McCall’s 7377 – A Zip-Up Dress with…..a Knitted Sweater

As I mentioned last week, I made a serious haul on vintage patterns. Most are in the shop as I type, a few yet still to upload. And that was very hard for me, because I loved them all and wanted to keep them all. I limited myself to keeping two. That’s some serious restraint if I ever knew it. Serious.

Funny enough, I kept this little number. I liked the dress well enough. It’s cute and stylish, but I’ve never seen a sewing pattern that came with a knitted number and instructions for how to knit it. I’m fairly new to vintage patterns, so saying I’ve never seen this before may not hold alot of weight. Still, I’ve never seen this in my my sewing experience period. But I looooove it! I especially the pea green color on the model here. And I really want it. But I don’t know how to knit….

So, for all of you knitters out there, where would you start? I am by no means saying that this sweater should be one of my very first projects. Ha ha ha. I’m saying as someone who’s never knitted a single knot, what do I do first? Any book recommendations? What sort of project should I start out with? What kind of needles do I get? How many needles do I get? Do I start with chunky, medium or thin yarn?

I’ve heard of Ravelry. It’s an overwhelmingly beautiful site, but I’m looking for something more direct. A book that says, you’ll need this and this to get started. This is the first stitch to learn. Blah, blah, blah. Tell me too, where did you learn to knit? What is the best part about knitting? What should I anticipate? Is it hard? And why is knitting so great?

Input please. I’m in dire need. Someday, I WILL make this sweater. In pea green yarn, no less.

  • Corvus - I would start with a hat, personally. Scarves take forever, particularly for new knitters, and knitting in the round is really not difficult. Find a pattern you like that appears simple (Ravelry is good for that), buy yarn whose ball band says it reaches the gauge given in the pattern (or yarn where the weight/yardage ratio is the same as the yarn called for in the pattern), and go. Use knittinghelp.com to look up stitches- I’ve owned many books, but nothing has been more helpful than the videos on that webpage.
    You could even design your own hat. My boyfriend did for his first ever knitting project, and he didn’t have any garment-making background. He did have me, but then, you do to, via internet. ;)
    ReplyCancel

  • Sara - I would start with worsted weight wool, like patons classic wool or cascade 220 and a pair of #8 circular needles (i started on straights but only use circs now–you can knit back and forth on circs, but you can’t knit in the round on straights).
    the stitch n bitch books are decent starter books with lots of fun patterns for beginners. i was definitely more excited about knitting when there was stuff i actually wanted to make.
    and give ravelry a try–it’s really very helpful and full of inspiration.
    ReplyCancel

  • Amy - Sunni, I wished we lived in the same place! i taught a knitting class last year and I really enjoy helping others discover knitting!
    Corvus is right, scarves can be a pain for new knitters and knitting a hat in the round isn’t all that difficult but it can be a little confusing with out someone to help you figure out where you went wrong if you mess it up or find the instructions confusing.
    Since most vintage sweaters are actually knit flat and not in the round i would suggest mastering that first. you don’t have to knit a scarf, one of my students knit coasters that she gave away as presents and her first “learn to knit” bit became a planter cozy. I suggest working with a mid weight yarn, known as DK or worsted weight, and size 7 or 8 needles. I also suggest getting decent yarn that feels nice in your hands rather than cheap acrylic. A good place for less expensive but nicer yarn is knitpicks.com and they have really nice wooden needles. I like the stitch n’ bitch books. The diagrams are really good and they have little tips and tricks all along the way.
    And also like Corvus, you have me via internet, so feel free to email me if you need help!
    ps. i love the turquoise and pea green combo and I think it would be so gorgeous on you!
    ReplyCancel

  • Emma - My advice is to find someone to teach you how to knit. Better yet, take a class. I have been knitting forever, but always wanted to learn how to crochet and could never make sense of it from books. I took a class this summer and am now halfway through crocheting an afghan. I found it really, really helpful to work with a live person.
    But, if you go the book route, I would also recommend the Stitch and Bitch books. There are also a bajillion (free!) videos on YouTube for you to try.
    Good luck! Let us know how it goes!
    ReplyCancel

  • Amanda S. - Ditto what Emma wrote. When I wanted to learn to knit, I took a class at a local yarn shop. I just couldn’t “get it” by looking at a book, I had to be shown. Plus they teach you other helpful stuff like how to take out your stitches and fix mistakes. Good luck! It is really a fun hobby to get into.
    ReplyCancel

  • Tonya - I am a hardcore knitter, and I taught myself several years ago using the book Stitch ‘n’ Bitch by Debbie Stoller. I’d also recommend finding a local yarn store; they probably do lessons and are usually super nice and helpful.
    ReplyCancel

