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More Knitting Basics Explained

Updated on August 16, 2015
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise was taught to knit by her grandmother, age10. She has been knitting and creating her own patterns ever since, and loving it.

Knitting

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Easier?

Knit has only two stitches to learn but you have two needles to manipulate so you are using both hands. Crochet has only one hook to manipulate but you have to learn 7 different stitches and combinations of those stitches to make clusters. However I love the soft smooth way that knit feels against my skin, as opposed to the rough and stiff feel of crochet. Although, I find crochet perfect for lace and jackets that you want to have a slightly stiff feel. I love to ware knit. It hangs and fits nicely and is soft and warm. I think I favor knit but I often will add crocket lace trim on my knit garments. They are both easy in their own way.

That being said I have a few tips and basics to cover that may help the novice knitter deal with learning to knit better, and the accomplished knitter to understand some of the jargon better.

Tech Knitting

Tech Knitting for any technical problems you may be having, this is the best blog ever. This lady is out of Wisconsin and has a wide following. She has the best ever diagrams and illustrations for problems facing any knitter. Also if she doesn’t have the answers, her followers will also answer questions. Very helpful blogsite.

Red wool

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Needles

The numbers start at 1 (the smallest) and go up as large as 50. However anything over 18 feels like trying to knit with a horse’s leg in each hand. These are American standard measurements, of course. You will find that the needles are also labeled with metric measurements, which tends to make buying the needles a little confusing. When buying your needles, you will find the label with numbers followed by “mm” for metric and “US” for the American measurement. Also, the needles are measured and labeled by their length. Straight needles can be as short as 6” or 8” and as long as 17” or 18”. In the same way circular needles are labeled with their length from point to point; usually 9” up to 36”, which is for very large items like blankets or afghans.

Circular needles are handy to have even if you do not plan to knit in the round. They are meant for knitting circular garments such as sweaters, socks, sleeves, and even scarves. However they are very nice to use for larger projects such as blankets and afghans, which are too large for regular straight needles.

I highly recommend circular needles. If you have never used them before, they take a little getting used to, but the effort is well worth it. Circular needles offer many benefits. One plus is that you never have to look for your other needle. It is always right there. No chance dropping it or losing it. The second benefit is that they are less cumbersome than traditional straight needles. The ends don’t stick out and bump people sitting next to you. They keep your work comfortably in your lap. Lastly, you can work on large projects as well as small, where with straight needles, you must get a longer length for the larger projects. Circular needles will accommodate a wide range of sized projects before you are forced to get a longer size.

Knitting in Books

In A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, one of the main characters named Madame Defarge, developed a form of shorthand using her knitting. She would listen to people talking and take down every word… in her knitting. So the knitting became a documentary witness against many in the revolutionary tribunal. That had to be some fast knitting seeing that we only have two basic stitches to work with: knit and purl. Also, during the beheadings, the knitters would sit in the front row seats and curse the aristocrats for all kinds of atrocities to the people, including dropping a stitch in their knitting.

Circular Needles

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Knitting in the round.
Knitting in the round. | Source

Bamboo vs. Aluminum

I also highly recommend bamboo or wooden needles. There are several reasons for this. The plastic and metal needles are very smooth. This is no real problem for experienced knitters but beginners find it hard to juggle the needles, new skill, yarn and try to keep the stitches from sliding off the needles too soon, without the extra problem of extra smooth needles. The metal needles especially, will drop stitches quicker than you realize. Bamboo needles have a natural texture that hold the stitches onto the needles better.

The second reason is that the bamboo needles have a soft subtle sound when they are clicking together. This doesn’t sound like a very big deal, unless you have family who will be sitting in the room with you as you knit. The click-clack of the metal and plastic needles send my husband right out of the room. He finds the noise annoying. But the bamboo needles have a much softer, more pleasant sound.

The main problem against the bamboo needles is the sheer cost. The stores seem to be very proud of their bamboo needles as they are priced at sometimes 3 times the cost of the metal and plastic needles. This could also be one more reason in praise of the bamboo needles since you get what you pay for, and these are obviously the best. However, I have been short on funds, as I am sure most people are from time to time, and bought the plastic instead of the more pricy bamboo. They work. They are just not as nice.

