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Holding Needles?

SusanSz | Posted in Knitting and Crochet on

Hi All –

Cooks Talk groupie here, with big question on knitting. 

I just taught myself how to knit a few weeks ago with some books.  It took me a day to get the slipknot right, a week to figure out casting on, and another week to figure out how to knit.  Still haven’t gotten to purl yet, but that’s the next project in the book!  (Learn How to Knit, by Debbie Bliss, I think – it’s upstairs and I don’t feel like getting it to verify…grin.  I’ve also got a Michaels craft store book, and the Family Circle Easy Knitting for fall book.  With all three diagrams, each a little bit different, I was able to figure out the yarn and needles and positions and the like.)

I think I’m doing okay, except with the first stitch on the row – I was making new stitches every time (my gauge went from 20 stitches to 26 in 6 rows!), but I think I’ve got that mistake conquered now.  However, sometimes I still mess up on that first stitch and it just looks…weird.  And, the edges are all raggedy.  I’ve got to practice more on that.

My question, finally, is how in the heck do you hold the needles?  All the books I have, and on-line, tell me neat things like how to cast on and cast off, but the diagrams just show two floating hands with no indication of how you’re supposed to be holding them while sitting down.

I hold one needle, the one I knit to (is that right?  The right needle, in any case), diagonally and in the air.  The left needle is the one that I’m holding incorrectly, I think.  I’m sitting down, and it’s pointing straight up like a rocket, resting on my upper thigh.  When I get ready to slip off a stitch, I hold the point with my right middle finger to steady it, and pull the stitch off.  I’ve gotten quite fast at it this way, but I’ve also got a small hole, lol, in my right middle finger from touching the tip of the needle so much and pressing down.

I figure I either need to get a thimble so I can do it “my way”, or get information on the “right way”, smile.

Any hints? 

Knitting is very enjoyable for me – I wish I had learned it long ago.  It sure beats playing Minesweeper for meditation purposes!  You know, just sitting and doing something but letting your mind wander without watching t.v….




  1. carolfresia | | #1

    Susan, I'm sure one of the other, more experienced knitters (RJF?? Where are you??) will have some excellent guidance for you, but I can start you off by saying that the conventional knitting grip does not usually involve the left needle pointing straight up! Although who's to say--maybe you've invented an ergonomically superior method.

    However, I think that, with practice, you'll be able to move that stitch from left needle to the right without having to steady the needle. It's a matter of getting the feel of the yarn you're using and the gauge you're knitting with (tight, loose, etc.), among other things.

    I don't know of any how-to-knit videos, but if you've got a local yarn shop, they might give lessons. Now that you've mastered the basics, you could go for some one-on-one help from an expert.

    Meanwhile, let's see if one of our knitters will weigh in with more specifics...


  2. rjf | | #2

    Good for you, Susan!  You've got lots of courage to try knitting by yourself.  Some advice:  the left-hand needle should be parallel to your lap and the right hand needle is almost parallel but it's not easy when you first start a piece.  You need a couple of inches to stabilize the balance.

    As for the messy first stitch, try this: put the righthand needle through the 1st stitch from right to left. Slide the stitch off onto the righthand needle.  Carry the yarn under the righthand needle to the back. Now knit the second stitch and knit to the end.  Start every row by treating the first stitch this way and you'll get a really nice edge.  When you learn to purl, this won't be neccesary.  Let me know how it goes.   rjf

    1. SusanSz | | #3

      Thanks RJF!

      I'll try holding the left needle parallel after work today.  I'm sure it will feel strange, but then again, everything in knitting feels strange right now.

      I'll also try doing the first stitch on each row like you recommend. 

      My first project is a big purse-bag-thing that has 132 cast-on stitches.  I'm supposed to knit it to about 13 1/2" long, and then make the strap for it, which sounds confusing right now, but I think I can see it in my head.  I've only got about 2" done so far, so maybe I'll just start over.

      Thanks again!