  • Madelaine - Make sure you pick a light yarn to start too. It’s impossible to see stitches in black yarn at first. I’d go with white or a sunny yellow… Good luck! You’ll love it.
    I actually learned to knit when Germaine Koh came to the Art Gallery of Ontario to do Knitwork, and they had a bunch of elderly ladies teaching people to knit back in 1999. I was fourteen and thought it was the coolest thing ever. You can see a bit on the project here: http://www.germainekoh.com/ma/projects_detail.cfm?pg=projects&projectID=87
    ReplyCancel

  • Laura - I think the first Stitch and Bitch book has the best illustration/explanation for casting on from a book. I agree with others who have said knitting in the round is great to begin with, and starting with a hat will be a relatively quick and easy project. I’ll admit, I’m extremely result oriented when it comes to my sewing projects, but when I knit I just enjoy the process, and don’t mind at all if I end up starting over etc. It’s very much about the meditative tactile experience for me. Beware though, because beautiful yarn is just as addictive as fabric and you can find yourself with a stash in no time..
    ReplyCancel

  • Jen - Sunni,
    I started knitting just a few years ago as a way to relax me before bedtime, and I learned pretty much all of my basics through Debbie Stoller’s Stitch’nBitch book (I think the cuteness of her patterns is what initially motivated me to learn, and then I went on from there). Video tutorials are helpful too, and like Corvus, I frequent the knittinghelp website for tips when I need a visual aid.
    Also, I think I started off my practicing with a thicker yarn (easier to see/ work with) and some straight bamboo needles. I like the Takumi brand and I usually wait to grab some with my JoAnns coupon :) My first project was just a basic garter-stitch scarf (probably from the SNB book), and then I moved on to hats, sweaters, etc. Ravelry has helped me a lot too, especially when I want a pattern review, or see what I can do with a certain type of yarn. Hope some of this info is helpul -happy knitting ! :)
    ReplyCancel

  • Patty - Sunni – I’m with the girls who suggest size 7 needles and worsted weight wool. And I do mean wool (or cotton, or bamboo!!) Acrylic yarn is just not that nice to touch!
    Also, bamboo needles are the cool ones now, but I have to say, I love my grandma’s collection of aluminum ones – they’re pointy and not as slippery as the bamboo ones.
    You’ll probably build your needle collection bit by bit – pick a project and get what you need for that. The only other stuff that I use that’s helpful is a crochet hook for picking up dropped stitches (they slide off your needle sometimes) and safety pins to mark your knitting. Also, it’s helpful to have soemthing to count rows/stitches. A piece of paper and pen, a pile of M&Ms (10 rows? 10 M&Ms, eat one at end of each row, never lose track. unless the boy comes into the room and gobbles) or there are a bunch of iphone apps that have stitch counters, when you’re ready for that.
    I learned to knit using The Knit Stitch – a pretty good book with good photos. The best part of this book (and the following book, the Purl stitch) is that the author really focuses on learning to be intuitive while you knit – basically, learning how to look at what you’re doing and figure out how to fix mistakes rather than be stuck to the pattern. Also, the patterns in the books are good and basic – there’s a whole bunch of stuff to do with just mastering the knit stitch! the sock pattern is still my favorite, and there’s a pattern for a baby sweater and ‘gauntlets’ (elbow length, fingerless gloves) I’ve made a bunch of times. (I’m pjungwirth on ravelry – you can see the cute baby coat in my projects! Also, an awesome loopy shawl that was crazy easy to make!)
    Here’s the URL for the first book. http://www.amazon.com/Knitting-Experience-Book-Inspiration-Instruction/dp/1893762130
    I’m a learn-from-book type (although you tube is helpful for seeing it in action). I think it’s important to know if you are a learn from book or class type. I personally probably would not have started knitting if I had tried a class route! And I’ve tried to teach a few friends, not a good situation. I am not a patient teacher.
    You’ve already mentioned ravelry, which I like for the same reason I like patternreview.com – see projects on real people. Also, if you have a iphone/ipod – the vogue knitting app is nice, it has lots of how-to’s and definitions in it.
    hope that’s helpful! Knitting is soothing, but not as instant gratification as sewing! But there are so many great yarns, you can make a ‘masterpiece’ by just knitting a scarf! Which yes, does take forever, but you really need to just practice for your first project, right?
    ReplyCancel

  • Patty - just wanted to clarify – socks and gauntlets are patterns in the Purl stitch – they use both knit AND purl!
    ReplyCancel

