Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Beyond the Scarf: Other Good Projects for Beginners

I teach a class for knitting novices who are ready to take on their first major project. It's a 5 week workshop, designed to take a novice knitter through the process of choosing a pattern approrpriate to their skills and interests, and equipping them with with everything they need to know to get it done.

My students have typically knitted scarves, and are looking to take on a sweater project. I talk about gauge, help them choose a pattern, choose a yarn and start work on the project.

Typically, my students (with guidance from me, admittedly), lean towards simple shapes and designs. Lots of ponchos, shells and tank tops and vests, sweaters for babies and kids. Lots of plain stocking stitch or garter stitch, with simple ribbed or seed stitch edgings. The odd fully-ribbed pullover. Although time-consuming, Noro designs are terrific for new knitters, as the yarns are great fun to work with, and the shapes are typically simple.

And typically, students end up with chunky or worsted weight projects -- nothing too fat and difficult to handle, but also not so small that they can't make visible progress.

Part of the first class is taken up with students cruising through pattern books and leaflets, looking for something they like. I always provide a selection of books with manageable but interesting designs.

Last winter, a student -- let's call her N. -- brought a pattern with her. A beautiful layette -- jacket, bootees, hat and blanket. A very traditional, detailed design calling for baby weight yarn on 3mm needles. A very detailed design with cables and lace. She had her heart set on knitting the jacket.

I showed her all sorts of other designs. I showed her patterns with some basic lace, a few simple cables, but she was not swayed. I showed her baby clothes with a larger gauge.

Even the directions for the swatch were complex -- in the cable pattern. That, I figured, would be the test. At the end of the first class, N. headed off home to work on her swatch.

Yes, N. was a novice, but she wanted nothing more but to learn how to knit that jacket. And she persevered, and she did it. The swatch went slowly, but well. Gauge was good, and although there were mistakes, N. was clearly getting the hang of the design. She made slow but gradual progress through her design in the five sessions of the class. By the end, N. was able to work the cable design without breaking a sweat, identify and fix mistakes, and even -- most amazing of all -- hold a conversation while knitting. I remember my first cable design -- I could barely listen to the radio while I was working on it, let alone hold up my end of a discussion about politics.

I had an email from N. just this week with this picture of her completed jacket. It's beautiful work, and I'm so proud of her!

(picture to come, blogger is being weird today and I can't upload the pic)

Who says that beginners can only do scarves?

1 comment:

Savida said...

As something of a beginner myself, I would just like to recommend Glampyre's One Skein Wonder as an excellent first garment. It has many sweaterlike elements, but is a very quick knit and has no scary seaming. I have been making nothing but hats and scarves, and one poncho. I just made a OSW last week and I finally feel ready to tackle a sweater!