      1. sanderson | | #5

        You live in Wisconsin, don't you?  Let's get together and I'll be glad to give you some help knitting.  I've been teaching my sons and their friends and so ...not that I'm an expert or anything but ...I can knit and love to and I really enjoy getting someone else started.  I can relate to your holding dilemma.  I taught myself how to crochet from a book.  When I showed my grandma...who made tablecloths and bedspreads with hooks so fine you had to hold them up to the light to see where the hook part was...she laughed at me and said,"That's not a shovel you're holding, you know!". 

        1. Jean | | #6

          Here's a really neat site that shows quite a few knitting stitches in animation. http://www.dnt-inc.com/index.shtml

          I found another one the other day too, that shows animations of other needlecrafts too, along with knitting. http://www.stitchguide.com/  There's a drop down menu called choose your craft. Click on knitting.

          Have fun!!!

        2. SusanSz | | #7

          You live in Wisconsin, don't you?  Let's get together and I'll be glad to give you some help knitting. 

          Chicago, actually, but we go up to WI all the time to visit my relatives.  Where in WI are you?

          It would be neat to see someone knitting in person I think, so let me know where you are!  I tried to do the first stitch thing that rjf suggested (gotta go back and make sure the name is right...), and it's not working yet, but I'm giving it time.

          Thanks again to all of you for all of this help!  I'll have another question when I get to the strap of this bag that I'm knitting.  The directions are supposedly complete, but not really, lol.  That's what happens when an expert knitter writes a book for beginners.  It's amazing the things that seem totally obvious to an expert but are Greek to a beginner!

          For instance, in my Beginner's book, there are instructions for making this strap for my big purse.  It says to "cast off 60 stitches".  Well, I had no idea what casting off was, since it was introduced in the book as "binding off".  And "cast off" was not in the index, so I couldn't double-check to make sure my hunch was right.  I found out in the Family Circle Easy Knitting magazine that casting off was indeed binding off, as I think one is an English term and one is an American term.  I'm thinking about writing to the publisher of the book to let them know, since it is marketed for beginners!

          Little things like that will throw you for a big loop if you're trying to teach yourself!

          Thanks again!


          PS - the book is Learning to Knit, by Debbie Bliss.  Since I had to run upstairs for more coffee, I figured I would check!

          Edited 8/2/2002 11:18:04 AM ET by Susan S.

          1. sanderson | | #14

            I'm in Baraboo...its about an hour north of Madison or and hour and a half from Milwaukee.  Where do your relatives live?  This could be fun.  If the knitting gets too frustrating we could always fall back on our dessert lessons from cookstalk. ;-)

          2. SusanSz | | #17


            I'm in Baraboo...

            My relatives all live in Milwaukee or West Allis.   My best friend lives in Janesville, so either way, you're close!

            Let me know when you're free, and I'll see when we're free (we've got some weekend guests arriving all through the summer), and we should meet!  I'll bring my knitting, and a pair of extra needles to start fresh so you can show me how an experienced knitter does it!

            Wow - this is so cool....


          3. sanderson | | #18

            Son 1  is in school in Mil (UW) so I get there.  Let's do this soon!  If you're up for comming to Baraboo you're welcome anytime...

          4. SusanSz | | #19

            Son 1  is in school in Mil (UW) so I get there.  Let's do this soon!  If you're up for comming to Baraboo you're welcome anytime...

            Hey, okay!  Maybe in a couple of weeks, then.  We are actually going to go to the State Fair on Wednesday, but that's going to take a whole day in itself.  WI's state fair is much closer than our IL state fair...

            I'll talk to DH and see when we're available.  Okay, that sounds like we're super-busy, and we're not, really, but gotta coordinate.



          5. rjf | | #20

            I'm envious of your trip to the State Fair.  It sounds like fun and usually there are crafts and needlework exhibits that are great.  I'm also dying to know how the knitting goes.  It's great to have real live help.  Please, please let me know how you're doing.     rjf

          6. SusanSz | | #21

            Please, please let me know how you're doing.  

            Well, I had to trash my 2" of rows on 132 stitches that I was doing for my purse, since those 132 stitches had magically turned into 136, and I had no idea what I was doing wrong.  Sigh. 

