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How to Knit - The Basics of Knitting

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

Are you thinking about knitting but have no idea where to start? Do you want to know how to knit your own winter wardrobe consisting of sweaters, cardigans, hats and gloves? Perhaps you want to knit cute baby toys and blankets?

If you said yes to any of these, then continue reading to learn the basics of knitting so you can make all these things, and more!

First of all, you can’t knit without knitting needles! Personally, I’d recommend starting with some straight knitting needles, like the KnitPro Symfonie which can be purchased in a set or by individual needles. Straight needles are the most common needles used and you can make almost anything with them.

The best sizes to start with are medium-sized needles (4-5mm/US 6-8) since that fits most common-sized yarns (which will be mentioned in a bit), though you can try your hand at chunkier needles (6-8mm/US10-11) since some do find them easier since they are bigger and can be easier to manoeuvre with.

Now that you have your knitting needles, you will need some yarn to knit with! In this beautifully wide world, there are tonnes of different yarns to choose from. From lace to extra chunky, cotton to acrylic to wool, the options are endless making it quite overwhelming, especially if you’ve never bought yarn before.

Now, I’m sure there are guides out there about which yarn to use, but your knitting pattern will usually tell you which type of yarn to buy. If you’re a complete beginner and don’t have a pattern yet, start out by getting yourself some DK (double knit) or aran/worsted-weight yarn. You might hear DK referred to by its yarn weight, 8 ply, while aran/worsted-weight yarn is 10 ply. This just means that DK is a lighter yarn that consists of less strands.

In terms of what the yarn is made of, the main two fibres are acrylic and cotton so that is what we will focus on right now. Both acrylic and cotton yarns are durable and can be used in many projects. With that being said, cotton is the stronger of the two. It is also more heat resistant so if you’re making anything like coasters or trivets, make sure to use cotton, or else it might melt! Acrylic yarn, on the other hand, is more elastic and therefore is usually preferred for knitting most clothing items, whereas cotton yarn makes great stuffed toys. Though, it is completely up to you which type of yarn you choose! Both give off different textures so it really depends on your project. Acrylic is usually the cheaper of the two, so it is fine to use that for learning how to knit.

You’ve got your knitting needle, you’ve got your yarn… now here are the accessories you’ll need. As you get deeper and deeper into the knitting world, you’ll find a variety of different knitting accessories that you’ll require for different types of stitches and projects. As a beginner, you won’t be needing them quite yet, but let’s talk briefly about them just so you can start wrapping your head around it all.

Besides scissors, one common item you’ll need for most patterns are stitch markers. What are stitch markers? Well, they’re just that: they mark your stitches. Say you’re knitting something with different stitches and the pattern tells you to do stitch A for 10 stitches, then stitch B for 5, then stitch A for 10, and so on and so forth. Now, you could theoretically keep count of that in your head, but wouldn’t having something that just marks the place for you, so you don’t have to remember, be so much easier? That’s where stitch markers come in. You place them after your final stitch so you know where in the next row you need to change stitches. There are various different styles of stitch markers to choose from, so you might want to wait until you find a project that needs it to choose which one will work best for you.

Have you ever seen those fishermen-style sweaters where the yarn seems to go over and under itself? That’s called cable knitting and it is a bit of an intermediate knitting skill, so we won’t be getting into it too much. But in order to cable knit, you need cable needles. These needles come in either their regular shape (which sort of looks like a speed bump in the middle of a road) or U-shaped. Depending on the project you might prefer a certain shape. But essentially what they do is hold back a few stitches so that you can knit a few more and then go back to the stitches on the cable needle and knit those – this creates that effect of the yarn going over and under itself.

A must-have accessory, especially if you are knitting with straight needles, are darning needles. Darning needles look like regular hand sewing needles except they are chunkier, have a bigger threading hole (for yarn), and have a blunt tip so you shouldn’t poke yourself in the finger with them. Darning needles are essential if you knit something flat (which is what you do if knitting with straight needles) and need to sew it together or if you need to tuck in the ends of your yarn (which is required for any knitting project).

Now that you’ve got your knitting needles, yarn, and accessories, you’re ready to knit! Continue reading to learn the basic knitting stitches.

Basic Knitting Stitches

The most basic technique you need to know when knitting is casting on. Casting on is when you put the yarn onto the knitting needle. Knitting basically consists of making knots with your knitting needle and transferring those knots onto another needle by making more knots and those knots become a sweater (or scarf or gloves or whatever you're making). So casting on is essentially making knots onto your knitting needle.

There are many different types of cast ons and they can be quite difficult to learn. For now, we will focus on the most common one: the long tail cast on.

This method is a bit tricky to nail down at first but once you learn it, it comes naturally. The long tail cast on also gives elasticity to your edge, which is necessary when knitting things like neck holes and hat brims, and it gives your project a nice even edge. The downside to the long tail cast on is that you have to predict how much yarn you need to leave before casting on and sometimes it leaves you with too much or too little yarn at the end of casting on which means you’d need to take it all apart and re-cast on. But, the more you practice using this method, the better you will be at predicting how much yarn you’ll need to leave.

If you’ve got the cast on down, you can move on to the two basic stitches of knitting: the knit and purl. Basically, knits are inverted purls and vice versa. If you knit a panel and flip it over, the reverse side will be purls and if you purl, the reverse side will be knits. A good way to tell the apart when looking at a knitted piece is that knits are v-shaped and purls are a line (like a –).

When you knit, the tail is behind your project and your right knitting needle goes into the stitch behind your left needle. When you purl, the tail is brought to the front of the project and your right needle goes into the stitch in front of your left needle.

With the knit and purl stitches, you can make a variety of items from scarfs to hats to even pillow cases! But now that you’ve knitted all the way to the end of your project, you have to cast it off and tuck in the ends.

Like with casting on, there are a lot of different casting off methods. For the purpose of this being for beginners, we will focus on an easier method that gives you a stretchy edge.

After you’ve casted off, you need to tuck in all your ends. No, you cannot just tie a knot and cut the ends off! Knitted items often have to deal with a lot of wearing/using and washing so it is imperative that you tuck the ends in properly to ensure that your piece won’t unravel. To do this, you need a darning needle and scissors. Basically, you want to diagonally weave the ends into your project on the wrong side (the side that won’t show when you are wearing/using the item). You want to do this back and forth at least four times to make sure that the end won’t come out, therefore you should leave yourself a long tail of yarn at the end of a project so you have enough to weave with.

And there you have it! All the tools you’ll need to start your knitting adventure. I know this is a lot of information to take in and knitting can get quite frustrating at times and you might think that you’ll never be able to make such complicated designs, but you will! Like anything else, it takes practice!

For more knitting products, visit our Knitting Shop. For some inspiration of things to knit, follow us on Instagram @craftyllamauk. If you make anything, tag us so we can follow along with your knitting journey!

Have fun, and happy knitting!

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