  • frk.bustad - That’s so cool, because I was just going to recommend you the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch book, and see that everyone else does too! Well, I learned to stitch when I was a kid, so that’s just one of those things I just know how to do. Like running a bike. So I cannot give you any advice on how to start. Where to start though: I would recommend a very small project, like a baby’s cap. The good thing with this one, is that you learn some of the basics (knit/purl etc), and it’s small enough to keep your patience. See http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/norwegian-sweet-baby-cap—djevellue Don’t find me on Ravelry… you’ll only see half-finished projects there… I am a seamstress, but I do knit. Just not that much. And I’m not very good with finishing stuff…
    ReplyCancel

  • Trixie Rocket - I originally learned to knit from the stitch ‘n bitch books too, which are brilliant but after I started to knit I found a book called ‘Domiknitrix’ by Jennifer Stafford which I think has even better instructions (but perhaps a very specific style). The two books are complete opposites really – Stitch ‘n Bitch books are far more focused on knitting for the fun of it, while Domiknitrix focuses more on making your knitting look as perfect as possible. I would probably recommend Stitch ‘n Bitch as a first stepping stone as it is very clear, accessible, not at all intimidating and has some pretty easy patterns in it, but personally I’m very glad I have both. I think it’s also a great idea to join a knitting group, so you have people to support you and help you while you learn – plus it’s fun! You can find one near you on the Stitch ‘n Bitch site.
    Here are the websites for the two books (which are both good websites in their own right):
    http://www.domiknitrix.com/
    http://stitchnbitch.org/
    ReplyCancel

  • Trixie Rocket - Oops – just in case anyone clicks on my name and I get into trouble, that’s not my blog. I mistyped. Sorry.
    ReplyCancel

  • Jessica - Exciting! I say buy some cheap-o Red Heart acrylic yarn (everybody says they hate acrylic yard, but it’s clean and easy to work with – wool and other natural fibers tend to get fuzzy or pull apart or be otherwise confusing – and it’s cheap!) worsted or light worsted or DK (that’s the thickness of the yarn), and a pair of size-7 straight needles (DO NOT be afraid of round needles!! But straight makes it easier to begin – easier to count your stitches and see what you’re doing). Then get the original Stitch N Bitch book. It’s what I taught myself from. VERY easy, clear, simple, straightforward directions. The projects go perfectly through, from the “learn your very first stitch” handkerchief to sweaters that are classic enough they won’t look ugly in two years (which I think is a problem with a lot of knitting books).
    Good luck!
    ReplyCancel

  • Ana - Learning from a book is good, but if you can find someone to teach you or a local knitting circle, you’ll get help when things go wonky. I would go for thick yarn and big needles to start with (the band around the ball will give you an idea of what size needles to buy).
    Hats and scarves are all very well but once you’ve made a couple of these, have a look at the patterns that Rowan (http://www.knitrowan.com/) do for their extra thick yarns (eg. Drift or Big Wool). The patterns are very simple, the stitches very big and you’ll get something ‘proper’ like a jumper or cardigan in quick enough time so that you don’t get bored.
    ReplyCancel

  • lsaspacey - I actually learned from the Knitting for Dummies book, which is as simple as you can get. Good luck, it’s been ages since I’ve knitted anything myself.
    ReplyCancel

  • paisleyapron - Knitting is the best thing that I have learned…ever. I cannot tell you how relaxing and fulfilling it is. I taught myself to knit by reading every book I could get my hands on from the library and using the website http://www.knittinghelp.com. It is a fantastic site and you can watch the videos again and again. I first made lots and lots of washcloths out of cheap kitchen cotton yarn (Peaches and Cream). That was kind of hard on my hands after awhile and the switch to wool was wonderful. LOL. Definitely join Ravelry and join a few groups that can help answer questions as you have them. Ravelry increased my knitting knowledge exponentially. Oh, the best beginner book I found? “Knitting Without Tears” by Elizabeth Zimmerman. Good luck!
    ReplyCancel

  • Farah - Wow, I can’t believe how many of us learned form ‘Stitch n Bitch’. That book, along with some videos from you tube was all i needed to learn to knit, even complicated cable patterns and lace. Keep practicing till you get your tension right, it’s really not hard to teach yourself.
    That sweater doesn’t look too difficult but i would start simpler for your first project, start with a washcloth or a hat.
    Very cute pattern. have never seen anything like it.
    ReplyCancel

