September 8, 2012

Learn to Knit Instruction Review: Craft Yarn Council's Learning Center

So, what's a web-savvy person going to do when they wish to learn how to knit or crochet?  Search for instructions on the web, of course!  So, my first set of guides are going to be focused on the result of googling for basic instructional guides on how to knit and how to crochet.

To start, I googled 'learn to knit', and got the below site as the first result (no wonder, as one of it's URLs is '').  Though the site covers both knitting and crocheting, since I started with learning to knit, this review will focus on the knitting guide first.

The Guide
Name: Craft Yarn Council's Learning Center
URL:, though both and resolve to the same page as well.
Contains: Guides on learning how to knit and crochet (along with some generic information about both). For the purposes of this review, we're staying in the Learn section of the site.  They have other instructional pages as well.

If you want to learn to knit well, run far, far away from this site.  The Craft Yarn Council's instructions for learning to knit breaks almost every rule for a good guide, including having incorrect information.  

Detailed Review
I can't say I've heard of this organization before, but the page you start on makes them seem like a good site to learn from.  If you're really curious, you can click on their About link in the top menu bar and see that they're an organization representing different yarn crafting companies (and the companies are listed). Hm, they sure have the resources to put together a good guide, right?

Which makes me kind of confused as to why their knitting guides aren't good at all, at least content-wise.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Since the first page is just a generic 'welcome to our guide' page, we can go over to the left hand menu list and click 'Getting Started'.  Even though that's the second link, I don't  care so much about 'Knit vs. Crochet', I want to learn to knit.

Doing that gets you to this page.  It's pretty basic and lacking in much detail, but I guess it's good enough for what it is.  It covers the very basics of  yarn weight, crochet hooks, and knitting needles...pretty good information to keep in mind, though it would be better if they mentioned how to match the needle size to the yarn weight.

From here, we can either click a link on the new left-hand menu, which lists all the guides for knitting and crochet.  I'm not 100% thrilled with the mixing of the two crafts, but it's not horrible navigation.  Also, they conveniently give you a link to both the 'Basic Knit Instructions' and 'Basic Crochet Instructions' on the top of this page, for which the first link takes you to the first link on the left hand side.

The title of this page is 'Learn Knit Stitch (Garter Stitch)'.  Which would be fine if they meant that they're going to teach the user the knit stitch in order to produce something in garter stitch.  But that's not the case.  The first sentence on this page states:
"The basic knit instructions below will show you how to cast on and to make a knit stitch, also known as garter stitch."
Um, no.  The knit stitch is not 'also known as the garter stitch'.  Knitting every row on a flat piece of work produces garter stitch.  But so does alternating rows of knitting and purling in the round. It the set of knit and sometimes purl stitches that make garter stitch.  Incorrect information on the first instructional page; not a good sign.

They then state that they're going to use an afghan square pattern to teach you how to cast-on and do the knit stitch.  First, why is the cast-on instructions on the knit stitch page?  It doesn't make navigating for reference easy at all.  As for learning in the framework of a project, I have mixed feelings about this.  On one hand, it is nice to try to get something good out of your first efforts.  On the other hand, trying to have brand-new knitters make something as the first thing they do is a set up for failure to teach and learn, unless the learner can take from the instructions that maybe the first couple of squares they'll do will be practice, and he/she will know to go on after they get a good square.  Also, this doesn't teach towards flexibility in skill.  Not the worst set-up, though.

What I really have an issue with here is the instructions for what you need.  Do they think they'd get useable squares out of a pattern that tells the learning knitter to get whatever worsted weight yarn they feel like and a pair of US8 needles?  This would have been the perfect place to introduce the concept of gauge and different types of fibers.  You could even tell the learner not to worry about it until they wanted to make a good square even.  But whatever.  The learner has the materials, now what?

Let's learn to cast-on!  To do so, let's learn a version of the Knitted Cast-On without telling you it's a version of the Knitted Cast-On.  It's the only cast-on ever, until you need a different one.  Strike two.

Of course, after only teaching the only way to cast on is teaching the only way to do the knit stitch.  Just like the instructions (which aren't bad) for the 'cast-on' used English style, they're teaching English style knit stitch (which, again, the instructions themselves aren't bad).  Without even stating that it's a style.  Why does it seem like all the guides teach English style as 'the' knitting style?  I don't get it.

So the learner gets done with their first row of knitting.  Yay.  Now here comes this lovely gem:
"Now measure your work. It should be about 7" wide. If it is too wide, start over and cast on fewer stitches; if it is too narrow, start over and cast on more stitches."
What?  No!  You NEVER measure a piece of knitting that's that close to the needle unless you're only looking for a rough estimate of width.  Your measurement WILL be wrong because having the stitches on the needle spaces them out differently than in the fabric alone. Who's bright idea was it to put this line in here?  Also, telling someone who just knit their first row to make sure it's the proper width and rip it out and guess how many more or less stitches to put on to get the right width is really, really bad thing to do.  How are they supposed to guess how many more or less stitches to put on?  If you were worried about the width, maybe you should have talked about gauge and had the leaner practice on a swatch, huh?  That way, they would know how many to cast-on in the first place and they would have some practice with knitting already.  But no, they just now have a frustrated leaner constantly ripping out their work because they're too busy guessing things. Hell, you don't ask a experienced knitter to do that if you don't have to.

