The Best Way To Start A Knitting Project

Sleeve Knitting

Always begin a knitting project with the sleeves. That’s what a wise woman told me last summer and almost a year on, I’m really glad I listened. I’ve enjoyed launching into the above cardigan from the Debbie Bliss Mia pattern book in a fabulous denim wool. There’s only one problem. The knit is coming up too dense.

I always have to go down a size or two in knitting needle to achieve the proper tension. This time I’ve gone down too much. Yeah, my tension square is the right size but all that lovely cabling and pattern is getting the life squeezed out of it. There’s no spring to my wool.

It’s time to rip it out and start again. On bigger needles. Maybe knit a smaller size. Much better to learn this hard lesson by casting on a sleeve than a back piece. I’ve saved myself a lot of wasted energy. That’s my knitting tip for the day! What’s yours?

bamboo needles

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49 Responses to The Best Way To Start A Knitting Project

  1. Nicola says:

    Actually to do the tension square and go by the measurements given not the size I think I am.

  2. Make sure the cable chart (if there is one!) is the right way up when reading off it…

  3. Wendy says:

    Always start the second sock as soon as you finished the first.
    Put down the needles after the first glass of wine 🙂

    And like you Karen, don’t be afraid to rip it out if it’s not doing it for you.

    • Leigh Ann says:

      “put the needles down after the first glass of wine..”

      LOL I could have used that tip for some of my sewing projects.

  4. ewa says:

    Best knitting tip ever! It can make all the difference- I’m thinking of all the started and unfinished projects of mine!

  5. Jenny Lester says:

    I always knit both sleeves together – a bit like socks so you don’t get SSS (second sock syndrome – or in this case second sleeve syndrome) that way all patterns and increases are done exactly together and once completed both sleeves (or socks) are finished. Also if you are a little shall we say ” short” on yarn you may be able to adjust the length of the garment by knowing what you have left for the back and fronts – rather than running out of yarn in the sleeves.

    • Anne-Marie says:

      I’d add to that – when knitting a cardigan, knit both front panels at the same time too. And learn to knit socks the ‘magic loop’ way so that you finish with a pair. My downfall is the sewing together of knitted projects!

  6. dixieodare says:

    That’s a great tip! I’m only just starting to get into knitting (almost finished my first sweater, just half a sleeve and the collar to go) so I think I will certainly make my next one sleeves first!

  7. Mags says:

    Don’t leave your fluffy wool out for your cat to okay with! I velvet go down a needle size I jyst knit the size smaller, just lazy but it works for me.

  8. Mags says:

    Sorry that should say play with not okay!

  9. Katariina says:

    I have never been a knitter. I just don’t have the patience to do it 😀 Sewing is so much faster, because I’m good at it. Knitting on the other hand takes ages because I suck at it 😀 I always asked my grandma to knit for me but now she has Alzheimer so she don’t remember how to do it anymore. So maybe it would be time for me to continue her path and start knitting :S

  10. Clare says:

    Thanks for the tip. That’s why my cardigan project took 3 years…second sleeve syndrome!

  11. Jo says:

    If you find yourself wondering late into the evening “do I have time to knit a round/complete a repeat before I go to bed” etc., the answer should always be no! 2/3 occasions last week I found myself up past midnight because I told myself at 11:30pm that I could get a round finished on my Nuvem (aka The Blob) before midnight,,,

    • RZ says:

      Totally looked that pattern up on Ravelry and now I want to cast it on… I hate you because I don’t have time for another project!

  12. macinic says:

    I like the knit both sleeves/socks at the same time tip. My knitting mentor told me to always knit the back & a sleeve & try it on, never the front first, but the only patterns I’ve used are all in one top down so I’ve not tested it out yet.

    • That was the best advice I’ve gotten as well. It is worth it to invest in an extra sleeve needle. Also, doing the sleeves first gets them out of the way while you are still enthusiastic about the project. They are my least favorite part!

  13. Julia says:

    Block the hell out of your knits. It’s a bit boring waiting for them to dry, but they look a billion times better.

    And spend money on nice stuff for yourself; save money by buying nice acrylic for blankets.

  14. christina says:

    I really wish I could knit. I try and try but the results are abominable!!! its the counting, clearly I just don’t have the patience for counting. I will persevere though. Onwards and upwards!!!

  15. Kerry says:

    Pick a well written pattern which has measurements for lots of elements (hem circumference, arm length, body length etc) so that you can check you’re on track for size all the way through. Most patterns only include the basics but some indie patterns are more thorough – like Kate Davies

  16. Uta says:

    That’s a great tip Karen, thank you! My first projects were top-down, and I had beginner’s luck with my first sewn-up sweater, but right now I’m on a project I should really have started with the sleeve… anyway, I’m 4/5ths finished now and it looks too big for my – still growing – girl, so at the worst, she’ll have to wait a year before wearing it! My tip would be – get a book on knitting techniques and basics. If you just knit a pattern, even if it’s very well written, and you don’t know WHY you’re doing that stitch or whatnot, you’re not going to learn/remember what you did there.

  17. Best thing I found recently was this stretchy cast off method. http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEfall09/FEATjssbo.php. I’m about to embark on my first pair of socks, just as soon as I find the great pattern I misplaced, doh.

  18. Kimmy Rocket says:

    This post addresses one of my burning questions: Should I reduce needle size to achieve the correct tension or just make a smaller size? At the moment, I usually reduce needle size, but with varying success, so it’s a relief to find someone else who doesn’t think it’s completely mad to just make a smaller size. My top tip is to always leave loooooong tails, so you can sew seams without having to grab a separate piece of yarn.

