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A Beginners guide to Left-Handed Knitting - Continental Style - Casting on, Knit, Purl and Casting off

Updated on December 11, 2012

So You Want to Learn to Knit as a Leftie

Welcome and Congratulations! Knitting is a fun and relaxing hobby which gives a wonderful creative outlet.

Being a left handed person, learning to knit was a bit of a challenge. Having to research stitches, turn them around in my head (let's face it the right hand world is backwards for us) and not having the mechanics of it broken down made it at times frustrating. Writing this hub I hope to pass on what I have learned in a manner that helps other Lefties learn easily and clearly. I have combined both photographs and videos in this hub to allow for greater understanding of the techniques and mechanics involved in knitting. Each section will have step by step photographs with instruction. At the end of the section a full video showing the steps in action will allow you to follow along as you try.

Yarns, Needles and Do-dads Oh My!

In order to learn to knit it is important to start off with having the right tools and materials. Considering there are so many different types of yarns, needles and accessories it can be daunting to figure out what is most important to start off with and what can wait.

Essentially you need two things to start:

  1. Yarn
  2. Needles

There are a few other items that will be useful however, if you are dabbling with something new and do not wish to invest a lot of money in something you are unsure you will come to love just go with the two must haves to learn. You can always pick up other do-dads later..


Various Brands of Yarn
Various Brands of Yarn | Source

So Many Yarns...

You've walked into your local craft or yarn shop and there it is... bin after bin of yarn's of different weights and fibers. Do you buy it all or run away? Let's simplify things. Let's worry about fiber's later and focus on what is referred to as Yarn Weight. The easiest way to understand this is to see it. Lion Brand Yarn has done an excellent job in the article "What is Fingering/Sock/Sport/DK/Worsted...Weight Yarn?" using the standards developed by the Craft Yarn Council. If you are a visual person like I am I would recommend checking out the visual comparison in the "What is Fingering/Sock/Sport/DK/Worsted...Weight Yarn?" article before heading to get your yarn.

For the beginner I would highly recommend starting out with a Worsted/Arghan/Aran Weight Yarn. Check the label for the image pictured to the right. It will appear on most of the commercial brands of yarn available. I recommend starting out with worsted weight yarn due to it's thickness. It is not too big and bulky as to make seeing what you are doing difficult not is it so small that it is difficult to manipulate.

Lastly, don't pick something too expensive. Get a yarn that if overall inexpensive but feels nice to your hand. Remember you are learning. Especially in the beginning, what you make may not be all that pretty. I keep a skein of inexpensive yard that I use to try out new stitches and patterns with so I am not wasting the good stuff.

Bottom: Single Point (Straight) Knitting Needles Center: Double Pointed Knitting Needles Left/Top/Right:  Circular Knitting Needles
Bottom: Single Point (Straight) Knitting Needles Center: Double Pointed Knitting Needles Left/Top/Right: Circular Knitting Needles | Source

There's a Wall of Needles! Where do you begin?

Essentially needles come in three types:

  1. Single Point (Straight) - A pair of needles with a point at one end and a "button" at the end to prevent your loops from slipping off.
  2. Circular - A pair of needles that are joined with a length of flexible cable
  3. Double Pointed - A set of four or five needles with a point at each end. These are generally used to stitch circular items such as hats.

It all comes down to a.) what you are most comfortable with using and b.) what type of project you are doing.. I personally prefer the circular needles over the straight needles. I find they give me more control and greater range of motion. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. Keep in mind everything shown in this Hub can be done using either.

Next we need to explore what size to get. Needles come in American size 0 - 50 (Metric 2 mm - 25 mm). There are also British sizing as well but for the sake of this Hub I am going to utilize the American/Metric sizing.

Since we have chosen a Worsted Weight yarn the recommended size needle to use is a US 7 (4.50 mm) - US 9 (5.50 mm) needle. I would recommend going with the size 9 (Circular or straight.) It will help you to make looser stitches so you can have an easier time working and learning. The smaller the size needle the denser your end result will be using a smaller needle size and thereby the more difficult it can be for a novice/beginner to work in the loops.

