Advice for choosing a first knitting project

Sometimes beginner knitters ask me for advice on a first project. Sometimes, in my knitting group, we discuss what good first projects are. What’s the first thing a new knitter should make? They’ve learnt how to do the basic stitches [aside: there are only two stitches in the whole knitting, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying, but that’s by the bypass] and now they want to actually make something! What should that thing be?

You’re going to say a scarf. I know you’re going to say a scarf. And John Avocado’s advice for a first project is: do not make a scarf.

If you decide to make a scarf for your first project, there’s a good chance that the main outcome of this project will be that you will hate knitting. This is because there are only two types of scarf: (a) easy and boring, and (b) interesting and difficult. Neither of those is suitable for a beginner. And in fact, those two types are really just subtypes of the one type of scarf that there is: long.

A basic scarf will probably be about 60 inches long and 6 inches wide, and a garter stitch scarf that size using a 10-ply/worsted weight yarn like Cascade 220 at the recommended gauge will have between 14,500 and 18,000 stitches. All knit stitches. And that’s a lot of stitches. And a lot of the same stitches. Over and over and over. Even something like Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s One Row Handspun Scarf, while a bit les monotonous, is a big project with a lot of stitches, and a new knitter who just wants to get their first project finished really risks getting bored, or resenting a project that seems to be taking so long to finish.

The other reason is that new knitters tend not to be very good at knitting. And there’s no shame there! It’s part of the process of learning to knit: nobody starts good, and people only get better at knitting with practice. When I started knitting, my tension was uneven, my stitches were sloppy, my edges were a mess, and certainly not straight (and though, I should add, straight is not something I strive for generally in life, for the edges of a basic scarf, it’s normally seen as a requirement), and I think this is the case for most new knitters. And the result is that a new knitter embarking on their first project will end up spending a lot of time and effort (and often money!) on this big project, and end up having made something that does not look good. And the risk is that they’ll be so disheartened that they decide they hate knitting and never pick up the needles again.

So I’m very clear when I say to new knitters choosing a first project: do not make a scarf. The chances that this will lead to disappointment are just too high.

So, what to knit? As with choosing any knitting project, I think it’s a good idea to think about what you want to get out of the process: not just the thing you make, but the experience of making it. Do you want a challenge? Do you want to learn new skills or just practise existing ones? There are many considerations, but I think most new knitters have similar goals: they want a first project to be easy and reasonably quick, they want to actually have a finished piece, and it should look reasonably good.

My friend Heather had this dilemma a couple of months ago, and my advice to her was to make something small. And in fact, I recommended the One Row Scarf, but in bookmark size. That way, she’d finish a project before she gave up, would have something that was useful, and would have have something where it wouldn’t matter too much if the stitches didn’t look perfect. (I should add here that the bookmark she made on my recommendation looked stunning.)

Another idea for a first project would be a hat. A basic beanie, nothing fancy. A hat comes together much quicker than a scarf, and it doesn’t have edge stitches (it’s either knitted in the round, or the edge stitches end up in the seam), so the main areas of a piece looking less good disappear. I like the Cozy Cobblestone Cap as a first project: it’s simple, has a mix of knit and purl stitches, as well as decreases and seaming so it’s not boring, it looks good, and it’s knitted flat (I know new knitters tend to be scared of knitting in the round (I certainly was!), and often the only needles a beginner has are straight needles, so I know it’s a consideration).

In summary, a scarf is a big project that will either be boring or difficult, and so it’s not my pick for a first project. Think about what you want to get out of the experience of a first project, and pick something that you can finish quickly, and that will be easy, but with a bit of variety in the stitches to keep you interested and engaged. Most importantly, pick something that you want to have!

Have fun with your knitting, and good luck!


Knitting supplies: advice for beginners

A question I often answer and am sometimes asked is:

I want to learn to knit; what basic supplies do I need?

I’m going to answer this with what I think are the basics, with some specific recommendations on products. Note, this is my biased view; other people will give you different advice, but this is definitely my opinion on the best and most versatile products to get started with.


  1. I’m going to assume you don’t want to spend a fortune, but do want some borderline decent supplies to get started.
  2. I’m also going to assume you just want to pick up some needles and yarn and start knitting. You don’t want to knit a thing (at first), you just want to practise the stitches.

A note: while understanding that you don’t want to spend a lot of money initially, knitting is an expensive hobby. You can, of course, buy a pair of needles and some acrylic yarn from the $2 store and knit with them, but I promise you that you’ll hate knitting if you do that.


I think for beginners, the best way to get started is to buy a 24″/60cm circular needle, size 4mm or 4.5mm (US size 6 or 7), and made of wood. (A lot of beginners start with bamboo, but I think that’s way too sticky. While having a bit of grip is good so your stitches won’t fall off the needle, if you’re constantly dragging the stitches along it will be irritating and you won’t enjoy knitting.)

With a circular needle you’ll be able to practise basic flat knitting, as well as circular knitting and magic loop knitting.

I am going to recommend KnitPro Symphonie fixed circular needle size 4mm. It’s AU$10.38 from LoveCrafts – or check your local yarn store.

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There are loads of yarns available and it can be very confusing when you’re starting out. Most beginners start with acrylic yarn because it’s cheap and available everywhere – DON’T DO IT. The quality of cheap acrylic yarn can be so bad that it is genuinely unpleasant to knit with, and you’ll end up thinking you hate knitting when you just hate the yarn.

I recommend starting with wool yarn, in weight 4/medium/worsted/10-ply (it’s all the same thing, just different names depending on your location). Buy two 50g balls in two different light colors. 

This weight of yarn is probably the easiest to work with, and your stitches will be big enough for you to see. It’s also a good weight for your needles. Wool generally feels nice to work with and is really forgiving. It’ll have a bit more grip on your needles too. It’s really important to get light colors so you’ll be able to see your stitches easily.

If you’re in Australia I recommend Morris & Sons Estate 10-ply available from their website for AU$6.45.


Other supplies

Aside from needles and yarn, there are a couple of other things I recommend you get. Not essential, but they’ll make life easier.

  • A crochet hook. I recommend an aluminium one with a soft grip handle, in the same size or a size smaller than your knitting needles. They are useful for practising picking up dropped stitches, as well as provisional cast-ons (I don’t expect you to know what that means!). KnitPro has one that’s good value: AU$4.37 from Love Crafts.
  • A yarn needle/tapestry needle. You’ll almost certainly want to practise weaving in ends or seaming, and these are essential for those things. They’re available everywhere (even supermarkets) for a couple of bucks, and the cheapest ones are fine.
  • Stitch markers are very useful for when you are practising increases or decreases. You can buy them, but for beginners you can make them by just cutting up a plastic drinking straw (one of the thick ones for milkshakes) into thin hoops.

Things you probably already have

  • A ruler. A 6″/15cm one is fine, as is a 12″/30cm one. A metre stick/yardstick is probably a bit too big.
  • A tape measure. The flexible 60″ ones that are everywhere are perfect. No need for a fancy retractable one.
  • Scissors, any size – even nail scissors will do, but massive kitchen ones might be a bit unwieldy.

A teacher

I think going to a beginners’ class at your local yarn store is the best way to get started, but that might well be impractical or unaffordable. There are lots of YouTube channels, some of them are good, and some of them are not. I recommend VeryPink Knits – Staci Perry of VeryPink is an excellent knitting teacher, and her videos are very well produced.

Please feel free to get in touch if you want more advice or if you dispute any of this! I’d love to chat knitting with you!