I've been knitting and crocheting for years and I love it, love it, love it. Every project is exciting: picking the pattern, the anticipation of the yarn arriving and ripping open the packet to see the perfect colours and feel the lovely soft squishyness . . . ahem ;)
Throughout my knitting exploits there are a few things I've discovered that made me sigh heavily and declare with despair "If only I'd known that before". These are my 8 pearls. They are by no means the best or only methods, just my favourites. Most of these are small but all I hope are useful.
1. Casting on. As a child I was taught to knit with the trusty cable cast-on. It was only when I rediscovered my knitty side a few years ago I found that there were lots more options. These are my 2 favourites. There are oodles of great instructions and videos online for these. With any cast on method, try to keep it loose and don't tighten too much.
Long tail - this my preferred method, and is very quick to do once learnt. It's stretchy and works well with stockinette, garter or ribbing. It also incorporates a knit row so if you're working in stockinette, start with a purl row.
German twisted - another of my favourite methods. Almost identical to long tail but adds an extra twist. I always use this method for socks, casting on over 2 needles held together.
2. Casting off - as with the cast-on, there are different types of casting off (also know as binding off), but I've found that the basic knit or purl methods work best. The secret is to keep these loose. Use a needle 1 or 2 sizes larger to prevent this looking like a gathered edge ;)
3. The dreaded last stitch - the edge above is nice and neat but the last cast off stitch can often stick out rather ungainly, almost taunting you and spoiling all your hard work. Deal with this by casting off (loosely - see above) to the last 2 stitches.
Knit the last stitch together with the stitch below it. Pass the previous stitch over, cut the yarn and pull through. Weave in the ends thoroughly.
4. Splicing - if, like me, you would rather be knitting than sewing in ends, then this is for you. Splicing is simply joining the ends of yarn together so that a new ball starts seamlessly. No sewing required. This really only works with yarns that have more than 30% wool.
Thin about an inch of the ends of the joining yarn.
Twist these together, overlapping the thinned strands and whole yarn. Now wet this section and apply friction by rubbing between your fingers and palms, gently at first so these don't slip.
After a minute or 2, the yarn ends will be 'felted' together. Cross your fingers and give them a little tug just to check :)
5. Tension square - your pattern's picked, your yarn's arrived and your needles are almost jumping out of your hands in anticipation. All you want to do is get stuck in. But wait .... a tension square is a must for any wearable item. Each pattern will tell you the tension needed using specific sized needles, stitches and rows. I know the thought of using this precious knitting time makes you groan but imagine how big the groan will be if you get to the end of your project and it doesn't fit :(
6. Blocking - a project doesn't look like the glossy image in the book unless you block this at the end. Blocking is simply a method of smoothing out the wrinkles and re-shaping, sometimes stretching out the pattern for lace knitting. This really helps with seaming and joining as everything is level. You can steam or wet-block. I usually steam for small projects and cardigans, jumpers etc, but wet block for projects that need more relaxing, such as lace shawls, or softening such as hats or socks.
7. Stitch markers - invest in different sizes of these if you can so you have some for every project. For knitting, I like the ones that stay on your needles. You don't need to keep counting stitches and just slip the marker when you reach it.
8. Ravelry. This is an amazing source of patterns and ideas. There are more than enough to keep you busy. It's also a great community of crafty people. You can join forums and ask for advice if you're stuck. You can also record all your projects so you can see just how much loveliness you've created.
Enjoy every project and knit happy.