Zen and the Art of Knitting: Exploring the Links Between Knitting, Spirituality, and Creativitysuggests making knitted dishcloths out of cotton yarn (readily found at WalMart -- look for Peaches 'n' Creme) as a way to play with and practice new stitches. At the end of every chapter she gives a different stitch to try. They are all simply combinations of knitted and purled stitches which result in different patterns and textures. A dishcloth is eminently useful -- hey, you can save your extras and give them as gifts next year -- and it has been making me nuts to constantly buy and throw away sponges so I've slowly begun to move over to the dishcloth idea. Yes, this isn't rocket science, but I haven't lived in a house without a dishwasher and so it has taken me a while to learn what works best when handwashing.
According to author Bernadette Murphy, cotton yarn doesn't stink. :-) Sounds like a plus to me. I bought nine different colors of Peaches 'n' Creme today and set them by my bedside table and I'm planning on happily trying out new stitches over the course of my vacation. You can go online and look up free stitch patterns (here's an example) or you can buy her book (which, for some bizarre reason, Amazon has on sale right now for $4.27) and read it, enjoy it, and then use some of her stitch ideas.
Just cast on the desired number of stitches and knit until your work forms a square.