Craftsy

Craftsy is a web site sort of like Etsy but with no fees for selling your creative patterns. You upload your pattern and photo, people buy it and download it, you get paid. No other fees. Craftsy has patterns in knit, crochet, embroidery, felting, jewelry, paper crafts, quilting, sewing and more. They also have excellent video classes and tutorials.

Knits are softer.

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Knit vs Crochet

Which do you prefer? Knit or Crochet?

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Stitches

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Where to go.

Double pointed needles are used for making garments in the round without seams such as socks or sleeves. These are not too complicated to use, but take a little effort to master, as you are juggling 4 needles at once. These will be covered more extensively later.

You can pay full price for these needles and accessories in places like JoAnn’s Fabrics, Michaels, Walmart or other yarn and specialty shops, but you don’t usually need to. You could shop the thrift stores and yard sales to get used needles and yarns for pennies. People are always starting projects, getting tired of them and giving them to the thrift stores just to get them out of the house. Try Goodwill, American Veterans, or Salvation Army Thrift Stores to start. I get most of my needles and accessories there. The bamboo sets are very affordable here when you can find them.

"Sweaters"

Sweaters used to be called “jerseys” but when they began to be worn by athletes, they soon became “sweaters” because that’s what happens when you work out in wool: you sweat.

Slip Knot

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Easy Method

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Cast on

I already wrote on the fingering methods so I’m going to jump into the different cast on methods.

Easy Cast On Method

The easiest method of casting on is just to make loops on the needle by twisting the yarn. You start with a loop and slip knot (the same way as the Knit Cast On Method). Although this is the easiest method to cast on, it is not the easiest first row to knit. Each of the loops is related and they pull on each other. Because of this, some of the stitches feel too loose while others feel too tight and there is always a long strand of yarn between the rest of the first row and the last stitch. Once the first row is knitted, however the rest is a piece of cake.

Knit Method

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Knit Cast On Method

The best place to start is at the beginning. To start make a loop/slip knot. Insert your needle through the loop. With the loop and needle in the left hand, insert the right needle into the front edge of the lop and grab the loose yarn. Pull the loose yarn through. This is the first part to a knit stitch, but instead of dropping the old stitch off the left needle, you put the new stitch onto the left needle. Now you have two stitches on the left needle. Again insert the right needle into the new loop in the left needle, grab the yarn and pull it through. Then again, instead of completing the stitch by dropping the old stitch, you insert the new stitch on the left needle. This is so much like the knitting stitch that it is called the “knit cast on” method.

Long tail cast on method

Long Tail Method

There is one more method called the Long Tail Method. Since this is the most difficult method to master I won’t get into it here but I will show a video if you are interested. I find the knit method is smooth and easy to perform and easy to remember, so it is my favorite.

Knit stitch

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Knit Stitch

Hold the needle with the cast on stitches in the left hand and the empty needle in the right. With the thread in the left hand (continental fingering), and the yarn behind, insert the point of the right needle through the first stitch on the left needle from the front to the back, or as I see it, inside to the outside. Keeping the yarn at the back of the work, pass it under and over the top of the right needle and draw this loop through the stitch on the left needle. Keep this newly made stitch on the right needle and allow the old stitch on the left needle to drop off. Repeat this step into each stitch on the left needle until all the stitches are transferred to the right needle. You have now knitted the first row. To work the next row, change the needle holding the stitches to your left hand so that the yarn is again in position at the beginning of the row and hold the free needle in your right hand.

Knit stitch tutorial

Purl Stitch

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Purl Stitch

The purl stitch is exactly opposite of the knit stitch. Instead of in back, the yarn is in front. Instead of inserting the needle from the inside to the outside, you insert the needle from the outside to the inside. Instead of pulling the yarn from the back to the front, you pull it from front to the back. As a matter of fact, the purl looks like the backside of the knit stitch.

To work purled stitches, hold the needle with the cast on stitches and the yarn in your left hand, the free (empty) needle in your right hand. Where the knit stitch has the yarn behind the needles, purl stitch requires the yarn in front of the needles. Insert the point of the right needle through the first stitch on the left hand needle from right to left, or outside to inside. Keeping the yarn at the front of the work, pass it over and around the top of the right needle and draw this loop through the stitch on the left needle. Keep this newly made stitch on the right needle and allow the old stitch on the left needle to slid off. Repeat this step into each stitch on the left needle until all the stitches are transferred to the right needle. You have now purled one row. To work the next row, change the needle holding the stitches to your left hand so that the yarn is again in position at the beginning of the row and move the free (empty) needle in your right hand.

