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.
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.
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.
Photo by Sarabbit
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.