Why a scarf is a terrible first project…
The garter stitch scarf is a popular first project but Elizabeth Bagwell argues that it might be discouraging beginner knitters from sticking with their yarn.
Many beginner knitters cast on for a garter stitch scarf as their first project. After 10 years of teaching friends and strangers to knit, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a terrible idea. Here’s why.
There are typically 20,000 stitches in a scarf
Ballband tension on a DK yarn is typically around 22 stitches and 30 rows to make a 4in square. Assume a scarf that is at least 8in wide and as long as the wearer is tall (this is a very handy rough estimate). You’d have 44 stitches per row and 120 rows per foot. So that’s 3,960 stitches per foot of scarf – 19,800 for a 5 foot scarf or 23,760 for a 6 foot scarf.
Garter stitch is usually denser than the stocking stitch used for a ballband swatch, so this number may well be a low estimate. Asking a beginner knitter to do the exact same thing 20,000 times is a great way to ensure that they learn to do that thing well. It’s also really, really dull!
First yarns are often dreadful
It’s entirely normal, when you start a new hobby, to launch in cautiously. Most beginner knitters start with a cheap yarn and budget needles. If you want a cosy, fashionable scarf and are shopping at the bottom end of the market, you need to know your yarn. A beginner will be taking pot luck, and may well wind up with a washable acrylic that’s great for toys but a bit scratchy or a hard-wearing kitchen cotton that’s ideal for dishcloths but sags in a scarf.
Casting on is the fun bit
Starting a new project is great fun – that’s why so many knitters have lots of WIPs (works in progress) littering the house. Choosing a new yarn and matching it to a great pattern is one of the pleasurable bits. So why do we insist that new knitters slog through a marathon before they get to do another sprint?
There’s more to knitting than garter stitch
Few knitters are willing to start with a sampler scarf, where they try a new technique every few inches. As a result, a beginner working on a scarf can knit for their first hundred hours without learning to purl, never mind throwing in a cable or a deliberate yarn over.
It’s hard to fix mistakes
When you’re learning, you make mistakes. That’s as true in knitting as it is in skiing or chess. A garter stitch scarf preserves every mistake you’ve made. Many beginner mistakes aren’t easy to fix after the fact. You can sew in a dropped stitch, but you can’t alter the fact your tension changed somewhere between the first inch and the fifteenth, or that you increased for a while before casting off a chunk to get back to your original number of stitches. While some new knitters will embrace the chaos, the hobby attracts enough perfectionist and type-A personalities that a fair number will hide the project in the back of a cupboard and never speak of it again.
There are so many great beginner patterns
A garter stitch square is a good place to start, and it can be made into so many things. In kitchen cotton, it’s a pot holder or dishcloth. Fold it in half, sew up one side, leaving a hole for the thumb, and you have a fingerless mitt. Knit two squares (or a rectangle) and you can make a hat. Turn the hat upside down and add a handle, and you have a bag. Square’s bigger than you expected? Make a pair and stuff them and you’ve got a cushion. Smaller? Well, maybe you’ve always needed a pin cushion or a coaster…
Whether you’re a beginner or want to learn new techniques, explore our How-to section for inspiration! We’ve got projects and tutorials, stitch guides and wisdom from experienced knitters who can show you how to knit from cast-on to entrelac and colourwork!
Why not try our Grandma’s Favourite Dishcloth tutorial to start off your knitting journey? Follow easy steps with Amy Kaspar, and when you’ve tried this beginner dishcloth, work your way through Angie’s 4 free dishcloth patterns to introduce new stitches!
What was your first project? Did it encourage you to keep going? Do you have a favourite pattern you use, when you help friends learn to knit? Tell us all about it in the comments!
Last updated: May 5th, 2015.