Want to learn how to knit? Completely new to knitting or just looking to brush up on your foundational skills? You’ve come to the right place. Welcome to the Complete Beginner’s Guide to Knitting!
Knitting has been going through a bit of a resurgence in recent years! Many people are discovering its therapeutic nature in this stressful world. The sense of accomplishment and productiveness when you finish off that project (that you usually gift for a double joy-whammy). And of course, there is nothing quite like the sensation of creating something with your two hands.
Learning to knit may seem a little complex or confusing at first. Certainly, you can spend hours, days and month knitting together the most complex patterns you can dream of.
However, with a bit of direction from our complete beginner’s guide to knitting, you will quickly see how simple and straightforward it can be. In fact, I am 100% sure that if you apply yourself, and spend just ONE hour reading and practicing the examples I demonstrate below, you will be able to knit by the time you reach the end of this article. Is it a deal?
In this article I focus just on the foundational elements of knitting. I have purposely avoided going beyond what I feel are the main building blocks so as not to overwhelm you. These fundamental components involve how to tie a slip-knot and how to cast-on. Which, is just a fancy way of saying attaching the yarn to the needle.
Once you can attach your yarn to your needle, we will then go into the two most important knitting stitch techniques, how to knit and how to purl. With just these two stitches you can knit hundreds of different patterns and motifs. I will quickly demonstrate two of them, the Garter Stitch and the Stockinette Stitch.
Unless you are making very, very small-knitted garments (or are using huge balls of yarn), you will need to learn how to connect in new balls. Then finally, how to do a simple bind-off. Which, again, is a fancy way of saying – how to get your knitting off your needles.
Ready to learn how to knit?
Let’s get started on our ‘How to Knit 101’ class in this complete beginner’s guide to knitting! First, let’s discuss the tools and materials you are going to need.
I won’t lecture on this topic, just getting started with some yarn and needles is the most important thing. So, this will just be a quick introduction … you can always follow the hyperlinks to get more information though!
As important as any pattern, the yarn you choose for a project will often define how well it turns out in conjunction with your abilities as a knitter. Different fibers have different properties and are therefore beneficial in specific projects and are decidedly unwise in others.
Generally, the main types of yarns you will come across are wool, acrylic, cotton, alpaca, cashmere, silk and also blends of two (or more of these fibers). There are of course many, many more fibers you can knit with. I recently came across an article about a group of women knitting plastic bags into mattresses for the homeless!
All of the different fibers behave slightly differently when they are on your needles. They all have different properties that may be desirable in your final garment. To give two examples; cotton is very absorbent, making it an excellent choice for a dishcloth while wool is a great insulator, so a great choice for that winter sweater.
After the type of fiber, the next decision is always going to be the thickness, or weight, of the yarn. Yarn comes in many different weights. From super-fine, suitable for lace items to super bulky (or even heavier) that are best used in rugs or thick blankets. Here, you can find a table explaining the different yarn weights.
Lastly, color. This one comes down to personal preference. Choose what you think looks good!
As with yarns, needles come in various materials, aluminum, bamboo, wood and so on. They also come in different forms, primarily straight versus circular needles. And then there are cable needles (but we will leave those in the drawer for today).
Needles also come in various sizes, and you match the needle size to the weight of the yarn you are using, we will touch a bit more on this in a moment. Although, if you are impatient then check out this yarn weight chart. Additionally, you can convert different needle sizes (between the US vs. Uk vs. European).
There are also many other more minor knitting accessories from tape measures to gauge checkers to tapestry needles and crochet hooks, to stitch counters and markers, to the humble pair of scissors.
Rather than try and give you an exhaustive review of the full range out there (which would take a while). Instead, I am going to break it down for you – if you already have some yarn and needles, great! Practice! If you want a little bit of advice on where to start, then follow my recommendations below.
As a beginner, it is probably easiest to go with a worsted (medium-4), cheap, acrylic or wool blend yarn. This medium weight yarn is easier to handle at first until you become more nimble with your fingers and a master of the various techniques you are going to learn. Acrylic or wool blend, because it tends to be cheap and is relatively manageable. Unlike, cotton which can be tricky to knit with.
