Introduction: How to Knit

Picture of How to Knit

How to knit is one of the more common requests for Instructables, and there are so far only a few addressing knitting. This is an attempt to show the basics, and is in no way comprehensive but should get you started.

All you need to learn is some yarn and a pair of needles. In this Instructable I've used medium weight yarn and somewhat large needles, so the interlocking loops would be clearer. Most knitting is done somewhat tighter than this.

Step 1: A Little Bit of Theory

Picture of A Little Bit of Theory

All that knitting really is, is a series of interlocking loops. Let's take a look at the front pic again. I used yellow thread in one row to make it easier to see how the loops interact. The second pic shows the same piece from the other side.

The first pic shows the knit side, and the second pic shows the purl side. A purl stitch (it's spelled with a u but pronounced just like pearl) is exactly the same as a knit stitch except it's worked from the opposite side. The smoother side that looks like interlocking V's is facing you when you are knitting, and the bumpy side that looks like interlocking U's is facing you when you purl.

To start knitting, you'll need to "cast on", or fill up a knitting needle with starter loops. Then you'll knit some number of rows until the piece is the size you want. Then you'll "cast off", or close out all the loops so the knitting doesn't come unraveled again.

There are also varieties of ways to hold the needles and yarn. In this Instructable I'm using and discussing the Continental method, which basically just means the free yarn end is held in the left hand (pic 3). This end can also be held in the right hand, which is more common in the USA but to my mind a bit less efficient.

Step 2: Casting On

Picture of Casting On
There are several different ways to cast on. The one shown here is versatile and sturdy, although not the absolute simplest one (which tends to unravel itself causing consternation, grief, and dropped stitches). Instructabler BrianSawyer has written up his technique.

Here's a video of the process:

And for those who prefer text and static images:

Start by making a slip knot, leaving a length of yarn about 3 times the finished width of your project as a tail. Put the slip knot on one needle, in your right hand if you're right-handed (I am - lefties you can try it this way or reverse it, whichever works for you). Hold the long tail in your left hand, wrapping it around your first finger as in the first picture.

Next, slip the point of the needle under the loop on your finger, so that both your finger and the needle are in the loop (pics 2 & 3). With your right hand, grab the yarn end from the ball or skein, and bring it over the finger loop, between your finger and the needle (pics 4, 5, & 6).

Holding the right-hand yarn piece down, slip the loop off your finger and over the tip of the needle (pics 7, 8, & 9). Pull gently on the left-hand yarn end to close up the loop, forcing the other yarn end (held by your right hand) to loop around the needle (pics 10 & 11).

You now should have two stitches on your needle, as the first slip knot counts as the first stitch.

Continue this way until you have enough stitches. For a learning swatch, 12 or 16 is plenty. I went crazy and ended up with 32!

Step 3: The Knit Stitch

Picture of The Knit Stitch
As I mentioned earlier, there are two basic stitches in knitting, based on which direction you're pulling the yarn through the loop in. One way is called knitting, the other way is called purling. In either case, stitches are worked from the left-hand needle to the right-hand needle. When that's full and the left needle is empty, switch hands.

Here's how to make a knit stitch:

Holding the yarn in your left hand as shown. Wrap the tail of the yarn through your fingers in some way that feels natural - the goal is to hold it taut but not so tight that you can't pull more out as needed. Some wrap it twice around the pinky.

Insert the right-hand needle through the first (or next) loop on the left needle (pic 1). With your left forefinger, wrap the yarn around the right needle counter-clockwise (pic 2). You can also think of this as slipping the needle behind the yarn.

Keeping the yarn around the needle, bring it back through the first loop, so that the left hand's yarn comes through too (pics 3 and 4). It's easier to do than to describe!

Finally, slip the original loop off the left needle, keeping the new loop on the right needle (pic 5). You have made one knit stitch!

Step 4: Purling

Picture of Purling
The purl stitch is the knit stitch, backwards. Instead of starting from the front and pulling a loop from the back of the work through to the front, you start from the back and pull a loop through from the front. Here's a video:

Pic 1 shows the position of the left-hand yarn, in front of the work. From this position, insert the right-hand needle from the back of the work towards you through the stitch on the left-hand needle (pics 2 and 3).

Now wrap the yarn around the needle counter-clockwise, or up over the needle and around to the left (pics 3 & 4). Catch the yarn with the tip of the right needle and pull it through the loop (pics 5, 6 & 7). It helps in this manouevre to tilt the left needle tip towards you.

Finally, slip the old loop off the left needle, keeping the one you pulled through it on the right needle (pics 8 & 9). You've completed a purl stitch (pic 10)!

Step 5: Casting Off

Picture of Casting Off
So you've knitted and purled and knitted and purled, and you are done. How do you stop, without leaving all those loops loose to be unraveled?

Video of casting off:

I unaccountably missed taking pictures of all but the very last stitch, I will try to redo them soon.

