Get crafty - join the knitting renaissance

Knitting and crocheting have enjoyed something of a revival of late, with a host of celebrities including Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts and even David Arquette getting their knitting needles out.

Knitting and crocheting for beginners
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Not only is it a relaxing and productive pastime, once you've mastered the basics you will quickly move on to designing and creating your own clothes, saving you money.

If you're keen to get started but have no idea where to start, here are a few handy hints and tips to help.

Knitting and crocheting isn't difficult when you know how - we've all seen those accomplished mums or grandmas happily click-clacking away whilst watching TV.

But it is essential to learn the basics properly if you don't want your new hobby to end in frustration. Happily the internet is awash with instructional videos and step-by-step guides that will show you exactly how to cast on, knit one and purl one, or learn the basics of the basic crochet stitches, including the simplest, the chain stitch.

Absolute beginners can also take advantage of the many books and DVDs that are available.

Whether you are learning to crochet or knit, there are very few tools needed to get started. Crocheters will need a crochet hook, which come in a variety of sizes and are made from metal, bamboo, plastic or wood. Knitters will need needles, the most common of which are the single, pointed variety. These come in a variety of sizes too and the diameter of the needles will affect the size of the stitch.

Then of course there's the yarn. A huge variety of weights, colours and textures are available but for beginners, a smooth, wool yarn is the easiest to work with as it is resilient and easy to unravel. Start out with a light colour as it will make it easier to see your stitches as you learn.

As your skill grows, you can begin experimenting with textured yarns, cotton or crochet thread (for finer, lace-type work).

With the basic stitches of either craft firmly in place, every beginner will need a knitting or crochet pattern to start creating garments. If you are lucky, you may live close to a craft or knitting store which will act as a one-stop shop for all your supplies, but if that's not the case, there are a host of internet sites from which you can download patterns, often for free. Alternatively, try a magazine such as Let's Knit, which will include patterns with each issue as well as helpful advice for all abilities.

Handy hints
Before you jump right in to your first item of clothing though, a gauge swatch is a must. Most patterns will advise you to check your gauge in order that your finished item matches the pattern.

In basic terms, it is a knitted swatch, about six inches square. This allows you count the number of stitches and rows over the space of four inches. You can then compare the numbers to those listed in the pattern - if it matches, great. If you have more stitches per inch, it means they are too small and you need a larger needle size - too few stitches and a smaller needle is required.

Once you've started knitting, keep a pen and paper handy (or even better, buy a row counter that slips onto the end of a needle) to keep track of how many rows you have finished, thereby ensuring you don't end up with mismatched sections of your knit.

And finally, as you begin to take on more ambitious projects, you will undoubtedly need more than one ball of yarn. Whenever this is the case, always, always make a note of the dye lot number when buying your wool (it should appear on the paper band keeping the ball in place). Even slight differences in the colour will be extremely noticeable when you've finished the project so keep the number handy in case you are caught short and need to buy more.

Remember, learning any new skill takes a little time and patience, and a lot of practice. Persevere and you'll have a creative and relaxing hobby you can enjoy for life.

What are your top tips for knitting or crocheting beginners? Leave your comments below...