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Beginner Knitting Techniques

Updated on January 30, 2013
BlossomSB profile image

As a teacher at all levels and mother of five children, Bronwen has been interested in a variety of crafts for both children and adults.

Basic Techniques of Knitting

For a time, people seemed to be so busy with the latest technology that the useful art of knitting was almost forgotten. Now it is growing in popularity again and how satisfying it can be to create something from a simple ball of yarn.

Knowing how to knit is a useful skill for both women and men and can be a great way to be able to sit in front of the television on cold evenings and not feel guilty because you are not doing anything. Some men I have known have been really skilful knitters: a footballer I knew always knitted his own socks as he said they 'breathed' better and were more comfortable.

A further step in the creation of knitting is designing your own patterns, and that can be very satisfying and a great way to impress your friends.

1.  Make a Slip-knot
1. Make a Slip-knot | Source
2. Slide a Needle into the Loop
2. Slide a Needle into the Loop | Source

How to Knit

To begin with, you need the right equipment, but that can be simple and not very expensive. When you have mastered the basic knitting techniques and are proficient you can add other aids, such as a row counter, a stitch-holder, line markers, a tape-measure, circular needles, sets of four needles that are pointed at both ends, and a cable needle.

The basics are simple. At first, when your are learning how to knit all you need is a pair of needles, say size 4.00mm or No. 8s, and a ball of 8 ply knitting yarn. I usually prefer to use pure wool for knitting garments, but any 8 ply yarn would do to start.

  1. Leaving a short 'tail' at the beginning of the yarn, wind the wool around your finger to make a slip-knot.
  2. Holding a needle in your left hand, slide it into the loop. Gently pull the longer end of the yarn so that the loop fits neatly onto the needle, but be sure to keep it fairly loose, ready for the next step.

Casting On

There are several different knitting techniques that people use to cast on, that is, there are different ways in which you can add more stitches along your needle.

  1. The Very Easy Way: Perhaps when you were small sometimes you had fun doing 'finger-knitting.' The easiest way to cast on is to do something similar.
  • Holding the needle in your left hand, take the strand of wool in your right hand and make a number of half-hitches along the needle to add on to your first loop. While this is easy and can be used, it is not the best way to cast on as it makes very loose stitches that do not form a neat beginning for your work.

Casting On the Easy Way: IN
Casting On the Easy Way: IN | Source
Casting On the Easy Way: THROUGH
Casting On the Easy Way: THROUGH | Source

2. The Easy Way: This method of casting on is still fairly simple and it helps to make a neater edge for your work.

  • Holding the needle with the loop in your left hand, take the other needle in your right hand and push the pointed end into the loop, keeping the right hand needle below the one in your left hand. You can say: IN
  • Taking the long end of the strand of wool, bring it from underneath the right hand needle and loop it over the needle from left to right. You can say: AROUND
  • Holding the strand fairly firmly, bring the right hand needle back so that this second loop you have made is pulled through the first loop. You can say: THROUGH
  • With the right hand needle, thread this loop you have made onto the left hand needle. You can say: ON
  • Repeat this process several times until you have on your left hand needle the number of stitches you need for your project. If you plan to make a knitted neck-tie, about seven stitches will be sufficient.

Push the Needle Between the Stitches
Push the Needle Between the Stitches | Source
Pull the Loop Through and Add to the Left Hand Needle
Pull the Loop Through and Add to the Left Hand Needle | Source

3. Another Way to Cast On:This method of casting on is slightly more difficult but it can help to make a really firm edge. There are other ways, too, but this is the one I usually prefer.

  • Holding the needle with the loop in your left hand, take the other needle in your right hand and push the pointed end into the loop, keeping the right hand needle below the one in your left hand. This is the same as The Easy Way for the first stitch.
  • This is the important difference. It is a little slower. For the third stitch you push the pointed end between the first and second stitches instead of into the loop.
  • Then you draw the loop through and continue to form 'cast on' stitches in exactly the same way as described above in The Easy Way.
  • Now you are ready to begin knitting.

Some Types of Knitting Stitches

There are basically only two knitting stitches, the Plain, or Knit stitch and the Purl stitch, although there are variations of these. If you have followed the instructions for Casting On, you have almost learned to do to the Plain Stitch or Knit Stitch already.

