Master Plan for Frugal Knitting

Some time during the past 20 years, the idea that you can save money by knitting your own mittens and sweaters has been replaced with the concept of handcrafts as a luxury pursuit. It’s sad really.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore the merino and cashmere yarn of today, but a knitting obsession can easily get out of hand. One look at my yarn stash will tell you that.

The good news is, if you’re just getting started knitting, you’re in the perfect position to buy your supplies and build your yarn stash economically.

I firmly believe the quality of your materials should match the time and effort you’re putting in. But you shouldn’t have to go broke for that to happen. Here are the basics of what you need and how to get it as cheaply as possible, without settling for acrylic yarn and plastic needles.

Needles

Circular knitting needles: If you are a brand-spanking new knitter, you may not realize that needles come in different sizes and you select a size based on the yarn you’re using and the type of fabric you want to make. That means lots of different needles, which all cost money.

New knitters are often afraid of circular needles. The truth is learning to knit, like any motor skill, is clumsy at first. You will soon figure it out and develop muscle memory. Do not fear circular needles. Circular needles are the most versatile of all needle types as you can knit a flat piece or a round piece.

Circulars are also more ergonomic, as your knitted fabric hangs at your center of gravity, rather than way out by your wrists, as with straight needles. And if you buy a modular set, which comes with different size tips and different lengths of cables that you can mix and match, you can make anything from huge sweaters to baby socks in the round.

I recommend wood or bamboo tips. But others prefer metal. Make some knitting friends who already own needles and try both materials before buying.

Understandably, a new knitter may not wish to make an investment in a full set of needles from the get go — the sets can run about $85.00 and up. But if you have just fallen in love with knitting and you know you’ll go hard core, this really will save you money. And you can buy them one at a time instead of using a modular system. A single set of circular needles (fixed size, fixed length) runs around $8-$10. You’ll still save money over buying straights, double points and circulars in every size.

Doublepointed needles (DPNs): Strictly speaking you don’t need these thanks to the magic loop. But some knitters, myself included, prefer them for knitting socks, sleeves and finishing the tops of hats. Again, buying sets save you money.

Straight needles: In this knitter’s opinion? Redundant. A waste of money.

Notions

If you already sew, you probably have most of what you need in the notions department. If not, the best places to go are either garage sales, if you’re going to them anyway, or someplace like Michael’s craft store or a fabric store. If you’re on a budget, avoid buying notions at your lovely local yarn shop, they are almost always marked up.

The basic notions for knitting are as follows:

  • Yarn needle – a big blunt needle with a large eye — it pays to have more than one of these. They’re never at hand when you need one.
  • Little scissors – foldable is nice, but a fingernail clippers will work.
  • Measuring tape – retractable is nice.
  • Stitch markers – you really don’t need to buy these under most circumstances. They can be improvised from common household items such as small ponytail holders, twist ties, or plain old waste yarn in a contrasting color. I’d say the exception is if you’re working on a big sweater or lace project that relies on careful marking. It will make you feel better to have a nice color coded stack of stitch markers right next to you.
  • Needle gauge – this little device will help you figure out what size needle you have once the little markings on the side have worn off. It displays all the different naming conventions for needles, (US size, mms, etc.) so you don’t have to think about the conversion yourself.
Ball Winder and Swift
These are not strictly necessary, but if you really get into this knitting thing, you’ll want them eventually. Some yarn comes in a hank (a big loop of yarn carefully tied and twisted together) rather than a skein or ball. The hank needs to be wound into a ball before you can use it. Note that “hank” and “skein” are often used interchangeably, but a skein comes without the need for further winding off. The picture below features hanks.

yarnspectrum

Photo by Sarabbit
A swift holds the hank nicely for you, then you hook one end of the yarn to the ball winder and turn a little crank that forms a tidy little ball.  It’s strangely gratifying. However, you can easily avoid this expense by asking the yarn store to wind for you, or doing it manually with the help of a friend who can hold their hands up in the air for long period of time. I got by without these for many years.Patterns

Oh goodness, there are so many great free patterns available online these days. Start at Ravelry.com. You need to create an account but it’s free. You can spend hoursbrowsing and getting inspired (or sometimes a headache). And you can specify if you only want to see free patterns. But, honestly, if you do end up buying a pattern, often the money is going directly to the designer, and who wouldn’t feel good about that?Books There are many free online resources to help the new knitter. Ravelry.com, countless videos on youtube.com, knitty.com, etc. So, while you don’t really need to have a physical book around to help you, I understand why you’d want one, and my shelves are stocked with knitting books.  If you long to hold a book in your hand, try looking for used books at Powells.com.  Also, Interweave Pressand knitpicks.com run great sales on books from time to time.Yarn At least half the fun of knitting is the yarn. I can’t stop you from going to Joann’s and grabbing some acrylic atrocity, but let me tell you something: the wonderful knitting you are going to be doing deserves something better than acrylic yarn! (Unless you’re knitting for careless teenagers who cannot be trusted to care for fabrics appropriately – then Red Lion it is.) So, here’s the cheapest way I know of to get your hands on some yarn that will be a pleasure to hold in your hands for hours and hours and wear for years and years.

