How to Knit: The Basics


Illustrations by Caitlin Keegan. Photo by Maxwell Tielman.

If you haven’t attempted knitting, it can seem pretty terrifying. You might have watched friends or family members do it — their pointy needles swinging at lightning speed through a tangled mass of yarn — and worried deeply for their eyes and internal organs. You might be a crafting commitment-phobe, horrified at the idea of a task taking over a day (or a week! or a month!) to complete. You might also be generally inept when it comes to most craft projects and fear that, if let anywhere near a ball of yarn, you might just end up with a knotted, disfigured mess. I need to tell you — that was me when I first decided, at the age of 15, to knit. I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it, but there was something so charming and quaint about the craft that I was absolutely determined to master it.

While I still haven’t quite mastered the art of knitting in its entirety, I can say with some sense of self-assurance that I can knit. And it’s really not that bad! In fact, it’s a wonderful way to spend a chilly January day, much like the ones we’re experiencing right now. Whenever I’m watching TV or on a long road trip, I pull out my needles and yarn and let my mind wander while my hands move. Much like yoga or meditation, knitting allows me to clear my head and calm my body. I also end up with something to wear that’s both adorable and entirely handmade!

January, with its post-holidays chill, has always seemed the perfect time to start a knitting project. Because of this, we’ve decided to kick off a month of weekly knitting features starting with the bare-bones basics of knitting (aka, “how to knit a scarf”). While the following guide by no means encompasses everything there is to know about knitting (that could fill an entire book!), these simple steps will help you get off the ground. — Max

More on the basics of knitting after the jump . . .


Once you’ve purchased your yarn and the needle size that matches it, the absolute first step of any knitting project is making a slipknot.


1. To make a slipknot, pull a length of yarn from your ball and twist it so it makes a loop. Then, pull a another loop of yarn from the open end of your strand through your first loop. The result should look like the image above.


2. Insert one of your knitting needles through the loop of your knot and pull the strands of yarn on either side to tighten. Make sure there is about one foot of yarn on the end that isn’t attached to your ball. You’ll use this length of yarn to cast on your stitches.


Casting on is the next step in setting up your knitting project. The amount of stitches you cast on for your project will determine its overall starting width. When making a scarf, for example, I usually cast on about 20 stitches.


1. With your knitting needle in your right hand, wrap a loop of yarn from your open strand around your left thumb as pictured above.


2. Insert your knitting needle under the loop on your left thumb.


3. Pull a piece of the strand from the side attached to your ball of yarn over the top of your knitting needle as shown above.


4. With your left hand, lift the loop made by your left thumb over the piece of yarn you just placed over it.


5. Pull your left-hand strand to tighten it. That’s it! Repeat the last five steps for each stitch you want to cast on. When you’re done, there will be a little bit of yarn hanging off the end of your needle. That’s fine. You’ll be able to weave it through your design or cut it off at the end of your project.


The knit stitch is the most basic stitch of the knitting process. Stitching is essentially the process by which you turn a ball of yarn into a length of knitted fabric.


1. With your cast-on needle in your left hand, insert your other knitting needle’s point under the first stitch at the top of your cast-on needle.


2. Bring the strand from your ball over your right-hand needle as shown above.


3. With your right-hand needle, bring your strand underneath and through the top stitch. With this new loop of yarn secured on your needle, lift the top stitch off your left needle.


4. Pull the strand of your working yarn tight to secure the stitch. Repeat until each stitch from your left-hand needle has been brought to your right-hand needle. Continue this process until your fabric has reached your desired length.


Casting off is the final step needed to complete your knitting project. It binds off all your stitches and prevents your project from unraveling.


1. Knit two stitches onto your right-hand needle.


2. Push your left-hand needle’s point under the second stitch from your right-hand needle’s point as shown above.


3. With your left-hand needle, pull the second stitch on your right side over the first stitch.


4. Pull the second stitch off the needle and tighten your working yarn. You’ve now cast off one of your stitches. Repeat steps 1–4 of this section until all your stitches are cast off. Cut your project from your ball of yarn and knot the remaining strand through your final stitch to secure it. Cut off the excess strands from either side of your project or weave them through a few rows of stitches on your project. Ta-da! That’s it! Knitting 101 completed!