            I cast on 40 stitches last night and am going to concentrate on making little swatches of stuff to get the hang of it for now, and to STOP making extra stitches, lol!  Maybe I'm doing that increasing step without even realizing it!  I'm also going to learn how to purl this week, cuz I think that will stop me from making extra stitches as well.

            I can see a lot of little coasters in my future...I've already got one on my table - and it's not a regular shape at all - kind of misformed.

            Yes, State Fairs are most excellent.  It's been about four years since we've been to one (used to live in Raleigh, NC, home of their state fair).  I intend to look at all the crafts this time, since I think I've outgrown hanging out with all my high school friends on the Midway (games and rides portion of the fair) - ha ha!


          7. sanderson | | #22

            Well have a cream puff and a baked potato for me...you can skip the corn dog if you want to and the cotton candy!  I'll bet your extra stitches are from forgetting to drop off the loop just knitted.  One of the kids I taught kept doing it and we were all laughing so hard because she kept yelling,"Where are they all comming from!"  You can just knit a couple of stitches together and call it a design element.  Let me know when your calendar is free. 

          8. rjf | | #23

            Oh dear!  How frustrating!  Have you looked at the animations someone suggested? (Around message 10-14, I think) They're very good and not too fast.  It's very easy to see exactly what's happening.

            We're going to Maine for a few days and for the first time, we'll be there when the Topsham Fair is going on so I think we'll get to that.  My husband can only stand a certain amount of time in the yarn shop (Halcyon which is on the net if you're interested) before he gets a little snarly.  But good guy that he is, he was the one to suggest it because he knows I've gotten very involved in weaving. 

            I hope you'll have better luck soon.  Enjoy the fair!           rjf

          9. jeanetteoz | | #26

            hi, I use bernat 100% cotton yarn to knit sweaters with. The 14 oz balls are only 7.89 (+tax). Unfortunately they are slow in getting a lot of colours in the large ball. 2 large balls make a man's sweater or long woman's with extras to make cotton dish clothes with. The sweater pattern I use was given to me by an 84 year young woman, who said " if I can knit this you can."

            Cast on using 6mm needles( sorry don't know the American)  for larger size at least 90 stitches, more if you want. Then Knit one, purl one to end of the row,  for at least 15 row. Longer if you like a long rib, I do. Purl one row using the 6mm needles, then change to size 7mm needles and knit a row then purl a row, repeat until you get it the length you want. Mine fall to just below my hips. Then repeat the rib stitch for the same amount as the bottom stitch. Do the same for the front except I add 3 extra rows into it to cover my Tummy and large bust line, if you don't need for the bust then don't add. Sleeves cast on 36 stitches and repeat the same knit purl rib for the same amount as you did for the the body of the sweater. Purl one row on the 6mm and then change to the 7mm. Increase at the beginning and the end of the knit row by 1 stitch. purl a row knit a row. You will have to increase stitches every 3 knit rows until you have 70 stitches. If you have short arms you might have to increase at every knit row. Use your own arm to measure, but this is a drop sleeve so don't make it to long. cast off and make the other sleeve the same way. Sew the front and back together leaving what is comfortable for your head  open, Fold sleeves in half and using the shoulder seam as a guide sew the sleeves  in so that the front sleeve and the back sleeve are evenly spaced.Now you have one long seam to sew. Sew the ribbing up sew it's even and sew up the front to the back and if you added extra stitches ease them in. Sew up the sleeve to the rib and wear your beautiful sweater.

      2. rjf | | #15

        You're getting lots of good advice! It's amazing how many ways there are to knit.  And once you've learned one way, I think it's hard to change methods.  Some books say that "continental"  is fast, but tight while "English" is slow, but even.  Fair Isle is fun because your left hand does Continental and your right hand does English.  (Sort of). 

         If you can relax and not worry about how it comes out for a while, all of sudden it just starts working. 

