How to crochet and knit: This surprisingly arty craft can become a productive passion

Gemma Tipton offers a beginner’s guide to taking up a new cultural pursuit

Cosy up with crochet or work your way into wool for a surprisingly arty craft.

Art? Craft? I never worked out the difference

Not many have, to be honest. It used to be about materials, but then Grayson Perry won the Turner Prize with ceramics. Then it was meant to be about usefulness and intent, but Joe Hogan’s gorgeous nests are for looking at and adoring rather than putting your eggs in. Some people reckon it’s defined by where you studied, or who funds you, but most just get on with things.

Fair enough, so what’s all this about wool?

For Olga Prins, who owns and runs Olga’s Own Craft Studio, a wonderful wool emporium in Ballinspittle, Co Cork, it’s a productive passion that is also calming. What more could you wish for in 2024? Start with something simple – a garter or stocking stitch – and take it from there.

Garters and stockings? Sounds saucy

Indeed. Check out and you’ll find vintage patterns for knitted knickers too. Bound to take off. Anyway, garter stitch is just regular knitting, while stocking stitch is the smoother sort, where you purl every second row.


Hang on, you’re losing me

Knitting is very easy to learn. (Prins runs knitting circles at her shop, while the knitting and crochet circle at the National Museum of Ireland’s Country Life branch, in Co Mayo, are a welcoming group which holds bimonthly meetings.) Essentially, a plain stitch is needle-in-wool-round-hook-through-take-off, and you can watch online tutorials to get the gist. Be warned: some American terminology for knitting and crochet is different, so it can be confusing if you’ve learned in American but are using an Irish or UK pattern.

Seems a bit tense

Ah, yes, tension. Prins says that it’s important to get the foundation right and that learning how to hold your needles and wool is as important as the mechanics of the stitches. Pick the right-size needles and right thickness of wool for your pattern, and until you know what you’re at “always do a tension square” – which is the test square you knit to check your jumper, or knickers, won’t come out three sizes too big. “You’re aiming for handmade, not homemade,” Prins says.

Yeah, isn’t it cheaper to just buy something in the shops?

Where’s the love in that? Prins stocks wool from €5.50 a ball, and her favourite brand, Malabrigo, which is hand-dyed Peruvian, starts at €14 a ball for a chunky knit that you’ll easily get a hat out of. “You can also always unpick. Even years later you can rip it out, steam the wool and start over.” With that in mind, she advises spending a little extra on good wool. “You’re putting the effort in, so you want it to be worth having.”

How about knitting while watching TV? I’m scared of dropping stitches

Anyone can learn, Prins says. “It’s easy. Do one stitch. Look away and do another. Look back and see if you did it right. You’ll get there.” Once you’ve got the basics, all those fancy stitches are just variations. Follow the pattern and the knitted world is your woolly oyster. Or ditch the directions and get inspired by the likes of the Irish artist Katie Holten and the wonderful late Ireland-based Lily van Oost, who features in Jes Fernie’s just-published Things Left Undone Unsaid Uncelebrated Unplanned Unfinished, published by Askeaton Arts. You’ll find more fabric arts at the Crawford Art Gallery’s Following Threads exhibition, which runs until January 28th, 2024.

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton contributes to The Irish Times on art, architecture and other aspects of culture