The very first thing I ever knitted was a baby scarf in garter stitch (in the picture above, being modeled by my son) from Phildar's 2000 Layette catalog. It took me about two days to finish, including the pom poms I made to place at either end of the scarf. When I first started the project I felt like I was holding logs instead of knitting needles, so I moved at a clumsy snail's pace. But after I knitted through about a quarter of the scarf, I got the hang of it and it moved along very nicely.
My son never actually worn the scarf because it seemed more for a baby girl than for a baby boy. But I'll keep the scarf always, because of the great feeling of accomplishment I felt when I finished it.
Books I used:
Because I say so.
When I wanted to learn how to knit, knitting was not as popular as it is now with resources around every corner. I didn't even know how to hold a pair of needles as there was no one around to show me how to do it, and no one in my family knits so I had never actually seen someone knitting. I have never taken a class or had someone show me how to knit, but I was able to teach myself rather quickly, and this is how I did it:
1) I live in France, so I taught myself to knit using French books and patterns even though French is not my native language. I used a beginner's knitting manual, Phildar's Apprendre a Tricoter, and a layette book, which my husband picked up at the yarn store when he bought my first pair of knitting needles. As a result, I learned how to knit in French, and I'm really glad that I did because now I can follow any French pattern - no matter what the level of difficulty - easily. The beginner's manual is available online at Phildar's website, but I think that any how-to-knit manual that has illustrated descriptions on how to cast on, do the basic stitches and bind off is a good way to start, like I Can't Believe I'm Knitting (which I bought a few months after I learned to knit, during a visit to the States) from Leisure Arts. Now I have a lot more knitting reference books, but I still recommend I Can't Believe I'm Knitting for those who are just starting out because it's a simple manual that's easy to consult for basic knitting techniques.
2) Free beginner videos at Common Threads Fiber Art store. Until I found these videos, I didn't know that there were so many different methods of knitting, and that the yarn had to be held a certain way to create tension. I was just knitting by holding the needles any old way. So I sat in front of the computer with a pair of needles and some yarn while I played the videos over and over, knitting along with the instructor. Those videos taught me how hold my needles and throwing yarn so my knitting comes out evenly.
3) Making a scarf in garter stitch, using size 4mm or 5mm needles and sportweight or worsted wool is a great way to practice straight knitting. My very first knitting project was a baby's scarf (smaller than an adult scarf) in garter stitch, and all it required was knitting short straight rows of a basic stitch. No shaping is required, and it got me accustomed to holding the needles and keeping an even tension while knitting.
4) My first projects were sweaters and complete baby ensembles, but I also liked knitting afghans, hats or baby booties because they usually feature several different stitches and use of circular needles or double-pointed needles. Hats and baby booties are small and easily portable, so it's less "painful" and there's less to rip out when one makes a mistake than on something larger, like a sweater or cardigan. Afghans are take more time and require more yarn, but they don't require any shaping or sewing. Any of these projects would be a good way to help you to learn how to read and follow patterns, and to experiment with a variety of stitches.
After learning to knit in French and knitting various different projects from patterns in French, I discovered that I had memorized pattern and stitch abbreviations without even trying. So I decided to knit a lacy cabled baby blanket by following a pattern in English (which is my native language even though I had never seen a knitting pattern in English before I learned to knit) in order to learn knitting abbreviations and knitting "lingo" in English. Not only did I learn the abbreviations and lingo in English (and discovered how different patterns in English read from French ones!), but I realized that I had learned how to knit a number of different stitches as well.
5) Row counters are my friends. I can't begin to count the number of mistakes I made when I first started knitting simply because I miscounted rows. Once I got a row counter, the number of mistakes I made dwindled to nearly none. After a while I got used to knitting without the counter, but I still use it when I'm following complicated chart patterns, or when I'm knitting various pieces of a garment based upon measurements only and I want all pieces to match up with the same number of rows.
6) If you're feeling brave, attempt something that requires a number of basic techniques. After I completed my first project ever - a baby scarf in garter stitch - I immediately wanted to try more complicated projects. So my second project was a full body baby jumper that required changing colors, buttonholes, decreases, increases, binding off, putting stitches on stitch holders, picking up stitches, sewing in facings, seaming - all kinds of techniques that I didn't even know how to do and had never seen done. It took ages for me to finish but it came out great because I persisted; ripping out, doing over, consulting my knitting manual until I could recite the text from memory. Some people may think that the project was something that should have been tackled by someone with a little more knitting experience, but I took it as a challenge. You might feel the same.
7) Knitting is only half the fun. If you knit projects that require seaming, take a look at a few books that will show you how to seam, block and finish your projects so that they look professional. I love to knit, but I'm a stickler when it comes to nice finishing. You don't need years of experience in order to give your projects neat-looking finishing!
Reference books I use frequently and would want with me if I were marooned on an island:
These are some of the books I've used to learn all of the techniques applied to my knitting; no one or nothing else has taught me. For people who'd like to learn to knit, I recommend I Can't Believe I'm Knitting! (Leisure Arts #2984) , Stitch 'n Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook , Big Book of Knitting and The Knitters Book of Finishing Techniques. If you want to continue to learn straightforward methods with which to experiment, follow them with Montse Stanley's Knitter's handbook. Montse Stanley's book is the first major reference book I ever got and it continues to be, hand's down, my favorite.
*For Christmas in 2004 I gave my sister-in-law Debbie Stoller's Stitch 'n' Bitch as a gift, and she taught herself to knit by making one of the scarves in the book. Yes. I brought a new knitter into the fold :-)