Plain, or Knit Stitch: IN
Plain, or Knit Stitch: IN | Source
Plain Stitch: AROUND
Plain Stitch: AROUND | Source

1. Plain or Knit Stitch

This stitch is used for plain knitting. If you are following instructions the knitting abbreviation for this is k, so you might read: k3. This means you are to knit three stitches. If all or a section of a knitted project instructs the knitter to knit, that type of pattern is referred to as Garter Stitch.

Here are the instructions for knitting Knit or Plain Stitch:

  • Holding the needle with the loop in your left hand, take the other needle in your right hand and push the pointed end into the loop from its left side, keeping the right hand needle below the one in your left hand. You can say: IN
  • Taking the long end of the strand of wool, bring it from underneath the right hand needle and loop it over the needle from left to right. You can say: AROUND
  • Holding the strand fairly firmly, bring the right hand needle back so that this second loop you have made is pulled through the first loop. You can say: THROUGH
  • Take this loop you have made right off the left hand needle, transferring it onto the right hand needle. You have knitted a knit stitch. You can say: OFF
  • Repeat this process several times until you have transferred all the stitches on the left hand needle onto the right hand needle. Until the process becomes automatic, it can be helpful to remember each step as you do it by saying: IN, AROUND, THROUGH, OFF.
  • Change the right hand needle to your left hand and the empty needle to your right hand. Congratulations! You have knitted a row and are now ready to begin a second row.

Purl Stitch (1)
Purl Stitch (1) | Source
Purl Stitch (2)
Purl Stitch (2) | Source

2. Purl Stitch

Purl stitch is the only other basic stitch that you need as all others are a variation of Plain and Purl. The knitting abbreviation for purl is p, so you might read: p3. This means you are to knit three stitches purl-wise. If a knitted project includes instructions to knit one row plain and one row purl for a distance, that type of pattern is referred to as Stocking Stitch.

Instructions for knitting Purl Stitch:

  • Holding the needle with the loop in your left hand, take the other needle in your right hand and push the pointed end into the loop, from the right, keeping the right hand needle in front of the one in your left hand. (Say: IN)
  • Taking the long end of the strand of wool, bring it from underneath and loop it over the needle from right to left. (Say: AROUND)
  • Holding the strand fairly firmly, bring the right hand needle back so that this second loop you have made is pulled through the first loop. (Say: THROUGH)
  • Take this loop right off the left hand needle and transfer it onto the right hand needle. You have knitted a purl stitch. (Say: OFF)
  • Repeat this process until you have transferred all the stitches on the left hand needle onto the right hand needle. It helps to say: IN, AROUND, THROUGH, OFF.
  • Change the right hand needle to your left hand and the empty needle to your right hand to begin a second row.

Stocking Stitch
Stocking Stitch | Source
Simple Rib
Simple Rib | Source

Basic Variations of Using Plain and Purl

There are many different patterns that can be achieved by using Plain and Purl stitches.

  • Stocking Stitch: This made by alternating one row plain and one row purl. It helps the neatness of the sides if you begin and end each of the purl rows with one stitch of plain.
  • Simple Rib: Ribbing is most often used for things like waist-bands, button bands and cuffs of garments. It is usually knitted: k1, p1 all along the rows, beginning on the front side with k2, and ending with k1, p1, so that the next row begins k1, p1 and ends with p1, k1. However, especially on larger men's garments, it can be k2, p2.

Broken Rib
Broken Rib | Source

There are many variations possible using these two stitches, plain and purl. Here is just one.

  • Broken Rib: This is an attractive decorative variation of simple rib. It is made up of: Row 1: p1, k1 to the end of the row. Row 2: k to the end of the row.

Image Design
Image Design | Source
Geometric Pattern
Geometric Pattern | Source

Stocking Stitch Variations Using Different Coloured Yarns

The number of variations of stocking stitch using different colours is almost limitless. If you want to design your own, try using a sheet of graph-paper, allowing one small square for each stitch. Although you might need more than one sheet before you perfect the design you are hoping to achieve. Try it - it's fun!

The following two are just examples of what can be achieved with a little imagination.

  • Cockatoos: Such image designs are a good way of using left-over knitting yarn from previous projects. This design uses blue, white, yellow and red. There are many images that you can try and design.
  • Geometric Design. This is the yoke of a pullover. As each part of the rest of the garment was completed, the stitches were saved on stitch-holders. These were then transferred to a circular needle and the yoke was knitted in one piece, without seams.

Knitters Unite!

Apart from being a pleasant past-time, it's great to develop the skill of knitting. The joy of creating something can be very satisfying. Perhaps when you begin you think you are very slow, but by doing a little knitting daily you will be surprised how your skill develops. To meet up and unite with others who share your passion, to sit and knit and chat together, or just to sit and watch television can be very rewarding and you have something to show for it. You'll never need to feel guilty again!