Local: If you live in a place with a Local Yarn Shop (LYS), as soon as you head in the door, look around for their clearance area and try not to look at anything else! The chances of you finding something you love are quite high, often clearance items are just not seasonally appropriate, but no matter, you’re not done knitting them yet anyway, so who cares? Now, take the yarn you love and ask one of the lovely folks working there to advise you on a pattern that would be suitable to the yarn — or wait until you get home and log on to Ravelry.com and do a search on the yarn you just bought, or the weight of the yarn. Oh, and while you’re paying for the yarn, be sure to sign up for the yarn shop’s mailing list. It’s the best way (sometimes the only way) to find out about sales. And sometimes the sales are big. One of my favorite yarn shops in Portland (and there are about fifteen of them!) had an anniversary sale last year where nearly everything was 40-50 percent off.  Repeat this process with all other local yarn shops in your area.

Online: If you don’t have a shop near you, or you’re looking for something specific that your shop doesn’t carry, venture online. Knitpicks.com is a great starting place.  Their tagline is “Passionately committed to affordable luxury knitting.”  Me too. And there are many small retailers who deserve your business.  Again, look for the “sale” area of the website and start there.  And the rule of the mailing list applies here too.  Be strong when those email start rolling in, though.  Sometimes they are pure temptation and no good deals.

Even armed with this tips, sometimes the lure of a special project and a luxury yarn will overwhelm you. And once in awhile, it’s good to give in to that urge.  But not all the time. Because you still need to eat. Between knitting sessions.

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Comments

  1. That is beautiful yarn! I would love to knit a sweater with it! Or…maybe a pair of socks! I am a big fan of DPN’s too!

    Another great place to buy needles and yarn is thrift stores. Here in Canada I have bought a few bags of random needles from Value Village- they usually have $5 to $6 grab bags! They also have bags of yarn quite often as well!

  2. I would love to knit a little sweater, swing coat style, for my almost 3 year old for her birthday. I’ve also heard you can get great quality yarn at the good will…usually donated from a family who cleaned out grandma’s house.

  3. i love this post..im such a frugal knitter..my thrift store rarely has needles but i do go there looking for cardigans with interesting buttons which i repurpose..its much cheaper then buying them in a fabric store and they are usually one of a kind..ive also heard of people recycling wool from old aran sweaters they have purchased from thrift stores..a mans sweater yields a lot of yardage and you can overdye it ..i almost always knit free patterns, and buy yarn on sale..which leaves me with some extra money to purchase patterns like this: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/levenwick ..this sweater would look gorgeous in that dark blue shibui! :)

  4. I’d love to knit a sweater…it’s cold here in the SK!

    Love the idea of taking interesting buttons off a thrift store find!!!

  5. I agree straight needles are a waste of money. They do not travel well and I think they are very cumbersome – I feel like I constantly poke my ribs with the ends :)

  6. Jessica Anne says:

    I’d love to knit a sweater. That yarn looks so soft. I will have to look into circular needles. The double points scare me. They kind of look like a torture device.

  7. Love the ideas! When I started a few months ago I got needles and practice yarn from friends and relatives that had duplicate s, and even from a kijiji trade! I just got a book of baby patterns for my little girl- I would love to make her a little sweater or dress :)

  8. Id love to make one of the boys a blanket. I think there’s something so wonderfully loving about handmade blankets.

  9. Connie K. says:

    Oooh, a hoodie vest for my daughter who will be going to Maine to visit friends later this year!

  10. I’d love to make a poncho-style sweater for my daughter! She rarely let me make anything for myself, so in sure she’d request it be something for her if I won.

  11. Carol Anne says:

    I’m not sure what I’m capable of knitting! But, I love the idea of a sweater. But, think I’d love a pretty blanket even more.

    Thanks for this post,it answered lots of my questions!

  12. Megan LD says:

    I’m a novice knitter, but I’d live to knit something like a beret or a shrug with that gorgeous wool!

  13. Carole Deschamps says:

    Ooooh…would most certainly knit a sweater for…moi! I knit my first sweater for myself a few months ago and unfortunately…it turned out too big so I would try again with this yummy yarn! Thanks for the tips…and the giveaway!

  14. i wanna start a hobby and i pick crocheting, but i don’t wanna spend the money in case im no good at it. wanna win or recieve free yarn or starter kit before i start putting my own money into it. we will see…good luck to me

  15. Karen Dewillers says:

    I would probably make a shawk, hat and mittens. As a plus sized woman, sweaters intimidate me for me. I would rather knit a blanket. but hand washing a blanket is too much for my hands…..so shawls are my favorites.

  16. I would love this yarn to make a coat for my granddaughter. Would look so lovely on her and help out her folks trying to buy a fall/winter wardrobe.

  17. http://smileysyarns.com/ is my favorite online yarn shop. VERY big discounts. You must order at least $50 worth per order, so I usually have to find a knitting buddy to help meet the minimum.

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