This is the first post in a series I’m doing on the basics of knitting. I’m not discussing the actual techniques of knitting – that has been covered much better and more thoroughly than I could. Instead I’ll be talking about some related-but-not-technically-knitting aspects of the craft.
“Is that knitting or crochet?” seems like a good way to start. With no experience with either, the fabric produced looks pretty similar. They’re both variously-looped yarn made into fabric. So when presented with a loopy fabric, how do you tell what you’ve got?
Well, here are some pictures.
Knitting is made up of columns of stitches. Each stitch is anchored by the stitches directly above and below it. There are two basic knit stitches – ‘knit’ and ‘purl’. They’re the opposite of each other – the front of a knit stitch is the back of a purl stitch. The ‘front’ side of a knit stitch looks like a V. The ‘back’ gives you kind of a bump.
Crochet always seems to be more row-oriented to me. Working crochet flat gives you fabric that’s the same on both sides.
That’s well and good if someone’s demanding that you identify the mode of construction of a sweater, but doesn’t help so much with deciding which one you want to try. So what are they actually?
Knitting is generally done with two needles. All of the stitches in the most recent row are ‘live’, or sitting as loops on your needle. Each stitch relies on the stitches above and below it. If something happens to one stitch, an entire column can unravel. This makes knitting a little more precarious than crochet. If you accidentally drop a stitch (let a loop fall off the needle somehow), it can run away and decimate an entire column of the fabric if you don’t stop it. There are lots of techniques for knitting – lace, cables, intarsia, fair-isle colorwork, to name a very few. Knitting is usually pretty stretchy.
Crochet is done with a single hook. You only have one live stitch at a time. Crochet fabric is generally more secure than knitted fabric, but less stretchy. A hole in a crochet piece won’t expand like one in something knitted. An explanation I heard once for why old-time crafters would choose one over the other (I have no idea whether this is true) has to do with a balance of durability and reusability. If a crafter wanted something strong and stable that could deal with a few holes, go with crochet. If you needed something stretchy and wanted to be able to reuse the yarn, go with knitting.
In addition to equipment, there’s also aesthetics to think of, and how much you enjoy each process. I personally enjoy knitting much more, both the process and the finished product. I think a lot of crochet looks a little clunky, and maybe a little 80’s. Which is not to say that’s bad, or that there are not some absolutely breathtaking crochet patterns out there – my personal tendency is just for knitting. Crochet (specifically, tapestry crochet) is great for pixelated two-color pictures. There are a lot of traditional lace doilies that are crocheted. Crochet is also way better for amigurumi. Crochet increases and decreases just lend themselves better to shaping these kinds of projects. I’m not sure why.
Really, though, go for what seems interesting to you! If you don’t already, I strongly recommend getting an account on Ravelry (it’s free!) and browsing through some pictures. See what speaks to you, and go for it! Ravelry is also a great place to ask questions and get advice. My Ravelry username is eigenknitter, if you want to ask questions there. For instruction on how to do the various techniques, I highly recommend searching for youtube videos. There are a lot of them out there. Some terms to get you started: creating the first stitches of your project is called ‘casting on’. The basic stitches are ‘knit’ and ‘purl’. To finish, you’ll ‘cast off’ or ‘bind off’ (two terms for the same thing).
Hopefully this has helped you decide if you want to pick up knitting or crochet! My other posts will go into more detail on various helpful knitting techniques and ideas. If you think crochet is for you, you’ll have to look elsewhere – I’m just not a good enough crocheter to try to help with that!
(All of the knitting pictures I posted (but not the links) are done by me. Most of the crochet is done by my mother, who is a MUCH better crocheter than I.)
For other posts in this series:
- Reading your knitting
- Keeping tension, or how to hold your yarn
- Picking or Throwing?
- How do I knit from this?
- Which way was I going?
- Starting out – advice for your first attempt
- Knitting or Crochet?