When you're ready to cast off, hold the work as if you were going to knit another row. Knit (knit is a bit easier than purl but you can cast off purl-wise too) one stitch. Slip that stitch back onto the left-hand needle. Now, knit one more stitch, but instead of sticking the right needle through just the last stitch on the left needle, stick it through two - the one you slipped onto it and the one beyond. Pull the loop through both stitches. You now have one stitch on the right needle, but you've made two knits - see how this is going?

Work the whole width in this manner. At the end, you 'll have one stitch remaining. Cut your yarn and pull the cut end through this loop to lock it, and pull tight. (Pics are of this last loop)

Check out BrianSawyer's Binding Off Instructable as well, he's got better pictures than I do here.

Step 6: More Stuff

Picture of More Stuff

Some useful terms:

  • Garter Stitch: when you knit a row, and turn and knit again, instead of purling. This makes a crosswise ribbing that has a lot of vertical stretch. The first pic shows a few rows of garter stitch.
  • Stockinette Stitch: when you knit a row, and turn and then purl a row. Most things are made this way, it's got all the knit-looking stitches one one side and all the purl-looking stitches on the other.
  • Ribbing: A vertical alternation of knits and purls. Commonly found on the edges of sweaters - wrist, hem, neckline. I don't have a picture of this yet but you probably have examples around the house.
  • Dropped stitch: this is actually a mistake, when you slip a stitch off the left-side needle without already having pulled another loop through it. If you notice you've done this, stop and go back to fix it as it will cause a run, or ladder - it'll unravel a row all the way down.
  • Decreasing: the general case of casting off. Usually this is used when you don't want to finish off all the stitches, but just some, as when you're working a curved edge like a neckline.

Happy Knitting!


set2Xplode made it! (author)2015-11-18

This looks cool, I'm going to give it a go but tell me.... Will I be able to do it with my busted thumb?

calskin (author)2013-12-09

I've been holding the yarn with my right hand this whole time and it requires that I take my hand off the right needle to wrap the needle. I've been trying to think of a way to speed up and I just had an epiphany while watching your knit stitch video which is: hold the yarn with your left hand dummy!

Thanks for that!

786Ayesha (author)2013-11-30

Loads of thanks.I learnt a lot from here,and going to publish my first knitting ..

craftycat721 (author)2012-01-16

Yes! thank you for this instructable! I do 4-H and some of the requirements are to have things like ribbing and stockinette stitches. So thank you!

pppoootttzzz (author)2010-12-22

Just finished my first scarf due to this instructable. Thank you so much for the help. This is the best guide I've found so far.

sharon0232 (author)2010-11-20

Guess what!!!!! i know how to knit now!!!!!! ;)

omnibot (author)2010-11-08

Yay! Learned how to knit! Thanks.

PKTraceur (author)2010-01-30

 Could I make needles out of a plastic coat hanger? Sharpen the ends into a dull point...

Great 'ible!

PKTraceur (author)PKTraceur2010-01-31

 Ah, nevermind, I just found my  grandmothers needles...

Canadian in mm's measurment...


shingonzo (author)PKTraceur2010-06-01

that would bake  a cool ible if you did decide to do it.

d1sh (author)2010-03-11

Dear god!  I don't think there is any chance of my brain learning this. 

jonnis (author)2010-02-18

Finally a comprehensive guide/'ible to knitting... 


dwcarr (author)2010-01-09

Thank you so much!   I use to knit years ago but forgot how to cast on.  I was only doing the first part of the looping and it did not work. 

Now I can knit again!!


evank (author)2010-01-09

Thanks so much for this! I spent the last two days searching via google for any coherent and clear directions for a beginner with no luck until I remembered instructables.  Your pictures in combination with your text really made it clear, and the video  helped me understand any transitional steps the pictures didn't cover.

bazookaromz (author)2009-12-16

 this was SUCH a great instructable! I'm so proud of myself for having learned a little! 

thanks for this :) :) i'll be adding you to my favorites!

cassandraprice (author)2009-12-04

 i just knitted my first item. a green pot holder. thank you!! :]

shredbetty (author)2008-12-04

How do you switch from knitting the first row to purling the next row. I wish your purl instr./pics started from the end of the first row instead of in the middle. I'm learning to knit from you! Thank you!

 yeah i was a pretty confused when i got to this point. i improvised and went all the way to the end then just switched needles/hands and started to purl.. i have no idea if this is correct but it is working.. i also am learning here.. thanks!!
i've made a green pot holder so far :]

rachel (author)shredbetty2009-01-23

shredbetty, sorry it took me so long to reply, and hopefully you have figured this out already. But all you do at the end of one row, is turn the needles around and switch hands. So the needle with all the new stitches on it from your last row, moves from your right hand to your left, and the newly empty needle moves from your left hand to your right, ready for more stitches.