If you are going with a worsted yarn, then you’ll need a size 7-9 needles (4.5-5.5mm in European/7-5 in the UK). Bamboo or wooden needles are best! To begin with, they aren’t as slippery as metal ones. Metal needles may prevent a few dropped stitches as you get the hang of it.
Also, you are going to need to pick up some accessories for your first project; a tapestry needle, some measuring tape and a pair of scissors. The others mentioned above can be useful, but there is no sense in overwhelming you (and your shopping basket) on your first go around.
Go to your local store, have a look around, feel the yarn and find something you like and ask questions of the staff if you are not sure. Alternatively, for ease, Knit Picks offer four different starter Learn to Knit kits. These kits provide materials and instructions for knitting a dishcloth, hat, or socks and can also be found on Amazon.
Complete Beginner’s Guide to Knitting: Basic Knitting Techniques
Ok, so you have your yarn and needles and are ready to become a knitter with the beginner’s guide to knitting. We are going to go through seven basic techniques. Once learned, will give you a good grounding and set you on your way to becoming a master knitter!
Whilst in general, knots and knitting do not go together, there is one instance where making a knot is not only acceptable but quite commonplace – making a Slip Knot for your first stitch.
All About Slip Knots
Rock climbing, sailing and knitting. These three very different activities all share one commonality, the slip knot. The slip knot is a spectacularly handy knot in many walks of life. Simply because you can loosen and move the knot along the yarn (or rope) by pulling on one of the yarn ends. Alternatively pull it tighter by pulling on both yarn ends simultaneously.
It’s primary purpose in knitting is to create and secure the first stitch of your knitting project onto your needle. Notice that I said, “the first stitch”? Yes, the slip knot when attached to the needle should be counted as your first stitch. So, if your project requires you to cast on 16 stitches, then the slip knot would make 1 and you would then Cast-On 15 more stitches for a total of 16.
Though it is fairly common to create a slip knot for your first stitch, it is not completely necessary. Many experienced knitters will argue that you can make the first stitch by simply threading on an open loop rather than a knot. This would result in a seam that is neater than one with a slip knot. Additionally, if reworking with later revisions or additions to the project, on or near the cast-on edge, the finishing is neater because no tiny bubble is created by trying to rework yarn near the initial slip knot.
Having just said all that, then why am I teaching you how to make a slip knot? There are benefits of creating your first stitch with a slip knot. First, your yarn is firmly attached to your needle. Additionally, it makes it easier to maintain an even tension casting-on the first few stitches and while knitting the first row. These two things are often something that beginners struggle with. So, we recommend that until you get the hang of managing your tension, you begin with a slip knot.
How to Make a Slip Knot
This lesson will take you through the two primary methods of how to create a slip knot. Available are written instructions and a video showing exactly how to do the slip knot and cast-on. Once you have learned to make a slip knot, you will be ready to move to the next lesson on “How to Cast-On”. If you work better with visuals, please scroll down to cast-on where we have a video of both techniques!
You will need a skein of yarn to begin.
1. Take the end of the yarn and draw out about 10-12 inches (25-30cm) of yarn. Fold or twist the yarn in the middle of this stretch to create a loop.
2. Holding the base of the loop together with your left hand, insert your thumb and forefinger of your right hand through the loop.
3. Keeping the loop over your thumb and forefinger, reach and grasp the working yarn (yarn attached to the skein). Then pull the yarn through the original loop. You should now have two loops, the original one and the one you have just pulled through it.
4. Still holding the new loop with your right-hand, grab the ends of the original loop with your left hand and pull. The original loop should now tighten around the second loop, thus creating a slip knot.
5. Holding a needle in your right hand slide the Slip Knot onto the needle and pull the yarn to tighten the knot. The knot should be tight enough that the yarn doesn’t slip off the needle…but not so tight that you can’t move the knot along the needle with your fingers.