Me knitting happily

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Changing needles

When changing between knit and purl stitches in the middle of a row, always make sure you put the yarn in front or in back of the needles by moving it between the needles. If you have inserted your right needle in a stitch and then try to put the yarn in front or in back, you will end up with an extra loop across the top of the needle. This causes (makes) extra stitches.

If you put your knitting down and pick it up later but forget which side you were on, the easy way to remember is that the yarn is always coming off the last stitch you knitted, and that will always be in your right hand.

Also if you cannot tell the difference between the knit side of a garment and the purl side, just think of hearts and rice. To me, the knit side always looks like a string of hearts and is smooth to the touch. The purl side looks like rows of rice lined up and is rough to the touch. Without even looking, you can tell which side you are on by running your finger over the stitches. If your fingernail catches on the stitches, you are on the purl side (or in need of an emery board). If your fingernail runs over the smooth surface without catching, you are on the knit side.

Binding Off

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Bind Off

The last stitch is not a stitch at all. Binding off is where you knit and then weave each stitch over the last one till all the stitches are removed from your needle. This is the method of taking all the stitches off on your finished project.

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Knit a cozy comment

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thank you both. I hope you give it a try.

    • kevin murphy-87 profile image

      kevin murphy 2 years ago from Ireland

      That sounds awesome! Thank you! :)

    • Buildreps profile image

      Buildreps 2 years ago from Europe

      Knitting is awful complicated for a guy like me, but you managed to bring it in a digestible way. I even understand some of the basics now. Good job!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Good for you. You will love how therapeutic it is if you can get past the basics. I remember seeing a knitting book for men where some of the patterns called for rope and the project was a hammock. Very manly.

    • kevin murphy-87 profile image

      kevin murphy 2 years ago from Ireland

      This is pretty cool. I decided to take up knitting this year and it's slow going. It kills me when i drop a stitch.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thank you for your kind comments.

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      Karinthia 2 years ago

      Enlnthgeiing the world, one helpful article at a time.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      So glad you like it.

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      Chimo 2 years ago

      she wants to knit and pretends to knit tghins. I can't wait to show her. I just bought a pair of really large (as in number), but small (as in length), and blunt knitting needles for her to play with while I knit. The other day when I was organizing my craft supplies I found the pink knitting needles my Mom taught me how to knit on when I was little. I am so excited that I will be able to teach her on the same needles sometime in the near future! :D Thanks so much for the rhyme!

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      Anurag 2 years ago

      I have also just begun teaching my daughter, Frannie, to knit. She is eight, soon to be nine. I tried about a year ago, but she wasn't into it - now she is - hooray! We sit and knit together - we even bring our knitting to Crumbs Bakeshop where we share a cupcake and knit together. I see people looking at us and smiling. Frannie is also a Brownie/Jr. Girl Scout - so for this year's birthday we are having a knitting party and all the scouts are invited. I am going to teach them how to knit - at least the knit stitch and they will each go home with a pair of adorable needles, some yarn, a small tote bag, printed instructions with photos, and a "2010 Knitting Fun" patch for their sashes.S.W.A.K.

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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Ann1Az2, we must be about the same age. I'm so glad I encouraged you to try it. It really isn't as hard as it sounds or looks. You will kick yourself for not trying it sooner once you do. Blessings.

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      Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

      You give very good directions throughout. I know because I've been knitting since I was 8 and I just turned 61! With all those years of knitting, you'd think I'd be an expert, but I still haven't learned how to knit in the round. So I've never made a pair of socks. And the mittens I've made have been knitted on two needles. Perhaps now I can learn! Thanks for sharing.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Mdscoggins, thanks for the kind words. Some knitters use larger needles and bulky yarns so they can finish a scarf or afghan in no time too. I can be an impatient crafter too, but I have a special place in my heart for the lacy knits and the fun intricate patterned ones too.

    • mdscoggins profile image

      Michelle Scoggins 2 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Great article Denise. This surely is the season to start knitting/crocheting all those warm scarves, hats, etc. I love to crochet since I can use large stitches and finish faster. Maybe I'm an inpatient crafter :) Though I do like to use a loom and make scarves that way. Have a good one..