Sarah

These drawings are adorable and very descriptive! I’m so excited to see so many posts this month encouraging people to learn how to knit! There are literally only two stitches that you need to know so there’s nothing to be afraid of!

Linda B

I love the images. I did it 100 years ago, but now I think I’d like to crochet. Maybe you can blog about that too (?)

Catherine Slye

This is incredible! What a gift to give everyone…I’m serious! People pay $$$ to learn how to do this and here you are freely giving it. You are awesome. :) Now, when (if) you do a crochet basics I’ll be cheering just as loudly. <3

Roxanne

Knitting is literally the most rewarding craft I have ever taught myself! It has taught me patience and given me beautiful, tangible family heirlooms.

There is so much amazing, modern design in knitting today, too. Jared Flood and Stephen West come to mind. These aren’t your grams knits!

New knitters, don’t be afraid! Use YouTube to guide you if you need more visuals. LEFT HANDED knitters, switch the needles in your hands from the directions above if you’re struggling, it’s ok to knit backwards!

I really look forward to your posts D*S. Hope you find a moment to address the Mecca of knitting, Ravelry.com

Modern Country Lady

I love knitting.Charity shops here in the UK are full of old books with amazing knitting stitches.You can easily make something yourself for practically no money- although wool can be expensive, it’s maybe an idea to look in charity shops for that too.There is an amzing site with fabulous patterns for free if you feel like it, and I perosnally want to knit my own Sarah Lund jumper ( from the Danisch series” The Killing” ) – a fabulous Norwegian knit.
Love the stiches and drawiong you made!!
Here are the patterns and the site .. ( not my site , honest! )
http://www.garnstudio.com/lang/us/pattern.php?id=5645&lang=us
gives you the pattern of a great jumper
and
http://www.garnstudio.com/lang/us/pattern.php?id=5658&lang=us
gives you som fantastic socks!!
Good luck and enjoy your knitting!
XOXO

Bea

Rachel

This looks terrifying to me, haha! I just need to jump in and do it. I want to learn how to knit, but just looking at these diagrams makes me wary. I need to take the time to really go through them and learn it. I have a lot of friends who love it.

Meg

Left-handed knitter here, don’t ‘knit backwards’. Once you progress to things other than scarves, reversing patterns will get confusing/annoying. Instead, knit ‘continental style’ which involves doing most of the action with your left hand. See the excellent knittinghelp videos recommended above for further guidance! I think knittinghelp also has a website for non-smartphone users…

Amanda

If the pics aren’t helpful to you (and I looked at SLEWS of them and was always confused) then I can’t recommend a site called New Stitch a Day enough. Its videos from the perspective of you, doing the knitting. SO helpful. I go back over and over again to learn new stitches. Skip to the halfway point in the videos to get to the good stuff, the first 45 seconds are always advertising. (I don’t work for them, I just think its an amazingly well done reference)

Slip Knot: http://newstitchaday.com/knitting-101-how-to-make-a-slip-knot-for-beginners/
Cast On: http://newstitchaday.com/knitting-101-how-to-knit-the-basic-cast-on-for-beginners/
Knit Stitch: http://newstitchaday.com/knitting-101-how-to-knit-the-knit-stitch-for-beginners/

Marnie

i’ve been thinking about getting classes to help me start doing it… the drawings are probably easier to understand for poeple who already get the primary rules of knitting, but I clearly don’t. Thanks for this article anyways, it’s kind of reassuring to know I am not the only one to be scared but tempted by this art.

Chase

I’ve been meaning to learn to knit one of these days (I know, I’m, like, the last woman on earth to learn). Maybe this handy post will give me that kick in the pants!

Ginny

This is brilliant. Please please please do the same thing for crochet? I desperately want to learn it but all the e-resources seem double Dutch to me.

the Queen Bee at Queen Bee Knits

I’m a knitter and knitting instructor and love to share this wonderful art! Most Michael’s stores offer knitting classes at a very reasonable price for those who want to learn in a person to person environment.