  • Karen - Here’s some more local advice–I learned from a class at Black Sheep Wool Co. on South Temple and E Street, but my new favorite yarn store is Blazing Needles, 1365 South 1100 East.
    Blazing Needles offers a free Saturday beginning knitting class (as long as you buy your yarn and needles there) and they’re all really nice. Lovely yarn selection, too.
    Check it out! http://www.blazing-needles.com/classes.html
    ReplyCancel

  • Liz - Ravelry is the best! :) To start, I’d look into the stitch n’bitch series (pardon my english). They have great images in there for beginners. You Tube is actually how I taught myself. But I learnt how to crochet first then learnt how to knit. I think it’s easier that way, but it’s a long ways off from making your knitted sweater.
    My first project was a kitchen dishcloth. :)
    ReplyCancel

  • TakiJ - I just learned how to knit last week. The lady at the local knitting shop was more than happy to sit there and show me. I am making a scarf and yes it is taking forever. No instant gratification but lots of practice mastering that stitch. I can’t wait until I am done though. Hopefully she will help me with a hat next. Good luck with it. I am looking forward to hearing about your progress.
    ReplyCancel

  • Bethany - It is indeed a lovely pattern .. so adorable! As for knitting recommendations: I recommend starting with a smooth, light colored, woolen yarn, with aluminum needles. The yarn is important because you want to be able to see your stitches easily, and you don’t want a yarn that is going to split all the time when you try to put your needles through the stitches. Wool has a really nice hand for learning, I think, because it is not too heavy (your hands won’t get tired too fast), the wool sticks to itself the right amount to facilitate an even tension, but will slide nicely along the aluminum needles.
    Scarves are boring and take a long time, so don’t start with a scarf. I’d say just start with a swatch and stop when you feel like you’ve got the hang of it and move on to something more interesting. Then if you know any babies go for some baby items: kids will look adorable in most anything you knit, and they are great confidence boosters because they go super fast, so you can start out with a few easy wins. Of course, if it winds up your swatch is as long as a scarf, by the time you feel confident enough to move on, that’s cool too! Scarves are great accessories, I guess I’m just advocating that you don’t get tied to making a whole scarf and then get bored and feel like you’ve failed at knitting just because you didn’t finish it.
    Elizabeth Zimmermann is incredibly charming in her writing, but depending on your learning style you might find her patterns a little daunting at first. Then again she is great reading even without knitting her patterns, and her whole knitting philosophy is a lovely place to start.
    Love the blog! Glad to give a wee bit back on the subject of knitting ;-)
    ReplyCancel

  • Bethany - I disagree about acrylic: it is cheap, but you can get some pretty cheap wool yarn too. Acrylic is a little too sticky for very first learning I think. I think it lends itself to knitting much too tightly, because the fibers are grabbing onto each other too much. And the other thing I’ve found with acrylic yarns is they don’t seem to be quite as elastic as wool and consequently they don’t hold their twist as well, resulting in more split stitches, which can be immensely frustrating to deal with when you’re trying to figure out the mechanics of holding the yarn and all that.
    If you’re looking for economy, maybe get some peruvian wool from Knitpicks.com, or Elann.com Though even cascade 220 is pretty economical, which you should be able to get for under $9.
    ReplyCancel

  • Angela - Hmm.. I’m a self-taught knitter and I learned to knit from mainly here… http://learntoknit.lionbrand.com/?learnToKnit=1
    There’s a ton of online resources and videos are super helpful. Good luck!
    ReplyCancel

  • Jeni - If there is a stitch n bitch group near you, they usually welcome newbies and will teach you what you need to know. Check http://stitchnbitch.org/
    If you want to learn yourself, you could also check out the Vogue Knitting book (http://www.amazon.com/Vogue-Knitting-Ultimate-Book/dp/193154316X) which has lovely explanations of the whole process, including a bit about designing (more than you want now, but a good reference later on)
    There are also tons of good tutorials on YouTube.
    Of course, the suggestions from others (Ravelry and the Stitch n Bitch books) are also great!
    ReplyCancel

