Knit 101: Swatch Goals

When you’re first learning to knit, everything seems difficult. Do you remember that from your early knitting days? Or is it just me? There are just so many things to remember (how to cast on, how to do basic stitches, how to hold your yarn) that it can be challenging to keep them all in your head. And frustrating, too—especially for adult learners. We’re so used to being good at things that when we try out a new skill and aren’t immediately proficient, we just give up out of frustration.

Friends, I’m in that boat. Thus far, all my attempts at learning to knit have been half-hearted because I get frustrated and give up when I encounter a problem. But it’s a new year! I’ve committed to making the Killarney Tunic (for this blog and for myself), so it’s time to get real. I have all my supplies, I’ve read through the pattern and decided on the modifications I want to make, and I have a ball of my chosen yarn, Plymouth’s awesomely soft Tuscan Aire. It’s time to actually cast on and start swatching.


After a few misses, I finally achieved cast-on!

Alas, not so fast. Turns out that when you’re a beginner who hasn’t attempted a new project in a while, you forget everything you’ve ever learned about knitting. I ran into a couple of problems while attempting to create the swatch for this sweater.

Problem #1: Not remembering how to cast on.

Various coworkers have shown me this most basic and necessary of skills on numerous occasions, but apparently it didn’t stick. I guess that’s what happens when you learn something and then don’t do it again for four months. We have a great eBook on various cast-ons, but if you’re a visual learner like me, I recommend hitting up YouTube for a quick video tutorial.

Beginner Problem #2: Leaving too short a tail.

Seriously, what happened here?

So I’ve gotten the hang of casting on (using the long-tail method, which I’ve learned before) and I really feel like I’m getting somewhere, and then I realize the tail is rapidly shortening. Like, I only have a few cast-on stitches left before I run out of tail completely. What went wrong here? I know you advanced knitters are probably laughing, but this is the kind of frustrating problem that can really trip up a beginner. How are you supposed to know how much of a tail to leave? Or does that not matter, and I’m just casting on wrong?

(Tip on cast-on tails from Deb Gerish, Love of Knitting editor and knitting pro: Cast on 5 stitches, then pull them out and measure the amount of yarn they took. Use that amount to guesstimate the total yards needed for the project. Add 12” to that total for insurance.)

Beginner Problem #3: I suddenly have ten thumbs.

So awkward.

You guys, my hands have never felt so awkward. I can handle a ten-inch chef’s knife with ease; I can paint my nails with confidence; I can thread a needle like a champ. But casting on makes me feel like I have the coordination of a toddler. It will get better with practice, I hope.

I was really hoping to have made more progress than this by now—I had grand illusions of completing a gauge swatch in an evening—but I can see now I need to brush up on the basics. I’m fortunate enough to have several in-house knitting pros who are happy to help me figure out my cast-on problem; if you don’t have your own resident expert to consult, try your LYS, search the Interweave website for tips, check on Ravelry forums to see if others have experienced the same issue, or hit up YouTube for a video tutorial. Knitting knowledge resources abound!


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