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    • BlossomSB profile image
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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Amaryllis: That's great that you already know how to do it. Do have another try. Start with something small so that you have a chance to reach the end. You'll be surprised at how you get faster as you go along.

      Daughter Of Maat: Some of my grand-daughters find crochet easier, too, but I find knitting more relaxing. A dishcloth is a good idea.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image

      Melissa Flagg COA OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Fantastic hub Blossom!! I love the pictures and they are perfectly laid out next to the directions. Wonderfully written! I love knitting and crochet, although I never really became an expert knitter. I found crochet much easier. I do enjoy the tactile sensation of knitting with two needles however, and sometimes I get the urge to knit a dishcloth or two.

    • Amaryllis profile image

      Lesley Charalambides 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      What an excellent hub. I learned to knit at school, but have always been very slow and hence never finished a garment. Perhaps I'll have another try! Thanks for the inspiration.

    • BlossomSB profile image
      Author

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      PegCole: Thank you. Yes, it is coming back and I'm so glad. Yesterday morning (Saturday) I was interested to hear a talk-back session on the radio with people telling about their knitting groups and also asking for help with problems. I would have really loved to have had Aunts with a knitting shop. You must have learned so much. I taught my sons to knit, too. It's a really useful skill.

      teachers12345: Thank you for the encouraging comments.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Great tips and I am sure those who want to take this on will find it very useful. Great post.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Nicely illustrated and explained. You are right about this coming back into practice and I'm glad to see young women and men are taking up this hobby again. My Aunts owned a Knit Shop and I spent a few summers with them learning to knit and crochet. Even my Dad used to knit ponchos in the winter time. It works to keep warm and get something done while lounging around.

    • BlossomSB profile image
      Author

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      LadyLyell: Thank you. It is so relaxing (when a complicated pattern goes right!) and rewarding. Although I look forward to seeing the finished article I'm also a little sorry when it ends! The perversity of humanity!

    • LadyLyell profile image

      LadyLyell 5 years ago from George, South Africa

      I appreciate an article such as this as I love to knit or crochet and always have something on the go. I find it to be so relaxing and rewarding.

      Happy knitting!

    • BlossomSB profile image
      Author

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      How lovely! Thank you for your comments.

    • Whidbeywriter profile image

      Mary Gaines 5 years ago from Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island, Washington

      This is a great hub and I will share it with my sister who wants to learn to knit but is far away. I love knitting and I feel the same way that you do, when I sit to watch television I want to be doing something and not just wasting time. Thanks again and many blessings to you!

    • BlossomSB profile image
      Author

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      whowas: My mother was a great knitter, too. That's how I learned the skill. It's not really so difficult; I'd love to hear that you have actually tried to do it.

      dezalyx: I believe that some left-handers knit the other way around, but no-one could teach me that way, so I do it the right-handed way. As both hands are involved, it's not so confusing. If you notice the first two images, I'm making the first stitch left-handedly. I think you're very clever learning to crotchet. I look at the pictures and mostly copy those as it's so difficult to reverse all the instructions.

      Frank Atanacio: You could try! It's a good challenge and I believe it's very good for the brain. Although I must admit that instructions in some pattern books can be very frustrating if they are not clear.

      Lipnancy: Thank you so much for your comments. It's not easy taking photos of oneself knitting!

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 5 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      What a great, well illustrated hub. I really enjoyed the information and the step by step instructions.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 5 years ago from Shelton

      Hi blossoms i dont think Ill ever knit but i'll help knitters unite.. and if I should ever knit i see you got my back..voted useful my friend :)

    • dezalyx profile image

      dezalyx 5 years ago from Philippines

      Very interesting hub. Having just learned how to crochet, I actually have no idea how to knit. After seeing your pictures, I just wanted to ask, is knitting the same for right-handed people as well as left-handed people?

    • profile image

      whowas 5 years ago

      That's a great, informative and very useful hub!

      I remember my mother always knitting when she wasn't doing anything else and I still have several scarves and other woolly things she made. My wife knits and so do both my son and daughter.

      It has always seemed a somewhat mysterious process to me with its own secret, coded language 'knit one, pearl one, drop one...' that rendered it entirely esoteric.

      After reading your excellent and detailed hub, I finally understand what they are all doing and how these various lovely knitted things come into being - I might even take it up myself!