Learning how to knit can be broken down into six basic components: choosing yarn and needles, how to hold the yarn and needles, casting on, the basic knit stitch, the basic purl stitch, and binding off. All of these things work together to create a foundation of knitting for beginners. Let’s talk about each of these basics, some common mistakes, and how to fix them.
We also have videos below to help you learn to knit easily.
Learn How to Knit Index
- Choosing a Ball of Yarn
- Finding the End of the Yarn
- Winding Yarn into a Ball
- Beginning Knitting Needles: Which Ones to Choose?
- What Size Knitting Needles Should You Choose
- How to Knit: Holding Your Yarn and Needles
- Learning to Knit Continental vs American/British Method
- Basic Knitting Instructions
- How to Make a Slip Knot
- Learn to Cast-on
- How to Knit Basic Knitting Stitches
- The Knit Stitch
- The Purl Stitch
- How to Bind Off
- Picking a Good Pattern for Beginners
- Troubleshooting: Fixing Common Mistakes
- The Wrong Stitch – How to Unknit
- Fixing Dropped Stitches
- Final Thoughts
Choosing a Ball of Yarn
I can’t go into a yarn store without my fingers wanting to touch and feel everything I see. And you must take the time to touch yarn in order to choose the right yarn for knitting. It’s only when you squeeze, test, and play with the yarn in your hands that you will know if it’s a yarn you want to purchase and knit.
The price of yarn does not indicate quality. You can find good quality yarn that is inexpensive, and you can find expensive yarn that is not a good quality. Always look for yarn that you enjoy at the best quality you can afford.
When you’re beginning to knit, wool is a good fiber to work with. It has a nice stretch and resilience that will make it easier for you to learn how to cast on and how to knit the basic stitches. It’s also more forgiving if you make a mistake and need to fix it.
If you’ve looked at yarn, you’ve probably noticed it comes in a variety of thicknesses, known as yarn weight. For a beginner, I suggest you start with a DK weight yarn. It’s a mid-range weight yarn, making it one of the easiest yarn weights to work with. Other types of yarn, such as lace weight, can be challenging to knit, even for experienced knitters.
Finding the End of the Yarn
A skein of yarn has two ends – an outer end and an inner end.
- You want to start by finding the outer end. It’s usually underneath the yarn label or tucked into one of the openings on the end of the skein.
- For the inner yarn end, stick your thumb and and index finger inside the opening on one of the ends of the skein. Reach into the middle and feel around for what feels like a clump of messy yarn.
- Pull it out and away from the skein until you see a single strand of yarn connecting the clump to the skein.
- Start wrapping the strand around the skein. When you finish, you’ll have the inner end of the yarn.
- As you knit with this end, after you knit the yarn you wrapped around the skein, you’ll start knitting from the center of the skein
Winding Yarn into a Ball
Hanks of yarn must be wound into a ball before you begin knitting or you’ll end up with a tangled mess.
- Untwist the hank so that it forms a circle.
- The hank will be tied in multiple places. Untie the knots from the ties, keeping the yarn in a circle. When you remove the ties, you should find the two ends of the yarn were tied into the knots.
- With the yarn still in a circle, drape it around the back of a chair, your legs, or your neck. If you have a friend willing to help out, drape it around both of their hands. The key is to make sure the yarn remains in its circular shape.
- Loosely wrap one end of the yarn around your index and middle fingers a few times.
- Remove your fingers and continue wrapping the yarn around, turning the wrapped yarn as you go.
- A ball will quickly form. Continue wrapping the yarn around the ball, rotating the ball every few wraps until you run out of yarn.
Remember to be gentle – you’re looking for a soft, springy, cushiony ball, not something as hard as a baseball.
Beginning Knitting Needles: Which Ones to Choose?
There are so many knitting needles to choose from, it can be overwhelming when you’re just starting. Do you need a wooden one or a metal one, a circular or double-pointed? And what size do you need? It’s actually a lot easier to pick a beginning knitting needle than you might think.
I use circular knitting needles almost exclusively. They allow you to knit in the round (when you’re making hats and sweaters) and they let you knit back and forth (such as when you’re making scarves and blankets). I only use double-pointed needles when knitting wrists and socks.
Everything that you knit with straight or double-pointed needles can be made with circular needles. There are things you can knit with circular needles that you can’t knit with straight or double-pointed needles. That’s why I recommend you start with circular knitting needles.
Recommended post: What are the Best Knitting Needles?
What Size Knitting Needles Should You Choose
If you look at the label on your yarn, you’ll find a suggested needle size. This is a good size to start with when you’re just beginning to learn to knit.
How to Knit: Holding Your Yarn and Needles
There are a variety of ways to hold yarn and needles. While it can be challenging and awkward to master when you are first learning to knit, the most important thing is that you use the method that works best for you.
You will need to experiment to see how you prefer to hold the yarn and needles. Is it easier for you to knit if you hold the knitting needles close to their tip? Do you prefer your yarn wiped twice around your little finger or not at all?
There is no right or wrong way to hold the yarn and needles. Find what is most comfortable and easiest for you. The only thing that matters is that your yarn flows smoothly over your fingers with an even tension.
