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Similar to crochet, knitting appears to have rather mysterious origins. Although most types of needlecraft, like cross stitch and embroidery, have extensive pictorial and archaeological findings dating back through history, knitting’s origin is more of an estimation; predicted from fragments stored in museums across the globe.
Knitting only really depends on a few basic stitches and techniques to create simple designs. In fact, you only really need to learn two knitting stitches – the ‘knit stitch’ and the ‘purl stitch’ – to actually knit a whole piece. Alongside those stitches, this beginner’s guide will also teach you how to hold your needles and yarn, how to make a slip knot, how to perform a slip stitch, how to cast on, and how to cast off when you’ve finished.
For a knitting novice, the first step is learning how to hold your knitting needles. Afterwards, it’s important to learn how to secure your yarn, and then how to begin stitching using two basic stitches.
Really, there’s no ‘right’ way to hold your knitting needles. But if you’re an absolute beginner and have no idea where to start, here are a couple of methods that a lot of knitters usually choose.
1. Right Hand: In your right hand, hold the knitting needle as if you’re holding a pen or pencil.
2. Left Hand: In your left hand, hold the knitting needle lightly in a similar way; you need to use your index finger and thumb to control the needle’s point.
1. Right Hand: Hold your right hand over the knitting needle. Grip a third of the way down with your thumb and ring finger, and then rest your index finger on top.
2. Left Hand: Hold this knitting needle in the same way as the right knitting needle. Grip it with your thumb and ring finger, and then rest your index finger on top. You’ll control the tip of the needle with your index finger.
Similarly to holding your knitting needles, there are several ways you can hold the yarn. Below, we’ve listed two methods that beginners often find the easiest.
1. Move the yarn underneath your little finger on your right hand. Wrap it around your little finger, and then move it over your ring finger. Pass it underneath your middle finger, and then move it over your index finger. You’ll then use your index finger to move the yarn around the point of your knitting needle; your yarn-wrapped little finger will control the yarn’s tension.
2. On your right hand, move the yarn underneath your little finger, and then over your ring finger. Move it underneath your middle finger, and then over your index finger. Move the yarn around the tip of your knitting needle using your index finger; you can alter the tension of the yarn by tightening or loosening the grip of your little finger and ring finger against it.
Before casting on – or beginning your stitching – you need to create a ‘Slip Knot’ to secure the yarn to your knitting needle. This crucial first step gives you better control while you’re stitching.
1. On your left hand, wind the yarn twice around your index and middle fingers.
2. You should now have a back thread and a front thread. Using a knitting needle (in your right hand) pull the thread at the back through the thread at the front, forming a loop.
3. Tug the end of the yarn to tighten the loop, thus creating a slip knot!
‘Yarn Over’ (yo) is a frequent instruction found in knitting patterns, used to make an extra stitch on your knitting needle (and create an intentional hole in your work). Yarn over is usually used if the first stitch you made is a knit stitch, and the next stitch you’ll make will also be a knit stitch.
1. Move the yarn underneath your right-hand needle and up towards you. Then, bring the yarn over the top of your knitting needle – this time away from you.
All knitting projects begin by ‘Casting On’ (CO) first. This technique allows you to create your first knitted row of stitches. See it as a foundation chain that allows you to build up other stitches along it. Here, we’re going to look at the ‘cable method’ of casting on using two knitting needles.
1. Create a slip knot and move it onto your left hand’s knitting needle.
2. Move your right hand’s knitting needle into the slip knot, and then yarn over it.
3. Pull a new loop onto your right-hand needle.
4. Move the new loop onto your left hand’s needle.
5. Between those two stitches on your left-hand needle, insert your right-hand needle and wrap the piece of yarn around its tip.
6. Pull this loop through, and then move it onto your left-hand needle.
7. To create more stitches like this (or your ‘foundation chain’ of stitches) simply repeat steps 5 and 6 until you’ve created the amount of stitches you need (usually specified in the pattern).
The first basic stitch commonly used in knitting is the ‘Knit Stitch’ (K) – or ‘Garter Stitch’. Nearly all knitting patterns regularly feature the knit stitch, so it’s important to get to grips with it!
