The list of ideas for my “month” of beginners’ posts keeps getting longer instead of shorter, so the series will outlive October. But today I thought we could talk about one of my favorite subjects: tools! My love of tools has not gone unmentioned, and it’s the whole reason for Fringe Supply Co. and Our Tools, Ourselves (which is coming back soon, I promise). But the notions wall in the yarn store can be one of the most daunting parts to a new knitter. There are a bajillion doodads for sale, but the truth is you don’t need very much. Here’s a list of what I consider to be the basic tools every knitter should have in their kit:
LEFT SIDE, clockwise from top left:
• A notebook and writing implement. Making good notes for yourself is everything. What are you making — what pattern, yarn, needle, size? Did you diverge from the pattern in any way? Where did you leave off last time you worked on it? The more you modify patterns or improvise your own knits, the more important good note-keeping skills become. Because you’ll hate yourself six months from now, after you were distracted by ten other projects, when you’ve come back to that one where you were absolutely sure you knew exactly what you’d done.
• Removable stitch markers. See below.
• Tapestry needles. You’ll use them to weave in ends, run lifelines through your work, transfer something onto waste yarn for later, etc. I like the ones with the bent tip best.
• Small scissors. Obviously indispensable. Note that TSA rules (within the US) currently allow you to take anything with a blade shorter than (I believe) four inches onto a plane, but it’s always good to check, lest your best pair be taken away from you while traveling.
• Waste yarn. Buy a ball of smooth, thin cotton yarn, to be used any time a pattern calls for transferring stitches onto waste yarn, for provisional cast-ons, or when you want to put in a lifeline. I have a dozen little bundles like this floating around, pulled out of previous projects and waiting for their next assignment.
RIGHT SIDE, clockwise from top left:
• Cable needles. For knitting cables. They’re typically metal, with a curve on one end or a dip in the middle, and they’re not actually necessary — I’ve always just used a double-pointed needle the same gauge as my working needle. This set of notched rosewood needles got added to my kit simply because they’re so beautiful and pleasant to use. (Coming soon to FSCo. because that’s how much I love them.)
• Measuring tape. Handy for measuring garments whose dimensions you like and want to match, as well as your own body parts. Do you know how big your skull is? Your bust, or upper arm, or neck to waist measurements? Critical stuff if you want things to fit. (And you do!)
• Small ruler/gauge ruler. Making and measuring gauge swatches is the other key aspect of getting your knits to fit, and the standard is to have at least four inches of stitches and rows to measure. It’s easier to do with a small flat ruler than a measuring tape. Many knitting rulers, like this wooden one, also incorporate holes for measuring the size of your needles once the markings have worn off. You just stick the needle into the holes until you find the one that matches.
• Crochet hook. Some people use a hook for seaming knits together, but the most basic and important use a knitter has for a crochet hook is for doing repair work, most notably fixing dropped or wrongly knitted stitches on previous rows. If you don’t know how, learn now.
• Stitch markers. For marking your place in your work. You’ll want a variety of sizes and colors, because you often need contrasting ones to indicate different things. And sometimes you need “locking” or removable ones, which can be relocated at any time. They’re also great for making “notes” to yourself as you knit. A common trick is to pin a removable marker in every tenth or twentieth row, or at every increase (or decrease) when doing multiples, so you can glance at your work and quickly tabulate your progress. I keep my markers in a little clear zipper pouch.
• Row counter. When a pattern says, “repeat row ten 12 more times” or “decrease every 8th row 7 times” and you’re watching TV or having a conversation, a row counter can be a life saver. Of course, you could also make tick marks in your notebook or use the stitch marker trick above, etc., but I find a counter often comes in handy. They also make stitch markers with tiny counters hanging from them, which some people swear by.
• And of course, a box or pouch to keep it all in! That’s the funnest part. Whether it’s a box near your favorite knitting spot or a pouch in your bag or basket for portability, you’ll want to have your tools neatly corralled so you can get what you need when you need it.
Obviously I’ve left off the most important knitting tool — needles! — but that’s a whole ’nother post. What do the rest of you have in your tool kit that you wouldn’t want to be without?