        Starting is the hardest part unfortunately.  If someone could knit 4 or 5 inches for you and then hand it over, you would find it much easier to learn.  But you couldn't plan on using that knitting for something real......it probably will look strange where "someone" stopped and you began.

        Please keep us informed!! I really want to know when your knitting takes off!  rjf

      3. rjf | | #16

        Susan S: After I wrote a note to you this morning, I kept remembering an article on different styles of knitting.  Well, I found it in "Knitting Around the World", published by (would you believe?) Threads.  The article comes from Threads #30, August 1990 and it's called "Knitting Traditions".  It has descriptions of Scottish, French, German/Continental, Swiss/Norwegian, Greek and something called Eastern Combined Uncrossed.  The pictures of the knitters are helpful also.  What I really liked about the article is its message that there are many ways to knit.  I wonder if you could find that article online......   rjf

      4. rjf | | #27

        Hi Susan,   How's the knitting going?  I haven't seen any new messages lately and wondered whether you ever got together to have a lesson and how it went.  I had another idea about stating to knit and that's to use 10" needles in size 5 or 6 and an appropriate sized yarn, maybe sports yarn.  It might be easier to start with shorter needles.  Let me know, okay?      rjf

        1. SusanSz | | #29

          Hi rjf!

          I'm knitting a scarf.  Well, actually, a really long swatch so I can knit and purl and practice.  It's going a lot better this time around - less ragged around the edges, and it looks (kinda-sorta) like the pictures.

          I think I got too ambitious too soon.  This is much better.  I'll post when I've actually MADE something!  (smile)

          Thank you for thinking of me - I'll be checking in soon.


  3. User avater
    ehBeth | | #4

    Susan: I've been knitting much the way you have inadvertently taught yourself for 35 years now. I was taught by my grandmother when i was a pre-teen. Left needle straight up - mine is usually balanced just about where a belt would be. As I became more comfortable with knitting, and my tension relaxed a bit, I was able to slip the stitches from needle to needle without the finger jab.

    A teacher in high school who saw me in action once, said i'd never be able to get anything done that way. WRONG!  the more parallel way is more accepted now but a friend from Scotland said that some of the traditional knitters on the islands there and in Norway and Sweden hold their needles this way, and in fact have a knitting belt with holes all round to stick the base of the left-hand needle into.

    I finally figured out that my weird adaptation came from learning from a left-handed grandmother (i am right-handed) who didn't speak the same language I did.  I modified what she was showing me til it worked (and i'd reverted to a centuries old style of knitting!)

    If I was learning now, i would learn the standard way so the pix in some of the magazines would make more sense - i'm always having to mentally transpose things.

    Knitting - calming, zenlike experience and a terrific diet aid - hard to eat when you're knitting   ; D



    1. SusanSz | | #8

      A teacher in high school who saw me in action once, said i'd never be able to get anything done that way. WRONG!  the more parallel way is more accepted now but a friend from Scotland said that some of the traditional knitters on the islands there and in Norway and Sweden hold their needles this way, and in fact have a knitting belt with holes all round to stick the base of the left-hand needle into.

      Whoo-hoo!   Going back to the old style!  Now where can I get this belt? Hmmmm.....  :-)


      1. Jean | | #9

        Here's another page that illustrates both the English and Continental styles of knitting.


        There's other interesting reading if you browse  around that site, too.

        1. SusanSz | | #10

          Wow, thanks Jean!  I've bookmarked all these sites to read carefully.

          When I was confused and just starting out (two weeks ago, lol, guess I'm still starting out), I googled on knitting instructions and got to the About.com pages, and that's about it.  I also went to the Lion's Brand web site and got decent information there.

          My big gripe, so far, can't have many gripes yet though, can I?, is that the big chain stores and craft stores only sell acrylic yarn.  I can't wear acrylic things - they itch on me and I can't breathe in them and then I get red bumps.  My mom thought I was just being a fabric snob and wouldn't wear cheap sweaters until I proved it to her!  So I guess I have to go to the boutique yarn stores to get yarn, or order on-line.