1. Your left-hand needle should be holding the foundation chain of stitches made during casting on. Hold that needle in your left hand and the other needle in your right hand, and then insert the right needle up into the first loop of yarn on the left-hand needle. The right needle should be crossed behind the left, with the yarn lying behind both.
2. Whilst holding the yarn tight with your thumb, yarn over the tip of your right-hand needle clockwise. The yarn should now be sitting in the middle of both needles.
3. Pull your right-hand needle back through the first loop of yarn. As you bring the needle towards you, the yarn should come too.
4. Carefully pull your right-hand needle through the loop, and then move it upwards. Gently push your left-hand needle down so that the foundation chain sits right along the point of the needle. Your right needle should now be sitting in front of your left needle.
5. You now have a knit stitch – or a loop – on your right-hand needle. Next, carefully slide the old loop off the tip of your left-hand needle.
6. Repeat these steps until you finish your first row; all the knit stitches should end up on your right-hand needle. To knit the next row, simply move your right-hand needle (holding all the stitches) over to your left hand, and repeat the whole process again.
The ‘Purl Stitch’ (P) is the second basic stitched widely used in knitting patterns, and is basically the reverse of the knit stitch. If you look at the reverse side of a series of purl stitch rows, you’ll see!
1. After casting on, your row of foundation stitches should be on your left-hand needle, while your right-hand needle is left empty. Insert your right needle down into the first loop on the left needle, so that the right-hand needle is crossed in front of the left.
2. The yarn should now hang down in between your needles. Using your thumb and index finger, hold down the first stitch on your left-hand needle to prevent it from slipping.
3. Yarn over your right-hand needle clockwise, so that the yarn comes between the needles and in front of your first loop.
4. Carefully move your right-hand needle through the loop, pulling it upwards away from the left needle. Be careful not to tug hard – you only want to take the first loop of yarn with you.
5. Gently move the purl stitch onto your right-hand needle, and slide the old loop off the tip of your left needle. You now have your first purl stitch!
6. Repeat these steps until you complete your first row of purl stitches; all of your stitches should now be on your right needle, and the left should be empty. To knit the next row, simply swap hands so that your right-hand needle is now in your left hand and your empty left-hand needle is now in your right hand. Then, repeat the process all over again.
The ‘Slip Stitch’ (sl st) is a common utility stitch used in knitting to help create different knitted shapes or stitch patterns. The stitch allows you to decrease the number of stitches you have on your needle, and is commonly found in knitting patterns under ‘Sl1K’ and ‘Sl1P’ abbreviations. This simple technique only has one step, but that step differs if you’re asked to slip a stich knitwise or purlwise. The slip stitch is usually performed purlwise, unless stated otherwise in your knitting pattern.
1. To slip a stitch purlwise, insert your right needle into the first stitch (or loop) on the left needle, just like you’d start a purl stitch. Instead of creating a purl stitch, simply move the loop over to your right needle.
2. To slip a stitch knitwise, put your right-hand needle into the first stitch (or loop) on your left-hand needle, as if you’re about to knit stitch. Again, Instead of stitching, simply move the stitch over to the right-hand needle.
‘Casting Off’ (CO) is similar to casting on, however instead of preparing stitches for knitting, you’re finishing off your last row of stitches after knitting – ensuring that your stitches won’t unravel.
1. Once you’ve completed your last row, hold the needle carrying all your stitches in your left hand, and the empty needle in your right hand. Begin by knitting two stitches from your left-hand needle over to your right-hand needle. In other words, make two knit stitches.
2. Insert your left-hand needle into the first stitch you made on your right-hand needle (the lower loop of the two on there).
3. Lift up this first loop with your left-hand needle. Move it over the loop above it, then over the top of the tip of your right-hand needle. Then, slide it off the tip of your left needle.
4. Knit another stitch from the left-hand needle (over to your right-hand needle), and then repeat steps 2 and 3 again. Continue this process until all the stitches on your left needle have gone. You should now only have one stitch left on your right-hand needle and no stitches on your left-hand needle.
5. Finally, cut your yarn so that you have a tail of around 6” left. Remove your needles and lightly pull the final stitch from your right-hand needle to widen it. Pull the tail of your yarn through the loop, and then pull it tightly to tie a knot in your work. The yarn is now secured!