The knitter’s basic tool kit

The knitter's basic tool kit

The list of ideas for my “month” of beginners’ posts keeps getting longer instead of shorter, so the series will outlive October. But today I thought we could talk about one of my favorite subjects: tools! My love of tools has not gone unmentioned, and it’s the whole reason for Fringe Supply Co. and Our Tools, Ourselves (which is coming back soon, I promise). But the notions wall in the yarn store can be one of the most daunting parts to a new knitter. There are a bajillion doodads for sale, but the truth is you don’t need very much. Here’s a list of what I consider to be the basic tools every knitter should have in their kit:

LEFT SIDE, clockwise from top left:

A notebook and writing implement. Making good notes for yourself is everything. What are you making — what pattern, yarn, needle, size? Did you diverge from the pattern in any way? Where did you leave off last time you worked on it? The more you modify patterns or improvise your own knits, the more important good note-keeping skills become. Because you’ll hate yourself six months from now, after you were distracted by ten other projects, when you’ve come back to that one where you were absolutely sure you knew exactly what you’d done.

Removable stitch markers. See below.

Tapestry needles. You’ll use them to weave in ends, run lifelines through your work, transfer something onto waste yarn for later, etc. I like the ones with the bent tip best.

Small scissors. Obviously indispensable. Note that TSA rules (within the US) currently allow you to take anything with a blade shorter than (I believe) four inches onto a plane, but it’s always good to check, lest your best pair be taken away from you while traveling.

Waste yarn. Buy a ball of smooth, thin cotton yarn, to be used any time a pattern calls for transferring stitches onto waste yarn, for provisional cast-ons, or when you want to put in a lifeline. I have a dozen little bundles like this floating around, pulled out of previous projects and waiting for their next assignment.

RIGHT SIDE, clockwise from top left:

Cable needles. For knitting cables. They’re typically metal, with a curve on one end or a dip in the middle, and they’re not actually necessary — I’ve always just used a double-pointed needle the same gauge as my working needle. This set of notched rosewood needles got added to my kit simply because they’re so beautiful and pleasant to use. (Coming soon to FSCo. because that’s how much I love them.)

Measuring tape. Handy for measuring garments whose dimensions you like and want to match, as well as your own body parts. Do you know how big your skull is? Your bust, or upper arm, or neck to waist measurements? Critical stuff if you want things to fit. (And you do!)

Small ruler/gauge ruler. Making and measuring gauge swatches is the other key aspect of getting your knits to fit, and the standard is to have at least four inches of stitches and rows to measure. It’s easier to do with a small flat ruler than a measuring tape. Many knitting rulers, like this wooden one, also incorporate holes for measuring the size of your needles once the markings have worn off.  You just stick the needle into the holes until you find the one that matches.

• Crochet hook. Some people use a hook for seaming knits together, but the most basic and important use a knitter has for a crochet hook is for doing repair work, most notably fixing dropped or wrongly knitted stitches on previous rows. If you don’t know how, learn now.

Stitch markers. For marking your place in your work. You’ll want a variety of sizes and colors, because you often need contrasting ones to indicate different things. And sometimes you need “locking” or removable ones, which can be relocated at any time. They’re also great for making “notes” to yourself as you knit. A common trick is to pin a removable marker in every tenth or twentieth row, or at every increase (or decrease) when doing multiples, so you can glance at your work and quickly tabulate your progress. I keep my markers in a little clear zipper pouch.

Row counter. When a pattern says, “repeat row ten 12 more times” or “decrease every 8th row 7 times” and you’re watching TV or having a conversation, a row counter can be a life saver. Of course, you could also make tick marks in your notebook or use the stitch marker trick above, etc., but I find a counter often comes in handy. They also make stitch markers with tiny counters hanging from them, which some people swear by.

And of course, a box or pouch to keep it all in! That’s the funnest part. Whether it’s a box near your favorite knitting spot or a pouch in your bag or basket for portability, you’ll want to have your tools neatly corralled so you can get what you need when you need it.

