Learn to Knit

Since I’ve been teaching knitting for a while now, I thought it would be useful to gather together a collection of resources for students to reference after the class ends. I can always be contacted through the blog if you have questions, and I will keep updating this page as new resources or corrections come to hand.

Gizmodo has a great tutorial (absolutely the last place I’d expect to find a knitting tutorial, gold star to them!), with animated GIFs to demonstrate each step. Unfortunately, the cast on they demonstrate is the long tail cast on, which is probably more complex than most beginners will be comfortable with.

Starting with a a knitted or cabled cast on would be my recommendation, as even though these are not the simplest methods available, they do introduce the skills you will need for the knit stitch, and therefore they provide a better foundation skill.

Brooke’s Magic Sproingy Cast On is my absolute favourite for both ease of execution and the super stretch edge it delivers, but beginner projects are more likely to call for a more stable edging.

Quick video here – more detailed video on my Pattern Support page.

The Knit Stitch

Each loop on your needle that you have cast on (including the slip knot if you started with one), will now be referred to as a “stitch”.

Each stitch sits on your needle with a “leg” on Esther side. With the needle in your left hand, and the tip of the needle pointing to your right, we will refer to the legs of the stitches facing you as the “front” leg.

As you knit each stitch, you will insert your needle from the left hand side of the front leg, underneath the needle and out towards the back of the work to the right hand side of the back leg of the stitch. Your right hand needle will travel between the legs of each stitch, from front to back, from left to right.

Next, wrap the working yarn around the right hand needle from left to right in a clockwise direction. Holding the working yarn and the needle together, pull the loop you have just made through to the front of the work, being careful not to let it fall of the needle. Once the loop is at the front of the work, you can then slip the foundation loop off the left hand needle. Congratulations, you have just knit your first stitch!

Though there is infinite variation in knitting, every stitch of every knitted item is merely a variation of the stitch you have just learned how to make.

A handy rhyme for remembering each of these steps that I like (especially when teaching bloodthirsty kids) has a piratical theme.

  • Stab them
  • Hang them
  • Throw them off the plank

Experienced knitters will develop a flow with their knitting so that each of these three steps becomes almost indistinguishable from the others, with each stitch seeming to fly off the needles. In order to get to this level of intuitive and effortless knitting, the most important thing to master is the way you hold your knitting needles and your working yarn. Tensioning the working yarn is something that is completely individual, and something that you will have to work out for yourself. What works for me isn’t necessarily what is going to work for you, and though your handedness is something worth considering, many right handed people will choose to knit continental style, and many left handers are quite comfortable knitting English style.
Loosely, “English” refers to managing the working yarn in the right hand, and “Continental” refers to holding the working yarn with the left hand. “Picking” means using your needle to “grab” onto the working yarn with your right hand needle, and pulling it through to create a stitch, and “throwing” refers to the action of using your fingers to wrap the yarn around the needle. As with which hand you hold the working yarn in, the difference between picking and throwing is down to individual preference, and there is absolutely no right or wrong way to perform the knit stitch.
While you’re learning how to tension your yarn (if you’re interested in learning how to knit the Continental method) you may find it useful to grab a crochet hook and some yarn and practice making a crochet chain. While you work on finding a method of wrapping the yarn around your fingers and hand, you’ll want to find a path to wrap the yarn that feels comfortable, and allows the yarn to flow through the fingers when you need it to, but allows you the control to be able to keep a firm hold when you need the working yarn to be constrained.
The Purl Stitch
Ordinarily, knitting projects are knit from right to left, and the work is turned at the end of every row. If you knit every row, you will end up with a fabric that has bumps on each row, this is called garter stitch fabric. To create a fabric that is smooth on one side (stocking stitch, sometimes called stockingette), you will need to either learn to perform the knit stitch from left to right (perfect for people who are naturally ambidextrous), or learn the Purl stitch, which is effectively the same as a knit stitch, but executed from the reverse side of the fabric.
Insert the right hand needle into the stitch from right to left, back to front. Wrap the stitch from right to left over the right hand needle, in an anti-clockwise direction. Holding the working yarn snugly, pull the new stitch through to the back of the work, and then work the foundation stitch off the left hand needle.
Cast Off
Like casting on, there are numerous ways to cast off. As illustrated in the Gizmodo video above, this basic cast off with provide a firm and stable edge, suitable for any project that doesn’t require a stretchy edge.
Knit (or purl) two stitches, then pick up the first stitch and drop it over the second stitch. Knit one more stitch, drop the second stitch over the third. Keep working in this manner until you reach the final stitch. Measure out at least 20cm of yarn from the working yarn, and cut the yarn. Thread the yarn through the final loop, and pull snugly.
The “tail” at the end of your work can be woven through the cast off edge with a tapestry needle to hide it, or used to sew up your work. Sew in the tail from your cast on edge, and your knitting is done!
For a professional finish, most projects will benefit from a gentle bath in warm water. You can use a little shampoo if your yarn feels greasy or needs a clean, or conditioner if you’d like to soften it up a little. Once out of the bath, squeeze gently to remove excess moisture, then press between layers of clean towel. You can then pin the work to shape, or gently tug to shape and leave to dry in the shade. This blocking process will allow your work to relax, and will often even out slightly wonky looking knitting.
Celebrate your accomplishment!
Although knitting can seem effortless when you watch an accomplished knitter, remember that every stitch you perform is reinforcing a new pathway in your brain. When you begin, like any new skill, learning to knit can be very frustrating, and may seem quite counterintuitive. Persistence when things get hard will eventually get you to a place where each stitch flows, but if you need to take a break, do so!
Sometimes changing hands can be worthwhile, sometimes just taking a break for a glass of water, or maybe a stretch. You’ll be using your muscles in a new way, and it is normal to feel a little stiff after a period of intense work. If you find that you are repeatedly sore in a particular muscle, it may be worth trying a new method, and perhaps having a chat with a Physio or Osteo about the ergonomics of your method. While each stitch is an accomplishment, in order to make a garment, you’ll enjoy the process a lot more if you can knit comfortably!
And when you get to the point that you can knit without having to concentrate on what you are doing, you can use your knitting as a tool for Cognitive Anchoring. Well before I knew it was a thing, my knitting became my constant companion, and allowing me to escape “Death by PowerPoint” on many occasions.
What’s next?
Once you are comfortable knitting and purling, you can start to take on some nw challenges like lace, cabling, learning to read patterns and charts, and a whole world of creating will open up to you.
Check out Ravelry and create an account. Start to gather some favourite projects, and research what sort of skills you will need to learn before you cast on. Connect with your local Guild or Creative Fibre group, join a knitting group, and you’ll reap the benefits of connection and support that generations of knitters have enjoyed. Congratulations, you are one of us.

Some recommend beginner patterns

Christine’s Stay On Booties – perfect for keeping tiny toes toasty.

Milo – a simple baby/kids vest with some cool techniques, well explained.

Ten Stitch Blanket – a fun way to knit a blanket, just ten stitches at a time. Pattern is easily memorised, and makes great tv knitting. Also a brilliant project for learning to knit (purl) backwards.

Time Traveller Sock toe up with a firm gauge, well described instructions, and a timeless, classic, well fitting design.