So anyway, we get past that, knit the square, and get to the binding off instructions (which also aren't knit instructions, but if the cast-on's here, might as well through in the bind-off as well). The instructions are straightforward and detail the most common bind-off.  Unlike cast-on's and knit stitches, I don't really expect guides to cover alternate bind-offs, because they're pretty situation specific, and 9 times out of 10 you'll only need the standard bind-off (I don't even know if it has an actual name).  Acknowledgement of other bind-offs would be nice, but hey, they couldn't even cover any other standard cast-on so that's to be expected.

It also would be nice if there was a link on the bottom of the page that went to the purl page, but nope, got to scroll up to the left-hand menu bar to get there.

The funny thing here is that on this page, they acknowledge that garter stitch is the product of knit stitches instead of the knit stitch itself (by comparing purling every row to it, which, of course, is another way to get garter stitch).  The actual instructions here are simple and, other than maybe numbering the actual steps, is perfectly good.  Other than the fact that, again, they only show English style but call it 'how to purl', but that was to be expected at this point.

The last three pages in this guide cover increases, decreases, and the yarn over.  Unlike the rest of this guide, they're actually decent.  Both the increase and decrease guide covers two different ways of doing so, and even state that there are many other ways, but here are two of them.  The instructions are pretty clear (which is about the only consistently good thing about this guide), and they even mention the idea of the increases/decreases slanting one way or the other. The only issue I see is that on the increase page, the left-hand menu bar disappears, so I have to go back to the last page to get to another page in the guide.

In conclusion, I don't recommend this guide.  Despite no issue with the descriptions of the steps themselves, the guide itself, and especially the knit stitch page, is set up to confuse at best, and frustrate at worse.  There are factual errors and oversimplifications, and a couple of basic topics are not covered (like gauge and matching needle size to yarn size).  It may have some use for a quick 'how do I decrease again' type question, but that kind of information can be found in many places, most likely easier to find than this site.

Learn to X Instruction Review: The Contents of a Good Instructional Guide

Before I start my commencement of posting reviews of knitting and crochet instructional guides, I first want to establish what I look for in such a guide.  After all, it wouldn't be fair to rag on a site I found, or a book used, without stating why I find it so bad.

So, without further ado, I present what a good knitting and/or crochet instructional guide should be.  A good guide:

1) Is clearly written and well organized.

Obviously, one person's opinion of 'clearly written' and 'well organized' will be different than someone else's.  However, truly horrible organization, out-of-order presentation, and incomprehensible  instructions should be pretty obvious as things you don't want your guide to be. A good guide doesn't take the learner forever to find basic information,  gives instructions in simple and concise language (and/or pictures when necessary), and is presented in an order that let's the student build on previous knowledge.

2)  Will at least name the style they are teaching, if not actually presenting the learner with more than one way of doing something.  

I get it, guide writers don't want to confuse people and have a writing deadline.  But I say by just telling people 'this is how you cast on, this is how you knit, this is how you crochet', guide writers are actually doing the learners a disservice.  First off, maybe the person reading the guide will hate the way you're teaching them, but would be more suited for an alternate method.  For example, maybe they're current crocheters learning how to knit, and would be more comfortable knitting Continental style instead of the English style.  If you start by reading some of these guides, you won't have a clue what I just meant by that last sentence, and that's bad. Learners like this, when attempting to use a guide that only presents one way, are more likely to get frustrated and give up.  They can't learn! they'll say, not realizing that there's more than one way to do it.

The other downside with this format is that while the learners may be fine with the one presented method in the beginning, they then may run into issues when they decide to branch out past the stockinette or garter stitch square. What if you need a different cast-on, or another way to start a crochet circle? Someone who was taught 'this is how you do x' is going to be confused when they run into a problem better served by a different method. Someone who at least was informed, if not shown, a different way will be more likely to look for and use the better way.

All in all, I think it's better for a guide to show at least two methods of doing something.  It gives the learner a choice and lets them feel out what is best for them.  If the guide doesn't show more than one method, at least it should tell the learner they're learning, say,  the knitted cast-on, and that this is only one of many ways of doing it.

3) Will present all the basic techniques needed to knit or crochet almost anything

Yes, us more experienced knitters know the beginner's going to be knitting a scarf, and gauge isn't crucial.  This doesn't excuse the guide writer of skipping any mention of gauge, even if it's after teaching the student how to knit a square.  A good guide will teach concepts like gauge from the start, as it'll save heartache when the beginner decides to move on.

4) All the information is correct.

This should be a given. No sympathy for incorrect statements.

Also related: If you teach to a pattern or provide beginner's patterns, make sure they don't have any mistakes in them. A intermediate crocheter like me will realize quickly that there's a mistake.  The beginner's just going to keep following your instructions blindly and will most likely blame the bad result on their inexperience. Mistakes in patterns is another topic, but just make double sure that a teaching pattern is correct.

I think this is the basis of a good learning guide for beginners.  For learning guides for more intermediate skills, I'll say that 1, 2, and 4 are all still relevant, though 2 a little less so (after all, for some of the more advanced techniques there is only one way to do it.  Also, at this point, if you're looking up more advanced techniques, you're going to know to search for another method if you don't like the one you found).  Intermediate guides tend to focus on one technique, and that's fine.  It doesn't excuse unclear explanations, bad websites, not naming the technique (unless you made it up, then say that), and in-factual information.  Now, onto the reviews!

PS: I apologize for the previous post that was here; I click the wrong button and accidentally published my draft.