  • Laurel - I love green! and I love that pattern. I think I have seen one other vintage pattern like that, but just the one. Can’t recall if I bought it, or left it at DI for the next lucky seamstress.
    I learned to knit when I was in grade-school, so I don’t even remember if it was hard at the time or not. I guess not, or I wouldn’t still be doing it, right?
    Mom and I taught kindergarten kids how to knit for years. For that age, they recommend using size 6 needles and worsted weight yarn, because they are easy to work with. I like Vanna’s Choice for a good, soft acrylic yarn, if you don’t want to invest in the nice stuff yet. Although, yarn for one hat or one scarf isn’t much, so you could get the nice stuff.
    Personally, I’d start with a scarf, just to get the techniques securely in my head. All that repetition is good when you’re learning.
    I like SnB, but back in the day, I used (and still refer to) the Readers Digest Complete Book of Needlework. Very good photos and how-to’s for all kinds of needlework. It’s still in print, but you can pick up used copies cheap ($2).
    Piper’s Quilts & Comforts in SLC, has knitting classes, if you want to get some personal instruction. They carry some nice yarns and needles, but it’s a pricey little shop.
    Or, you could sit in with a knitting group. SnB’s website has a listing of local knitting groups, including the one I attend every Thurs, 7pm, at B&N on the Parkway in Orem. I know there are plenty in SLC area, though. Find one, and all the gals there will give you all kinds of help and advice, for free!
    I LOVE knitting. It’s addictive. And useful. And more portable than your sewing machine. I knit just about anywhere and everywhere, all the time.
    Local Yarn Shops are about as plentiful as non-quilting fabric stores in UT, so be prepared to shop online for good deals on good yarns. I especially love Alpaca Direct
    Nothing so soft and warm as alpaca.
    (sorry – that was kinda a lot for a comment)
    ReplyCancel

  • makingtime - Definitely go with wool (knitpicks wool of the Andes is a good basic yarn) and I’d say wooden needles – they give you more friction, which means more control/less fear of dropping a stitch as you’re working it. You tube is amazing for knitting, I just discovered! Craftsanity’s demo of the continental method was life changing for me – learn that way first and you’ll be on the fast track ;)
    I love knitting. A little obsessed, really. Start reading The Yarn Harlot blog for inspriration and humor – I think even nonknitters would like it :)
    and ravelry is definitely worth your while, at least once you’ve gotten the first two or three things down.
    ReplyCancel

  • haruna - wooo both the dress and the sweater are so beautiful!
    I finally learned how to knit last winter after many discouraging failure attempts.(stories here at my blog http://netfet.blogspot.com/search/label/knitting)
    I am still not a serious knitter like some people who knit all year around, but this year I picked up on a project early. I already made a pair of knitted/felted slippers, and now working on a hat. I had to re-familiarize myself with all the knitting terms again, as well. this site(http://www.knittinghelp.com/videos/knitting-glossary) is really good for the basic terminology and it even has lots of demo videos!
    good luck on your knitting adventure!
    look forward to seeing your knitting creations here soon :)
    ReplyCancel

  • Tasia - Oh yay, look at all the helpful suggestions! I’ve been curious about knitting myself for a while now, look forward to reading about your beginner-knitting adventures!
    ReplyCancel

  • Tasia - Oh and, very cool that the dress pattern comes with the sweater pattern too! I’ve never seen that either :)
    ReplyCancel

  • Belinda-JustSewTall - I learnt using Patons Learn to Knit & help from my mum. I would find a book or website with good pictures and then take a class or go along to a knitting group where people can help beginners. Good luck with it!
    ReplyCancel

  • mariadenmark - I learned as a child, but I always recommend http://garnstudio.com/index_lang.php for beginners. They have videos that show you to cast on,knit, purl and bind off. Plus a lot of other techniques.
    ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - Basically you need to like the yarn you are working with, you need to like the pattern you are making and you need to like the needles you are working with. But that is no easy feat when you’ve never done it before. Also – keep it small. Scarves are not small (and blankets aren’t harder -they just are humongous scarves). And ideally make that first project something where fit is not a big deal. But do make sure the yarn is light in color because it is much much easier to see your stitches.
    Personally knitting did not click for me until I started using bamboo circs and wool yarn. And needles and yarn and pattern taste end up being personal. Also needles need to match yarn just like in sewing; except there is no guide, it is subjective – personally I think bamboo is more grippy/less slippy than aluminum; and generally don’t like any sort of metal needle, but there are exceptions to this. But honestly my favorites are Bryspun circs (they are a brand of plastic needle; but I hated Lion Brand plastic needles).
    I used a combination of the original Stitch n Bitch book and the videos on Knittinghelp.com (I also had Knitting without Tears, but that didn’t really click until I had a couple projects under my belt). Find a good local yarn store (LYS) because 9 times out of 10 they are infinitely more helpful than any big box (and beware big box “luxury yarns” they often are not much cheaper, if at all, than a nice LYS yarn). Make use of your library – they generally carry a good number of knitting books, you just have to request them because they are often checked out and not on the shelf. Keep borrowing “how-to” books until you find one that clicks for you.
    ReplyCancel

  • Haylee - I am obsessed with your Etsy shop. Seriously I want every single pattern. As soon as I figure out which one I like best, I’m purchasing pronto!
    ReplyCancel