At first glance, knitting looks pretty complicated. All those hand motions, not to mention an endless number of knots. It definitely takes some practice, but once you've got the basics down, it's really quite straightforward and simple. Not only is it a soothing meditative activity —a break from the outside world — it's a portal to handmade scarves, sweaters, blankets and other home decor and accessories. Plus, there's all that beautiful, colorful yarn to buy! Let's get started....
English vs. Continental Knitting
There are different ways to hold yarn and needles, so figure out which one works best for you. With the 'English' method, you will control the yarn with your right hand while knitting. In the 'Continental' method, the yarn is controlled by the left hand and the stitches are made by 'picking' loops off the left needle with the needle held in the right hand. For this post, we use the English method.
How to Knit Cast On
To begin knitting, you will need to create a initial row of stitches on your needle. There are various ways to do this.
1. Make a simple loose knot with your yarn and slide it onto your left needle. Make sure the yarn tail (the end not attached to the ball of yarn) is at least three times the width of whatever it is that you are knitting, then pull to tighten. Congratulations! You've officially made your first stitch.
2. Keeping your needle tips angled up (so the yarn doesn't slide off), insert the right needle through the first loop on the left needle, pushing from front to back. The needles will form a X, with the right needle under the left.
3. Transfer both needles to your left hand, keeping the needles crossed. Pick up the working yarn (the yarn leading to the ball) with your other hand, and, starting on the right, wrap it clockwise around the right needle tip. The yarn should thread between the two needles and end up on the right-hand side.
4. Use your index finger to keep the working yarn gently in place against the right needle. Then carefully, slide the tip of the right needle towards you and out from behind the left needle (but not so far that the loop slides off the needle entirely) and push it through the center of the stitch already on the left needle. The needles will form an X again, with the right on top of the left.
5. Next, pull the needle tips slightly apart (you'll see a loop on each needle), then insert the left needle tip into the loop on the right needle tip, and slide the right needle tip out out of the yarn entirely, leaving the left needle with two cast stitches, and the right needle free. Pull the ends of the yarn to adjust the tension as needed.
6. Repeat from Step 2 until you have the necessary number of stitches required for your project.
You might need to practice this step until you can do it using the right tension. You don't want do have huge gaps between each stitch, but you also don't want it to be super tight so it's hard to get the needles back through when you start to knit.
How To Knit Stitch
Once you've cast on, you can start with a basic knit stitch, also known as a garter stitch:
1. Hold the needle with cast-on stitches in your left hand and the empty needle on your right. Control the working yarn with your right hand, keeping it wrapped around a finger so it doesn't get tangled.
2. Insert the tip of the right needle into the bottom of the first stitch (closest to the tip) on the left needle. Again, the needles will form a X, with the right needle under the left. If this feels familiar, it's because it is —it's what you did while casting on.
3. Again, just like you did before, transfer both needles to your left hand, keeping the needles crossed. Pick up the working yarn (the yarn leading to the ball) with your other hand, and, starting on the right, wrap it clockwise around the right needle tip. The yarn should thread between the two needles and end up on the right-hand side.
4. Use your index finger to keep the working yarn gently in place against the right needle. Then carefully, slide the tip of the right needle towards you and out from behind the left needle (but not so far that the loop slides off the needle entirely) and push it through the center of the stitch already on the left needle. The needles will briefly form an X again, with the right on top of the left. Then, using your left forefinger, slide the left loop completely off the needle.
5. Continue the steps above until all the stitches from your left needle are on your right needle. Then, congratulations! You've just completed your first row. Now you'll flip your work by putting the full needle in your left hand, and beginning another row.
How to Purl
With the purl stitch, the working yarn is held in front of the project instead of the back, and the needle is inserted from the back to the front instead of front to back. Alternating knit and purl rows creates what's known as a stockinette stitch, which gives knitted fabric its texture and pattern. When facing you, a purl stitch looks like a grain of rice. It looks like a V on the other side.
1. To purl, you'll still hold the needle with cast-on stitches in your left hand and the empty needle on your right. Control the working yarn with your right hand again, and make sure the working yarn starts in front of your work.
2. Insert the tip of your right needle into the first stitch on the left needle, moving from back to front this time (from right to left) so the right needle crosses in front of the left needle and forms another X. Keep everything gently in place between your left thumb and index finger.
3. Take the working yarn from in front of your work and wrap it around right needle counter-clockwise this time. The yarn will finish up in front of your work again.
4. Carefully pull the right needle back down through the stitch on the left needle, so it moves away from you, bringing the looped yarn with it. Use your left index finger to slide the stitch off the left needle, and a new stitch will appear on your right needle. Magic!
5. Repeat until you've finished the row.
How to Pick Up a Dropped Stitch
Dropped stitches happen, so don't worry. It's a simple fix.
1. First, knit all the stitches up to the point where your dropped stitch should be sitting on the needle.
2. With the knit side facing you, insert a crochet hook, front to back, into the loop of your dropped stitch.
3. Use your hook to grab the first horizontal piece of yarn above the dropped stitch (also called bars or ladders) and pull it from behind through the loop of the stitch.
4. If your dropped stitch is multiple rows down, repeat until all the horizontal pieces of yarn have been pulled through your loop.
5. When you've caught up to the rest of your knitting, slip the looped stitch back onto your left needle, with the right side of the loop on the front of the needle, and carry on with your row.
How to Join Yarn
Stop knitting with the old ball of yarn when there's still at least six inches of yarn left. Take the new ball of yarn (also leaving at least a good six inches) and knot it to the old yarn. Then, pick up with your knitting again and proceed as usual, using the new yarn.
How to Cast Off
When your project is done, you need to finish it off so the stitches don't come undone when they are removed from the needle. Here's how to cast off:
1. Knit two stitches. Then insert the tip of the left needle into that first stitch. Lift the first stitch up and over the second stitch and off the needle.
3. Repeat this step until all stitches have been cast off. When you are completely done, trim your yarn, leaving at least six inches at the end. Pull the yarn tail through the last stitch to secure.
3. Use a yarn needle to weave the tail ends of your yarn back through several stitches.
More Knitting Resources
- A Just Getting Started Guide for Wannabe Knitters
- Knitters Resource Guide: Wonderful Places to Buy Yarn, Needles & Patterns
- Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Arm Knitting
- Let Knitting Save Your Life: Salvation & Sanity
- Knitting Pattern for Beginners: Make This Easy Cushion Your First Project
- Learn to Make This Boho Storage Basket with Chunky Yarn