MB@YarnUiPhoneApp

I love the illustrations…they remind me of similar ones in 1940s era knitting books, some of which I have in my bookshelf. So charming, simple and bold. I can see these printed up on t-shirts. Maybe even have the the DesignSponge logo on the back side? Really a knitter can never have too many t-shirts broadcasting her favorite hobby. Don’t you think?

Shelley

I’ve tried knitting before, but have never really gotten it. Thank you for a simple way to start again.

Alexis from Texas

I hope this will inspire many newbies out there to get started. But if you find yourself getting frustrated, just ask for help. There are so many videos on YouTube, as well as classes at most yarn stores. If you ask around, you will likely find a knitter among people you already know.

MarT

Awesome way to get more productivity out of watching a movie, long staff meetings (makes me listen better and feel much less like a caged animal), supervising your kid’s homework or reading out loud to them, car rides when you are a passenger, etc.

As a kid, I could not master it. As an adult, I just took my time (make sure you learn how to cast on yourself so you can start over and over again), and soon I started cranking out the scarves. Then, hats, afghans, socks, garments.

the chronic utilitarian

so glad that you posted this. hope it inspires all of our fellow knittas out there.

i taught myself to knit as a young mother in brooklyn. (yea, boi!)
truly a rewarding handwork.

happy thursday.

Hollie

What great timing! I’ve just picked up knitting again. I think I just made up how to cast on and was really stressing out. Thanks to this guide though I’m going to give it another bash. Thanks!

Carolynn

Is is great! I consider myself a basic knitter and I was really hoping this post would include some starter projects though.

Grace Bonney

carolynn

we’re going to be sharing starter projects next week, but wanted to give people some time to learn the basic elements :)

grace

Paul

I used to knit – my grandmother was good at both knitting and crochet and I still have one or two pullovers she made for me and a crochet square bedspread. However, I remember casting on done a completely different way by starting with the slip knot and then knitting a stitch then transferring the new stitch back onto the left hand needle – and then knitting a new stitch into the one you just made and repeating the process. Almost like the way a chain of crochet stitches are formed.

I look forward to seeing the instructions on different stitches!

Vicki

Knitting is wonderful! I learned about 8 years ago through a continuing education class at a local university. I’m still learning new techniques and stitch variations which keeps it fresh and fun. A very helpful tip for beginners is to start with bamboo needles. They are less slippery than metal so you are less likely to drop or lose stitches. Also, wool or wool blend yarns have more give than cotton and some synthetics making the knitting easier to manipulate when learning.

Julie

This is excellent. I add my voice to those suggesting a crochet tutorial as well!

Wool Free and Lovin' Knit

Great idea to intoduce more people to this wonderful, ancient skill. Knitting is AWESOME and there are so many wonderful yarns made from plant fibers that even those of us allergic to wool can enjoy this wonderful craft!

Mary

I cannot learn from the above instructions! I will have to get a knitter to come and show me. I am usually a visual learner but this was not for me.

Grace Bonney

mary

there are a number of great knitting video tutorials on youtube if you need to see the processes in motion to really grasp them :)

grace

Trish

Thanks so much for posting this. No one in my family knits (it was something my grandmothers did, but I never learned it before they passed on). I have always wanted to try it, and now feel I can. Of course, I have to figure out what it means to find the right size needle for the yarn …… Thanks so much for inspiring the rest of us.

Paola

Thank you for your awesome tutorial! I haven’t ever knitted before, but started learning today with the help of your site! I bought some beautiful yarn and can’t wait until I’m good enough to make something with it :-)

chrisscelia

Thank you so much for this wonderful tutorial, and the illustrations are lovely! I’m an avid crocheter, but always wanted to learn how to knit. With the help of this guide and a few youtube videos, I’ve got the basics down now!

Jenn

I don’t understand the “Cast On” section of this post at all. I have followed the pictures and instructions about 4 times and I am not getting what it seems like I am supposed to. I don’t know what I’m missing. I’m sorry, but this part is not written/illustrated well.

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