Obviously I’ve left off the most important knitting tool — needles! — but that’s a whole ’nother post. What do the rest of you have in your tool kit that you wouldn’t want to be without?


28 thoughts on “The knitter’s basic tool kit

  1. I also was going to say hand lotion and sticky notes. I also have some sentimental things of my grandmother’s, who taught me how to knit and crochet.

  2. I also have stitch holders or safety pins, they work great, like coiless but regular works fine

  3. yarn!! oh dear a friend of mine went to Grenoble for a 3 month sabattical – luckily she took loads of WIPs to finish off it turned out to be a city with out yarn shops… the horror the horror

  4. YARN!! a friend of mine spent a 3 month sabattical in Grenoble France. Luckily she took a bunch of WIPS with her as when she arrived she discovered the city had no yarn shops… the horror the horror

  5. I love this, thanks so much. I have some, but need to beef up my kit. I use baby nail scissors, the kind with the blunted tip. They are cheap and I have never had a problem getting them on a plane. Thanks!

  6. I always have a mini chocolate bar in my kit. In winter also some kind of soothing lemon honey candy. And a mini highlighter and pencil. For those @$#@%#$ patterns where they write everything out row by row instead of providing a lace chart. I also have some short (5in) dpns because I vastly prefer those for fixing mistakes. I do carry a crochet hook or three as well :)

  7. Yes to the cotton yarn! In my early days of knitting I used to use whatever was laying around. One day that happened to be cotton and I was so surprised by how quick and easy it was to remove. I never went back to using wool for scrap yarn after that.

    The one thing your list is missing for me is some fast absorbing hand lotion! I really like LoLo Bars and keep sample sized ones in my knitting bags and purses.

  8. It’s so great that everyone’s saying hand lotion. I’ve been thinking of trying to find something really special for the shop, because it makes perfect sense to me. Glad I’m not alone!

  9. I saw a video where a knitter used highlighting tape to keep track of where she was on her pattern. I thought it was a brilliant idea. nowwww have to find out where I can get some.”

  10. I’m glad to hear that our tools, ourselves is coming back :)

    I always carry moleskin (not the notebooks, the stuff you put on your heel when you’ve got a blister). Especially when I’m knitting socks or something small on size 0’s, I can knit for so much longer if I put a small bit on one trouble spot on my finger.

  11. Great post, Karen!

    It has already been said, but yes to adding sticky notes, a few safety pins, and smooth yarn. I use small cotton thread for lifelines, and fatter yarn for holding sweater stitches. (The fat yarn makes the stitches easier to retrieve, especially if they have been held apart for a while. like for sleeves). I also keep a pair of DPNs handy (good to use as pointers when counting rows, etc.) My most indispensable tool is a crochet hook. For retrieving dropped stitches and also great for picking up stitches in a neat and consistent manner, and/or in tight conditions.

    The chocolate bar addition is hilarious, btw. Talk about optimum knitting sustenance! But, alas, I would be afraid of getting it on the project. I already have to make sure to carefully examine my fingers when I go straight from painting to knitting. Yes (sigh)…a tiny bit of Prussian Blue stuck on the edge of a cuticle can wreak real havoc.

    • “(The fat yarn makes the stitches easier to retrieve, especially if they have been held apart for a while. like for sleeves)” <— that's a really good point.

  12. i don’t know if you have tried the Lush massage bars, they work great as a lotion and you can cut them up and keep them in a little tin, they are great for lots of different things. doesn’t have to be Lush brand but they are a great ‘green’ company and have good dual purpose items. I use their soaps to help with a wash, or just to put in with my knitting to give it a nice smell, esp with some of the raw yarns I use. Great suggestions everyone, love the sharing.

  13. You only have 2 tapestry needles. there’s no way that’s enough. last time I bought a set of 6 and managed to lose 7. Where do they all go?

  14. I am the only person I know that does this, but I keep little sticky leather thimble dots (from a quilting supply store) in my knit kit. I put one on my right index finger and use it to “push” stitches off the left hand needle when they are worked. I use sharp knitting needles and this keeps my finger from getting sore!

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