Lastly, depending on the selection of needles you may be having to choose between various materials that the needles are made from. Needles are made from everything from wood to metals to acrylic. The main difference between the various materials is how easily the yarn is able to glide along the surface. Unpolished woods tend to have more "drag" to them, meaning the yarn does not move as quickly along the shaft of the needle, whereas aluminum, other metals and acrylic have less "drag" thereby allowing the yarn to move quicker along the shaft.

Personally, my favorites are aluminum circular needles. They are readily available in craft stores and moderately priced. In my area Single Point Aluminum Knitting Needles average $3.50 a pair with the Circular Aluminum Knitting Needles average $5.99.

Casting On

In order to knit anything you need to first get yarn onto one of the needles. This is done through a process called casting on. There are several ways in which you can cast on. In this Hub I am only going to show one way of casting on. The last thing I want to do is overwhelm anyone with several variations.

This is the cast on I use for most Knitting since I find it really quick and easy to do. This cast on can be done with our without using a slipknot. Since you're just starting out I would suggest using a slip knot to make life easier.

Casting On 1 - Making a Slip Knot

Making a Slip Knot is really easy. It is a four step process as illustrated below.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Drape the yarn over your fingers with the tail to the left and the end that leads to your skein of yarn on the right.Step 2 crossing behindAcross and pinchPinch and pullTug the tailAlmost thereSuccessfully Tightened
Drape the yarn over your fingers with the tail to the left and the end that leads to your skein of yarn on the right.
Drape the yarn over your fingers with the tail to the left and the end that leads to your skein of yarn on the right. | Source
Step 2 crossing behind
Step 2 crossing behind | Source
Across and pinch
Across and pinch | Source
Pinch and pull
Pinch and pull | Source
Tug the tail
Tug the tail | Source
Almost there
Almost there | Source
Successfully Tightened
Successfully Tightened | Source

For the remaining steps to cast on seeing a video is much more informative than words will ever be.

Take a moment and look at your work

Now that you have completed casting on we will be working in these casts to make the foundation row of our stitching. Take a moment and look at what you have made. See how the threads cross and where they cross. The more you get familiar with how what you have made looks the easier it will become to see what you are doing. This will allow you to then see when you have gone wonkie.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Positioning the YarnYarn Positioned to the BACK of the Work for a Knit Stitch
Positioning the Yarn
Positioning the Yarn | Source
Yarn Positioned to the BACK of the Work for a Knit Stitch
Yarn Positioned to the BACK of the Work for a Knit Stitch | Source

The Knit Stitch

The Knit Stitch (along with the Purl Stitch) is one of the foundation stitches for all knitting. All other stitches are simply variations on the Knit or the Purl. Take the time to master making a knit and making a Purl and you will be well on your way to developing strong skills that you can then expand to variations.

Before we get into this process of the knit stitch there are some items I wish to point out.

  1. When doing a Knit Stitch the yarn you will be working with is ALWAYS to the back of your work as illustrated in the image to the Right. Notice the working yarn (the thread that attaches to your skein of yarn) goes behind the right needle.
  2. When looping the yarn around your left needle you will ALWAYS bring it around the LEFT needle from left to right as illustrated in the second and third photos. Notice the yarn goes in front of the left needle (photo 2) then wraps around and behind the LEFT needle to the right (photo 3). It is important that when doing the knit stitch we loop the yarn over the needle this way. This will create an untwisted final stitch that lays flat and neat.


