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How to Start Knitting #1 : choose the project & knit your gauge

Winter is the perfect season for me to get into knitting, even if I actually enjoy knitting all year round as I think it’s also a real pleasure to be able to plan your future projects, and start the cooler months with some jumpers you’ve just knitted. But if you do it for the first time, you may be more motivated to learn when it’s cold outside. And as it’s currently the case, it’s the perfect timing!

In this article I wanted to tell you about the different steps of knitting, because many of you to mentioned to me that you wanted to learn more about it. I decided to divide this tutorial into two parts: First with the choice of a pattern and material, and how/why you need to knit a gauge and very soon with the weaving, and how should you take care of your knitted garments.

  • Choose your project

Quite a big question, isn’t it! The important thing is that you take on challenges that are achievable. Some of you will prefer to start slowly with a scarf, or a snood, while others will prefer to start right away with a garment. I consider myself apart of the second category because I need a project that will motivate me. I know that I will really want to finish a garment to be able to wear it, while for a scarf, I would tend to not finish it as I would get quickly bored of it.

* If you prefer to start with accessories, I can advise you:

– The Trendy Châle by Miss Sophie, which will teach you to learn how to knit in garter stitches (knit stitch) and make increases. It is available for free in English.

* If you are interested in learning knitting to spoil children around you, you could start with these patterns that are perfect for beginners :

– The Puerpuerium Cardigan by Kelly van Niekerk, free pattern in newborn size (English)
–  The Gidday Baby by Georgie Nicolson, free pattern available in newborn-3 months and 3-6 months (English)
– The Lil Kimono by Lili Comme Tout, available from birth size to 24 months (English)

These three patterns are very accessible, and will allow you to learn some techniques that you will use in many more projects in the future, like the knit and the purl stitch, the raglan sleeves, buttonholes and above all … knit in the round for the sleeves.

* If you are interested in learning to knit for yourself, here is also a series of very accessible patterns:

Il Grande Favorito sweater , from Isabelle Kraemer available in English
Ravello sweater from Isabelle Kraemer, available in English (it has stripes but can be done without it if it scares you)
– Nuage sweater from Solenn Couix-Loarer, available in English and French

These patterns will allow you to learn how to knit with circular needles, the knit and the purl stitches, raglan sleeves, ribs, and increases and decreases. A great challenge!

  • Choose your yarn and needles

It is important to know that you do not choose randomly a yarn when you decide to knit a project. It is very important to look at the yarn and the gauge recommended in your pattern, and find a yarn that matches (either the same or the same type). Indeed, there are several types of yarn with from the finest to the biggest:

Lace (2ply) : Gauge 4″ of 33-40 stitches with needles 1.5 to 2.25m
Fingering (4ply): Gauge 4″ of 27-32 stitches with needles 2 – 3.25 mm
Sport (5ply): Gauge 4″ of 23-26 stitches with needles 3.5 – 4 mm
DK (8ply) : Gauge 4″ of 21-24 stitches with needles 4 – 4.5 mm
Worsted / Aran (10ply) : Gauge 4″ of  20-18 stitches with needles 4.5 – 5mm
Bulky (12ply) : Gauge 4″ of 12 -15 stitches with needles 7 – 10 mm
Chunky : Gauge 4″ of 17-11 stitches with needles 10 – 15 mm
Roving (Giant) : Gauge 4″ of 6 stitches with needles size 20 – 25 mm

Let’s have a look for example at these two yarns from Drops : The Alpaca and the Lima.

As you can see on the label, it is generally written the needle size that is recommended, the gauge of the yarn(21 stitches x 28 rows for 10cm for the Lima), but also the weight and length of the ball, and finally the content of the yarn. On the right you can also see the color (5820 for the Lima) and the dyelot (184664). It is important that all your balls of yarn come from the same dyelot, to avoid color differences. If this is not the case, alternate them to avoid lines (it’s less obvious on wool that are not handyed but it’s still important).

If your pattern recommends knitting with DK yarn and a sample of 22 stitches in 4mm needles (which is often the case for baby projects, for example), you have to compare with the gauge written on the label. Then, if it’s quite similar, it’s your turn to knit your gauge.

Tip: For those of you who are registered on the knitting website Ravelry, I advise you to take a look in the tab ‘yarn ideas’ on the page of the pattern you like. You will see all the yarns that have been used by other people. This helps me tremendously if I don’t want to use the same yarn as the designer, or spend hours online looking for a yarn that would work for my project.

  • Knit your gauge

Here is a question that all knitting beginners will ask : do we really have to knit the gauge? Is it necessary? I am sorry but I have to answer  YES to this question! , the sample is an indispensable step, and I will explain why.

Sometimes called “Tension”, gauge simply means stitches per inch. It will be different depending on the yarn, needle size, individual knitter, and stitch pattern. In general, the fatter the yarn, the fatter the needle you should use with it, the bigger the stitches it will make, so you will need fewer of them. The thinner the yarn, the thinner the needle you should use with it, the smaller the stitches, so you need more of them.

We all knit differently, either more or less loose, or more or less tight, which will have an impact on the final measurement of your project. The gauge will allow you to count the number of stitches and rows obtained compared to what is recommended in the pattern. Plus, it will also let you see how your yarn behaves after washing (some tend to relax).
It is more important to measure your gauge after washing, but it is always interesting to do it before as well, to see how your yarn reacted to water.

To knit a gauge, you need to knit a square about 15-20 cm. I advise you to make the borders in garter stitches, and the inside in stockinette stitches so that your square does not roll, which would then be difficult to count your stitches.
To do this: delineate a square of 10 cm by 10 cm (or 4″) with pins, and count the stitches inside. Then, wash it, and let it dry. Re-count your stitches and rows once dry as it is more important to take into account the result after washing.

