One of the most frequent questions we get from newer knitters is "What's my next project going to be?" While there is nothing wrong with spending a lot of your time as a neophyte working on scarves, dishcloths, and patchwork blankets, eventually you will run out of friends and relatives to bestow these gifts on, and it's time for something new. A good way of gauging whether a project is right for you to try depends on the answers to a few basic questions"
Do you want the finished product? The more enthusiastic the "yes!" is, the more likely you are to work through the learning curve, buckle down, and put the time in to completing it. So, no matter how good the recommendation for a pattern is from those knitters around you, if you don't love it, keep looking.
How much time are you willing to spend learning a new technique? Most patterns that move beyond the basic rectangle will have something new for a beginner to learn, and the answer to this question requires a fair degree of self-honesty. If your life is busy, and you're using knitting as a relaxation tool, the answer to a gorgeous lace shawl might well be a justified "That is beautiful and I will knit it someday, but right now I don't need another challenge in my life". On the other hand, if you're looking for something to challenge you, your answer might be an enthusiastic "Yes! That is just what I need!"
Do you have a deadline? If you have decided to knit hats for each member of your family for the holidays, and it's already November, the pattern for a fine-gauge yarn and tiny needles might not be your best bet. If, on the other hand, you're going on a long car trip (and are not the driver), it may be just the thing for you to take with you. Nothing impedes learning like stress, and few things create stress like deadlines.
That said, here is a list of some of next-level projects and yarn recommendations for them that we've found work well for newer knitters ready to try the next challenge:
Olaf's Magic Holiday Cowl
Skills to practice: cast on, knit, purl, knitting in the round, cast off
Great as a first in-the-round project, this cowl lets you practice switching between knits and purls while creating a lovely spiral effect. You don't even need to keep track of your start of round, magic! A one-skein project when knit with Illimani's Amelie, the pattern is easy to adjust for longer or shorter lengths, and is a relatively quick knit.
French Macaroon Baby Sweater
Skills to practice: cast on, knit, cast off, three-needle bind off, seaming.
We usually recommend trying a baby sweater as a practice run for an adult-sized garment, for a few reasons. First, it's much faster and a lower investment of time and money, and a great way to practice the techniques in small scale. Secondly, you get a perfect gift for a new arrival. This particular pattern is very easy to follow, and lets you practice some foundational knitting techniques with no stress and lots of fun.
Two by Two
Skills to practice: cast on, knit, purl, knitting in the round, decreasing, working with stitch markers
This ribbed hat is a perfect gift or donation project, as the ribbing makes the cap very stretchy and a cozy fit for a wide variety of head sizes. It is a classic style, and the ribbing is a great way to practice recognizing knit and purl stitches.
Skills to practice: cast on, knit, purl, increasing, decreasing, knitting in the round, working with stitch markers, holding stitches, casting off
For those who want to dive in to knitting an adult or child-sized sweater, this is a great top-down pattern to learn on. Minimal sewing is required, but the number of new concepts for very early knitters make this an achievable challenge that will require a fair bit of willingness to learn, make mistakes, and learn some more.
Skills to practice: cast on, knit, purl, knitting through back loop, increasing, decreasing, working with stitch markers
This shawl is a fantastic first project for aspiring lace knitters, as it introduces the basics in an accessible and predictable manner. It uses a 100g skein of fingering weight yarn, so it's also a great excuse to dive into some of the gorgeous Canadian hand-dyed yarns available.