Continental vs American/British Method
There are two basic methods of knitting: the American/British method and the Continental method. The main difference is which hand you hold the yarn in. In the American/British method, you hold the yarn in your right hand. In the Continental method, you hold it in your left hand.
I’m going to teach you how to knit using the Continental knitting method because it’s the faster way to knit and causes less shoulder pain.
Here’s a video showing how to hold the yarn for Continental knitting:
Basic Knitting Instructions
Now that you have your yarn and needles, it’s time to learn how to knit!
The first thing you have to do is get your yarn onto your needles. You do that by making a slip knot and putting a foundation row of stitches onto your needles by “casting on.”
How to Make a Slip Knot
The slip knot starts everything. It attaches the yarn to the needle in a way that makes it look like all of the other stitches.
You should place your slip knot 6 inches (18 cm) from the end of the yarn to leave a long enough end to weave in when you have finished your knitting project.
To make the slip knot:
- Make a small pretzel with the yarn: Wrap the yarn around itself to form a small circle, about the circumference of your finger. Place the shorter end of the yarn underneath the circle.
- Reach through the circle, lift up the shorter end of the yarn, and pull it partway through the circle.
- Pull down on both ends of the yarn to tighten the knot.
- Put your needle through the loop and pull down on both ends of the yarn to tighten the knot. The loop should be secure, but you should still be able to slide it on the needle.
The slip knot counts as your first cast on stitch.
Here’s a video to help you make a slip knot:
Casting on is an essential step in learning how to knit. It’s a term for putting the first row of stitches onto the needles so that you can start knitting.
There are many ways that you can cast on, and each method has its advantages and disadvantages. I wish how to cast on knitting for beginners was as simple as here’s one method that will work for every situation, but it isn’t. There isn’t a single cast on that works in every situation.
But there is one cast on that works well in most situations: the long-tail cast on. You may also see it called the double-strand method. Learn it and you’ll be able to knit almost anything.
When placing the slip knot, you need to allow approximately one half inch (1.25 cm) of yarn for every stitch that you need to cast on, plus at least 6 inches (18 cm) of yarn to weave in your yarn end when you are finished knitting. For example, if your knitting project calls for 10 cast on stitches, you will need roughly 5 inches of yarn plus 6 inches for weaving, or a total of approximately 11 inches of yarn before you place your slip knot.
Please note: This is merely a guide, not an exact measurement. It is meant to help you roughly estimate how much yarn you need and where to place your slip knot. The amount of yarn needed will vary per person. If you cast on very tightly or very loosely, you may need less or more yarn.
- After placing the slip knot on your needle, hold the needle with the slip knot in your right hand with your index finger on the slip know. With the tail of the yarn facing you, put your left thumb and left index finger between the two strands of yarn (the end attached to the skein is behind your left index finger). Hold the two strands of yarn against your palm with the other three fingers of your left hand.
- Spread your left thumb and index finger apart slightly so that there is a gap of a few inches between them.
- Insert the needle under the front loop of yarn on your left thumb, inserting it from the front to the back.
- Scoop the needle up and over the yarn and your left index finger, scooping the yarn back down through the loop of yarn on your left thumb.
- Drop the yarn off your left thumb. You’ve now cast on one stitch.
- Reinsert your left thumb between the two strands of yarn, and repeat steps 1-5 for each cast on stitch. With each stitch, move your right index finger to rest on the new stitch.
I know all of that can be confusing to learn, so here’s a video to help you:
Tips for casting-on:
- Each stitch on the right needle needs to be the same size. When you make each stitch, give it a little tug so that it is snug, but not so tight that you can’t move it easily.
- You want each stitch to be loose enough to work it, but not so loose that it falls off the needle.
- If you’re casting on a lot of stitches, it helps to count them by putting a stitch marker every 20 stitches.
- Once you’ve finished casting on, take the remaining tail and tie it into a small bow to avoid accidentally knitting your first row with it.
How to Knit Basic Knitting Stitches
There are two main stitches to learn to knit: the knit stitch and the purl stitch. They’re essentially the same stitch, but made differently. If you do a knit stitch and turn your knitting to see it from the back, your knit stitch from behind will look like a purl stitch. Vice versa for a purl stitch – from the front, it looks like a purl, but from the back it looks like a knit stitch.
With just these two stitches, you can learn to knit almost anything.
- Hold the needle with your cast-on stitches in your left hand. Wrap your working yarn (the yarn attached to the skein) around your left index finger. Place the other needle in your right hand.
- Insert the tip of the needle in your right hand from front-to-back into the first cast-on stitch in your left hand needle.
- Place the tip of your right hand needle over your working yarn with the working yarn to the left of the right hand needle tip.
- Gently pull your the right hand needle tip to the left, scooping the working yarn over the needle, and pulling the yarn through the first cast-on stitch.
- Slip the cast-on stitch off the left hand needle while holding a finger against the second cast-on stitch to make sure it doesn’t also slip off. The stitch on the right hand needle is your first knit stitch.
Here’s a great video showing how to knit a knit stitch step-by-step:
- Hold the needle with your cast-on stitches in your left hand. Wrap your working yarn around your left index finger. Place the other needle in your right hand.