    • Ros says:

      Either way can give you a garment the right size, but you will end up with a different kind of fabric. Knitting a smaller size at a looser gauge will give you a drapier fabric that won’t be as hardwearing. Knitting your normal size on smaller needles will give you the same kind of fabric as the designer intended. Depending on the kind of garment and the kind of wear you want, you can choose which will be a better result.

  19. louise says:

    I always where possible knit two items at once i.e. socks to the heels, gloves to the start of increase, sleeves and cardi fronts together. When I have seen one made up I find it hard to start a second. But if the welts and so much is already started when you knit the first item you are not too far off finishing the second piece. It works for me anyway.

    • louise says:

      Remembered another. Put fluffy yarns like mohair, angora in the freezer first to stop them moulting.(I used to work in a wool shop so picked up a lot of of tips there)

  20. S says:

    I think I’m alone in this but I have a pure love of knitting, so I don’t mind ripping things out and knitting again until I have the fabric and shape I want. I do this regularly. And I always work up at least a couple of tension swatches before I start. Like sewing, it often takes time to match the perfect yarn to the project, so if I’m not sure I try with different yarns and let the ideas simmer. My tip would be that knitting is a layered process, so savour it and embrace the going back and re-knitting if necessary! As with sewing, the goal is not to be quick but to have a garment you will wear for a long time.

  21. I love knitting but always seem to knit four rows then undo five! But it does grow eventually. I knit tension squares, but still find my knitting is too big, and, until now I have always followed the order of the pattern. I will be doing it your way in future! Barbara. xx

  22. Lety says:

    Always wash your swatch before measuring, and severely block cables and lace.

  23. Neglected to add my tip! I’ve learnt the hard way, always write any changes on the pattern you are using! You can bet you won’t remember what you were doing if you have to put your knitting away for any length of time! And count the number of stitches on your row often, it is really worthwhile! Barbara xx

    • S says:

      This is such a good tip! I often think I’ll remember the changes I’ve made and then of course I forget. Much better to take notes!

  24. Beautiful knitting. Shame you’re starting again but I’m sure it’ll look fab when finished. Colour of that yarn is lovely too.

  25. Anne says:

    That’s a great tip. I’l follow that advice on the sweater I plan to start next week.

  26. jocolumbine says:

    Make your swatch on recommended needles – and switch half way up or down (depending on how you’re liking the existing fabric) . Make the swatch a wee bit longer. Wash and block as recommended. This way you get a better idea of likely outcomes.
    By the way I notice your cast on edge is a wee bit wobbly. Do you use a long tail cast on. If not, that is my best tip, once learned it makes a huge difference to the quality of any knitted project. Cable cast-on is a good second and useful for casting on large amounts of stitches (it saves the heartache of running out of your long tail with ten stitche to go)

    • I have used long tail cast on – and on this occasion, couldn’t be bothered! Will be interesting to see if I can be bothered when I rip back and start again. But thanks for highlighting for readers.

  27. Elisabeth says:

    My tip: When knitting socks toe-up, divide your yarn into two balls, equal in weight. Then, you can make the leg of the first sock as tall as you want and not run out of yarn for the second sock.

    Karen, are you particularly wedded to that yarn? Because using a lighter weight yarn would probably give you the right gauge without making the knitted fabric too dense.

  28. felicia says:

    This won’t work with many modern patterns, which have you knitting the entire sweater from the neck down! And that’s why I have three quarters of a sweater that doesn’t fit 😛

    • Agreed, a lot of patterns I find on Ravelry don’t have separate sleeves.

    • RZ says:

      Send them to me! I loath a seamed sweater. Of course I have also been forced to tear out the body of cardigan, so that was harsh. But in the end I prefer being able to try it on as I go and cast my sleeves directly onto my yoke stitches. Fit is hard!

  29. susew says:

    I’ve learned from several experiences that my swatches lie. My swatch gauge is spot on on a decent sized swatch, then when I knit a much bigger piece my stitches loosen up so I have to rip open and downsize the number stitches. You need about 3.5 – 4 times the width when doing long tail cast on to not run out of yarn. If it happens to be something that needs seaming then I add extra and use that for the seam.

  30. Unfortunately, my top knitting tip is, get someone else to do the knitting hehe. I am lucky to have two staff members who are BOSS knitters and only too happy to save me from myself. 😉

  31. PinhouseP says:

    I’ve done a lot of knitting, and yet I have never thought about this! And no old woman ever told me either!! A brilliant tip (and a real duh-moment for me:)
    Thanks for sharing!

  32. My tip is add a lifeline of yarn through the stitches at intervals for when you have to rip out some rows and might have trouble getting your work back on the needles correctly.

  33. LinB says:

    1. If you’re doing a seamless sweater, knit a hat for your swatch. It’s also knit in the round; you can judge gauge better; you can rip it later if you run short of yarn, and if not — hey, a matching hat! (Elizabeth Zimmerman’s advice)
    2. Knit two socks at once. I prefer two sets of dp needles, working a few inches on one then on the other to match; but have done Magic Loop, both toe-up and top-down. (I always have to pore over the instructions. DP socks practically knit themselves, I do so many each year.) I HAVE done the two-socks-at-the-same-time-on-the-same-set-of-double points, but the results were laughable.
    3. When in doubt if you have enough yarn to finish a pair of socks, divide all your yarn into two equal portions. Then, do a provisional cast on. Knit down for both feet, then pick up at the held stitches and knit the cuff up for as far as you have yarn. That way, both socks are the same length, both in the foot and in the leg.

  34. Chloe says:

    Love that tip. It takes into account a lot that a gauge swatch simply doesn’t. For instance, size matters. A swatch is too small to see how the weight and length of an entire garment can stretch the stitches and change their gauge. No big deal, necessarily, with a shawl. But can be major with a garment.

  35. Liz says:

    I like to knit the body first, then I can decide on sleeve length according to how much yarn I have left.

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