Click thumbnail to view full-size
Insert the LEFT HAND needle from the right side of the first stitch angling to the left from Front to BackHead on ViewFacing You View
Insert the LEFT HAND needle from the right side of the first stitch angling to the left from Front to Back
Insert the LEFT HAND needle from the right side of the first stitch angling to the left from Front to Back | Source
Head on View
Head on View | Source
Facing You View
Facing You View | Source

Knit Step 1 - Inserting the Needle

Insert the tapered end of your LEFT HAND needle from right to left under the front leg (the side of the loop that faces you) on your RIGHT HAND needle. Your LEFT HAND needle will essentially move between the two legs of the cast on from front to back. The next several images show you different angles of exactly what is happening so you are able understand exactly what should be happening.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Draw the yarn to the left BETWEEN the two needlesDraw the yarn toward the back of the Left Hand needleDraw the yarn behind and to the right of the Left Hand needleFinal "position".
Draw the yarn to the left BETWEEN the two needles
Draw the yarn to the left BETWEEN the two needles | Source
Draw the yarn toward the back of the Left Hand needle
Draw the yarn toward the back of the Left Hand needle | Source
Draw the yarn behind and to the right of the Left Hand needle
Draw the yarn behind and to the right of the Left Hand needle | Source
Final "position".
Final "position". | Source

Knit Step 2 - Wrapping the Yarn

Wrap the yarn around the LEFT HAND needle. The yarn will move in FRONT of the LEFT HAND needle (essentially passing between the X created by the two needles) then wrap around and to the right of the LEFT HAND needle. Please not that in the pictures manipulation of the yarn is more than necessary for the purpose of clarity.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source

Step 3 - Drawing Through

Draw the loop you have created on the LEFT HAND needle under and through the legs of the loop on the RIGHT HAND needle toward you. This will essentially have the loop you created move in front of the RIGHT HAND needle.

With your needle now to the Front with your knit loop on it you are ready to start sliding to the left
With your needle now to the Front with your knit loop on it you are ready to start sliding to the left | Source
Keep on sliding
Keep on sliding | Source
Keep going until...
Keep going until... | Source
You have drawn the loop completely from the Right Hand Needle
You have drawn the loop completely from the Right Hand Needle | Source
One Knit done!
One Knit done! | Source

Step 4 - Sliding the loop

Now you have a loop on your Left and Right hand needles. Keeping the loop on the left hand needle SLIDE the loop up and off of the RIGHT HAND needle. Take your time when you do this at first so you don't accidentally drop an extra loop off. Especially when you are getting to your last few stitches it is REALLY easy to drop one and we haven't taught you how to put them back yet.

Repeat the process

You have successfully knitted your first Knit Stitch. Now repeat the process through the remaining stitches that you cast on. When you get to the end of the row all of the stitches will have moved from your RIGHT HAND needle to your LEFT HAND Needle. Now move the needle from your LEFT hand to your RIGHT hand and keep on knitting several rows of the knit stitch. Do this so you get really comfortable with this stitch. Once you are comfortable with it then move on to the Purl Stitch.

The Purl Stitch

The Purl Stitch (along with the Knit Stitch) is one of the foundation stitches for all knitting. All other stitches are simply variations on the Purl or the Knit. Take the time to master making a Purl and a Knit and you will be well on your way to developing strong skills that you can then expand to variations.

Before we get into this process of the Purl stitch there are some items I wish to point out.

  1. When doing a Purl Stitch the yarn you will be working with is ALWAYS to the FRONT of your work as illustrated in the image to the Right. Notice the working yarn (the thread that attaches to your skein of yarn) goes In front the right needle.
  2. When looping the yarn around your left needle you will ALWAYS bring it around the LEFT needle from left to right as illustrated in the second and third photos. Notice the yarn goes in front of the left needle (photo 2) then wraps around and behind the LEFT needle to the right (photo 3). It is important that when doing the Purl stitch we loop the yarn over the needle this way. This will create an untwisted final stitch that lays flat and neat.

The Purl Stitch is again a four step process.

Purl Step 1 - Inserting the Needle

Insert the tapered end of your LEFT HAND needle from left to right BEHIND and UNDER the front leg (the side of the loop that faces you) of the loop on your RIGHT needle. Your LEFT needle will essentially move under the front leg of the stitch you are working in. The next images show you different angles of exactly what is happening so you are able visually see it happen.