PKTraceur (author)2009-07-11

Okay, I'm thoroughly confused. I can cast on 16... casts (?) in 20 seconds. But once I stick the needle under/through the first cast, and then wrap, Im lost. Help? (Also, I dont know if you crochet, but what size hook do I need for RedHeart Classic yarn?) -PKT

PKTraceur (author)PKTraceur2009-07-11

What is the use of such a large tail, (Tail as in, what im assuming to be, the leftover of the slipknot.)

thepelton (author)2009-02-15

Thank you for putting this in. I have downloaded it for further study.

gizmology (author)2009-01-22

Wow! I have looked at all kinds of "how to knit" videos that I found by googling, and there are all sorts of approaches in the how-to, but not one of them was close to as good as this one looks! Not only do you have it three ways -- written directions, pictures, AND video, but your video moves are slow, clear, and easy to follow with the large needle and loose stitches. I had pretty much given up on knitting and decided I would just crochet for the rest of my life, but your Instructable has given me the inspiration to try again! Thanks so much! :)

rachel (author)gizmology2009-01-23

Why thank you, that is a lovely thing to say! Post a picture of what you end up making!

chi (author)2008-10-11

please help !
what am I supposed to do with the remaining yarn ar the end and beginning ?? i did a scarf but it has yarn hanging out of it ... =( i hope i made myself clear with my problem... greetings from mexico =)

rachel (author)chi2008-10-17

Get a tapestry or crewel needle, with a blunt tip and a big hole, and just weave the ends back into the knitting. You can cut them off to about 4 or 5 inches, it won't come out. For a scarf, another option is to make fringe. Cut a bunch of pieces of yarn twice the length you want the fringe to be, and knot them through the ends of the scarf.

gweedoh! (author)2008-10-17

oh man, this was awesome! I'm totally jacked up today, and your instructions were really direct. the video and pic an written method was perfect. I have a good 4 inches of knitted stuff and it was a lot easier that I thought!

Sunny124613 (author)2008-07-20

I really needed to learn how to purl stitch thanks!!!! 5 STARS!

Doctor What (author)2008-06-07

Yay! I finally picked up some needles and some yarn today. I can't wait to get started.

rocotillo (author)2008-01-19

i started to knit for my first time ever today.four inches of scarf in three will be summer time when i finish head is still spinning.but i loved it.

Shifrin (author)2008-01-03

My grandma nits this way, she does it a bit different, but its a small difference, great instructable!

jessyratfink (author)2007-11-27

I have to ask because I'm having a hard time. I'm great at casting on, I okay at the knit stitch but I feel like it never looks right. The back gets all puffy and rides up onto the needle... and when I get to the last cast on stitch, the slipknot, I never really know what to do with it. Am I supposed to treat it like the other stitches? It never looks right when I do.

rachel (author)jessyratfink2007-11-27

Yep, the slipknot stitch is just like the rest, in theory anyway. It never looks exactly like the rest but it's usually not noticable by the time you're done with the project. I'm not sure about the puffiness you mention and the riding up on the needle, could it be a tension difference? Your first row of knit stitches is maybe tighter than the caston row? If you have a picture, post it and I'll see if I can help you figure it out.

Lunarius (author)2007-11-21

I told my mom about Instructables, and in turn she pointed me toward your knitting guide. I'm really blown away by how simple you've made the Continental style -- I was having a devil of a time learning it, and now I'm knitting and purling away with almost the same speed and skill as I had with the English style of it. Thanks a ton! :D

rachel (author)Lunarius2007-11-21

Thanks, that's so nice of you to say! I'm glad it helped you.

pcneifert (author)2007-11-07

hey i had a question, when you get done with you first stitch what do you do? do you start to do the other side or what please help me!

rachel (author)pcneifert2007-11-08

Not sure I understand your question :( When you're done with the first stitch, you do the second stitch... when you're done with the first row, you turn the needles around, switch hands, and start the second row... if this isn't helpful, comment again with more detail about the trouble you're having.

Helenism (author)2007-10-19

Thank you! I was always on the lookout for easy instructions on how to knit, and yours seems very thorough and detailed. I appreciate the hard work! I was trying to learn how to knit from my mom, but she said she forgot a lot due to lack of practice... we ended up with a couple mistakes on my test run... :oP Oh well... I love my mommy~<3 Haha!

TraumaComet (author)2007-10-13

This is very easy to understand. Thanks! I have been trying to teach myself from a knitting book written in the 60's and it was melting my brain! Then I read this, and it all fell into place!

rachel (author)TraumaComet2007-10-14

Thanks, that's kind of you to say! I'm glad it's helping you.

About This Instructable




Bio: I run Neal's CNC in Hayward, CA, an expert CNC cutting and fabrication service. Check out what we do at ... More »
More by rachel:Bench-Go-RoundFix a Rusted SculptureDistressed Metal Commemorative Plaque
Add instructable to: