Over the last few years, there seems to be a new kind of received wisdom amongst beginner knitters – that the best way to learn to knit is with super bulky yarn, and great big 10mm+ needles.
The reasoning goes like this: it’s less fiddly, it’s faster, and it’s less frustrating. It’s easier to see what you’re doing, so it’s easier to learn what to do. And it’s making knitting more accessible.
But I am 100% calling bullshit on that. It’s simply not true that super bulky is the best way to learn to knit; it’s just good marketing.
Let me explain.
Reason 1: Sure, super bulky is quick, but it ain’t that quick
I read all the time about how we live in a culture of instant gratification and quick results and, well…knitting is not that. It’s about as slow as fashion gets. Even as a professional knitter, it takes me umpteen weeks to knit up a sweater; sometimes much more, depending on the design and the yarn and so on.
And yes, super bulky is going to work up faster. Big needles and big yarn make big stitches, and big stitches mean you don’t need so many of them to make a sweater.
But even with super bulky yarn, knitting still won’t to a quick experience. Even a super bulky sweater is going to be a significant time investment, and I mean…if you’re not up for spending time on things, maybe knitting ain’t for you.
And while big stitches might speed things up, they also cause a lot of problems.
Reason 2: When it comes to knitting, big stitches mean big mistakes.
When you’re knitting with super bulky yarn, each stitch is going to be around 1cm across. Sounds great, hey? You’re going to get that project done in no time.
Except for one thing; when you’re learning to knit, you’re going to make mistakes. Hell, when you’ve been knitting for decades, you’re going to make mistakes. But chances are that as a knitting newbie, you’re not going to know how to fix those mistakes.
So say you do a purl stitch when you were supposed to do a knit. No biggie, right? Except with super bulky yarn, it’s literally a biggie. That one stitch that’s not right is over 1cm across, and it’s going to stand right out. Not ideal.
If you’re learning with thinner yarn, and smaller needles, then your stitches are going to be that bit smaller. And trust me when I tell you that smaller stitches hide mistakes better because…well, they’re just smaller.
Reason 3: Super bulky knits just aren’t that wearable.
The super bulky aesthetic is a lovely one, isn’t it? Big knits, bare legs, lovely and snuggly.
Except – and I’m so sorry to break your knitting bubble here – it’s just really not that wearable.
Super chunky knits are, by definition, BIG. Which makes getting a coat over them a flipping nightmare. You’re going to get scrunched sleeves, and uncomfortable shoulders, and it’s just not really going to work.
So you need to wear them without a coat. Which means it can’t be raining, or you’re going to get a bit soggy. And you don’t want it to be too windy, because chances are you’re not going to have a particularly dense fabric, and the wind is going to whip straight through.
What you want is that one day in March, and the other one in October, where it’s sunny, about 14C, and completely still. Any other day, and your super bulky sweater just ain’t going to work.
Sorry about that.
Reason 4: Super bulky knitting is its own unique knitting experience
I know, I know, I sound wanky here. Knitting experience? What the heck am I on about?
Well, I’m on about the movements you need to make to do the actual knitting. When you’re working with massive needles and super bulky yarn, you’re making very exaggerated movements to make each stitch.
It’s entirely unlikely knitting with a more “standard” size of yarn.
And what do I mean by a “standard” size? Well, I’d say that anything in the 4ply to Aran kind of range is pretty standard. Sure, if you’re just starting to knit then you won’t have any idea what that means, but those yarns are knitting on needles ranging from about 3mm-5.5mm and produce a fabric that you’re very likely to find in your ready to wear, shop bought, knitted wardrobe.
Super bulky yarn is using needles that are at least twice as big. That means making movements that are at least twice as big. The muscle memory you get from that just won’t translate down to smaller needle sizes, and you’ll end up having to learn to knit all over again if you ever want to make something that’s not super bulky.
Which you will.
Reason 5: There just aren’t that many patterns for super bulky yarn
Remember how I said that super bulky isn’t that wearable? That has a knock-on effect on the number of patterns available to make with it.
Let me illustrate my point with a couple of screenshots from Ravelry – which as a database of over 1.2million patterns.
Here’s how many of them are knitting patterns written for super bulky yarn:
Yep, that’s just below 36,000 out of all those patterns. Compare it to the 139,000 written for DK weight, and you start to see my point about pattern availability.
But we can break it down even more than that, and prove my point about super bulky garments being a right old arse to wear. Because Ravelry’s magnificent advanced search feature lets you break it down by type of pattern. So shall we see what those 35k patterns are?
Yep, that’s 22.5k accessories. Want to knit a super bulky scarf? There are a lot of them.
Want to knit a super bulky garment? Not so much choice there. 8.7k in fact, which may sounds like a lot but…it’s just not. Trust me, it’s just not.
Reason 6: You need a hell of a lot of super bulky yarn to knit anything
Here’s a thing to know about yarn; it’s sold by weight, usually in measures of 50 or 100g. Depending on how thick that yarn is, that 100g is going to equate to a different length of yarn. And it’s the length of yarn that really matters when you’re knitting things up.
Because super bulky yarn is very thick, a lot more of that weight is used up in the thickness of the yarn, as opposed to the length of it. Take, for example, World of Wool Chubbs, which is probably my favourite super bulky yarn (yes, I do like some of them.) That’s got 65m per 100g, which is not bad for a super bulky.
Then take a typical super bulky sweater pattern – say, the Marble Sweater by Petite Knit. The smallest size needs 600m – or 10 balls of Chubbs. The largest size needs 20.
That means that even the smallest of these big old sweaters is going to weigh 1kg. That’s a heavy beast.
So what yarn weight should I learn to knit with instead?
Great question, my lovely reader. And my short answer is this: anything BUT super chunky.
To give a less facetious answer though, I teach my beginners classes using DK weight yarn and 4mm needles. It’s a lovely, brilliant, workhorse combination of yarn and needles; great for hats, jumpers, cowls, all sorts.
And crucially, it’s right in the sweet spot of the most common needle sizes, so you’ve not got so far to go when you want to knit something in a different size. That muscle memory you’ve been building up will actually help you, and you’ll have SO much more choice when it comes to picking a pattern.
And instead of knitting a sweater you won’t get that much wear out of with over 1kg of yarn, you can knit one that’ll be half as heavy but get twice as much wear.
And man, you’ll feel smug when you do.