- Bring your left index finger to the front of your left hand needle so that the working yarn is now in front of your cast-on stitches.
- Insert the tip of the right hand needle, from the back to the front, into the first cast-on stitch.
- Place the right hand needle over the working yarn, with the working yarn to the left.
- Scoop the right hand needle down and pull the yarn through the cast-on stitch.
- Slip the cast-on stitch off the left hand needle while holding a finger against the second cast-on stitch to make sure it stays on the needle. The stitch on the right hand needle is your first purl stitch.
Here’s a video to help you learn how to knit a purl stitch:
Tips for how to knit and purl:
- For the knit stitch, the yarn is to the back of the left hand needle. The right hand needle is inserted from the front to the back.
- For the purl stitch, the yarn is in front of the left hand needle. The right hand needle is inserted from the back to the front.
Binding Off – Casting Off
Now that you’re done knitting, you need to take your work off your needles, but we don’t want your stitches to unravel when you do. To do this, we bind off (also called casting off) the stitches.
- Knit 2 stitches.
- Insert the left hand needle into the first stitch on the right hand needle.
- Lift the first stitch over the second stitch and off the needle, being careful to keep the second stitch on the needle.
- Continue until all stitches have been cast off and one stitch remains on the right hand needle.
- Cut the working yarn, leaving a 6 inch tail.
- Pull the tail through the last stitch on the right hand needle, giving a little tug to secure it.
- Use a tapestry needle to weave the tail ends of the yarn through several stitches on the back (wrong side) of your project, making sure only to pick up surface loops (so that the tail can’t be seen on the front or right side of your project).
Here’s a video showing how to bind off:
Picking a Good Pattern for Beginners
What are easy knitting projects for beginners?
I think simple scarves, dishcloths, and hand towels are easy projects for beginners. They allow you to master the knit and purl stitches without needing to know more difficult stitches or construction methods. You don’t have to worry about sizing or fit, such as with sweaters and socks.
If you look at patterns, they list a suggested skill level. As a beginner, that tells you easily to skip anything that says “intermediate” or “advanced.” Look for something labeled “beginner” and you should be good to go.
For your first beginner projects, it’s probably best to go with patterns in written form. Charted patterns can be too challenging when you’re still learning stitches because they use symbols to represent stitches, are read in different directions (left-to-right and right-to-left) based on whether you are knitting in the round or knitting flat. Symbols also have multiple meanings when knitting flat, based on whether you are working the right or wrong side.
When you’re still learning how to comfortably do cast ons, knits, purls, and bind offs, why make things more complicated with a chart?
Written patterns are already in a language you understand. They tell you how many times to do each stitch without you having to count every little symbol. You don’t have to worry about which side you’re knitting or whether you’re knitting flat or in the round. Written patterns do the thinking for you.
Troubleshooting: Fixing Common Mistakes
Did you knit when you should have purled? Or purl when you should have knitted? No worries! You can fix it.
If it’s only a few rows back, you can deliberately drop the incorrect stitch down, and then pick it up correctly (see instructions below for dropped stitches).
But what if you’re mistake is really far back and involves a whole lot of stitches, all you can do is rip back. I know, I know, tears come to your eyes at the the though of having to tear our your hard work, but it happens to everyone. Shhh, I just did it last night. Don’t tell anyone. 🙂
- Put a safety pin or stitch marker through the last correct stitch so that you don’t accidentally rip back too far.
- Lay your knitting on a table and carefully remove the needle.
- Rip your yarn out until you are one row away from your safety pin, winding your yarn as you go.
- Carefully put the stitches back on the needle.
- Holding the needle with the stitches in your right hand, begin to unknit your stitches by knitting backwards, left to right, inserting your left hand needle into the stitch directly below the stitch on the right hand needle.
- Transfer the stitch to the left hand needle, gently pulling the yarn to free it from stitch you just unknit.
- Continue until you unknit back to the safety pin.
Here’s a video showing how to unknit:
- If you’re following a pattern, you will need to keep track of the number of rows your rip out.
- The final row must always be ripped out stitch by stitch. It doesn’t matter how much you are taking out.
If you drop a stitch, don’t panic. It’s easy to fix with a crochet hook.
- Have the knit side of the stitch facing you. (If the stitch you dropped was a purl stitch, simply turn your work so that the back is facing you and you’ll have the knit side facing you. Hint: the back of a purl is a knit.)
- Insert a crochet hook into the dropped stitch from front to back.
- If you look at your work, you’ll see horizontal yarn where your dropped stitch used to be. It’s like a ladder with a row of yarn for each row that your stitch has dropped. Use your crochet hook to catch the first row of the ladder and pull it through your stitch. Continue until your ladders are finished.
- Put the stitch back onto the left hand needle with the right side of the stitch on the front of the needle.
Here’s a video explaining how to pick up dropped stitches:
Now you should have a good foundation for knitting. It is a rewarding craft that is easier to learn than it first looks. It shouldn’t take you long to progress from a beginner to an intermediate, learning new stitches and skills along the way. I hope this article has helped you learn how to knit.