          I really do think I'll stay with knitting.  It calms me down like nothing else I've tried, except for Minesweeper.  I admit it, I'm a Minesweeper addict - my best time on the expert level is 97 seconds...But Minesweeper really isn't productive in the least.


        2. SusanSz | | #11


          Here's another page that illustrates both the English and Continental styles of knitting.


          There's other interesting reading if you browse  around that site, too.

          Okay, according to this site, I'm doing everything all wrong.  Maybe this is what's wrong with my raggedy rows.  I knit with the yarn in my left hand (continental), but form the stitch using the English method.  Ack!  Is this wrong? 

          Dang it, and I really did want to teach myself using books.  I may have to see a Real Live Person doing this, I think...


          1. Jean | | #12

            I've never learned the continental way.  I do the English method which means I drop the yarn held in my right hand every time I start to make a new stitch.  I have a friend who uses the continental method and I have never seen anyone who can knit faster than she does.  It just takes practise to perfect the feeling of the proper yarn tension, which is probably the cause of your raggedy rows. Give yourself some time. Just keep on knitting!  Sorry about your allergy to acryllics. Does it bother you to knit with them too? You could make a bunch of scarves to donate to some charity if you can work with it. A lot cheaper to practise on than wool or other natural fibers.

          2. carolfresia | | #13

            I knit the English way, I guess, but I've heard that the continental way is more efficient and ergonomic--less likely to cause you to develop carpal tunnel-type symptoms. But I'm an old dog now, and don't think I could learn a new trick.

            I think knitting is a fantastic alternative to Minesweeper! Think of how productive you can be. And if you find it relaxing and calming during these early, just-learning days, think how much you'll love it when you can do it almost automatically, and need only pay attention to color changes and stitch patterns.

            A fun project for a beginner is to make a very simple scarf using one of the cool novelty yarns that are available. Some of them are synthetics, so you'd have to see how you react to them, but there are really funky yarns out there these days: super-fuzzy (they knit up to look like really great fake fur in bright colors), "charm" yarn (a thin rayon cord with little fringy swatches every so often: knit this on size 10 or so needles and you get a meshy, netlike scarf with pretty, confetti-type bits here and there), super fluffy types, etc. etc. http://www.greatyarns.com sells a bunch of these yarns, as do many local yarn shops. All you need to do is cast on a bunch of stitches, knit till it's long enough, and cast (or bind!) off.

            Have fun!Carol

  4. Barbaran8 | | #24

    Welcome Susan!

    I started out knitting just like you! I held the left needle between my thighs, manipulated the yarn with my right hand, and held the right needle with my right hand. (I am extremely right handed) I was taught to knit by my ex-roomate, who knitted English style, and this was the only way I could figure out how to do that....

    Then I got my first pair of circular needles! I switched to continental style in a flash, and never looked back. I have never used straight needles since. I always try to find patterns that I can knit in the round - or adapt to knitting in the round, but even if I'm knitting flat, I still use circular needles. I love them, I can knit while sitting in traffic at a light, drop the knitting into my lap to drive to the next light, knit five more stitches, drop it again, and never lose a stitch! (Please don't call the cops on me! It's the only way I can deal calmly with my hour-long commute...)


    1. SusanSz | | #25

      Oh, too funny!  It beats reading the paper though - it's scary when you see people reading the news while driving down the highway....far worse than cell phones!

      I went to the State Fair yesterday, and it's AMAZING what people can do with knitting!!  And, in WI, there were handmade skeins of yarn with a sample of knitting that were just amazing.  This city girl couldn't believe her eyes....


  5. enidshapiro | | #28

    I would DEFINITELY go to a knitting store and get a few pointers from them.  There is no substitute for live teaching.  You could be making terrible mistakes and not know it. 

  6. enidshapiro | | #30

    The first stitch of a row is always a little loose.  It's not a problem because when the seam is sewn it is covered, or if it's at the edge there is usually some other finish - crochet, whatever.

    I do think you are driving yourself crazy for no reason.  Take yourself to the nearest knitshop and ask for help.  You will save yourself hundreds of hours of frustration and become a better knitter.

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