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Design & Style

How to Knit: Complete Beginner’s Guide to Knitting

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jul 22, 2020 • 10 min read

Knitting is an easy hobby to take up as it’s easy to do while watching a show or listening to an audiobook, and it’s a great way to start making your own clothes and other fabric items. Before you start knitting, you’ll need to learn some of the basics.

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What Is Knitting?

Knitting is a method for interlocking yarn together with long needles to create a textile or fabric. Knitting can be done using a sewing machine, but many people enjoy knitting by hand as a relaxing, productive hobby. Common items to knit include scarves, hats, sweaters, blankets, and socks.

What Tools Do You Need to Knit?

To start a knitting project, you only need four things:

  1. Knitting needles: Knitting needles are long and thin, usually sharpened to a point on one end, with a ball on the opposite end to keep your stitches from slipping off. These needles come in many different sizes, from US size 0 to US size 50. For beginner knitters, a medium-size needle like a 6, 7, or 8 will be easiest to handle. Once you begin more complex knitting projects, you may find that smaller or larger needle sizes will suit your needs (or even double-pointed needles, for knitting in the round).
  2. Yarn: With all the different weights, textures, and colors, choosing the right yarn for your project can feel a little overwhelming. Beginners should look for a worsted-weight yarn—a medium-thickness yarn that will make it easy to see your individual stitches. When in doubt, check the label: every skein or ball of yarn will have recommendations on its packaging for the types of needles to use and how to work with it.
  3. Scissors: To finish off your project, you’ll need a pair of scissors to cut your project from the rest of your yarn.
  4. Project plan: Your first few knitting attempts should be spent doing practice stitches, but choosing a specific project can help get you excited about learning more. Pick something you want to knit: Beginners should choose something flat and rectangular, like a potholder, a dishcloth, a scarf, or a baby blanket and find a knitting pattern for it. Following this pattern while you knit will help you avoid knitting too few or too many stitches every row, and keep you on track.
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8 Key Knitting Terms

Before starting your first knitting project, you’ll need to learn some common knitting terms:

  1. Casting on: “Casting on” refers to the first row of stitches that you’ll make in your project: the first loops on your needles. When you begin a section of your project, you’ll cast on a number of loops, beginning with a slip knot, to anchor your project. You’ll continue knitting additional loops onto the needle until you have a neat row of stitches that will serve as the foundation for your entire project.
  2. Casting off: Casting off, also known as “binding off,” refers to when you’re ready to take your stitches off your needle—if you simply slid them off, your project would unravel. Instead, you’ll create a neat edge with new stitches and coax each loop off of your needle one by one.
  3. Knit stitch: Knit stitch is the most basic stitch, and along with its companion, purl stitch, makes up the foundation of all knitting. To do a knit stitch, you’ll slide your right needle through a loop on your left needle from the back, bringing the yarn through that loop from the back of your project to the front.
  4. Purl stitch: Purl stitch is the companion stitch to knit stitch, and together they form the foundation of all knitting. To purl stitch, slide your left needle through a loop on your right needle from the front, bringing the yarn through that loop, from the front of your project to the back.
  5. Stockinette stitch: Stockinette stitch is not an individual stitch type; rather, it refers to when a knitter follows the standard pattern of alternating rows of knit stitch and purl stitch. The Stockinette stitch is the most traditional look of knitted fabric, resembling a series of tiny v’s.
  6. Garter stitch: Garter stitch is a beginner’s stitch that forgoes the traditional knit rows and purl rows in favor of simply knitting each stitch of each row, resulting in a “bumpier” look.
  7. Seed stitch: Seed stitch is not an individual stitch type; rather, it refers to when a knitter follows a pattern of alternating between knit and purl stitch in individual rows and between rows. The result of this tight alternation is a knitted fabric that looks as if it is made up of tiny seeds.
  8. Dropped stitch: A dropped stitch refers to when a stitch accidentally slips off of your needle and begins to unravel. As you learn to knit, it’s commonplace to drop many stitches. Many knitters keep a crochet hook on hand to make it easier to re-stitch a dropped stitch back into their project.

