Knitting Nuances

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What Makes a Knitter a Knitter?

I love to teach knitting. I love everything about it … designing new classes, picking apart the steps needed to successfully knit a particular project, offering other tips and hanging out with students. 

In my classes, however, I don’t focus on teaching new students how to knit because I’m much more interested in teaching them how to become a knitter.

My goal when teaching is not simply to show students how to wrap yarn around a needle, my ultimate goal is to turn everyone into lifetime knitters because there’s more to knitting than sticks and yarn.

Think about how you refer to yourself.

Do you say, “I know how to knit” or do you say, “I’m a knitter”? There’s a difference between the two, and it’s not skill level. Knitting is a continuum from the first time you pick up knitting needles until you cross that threshold and become a knitter. Every knitter’s journey is unique and ends in different places.

Time is not necessarily a factor either.

I have students who have been knitting for less than a year who are already passionate about their knitting and intrepid about trying new things. On the other hand, there’s my sister-in-law, Karen, who knits a garter scarf once every few years. Sure she knows how to knit but she doesn’t consider herself a knitter.

So what does makes a knitter a knitter?

Stash: Let’s face it, without stash you’re just not that into it.

I’m not saying you need bins full of yarn, but knitters feel the lure of the next project, the pull of the yarn, and we certainly lose our ability to avoid the impulse purchase.

As you can see here, I’ve started accumulating sock yarn since socks are high up on my design list for 2019. That includes these 3 lovely skeins from Space Cadet, a soft gray yarn by Coop Knits and my go-to sock yarn, Cascade Heritage.

You’re part of a community: Knitters understand they are part of a larger community; we hang out in yarn shops, spend time scrolling through forums and love seeing what everyone else on Ravelry is knitting. 

You understand knitting conventions:  Like any hobby, activity or sport, knitting has a common vocabulary. Pattern abbreviations, chart symbols, and sizing standards form a language that looks like gibberish to outsiders but allows us to share our love of the craft with each other. 

You set yourself up for long-term success: This is where many knitters struggle. If you’re in it for the long haul, you need to take the time to develop good habits (or break bad ones).

I see this all the time when students come in and comment on the speed and ease with which I knit. It’s not by accident, I switched to continental knitting well into my knitting life. When I did so, I paid particular attention to the issues and bad habits I had developed as a thrower. How I held my straight needles and yarn resulted in slow uneven knitting. Now I only knit with circular needles and wrap the yarn effortlessly around my fingers.

As a result, knitting is a joy and I can do it for hours at a time. But it all started with a 9-hour drive from San Francisco to San Diego and endless rounds of stockinette.

We always take a few minutes at the start of class to review knitting mechanics, but working on fundamentals while learning a new skill is not a good match. Want to change your muscle memory long-term? Then you need to go back to basics and knit something simple. 

This Knitting Bricks scarf or blanket would be a good choice. It’s 95% knit stitch with enough detail to keep you interested.

Your Knitting Skills Checklist

Every student that signs up for a class gets this checklist, no matter their experience level. There are often things that even people who have been knitting for years don’t know or have been doing but don’t know why. This might include knit one in the row below or that when a pattern says ‘sl1’ it means purlwise with yarn in back. Another favorite thing to learn is starting the long-tail cast on without using a slip knot.

My Knitting Skills Checklist is organized like this:

You may notice purling is in the Next Step category after k2tog, slip stitches and yarn overs. That’s because I like to make sure new knitters have mastered the knit stitch and related good habits (mostly tension and yarn holding) before adding purls. That last section includes some of my knitting innovations and non-standard techniques that I use a lot in my designs.

I haven’t included every knitting skill on the list, that’s not its purpose. For example, there are multiple ways to decrease but understanding k2tog vs. ssk also adds the element of learning how stitches are oriented and that decreases lean, so they get their own check box.

Download your free Knitting Skills Checklist Here

Your Knitting Homework!

Take a look at the list and see where you are on your knitting journey. What missing skills stand out for you? Which ones do you want to work on this year? You’ll see I’ve left a few empty boxes – can you think of core skills or concepts I’m missing?

Learn to Knit & Learn to Teach Knitting

There are no purls in this next-step scarf.

I’d like to develop a Learn to Knit class this year for both students and teachers because even before I became a teacher, friends were always asking me to show them how to knit.

It will include five or six patterns with progressive difficulty, skill goals for each and video support. Your feedback on what to include in the checklist will help me organize the projects.

Visiting Reno? If you are ever in the Reno / Tahoe area I would love to meet you and/or have you in one of my classes at Jimmy Beans Wool. You can email me at or look up the current class schedule here. Fair warning, I will try to convert you to continental.

