The Yarnologue

The Importance of Practice

As I read through the comments we receive on Facebook I often see people say things along the lines of “I wish I could knit/crochet like that” or “Cables (or the technique show) are beyond my skills.”

We’ve also received comments and emails from fans asking how they can become a better knitter or crocheter.

I usually have two answers for these people.

First, don’t hold yourself back! As the motivational posters point out, “If you say you can’t, then you won’t”. You might be surprised by just how talented you are.

Second, don’t underrate the importance of practice when it comes to your knitting or crocheting.

Jesse by Louisa Harding. 100% Cotton Denim in 16 colors.

Jesse by Louisa Harding. 100% Cotton Denim in 16 colors.

Yes, my stockinette stitch does look nice and smooth and my cables are crisp, but you know what? I knit a lot. At least an hour a day. Sure, it’s my job, but I devoted that much time to my craft before I got this gig because I love knitting and crocheting that much. (And housework is overrated.)

We have skills

We have to remember that our knitting and crocheting are more than “crafts”, they are skills. And skills need to be practiced if you want to improve.

I took shop class in middle school, but I couldn’t walk into a woodworking shop and produce a chair because I haven’t touched a jigsaw since 8th grade!

Do you play a musical instrument? I bet you didn’t hit all the right notes the first time you picked it up.

Aside from practicing, we have to challenge ourselves if we want to improve and grow in our knitting and crocheting. I like to say that every project increases our skills.

Try that new technique or you’ll never learn it! If you don’t want to “risk” testing out a new technique on a large project, then just work a swatch instead. So you cross a cable the wrong direction, what’s the worst that could happen?

Avert your eyes if you are sensative!

Avert your eyes if you are sensitive!

It’s yarn! Rip it out and try again. Yarn is rather forgiving that way.

Knitting basically involves variations of the knit and purl stitch. The magic is in how you combine them. Beautiful crochet projects are also built on just a few basic stitches. Once you learn those basics you can tackle any project you put your mind to.

And if you still aren’t feeling brave, then take a class at your local yarn store. You’ll have someone there to guide you and answer questions as you go along.

Don’t get rusty

Oh, sure, it’s fine for me to spout all this encouraging stuff, but does it have an bearing on reality?

Let me give you a concrete example from one of my recent projects.

Noro Shiro

Noro Shiro

With the new fall yarns arriving daily, I was given a ball of Noro Shiro to play with. It is a yummy 40% Wool, 30% Cashmere, 30% Silk blend yarn with 137 yards per ball.

I thought to myself, “This would make a great cowl! I bet one ball would be enough.”

A crochet cowl using chevron stitch seemed like a good idea.

Now, usually, I’m talking about knitting, so you might be surprised to learn I grew up crocheting. My grandmother taught me when I was very young. I crocheted many afghans and scarves, and even designed my own stuffed animals.

Sadly, I started getting pains in my wrists from too much crocheting and had to put it aside. To say my crochet skills are a little rusty is an understatement.

On the first swatch for my cowl, I worked my first double crochet in the wrong stitch on the foundation chain so I didn’t have enough stitches to work a full repeat.

The mysterious decreasing swatch.

The mysterious decreasing swatch.

Since all my decreases weren’t balanced by enough increase, my swatch grew steadily smaller.

I ripped it out and started over.

Look! I made a rhombus.

Look! I made a rhombus.

This time I had the correct number of stitches, but I didn’t properly line up my peaks and valleys and my swatch started tilting off to the side. At least it was wide enough to measure a vague gauge.

Annoyed with swatching, I ripped once again and decided to just plunge in and start the cowl.

I don’t have a picture of the start. Let’s just say it’s not pretty. I have too many stitch to work the pattern repeat properly. Even worse, I introduced a twist when I joined and have a mobius on my hands, which was not my plan at all.

Did I mention I used to design complicated crocheted stuffed animals?

My crochet knowledge will come back to me and I will defeat this cowl!

But as you can see, if you don’t practice you don’t improve and might even atrophy.

What tips do you give when someone asks how to improve their knitting or crocheting?


  1. Anny Ray Raines

    August 5, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    I always advise when learning to be in a quiet environment, as in no one talking to them, music is good for some people , but not everyone I’ve found, to just pull it out and start again, and chain chain chain, I used to keep a scrap ball of yarn and just chain over and over, working on my gauge , weird maybe but it worked for me.

  2. Great, encouraging blog. It’s a reminder to not get discouraged because yarn really is forgiving and will readily adapt to a restart. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I Really need to get back to knitting..thanks for keeping me motivated!!

  4. Oh, my first chain was a bit of a mess, too! Lately, I’ve only been making short chains for provisional cast-ons.

  5. This is so true! Sometimes you just have to jump in and give it a try. I just recently decided I wanted to try entrelac knitting, and I love it! Now I have to work myself up to trying another sweater that will actually fit. Practice makes perfect… eventually!

  6. I couldn’t agree more!!

  7. Merilou Kronschnabel

    August 5, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    I was admiring a lady’s knitting project while waiting for my husband in a doctor’s waiting room. I expressed that I just couldn’t seem to knit, though I enjoyed crocheting. Her words changed my life when she explained, “You aren’t born with the ability to knit. It is a skill developed by repetition.” I immediately went back to my needles and yarn and tried again. She was right! Bless her!

  8. I have made several baby blankets over the last year. At first I started with an easy pattern. I decided I wanted to knit more than knits and perls, so I found a pattern that had increases and decreases and that was the first out of my comfort zone blanket. I am know working on a baby blanket with knits, perls, yo, s1, psso increases and decreases. You never know what you can do until you try. If at first you don’t succeed try, try again.

  9. My german friend tried to teach me to knit when I was 18 years old. I couldn’t make my left hand do anything … I gave up. Years later in my late 50’s a true mountain women taught me how to knit with my right hand and hold the material in my left…. wow! who knew? I can’t stop knitting. Not enough life to knit all my projects!

  10. I just have one thing to add: I learned to knit in German(y), and after 30 years of looking at American pattern instructions, I still get confused and have a hard time understanding them. And here is why: Many times the directions are way too detailed, they explain the obvious and logical which can be confusing. Also there seems to be no uniformity in pattern language, I still have to have a glossary for each design to understand what’s what. – I consider myself an experienced knitter and got there with a LOT of practice, but I actually force myself to read through an entire American pattern (and the British ones are different yet again) before I decide on a project. Have similar issues with crochet, even more daunting in American patterns. Maybe the knit/crochet designers of American/British patterns should get together and once and for all agree on a common language? – This summer I finally taught myself the basics of entrelac knitting and couldnt be more excited, it took me 10 years of thinking about it and looking for comprehensible instructions – which I found on the internet……

  11. Ah, but if you hand many American knitters a European pattern they will be confused because there aren’t enough details!
    Sometimes you have to trust the pattern. Sometimes you have to trust your own knowledge to get you where you need to be. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Hello everyone, just wanted to pop in to say that I totally agree with knitting fever. I live in Europe and after many years of knitting and being an experienced knitter I still have difficulty in following their patterns .. There aren’t enough details, it is given for granted that you know what their talking about! Believe me it can get very frustrating in the end.
    P.s. same thing when you buy yarn. NO information about gauge, needle size , or type of yarn on the label of most brands.
    Love your blog!

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