everyday to logging on and seeing what is new on your blog! Your blog has been one of the handful I read daily that have really changed my life...for the better!

    I grew up watching my grammy knit, and I am still fascinated today with the fact that you can take two sticks and yarn and make incredible just amazes me!

    You inspired me to take a class at out local community center to learn to knit. I am really not good at it, at all, but I truly enjoy my down time learning and getting better at it.

    Most community centers in the US, not sure about other countries, have classes on knitting and crochet and lots of other handy worth while hobbies as well.

    Thank you for all you do here in your blog, you are true inspiration for those of us who want to get back to basics and just aren't sure how to get there.

    Jen S. - Arizona, U.S.


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