P.s. WordPress just rolled out a brand new editor. I’m a bit wary because while everything looks good on my screen, the email version does not always match. If things look wonky, just click on over to the blog.

18 comments on “What Makes a Knitter a Knitter?

  1. Ivy Fasko
    January 5, 2019

    What a fantastic post! Doubt I’ll get to JB’s since my skiing days are long past, and thus my visits to Tahoe area. But I’d def take a class if I was there!

  2. Pat Aires
    January 5, 2019

    There’s a typo in your skills checklist under Next Step: k1 thru back look
    You meant loop

    • Laura Cunitz
      January 5, 2019

      Thanks Pat! That looks like a spell check correction to me but I certainly did not see it. Perfect timing as I am adding some items based on feedback from some readers.

  3. Bettye Ames
    January 6, 2019

    Loved the article! I taught myself continental after watching a knitter in Allen Tx while our kids were practicing cheerleading and football in 90 plus temps. That was about 14 years ago. I took a Craftsy class with Patty Lyons about 6 years ago and realized I was purling wrong. Two years ago I saw a video by Arne and Carlos on the Norwegian purl and my knitting was retrofitted again. Being a knitter is therapeutic and a lifelong exercise in growth if you want it to be.

    • Laura Cunitz
      January 7, 2019

      So glad to hear that others have switched and love it. My MIL (who I adore) is from Germany and knits continental. She would always roll her eyes at me when I was knitting the old slow way (mostly because of my own bad habits). I finally gave in and have enjoyed telling her she was right since then.

      • Frances Keefe
        January 7, 2019

        Or some of the bad habits I instilled in you way back when! LOL I need to learn to knit continental. Perhaps a trip to Tahoe for a personal lesson? 🙂

  4. Frances Keefe
    January 6, 2019

    This is something I plan to do! I really need to spend time on Continental knitting. Outs been a few years since I have picked up my needles, and I just got the Boobie Beanie kit from JBW. Thanks Laura!!

  5. Rebecca
    January 6, 2019

    How do you cast on without a slip knot?

    • Laura Cunitz
      January 7, 2019

      Set up to start your long-tail cast on with the triangle of yarn in your left hand. Stick the needle in the middle, pull up, then move to the left to start your first cast on as normal. After that first cast on motion you will have 2 sts on the needle. I’ll put a photo on the blog today.

  6. Alex Begg
    January 9, 2019

    Great post. As a ‘late-starter’ in the world of knitting (I retaught myself after about 30 years), I gaze with envy at the skills some knitters have. I feel like I’ll never get there – take sock knitting – those double pointed needles are a nightmare for me! (Could be my left-handed brain.) This post has reminded me that I am definitely a knitter, however, and I can take pride in that. As for continental knitting- it’s what my mother taught me & the style I’m most comfortable with. I find my purl tension a bit loose but I think that’s probably due to the way I hold my yarn.

    • Laura Cunitz
      January 10, 2019

      Hi Alex, Your story is very common. I too started to knit again only as an adult after leaning a bit when I was young. As to the double pointed needles … good news! There are two easy alternatives now. Knitting on two circulars and Magic Loop may have you knitting hats and maybe even socks in no time!

      • Alexandra Begg
        January 17, 2019

        ok – So I won’t avoid the sock knitting workshops. A nice YouTube research project for the weekend – thank you:)

  7. Pamela
    January 11, 2019

    What a great article. I am a knitter and have been for a long time. My Mom taught me when I was very young. She was a thrower so I learned that to begin, however on a trip to Norway my aunt taught me continental and I have knit that way every since. I knit a lot of stranded items so I am fortunate to have learned both. I have some friends who have asked me to teach them so I am venturing into that for the first time. I am looking forward to your development of this topic.

  8. Michelle
    January 11, 2019

    Something I would like to do is teach

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  11. Norma Harakas
    December 2, 2019

    Enjoyed this article. I have wanted to learn to knit continental for years, but haven’t tried yet. I am a knitter & I love to knit, but my speed definitely is not what I would like. Any suggestions?

    • Laura Cunitz
      December 2, 2019

      Hi Norma, Well if you can’t hang out with me at Jimmy Beans Wool in Reno 😉 then I would recommend a class on Craftsy – now Blueprint by Lorilee Beltman. She is a great teacher and points out some key points. How you hold your hand is essential. That and several hours of practice, don’t expect it to be easy the first hour! Good luck, it is so worth the time and effort.

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This entry was posted on January 5, 2019 by in Free Downloads, General, Learn 2 Knit and tagged , , .

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