Someone beat me to the punch with this adorable Swiss Cheese Scarf pattern. I’ve been wanting to design something similar because I’ve been thinking for a long time about suitable patterns for beginning knitters.

The classic learning pattern for beginners is the garter stitch scarf. Cast on some number of stitches, knit for about five kazillion hours, cast off.

The pros:

  • It’s easy. One stitch, over and over again.
  • You get a lot of practice in learning to knit.
  • For the most part, gauge is not an issue. You are almost guaranteed to end up with something about the right size if you don’t do anything too foolish.
  • Not a lot of opportunities to screw up and need rescuing (although this didn’t stop me from knitting with the tail end of my yarn on my first scarf and creating a big messy loop stuck to the end of the scarf. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done and nobody I talked to was helpful. The scarf ended up in the frog pond.)

The cons:

  • Looks amateurish. You usually don’t see garter stitch scarves in the store, so it screams “handmade.”
  • Takes FOREVER. Speaking from personal experience, it’s very discouraging to put in hours and hours knitting on a scarf only to find that it won’t even stretch around your neck, let alone be long enough to wrap around a few times and toss over the shoulder insouciantly.
  • You don’t learn any other skills along the way, like purling, increasing, and decreasing, and by the time you’ve finished umpteen hours of garter stitch, you’ve probably gotten it into your head that these other skills are difficult. Which they aren’t.
  • You only get one very short opportunity at each end of the scarf to learn to cast on and bind off. This is a real obstacle. Even if you are content not purling, increasing, and decreasing, even if your life’s ambition is to fill up your closet with nothing but hundreds of garter-stitch scarves, you will still need to know how to cast on and bind off, and odds are that by the end of the scarf, you won’t remember how you cast on at the beginning; or that by the end of the next scarf, you won’t remember how you bound off the last one.

That’s the genius of the Swiss Cheese scarf. It will still probably take a really long time, and you will have ample opportunity to screw up, but on the bright side, it offers most of the pros of the garter stitch scarf, but in addition you will really know how to cast on and bind off by the end of the scarf–and you’ll have a really cute scarf, to boot.

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee suggests that hats are a good beginner’s pattern. I think this is a splendid idea, as long as they’re worked on a circular needle (DPNs requiring a bit of a learning curve, in my opinion) because they take much less time and introduce many more new skills.

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