Once you have counted your stitches and rows,  you must compare the result to the gauge of your pattern:

  • Either you count less stitches and knitted rows : it means that you knit loose, then you have to change for smaller needles.
  • Either you have more stitches and rows : it means that you knit tight, and you need to use bigger needles.
  • If the number of stitches match the gauge of your pattern : it’s perfect! You can start knitting.

If you knit fair-isle, you should make a gauge of the colour pattern: as you knit with several yarns, we usually tend to knit more tightly. In addition, this will allow you to do your colour testing. (For more informations on how to knit fair-isle, you can read my article here).
If you knit in the round : We usually knit with a different tension as well, so it may therefore be worthwhile to make a gauge knitted in the round.

If you can, keep your knitted gauges, and note on paper the yarn and needles used and the number of stitches and rows you get. In this way, if you need to knit again this yarn, you will already know the 10×10 gauge according to the needles used.

  • What are the other advantages of the gauge ?

So, as mentioned above, knitting a gauge is important to check your tension so that the measurements of the pattern are respected as much as possible. But not only!

– The gauge also allows you to test the yarn, especially if you’ve never knitted it before: you could for example be disappointed with the result and decide to choose another yarn. In this case, it’s better to see it before you really start your project!

– Moreover, you may not like the look of the yarn, even if the gauge is respected. This is the case with the Flora yarn from Drops that I’m currently knitting to make the Branches & Buds Pullover from MadderMade. To get the right sample, I would have had to knit it in 3.5mm needles, but I find the result too loose. So I chose to knit it in needles 3mm, with a smaller gauge, and I knit the project one size over my own.

– The sample also allows you to test several types of needles, and to see which you feel most comfortable with. As mentioned in my article on circular needles, there are needles in metal, plastic, bamboo … and you could also have a different tension depending on the material chosen. Try them on a sample first.

– It will also allow you to familiarize yourself with a new technique : if you try a cable or a lace for the first time, you could first try it on your sample so that you can make it perfectly when you are knitting your project !

And now ….. we knit !!!!

And here, I hope that this first part will have pleased you, and that you are excited for what comes next! You should normally be able to start now! See you very soon for the second part!


  • 1 March 2017

    Merci !!!!

  • 1 March 2017

    Merci pour ces vidéos, elles m’ont donné le courage de me mettre au tricot. Je serais intéressée par avoir un zoom sur la position de la laine dans les mains pour maintenir une tension constante lors d’un projet.

  • 1 March 2017

    Merci pour ce super tuto, joli, clair et précis ! Hâte d’en apprendre encore plus dans l’épisode 2 🙂

  • 1 March 2017

    Quelle qualité cet article, tout est bien balayé, bravo.

  • 2 March 2017
    Nathalie B.

    Super conseils, merci ! Je suis tentée de me lancer, mais mon projet idéal serait un gilet fillette (4 ou 6 ans). Des suggestions de modèle facile ?

  • 10 May 2017
    Elinora Aronile

    Merci beaucoup pour ce tuto qui est des plus instructifs surtout pour une débutante en tricot comme moi. Il y a malgré tout une question que je me pose encore : si l’échantillon, une fois lavé et bloqué ne correspond pas (trop grand ou trop petit) il faut le refaire avec des aiguilles de taille inférieure ou supérieure. La question que je me pose alors c’est est-ce que tu détricotes ton échantillon initial et que tu refais un nouvel échantillon avec cette même laine ou tu utilises d’autre laine de la pelote qui t’a servie à faire ton premier échantillon? Si c’est la deuxième option faut-il donc prévoir une quantité de laine plus importante que celle préconisée dans le patron pour éviter de se retrouver à cours de laine si l’on a dû faire 2 échantillons différents?
    En te remerciant par avance pour tes précieux conseils.

  • 5 July 2017

    Merci Anna pour tout ces détails. C’est clair.
    Je finis quelques projets mais un démarrage en hiver serait bien effectivement.
    en revanche, j’ai noté qu’il y avait plusieurs techniques pour apprendre à tricoter dont la méthode continentale. Il faut que j’étudie cela car j’avais déjà essayé de tricoter avec la méthode classique que ma mère utilisait mais j’ai beaucoup de mal à réaliser quelque chose de régulier.
    Soit je tire les mailles sont trop serrées, soit elles sont trop lâches et tout dépend du jour où je tricote. Alors certes, c’est peut-être le manque d’exercice.
    A voir.

  • 24 November 2017

    Bonjour Anna,
    Grâce à tes podcasts et ton blog je me suis lancée dans le tricot. mon premier projet est le châle Trendy avec les aiguilles circulaires recommandé pratiquement par toutes les tricoteuses pour débuter. Un grand merci pour cet article très très utile pour les novices comme moi, j’attends impatiemment la suite.

  • 11 November 2018

    Bonjour, merci pour ces explications. Je SUIs débutante dans le tricot. Ma question va sûrement être stupide, comment mesure-t-on un échantillon LORSQu’on l’a tricoté en rond?

  • 30 December 2018

    Bonsoir anna
    tout d’abord un grand merci pour ces explications,a présent c’est plus clair pour moi.j’ai tout de même une question:je souhaitais tricoter un pull du livre tricot circulaire,c’est un pull ajouré qui se tricote avec des aiguilles en 6mm. Seulement je veux le faire avec ma cascade yarn pure alpaga qui selon L’ÉTIQUETte se tricote en 4-4.5mm. puis je la tricoter quand même en 6mm? je vous remercie par avance pour votre réponse et vous souhaite une bonne soirée et de très belles fêtes de fin d’année.

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