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How to Cast On

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There are several different knitting techniques to cast stitches onto your needle when beginning a new project. Here’s one of the most basic methods for casting stitches:

  1. Make a slip knot. The first stitch of your project isn’t a stitch at all—it’s a slip knot. To make a slip knot, create a loop with your yarn (leaving at least 12 inches of tail), then bring the tail end behind the loop to create a vertical line. Push your index finger and thumb through the loop, grab the tail from the other side, and pull it through the loop. The knot should “slip” closed and result in a loop tied into your thread.
  2. Slide the slip knot onto your right needle. Slide the loop onto your right needle, making sure that the tail end is closest to you and the end attached to your ball of yarn (known as the working yarn) is further from you.
  3. Take the tail in your left hand. Grab the tail yarn with your left hand, using your index, middle, ring, and pinky fingers to hold it, while your thumb remains free at the top—like a thumbs-up motion.
  4. Bring your thumb under the yarn to create a loop. Take your left thumb underneath the tail yarn and bring it back up, so that the tail yarn makes a loop around your thumb.
  5. Slide your needle into the loop from the bottom of your thumb. Using the needle in your right hand, slide the needle into the loop around your thumb, going from underneath the loop rather than over it.
  6. Add another loop with the working yarn, from the back. Now, use your left hand to hold the needle for a moment. With your right hand, take the working yarn and loop it over the top of the needle, from back to front (a counterclockwise motion). Feel free to take the needle back into your right hand now.
  7. Pull your thumb up and over the tip of the needle. Using gentle pressure, pull your left thumb up along the needle so that the loop on your thumb goes up and over the tip of the needle.
  8. Tighten by pulling on the tail. To tighten the stitch, gently pull on the tail yarn until the stitch is as snug as the previous loop.
  9. Repeat. Repeat this process until you have the necessary number of stitches on your needle.

How to Knit Stitch

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While knit and purl stitch together are the foundation of all knitting, you can make a simple flat project solely using knit stitch. To learn how to knit stitch, check out the following step-by-step guide:

  1. Hold the knitting in your left hand and the free needle in your right. When doing the knit stitch, the stitches will always begin on your left needle, and with each motion, you’ll methodically bring each stitch from your left-hand needle to your right-hand needle.
  2. Slide your right needle from left to right into the first stitch. Isolate the first stitch on your left needle—it’s the one closest to the tip of the needle. Then, take your free needle and slide the tip into this stitch, going from left to right. It’s very important that you go from the left side to the right when you pick up this stitch—otherwise, your stitch won’t work.
  3. Loop the working yarn around your right needle. With the needles stuck together in the same stitch, take the working yarn in your right hand and loop it around the free needle (the needle without stitches), going from back to front, or in a clockwise motion.
  4. Carefully slide your free needle below your left needle and then to the front. This is the trickiest part of knit stitch: carefully bring your right needle back toward you, as if you’re going to slide it all the way out of the stitch. However, stop before you pull it all the way out, and instead bring the tip of the needle to the front side of your left needle. Now, push your right needle up to keep the stitch from falling off. This move may take you several tries to adjust to—it’s easy to accidentally drop your stitches.
  5. Pull the stitch off your left needle. Now that the stitch is securely attached to your right needle, gently slide it off your left needle. You should now have one stitch on your right needle.
  6. Repeat. Continue knitting stitches on your left needle, until you have an entire row on your right needle and your left needle is free.
  7. Switch your needles between your two hands. After transferring all of the stitches from your left needle to your right, simply flip the needle with all the stitches around. You can now continue knitting with your “new” left needle.

How to Cast Off

Once you’ve knit as many rows as your project needs, it’s time to cast off (also called bind off), which is the process of creating an end to your project by knitting a final row that won’t unravel. Here’s how to cast off:

  1. Knit the first two stitches. Knit the first two stitches on your left needle as if you were knitting another full row of stitches.
  2. Slide your left needle into the rightmost stitch. Here’s where you’ll diverge from knitting the whole row: take your left needle (the one with all of the stitches on it) and slide it through the stitch on your right needle closest to its base (not the stitch near its tip).
  3. Pull the stitch over the tip of the right needle and off. Carefully pull the stitch over the other stitch on your right needle and off of the tip completely. You should now only have one stitch on your right needle.
  4. Knit another stitch. Since you need two stitches on your right needle at all times when casting off, knit one more stitch from the left needle to the right.
  5. Cast off the rightmost stitch. Once again, you’ll slide your left needle into the rightmost stitch, then pull the stitch over the other stitch and off the right needle completely.
  6. Repeat, alternating between knitting and casting off. Continue knitting additional stitches and casting them off until you have one stitch remaining on your right needle.
  7. Cut your project from your working yarn. To finish off your project, you’ll first need to cut it off from the ball of yarn. Make sure to leave at least 10 inches of tail, so you can properly tie it off.
  8. Loop the new tail over the front of the needle. Take the new tail of yarn and loop it over the front of your needle, or clockwise. This new loop should be on the side of the last stitch that is closer to the needle tip.
  9. Bring the last stitch up and over the loop. Carefully pull the last stitch over the new loop you made and off of the tip completely. You should now only have the final loose loop on your needle.
  10. Pull the loop through the stitch. Pull your needle toward you, which should pull the tail of the yarn through the final cast-off stitch.
  11. Tighten by pulling on the tail. Next, pull on the tail, which will tighten the last knot. Now you can trim the tail to the length you like, and your project is complete.

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