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How to select needles and yarn for your first project

Fiona Brennan How to KISS

Yarn shopping can be confusing at first. It feels like learning a new language because really you are working your way around a whole load of terminology that you've never used before. Not only that but everything seems to have an acronym or short hand that you have to be 'in' the club to understand. 

The more experienced of us who have been emerged in this language for years can forget how something that is obvious to us might not be so for a beginner. And to bombard you with terms you might not come to need for another few projects is not helpful. 

So this is not an extensive 'How to' but the very basics you need to make your first project. 

Let's start with what makes a good beginner project: 

- thick wool

- thick needles

- flat knitting

- knit and purl stitches

The reason thick wool and needles are a good starting point is because your fabric will grow much quicker. When you start out you knit slowly, wrapping your wool carefully around your needles that you will probably have either sticking out to either side of you and therefore creating a very satisfactory circle of personal space or you will have them tucked under your arm pits. 

So you need your needles to be long enough to feel comfortable but not too long to feel a space hog. A little trial and error will help but when I look back at my first needles they were about as long as my forearm and that's a good place to start. 

Now for the details: 

The perfect beginner wool

This is NOT acrylic. It is easy to think that the £2 ball of wool will be perfect for you to get it wrong on but it is not. You're learning a new skill so you need the right tools so that you don't get disheartened by the finished project. 

Acrylic has its places but beginner knitting is not one of them. 

Get something soft and bouncy where you like the feel of it and the colour. Have a look at the band on the wool, it should tell you what type of wool it is, the weight, the length and some suggested needles or tension. 

Ideally you will want a merino wool that is suitable for 5mm or 6mm needles that is in an Aran or Chunky weight. These will knit up quickly without being cumbersome. If you are buying balls (or cakes as they are sometimes called) of wool then you might need two or three depending on what you are making. 

If you plan to just knit and see where it takes you (a scarf) then get a couple of balls. 

The ideal beginner needles

You can get plastic needles that cost a few pounds. There's nothing wrong with these at all but from personal experience, the way my knitting looked and the stitches I dropped made a turning point when I invested in some bamboo needles. These aren't for everyone, I understand but I found that they had a better friction with the wool than plastic. 

I was almost afraid to move to aluminium needles for fear of total needle slippage but again these needles held the wool much better than the plastic ones did. 

To start with pick your wool first and then grab your needles from the size recommended on the back of the yarn label. If you've picked a thicker yarn then it will be somewhere from 5mm-7mm or even 8mm. 

The ideal pattern

I know you want to jump straight in and make yourself that chunky hat with a bobble on top. And you can knit hats flat with some seam sewing at the end but if you don't know how to decrease stitches yet, best save that for project three or beyond. Start simple. 

A scarf or snood is a good starting place. Something that you knit back and forth along needles, using only knit and purl stitches with no increase or decrease. It gives you that instant gratification that you've made something useful. 

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