Purl Step 2 - Wraping the Yarn

Wrap the yarn around the LEFT HAND needle. The yarn will move in FRONT of the LEFT HAND needle (essentially passing between the X created by the two needles) then wrap around and to the right of the LEFT needle.

The thing to remember here is being able to successfully draw the loop will rely on how you manipulate your right index finger combined with the tension you have on the yarn. This is where the Purl becomes different from the Knit. Take some time to look at how my index finger is used and positioned.

Purl Step 3 - Drawing Through

Draw the loop you have created on the LEFT HAND needle under and through the legs of the loop on the RIGHT HAND needle away from you. This will essentially have the loop you created move behind the RIGHT HAND needle.

Purl Step 4 - Sliding the Loop

Now you have a loop on your Left and Right hand needles. Keeping the loop on the left hand needle SLIDE the loop up and off of the RIGHT HAND needle. Take your time when you do this at first so you don't accidentally drop an extra loop off. Especially when you are getting to your last few stitches it is REALLY easy to drop one and we haven't taught you how to put them back yet.

Notice this step is exactly the same in mechanics as when you slide off the loop after making a Knit Stitch.

Repeat the Process

You have successfully created your first Purl Stitch. Now repeat the process through the remaining stitches that you cast on. When you get to the end of the row all of the stitches will have moved from your RIGHT HAND needle to your LEFT HAND Needle. Now move the needle from your LEFT hand to your RIGHT hand and keep on purling several rows of the purl stitch. Do this so you get really comfortable with this stitch.

Casting Off

Casting off is the last process involved in finishing a piece of knit work. It involves a combination of two techniques:

  1. The Knit Stitch
  2. Slipping or Passing a stitch over and off.

Don't be scared. It's REALLY easy and kind of fun to do!

Casting Off Step 1 - Knit Two Stitches

Knit the first two stitches from the RIGHT HAND needle to the LEFT HAND NEEDLE as normal.

Casting Off Step 2 - Slipping Over and Off

On your LEFT HAND needle you now have two loops. You will now use the tip of your RIGHT HAND needle to lift the first loop on your LEFT HAND needle up and over the second loop and drop the first loop off of the left hand needle. This will leave you with the loop that was originally your second loop remaining on your LEFT HAND needle.

Casting Off Step 3 - Knit another stitch

Knit the next stitch from your RIGHT HAND needle onto your LEFT HAND needle.

Repeat Cast Off Steps 2 and 3

Repeat Cast off Steps 2 and 3 until you have no more stitches on your RIGHT HAND needle and only a single loop remains on the LEFT HAND needle.

Finishing the Cast Off - Final Step

Now make that remaining loop nice and big and remove the needle from it. You will be left with that big loop we made and the tail of yarn that is connected to your skein. Cut the TAIL giving yourself several inches to work with (see photo). Now draw the tail that connects to your loop through the loop and pull until the loop closed around the tail and can no longer be seen.

You have successfully cast off your work so it will not unravel!

The Sky's the Limit

Learning to master these foundation skills will give you the necessary ability to expand your knitting skills. Just knowing how to make a knit and purl stitch will allow you to make the Garter Stitch, Stockinette Stitch, Reverse Stockinette Stitch and many more!

Yarn Crafts for Lefties

Be sure to bookmark http://www.youtube.com/user/YarnCraftsforLefties as a growing resource for how to videos for the left-handed Knitter and Crocheter! If you would like to request a hub or video for how to instruction for a left handed knit or crochet stitch feel free to send an e-mail to YarnCraftsforLefties@gmail.com.

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    • profile image

      K8tkaboom 3 months ago

      Thanks! Very helpful instructions.

    • Lisa Keatts profile image

      Lisa 3 years ago from Virginia

      Love your break down of the knitting steps. Very useful and great information. I hope you post more!