You are now ready to cast-on the remaining stitches!
All About the Single Cast-On
To begin any knitting project, you have to start with a foundation row on your left needle. This is called “casting-on” in knitting parlance.
There are a variety of different methods for casting-on in knitting, the Single Cast-On being one of the simplest. You may also see this approach referred to as the thumb cast-on or the backward loop cast-on. Once you have tried the instructions, it will become evident to you why it has these other names.
The Single Cast-On creates a very fine, loose edge to your knitting project. This may be exactly what you are looking for and works particularly well with Lace Stitches. Additionally, when you encounter any patterns that require you to cast-on in the middle of a project, then the Single-Cast on may just be the ticket due to it’s quick and easy nature.
The Single Cast-On is one of the simplest methods to use! It is so straight-forward that it is the most common method first taught to beginners. But this method does have some drawbacks. It can be a little difficult to maintain an even tension while knitting the first row of your project. This leaves you with super tight stitches or large loopy ones (or hopefully not, but a combination of the two). The solution to which is to take the first row slowly and ensure you are keeping an even tension.
How To Do a Single Cast-On
This lesson will take you through how to perform a Single Cast-On. Available are step by step written instructions and video. To start this project, you will have to know how to form a Slip Knot. Once you have cast-on then you will be ready to try the Knit Stitch.
Once you have made a Slip Knot with your yarn you are ready to begin casting on.
1. Holding a needle in your right hand slide the Slip Knot onto the needle and pull the yarn to tighten the knot. The knot should be tight enough that the yarn doesn’t slip off the needle. But, not so tight that you can’t move the knot along the needle with your fingers.
2. Take the working yarn in your left hand and grasp it between your fingers and your palm by making a loose fist. Pull the yarn so it’s lightly taught and place your thumb over the top of the yarn.
3. Push down and rotate your thumb around the back of the yarn and then towards you so that the yarn is now looped once around your thumb.
4. Bring your thumb into a upright position, like you are trying to catch a ride hitchhiking. Take the needle in your right hand and slip it between the yarn and the base of your thumb, so the needle moves upwards, relative to your left hand.
5. Pull your thumb down, out of the loop thereby transferring it entirely to the knitting needle. Pull the yarn to tighten the loop on the needle (but not too tight).
6. You should have your slip knot plus a new loop on your right-hand needle. Continue the process until you have the desired number of stitches that your knitting project requires.
How to Knit (k)
The two techniques that form the backbone of most knitting projects are the knit stitch and the purl stitch.
In fact just learning to knit (or to purl), means you already have the skills necessary to make knitting’s easiest stitch pattern – the Garter Stitch.
This lesson will take you through how to knit a knit stitch in both the English style (American Style in the US) and Continental style. The lesson assumes that you have already learned how to Cast-On.
Once you have learned the basic technique of the knit stitch, practice by knitting a little square (or swatch). To do this cast-on anywhere between 20 and 40 stitches. Then, begin knitting the first row as per the instructions below. One important tip that threw me when I started knitting – Always hold the yarn to the back of the work before starting a knit stitch!.
Once you reach the end of the row, you are going to “turn your work”. Take the right needle with all the work and transfer it to your left hand. Then, taking the empty needle from your left-hand, shift it to your right. You are then ready to start your second row. Keep repeating until you reach the desired size. When you are done, you will have knitted your first piece of work in what’s known as the Garter Stitch!
Once you have mastered the knit stitch then you will be ready to try the Purl Stitch.
With the ability to do a knit stitch and a purl stitch, you will see that with just these two stitches you can create a huge variety of patterns! Visit our Knit & Purl Stitch collection to help you apply different combinations of just these two stitches
Instructions – How to Knit (k)
Once you have cast-on the required number of stitches, you are ready to begin your first knit stitch.
1. Holding the needle with your cast-on yarn in your left hand, ensure that the working yarn (connected to the yarn ball) is at the back of the work. Hold the other needle in your right hand.
2. Start your first knit stitch by inserting your right hand needle through the bottom of the first stitch (loop) and push up, so that it is behind the left hand needle.
3. With your right hand take the working yarn (attached to the yarn ball) and wrap it counter-clockwise around the back of the right-hand needle and through the middle of the two needles.
4. Pull the working yarn fairly taught and hold in your right hand along with the right hand needle.
5. Now work the right hand needle downwards and rotate your wrist slightly (relative to the cast on needle) such that the tip of the right needle is resting on top of the working yarn between the two needles.
6. Turn the point of the right-hand needle slightly towards you and push it through the hole created between the working yarn and the stitch (loop) on the left-hand needle. If done correctly, both needles should now be sitting in the same hole.
7. Holding onto the un-knitted stitches on your cast-on needle in your left-hand, use the right hand needle to pull the stitch off your left-hand needle. Your knitted stitch should now be sitting on your right hand needle with the stitch (cast-on) from the previous row hanging below it.
How to Purl (p)
The purl stitch can be thought of as the opposite, yet the same as the knit stitch. Essentially the mirror image or “ying and yang”.
The purl stitch is the second technique we will learn. Combined with the knit stitch, they are the bedrock of the majority of knitting patterns and more advanced techniques.
This lesson will take you through how to knit a purl stitch in both the English style (American Style in the US) and Continental style. The lesson assumes that you have already learned how to Cast-On.
Again, similar to the knit stitch, once you understand the basic technique I’d advise you to practice by making a little test swatch. To start, cast on around 20 to 40 stitches. Then keep purling every stitch along the first row. After that, turn your work and continue purling the second row and then turn again. Continue until you have your square.
As with the knit stitch, I cannot emphasise the following enough – Always hold the yarn to the front of the work before starting a purl stitch!
On completion of your square, you’ll notice that you again have knitted a square of Garter Stitch. The purl looks the opposite in terms of technique. But it is the same stitch as the knit just from the reverse side.
Instructions – How to Purl (p)
Once you have cast-on the required number of stitches, you are ready to begin your first purl stitch.
1. Holding the needle with your cast-on yarn in your left hand, ensure that the working yarn (connected to the yarn ball) is at the front of the work. Hold the other needle in your right hand.
2. Start your first purl stitch by inserting your right hand needle through the top of the first stitch (loop) and push it through, so that it is in front of the left hand needle.
3. With your right hand take the working yarn (attached to the yarn ball) and wrap it counter-clockwise around the back of the right-hand needle and through the middle of the two needles. The yarn should be sitting in between the two needles, so that you can see each needle sitting in its own hole.
4. Now work the right hand needle downwards and rotate your wrist slightly (relative to the cast on needle) such that the tip of the right needle is resting on top of the working yarn between the two needles.
5. Turn the point of the right-hand needle slightly away from you and push it through the hole created between the working yarn and the stitch (loop) on the left-hand needle.
6. Hold on to the un-knitted stitches on your cast-on needle in your left-hand. Use the right-hand needle to pull the stitch off your left-hand needle. Your purled stitch should now be sitting on your right hand needle with the stitch (cast-on) from the previous row hanging below it.
How to Bind Off or Cast Off
Once you are done knitting your project, it is time to bind off. This secures all your hard work and more importantly, gets your project off the needles! This lesson will take you through how to bind off using video and written instructions.
1. Knit your first two stitches of the row (with whatever stitch you were working in), moving two stitches to your right needle.
2. When you have the two stitches on your right-hand needle, use the tip of the left-hand needle and put it under your first stitch to pass it over your second stitch so that you now only have one stitch on the right-hand needle.
3. Knit the next stitch as needed and repeat the binding off process by passing the first stitch over the second stitch so that you are decreasing the number of stitches every time and travelling across your project. Complete this process all the way across the project until you have one stitch left.
4. On the last stitch, you’ll knit just like the others, pass the old stitch over the new one, and then tug the yarn through and remove the needle.
5. Then you can trim it by cutting at the end of the loop, pull your yarn ball off and now everything is all secure.