A complete guide to knitting for beginners

Your knitting adventures start here! Relax and indulge in some quiet time to play with yarn and needles. In less than an hour, you’ll be a knitter...

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Knitting for beginners

Knitting really is easy when you know how, and this knitting for beginners guide will help you learn the basics, with clear instructions for all the main techniques. With a bit of practice, you’ll find that knitting is a fun and simple way to create cosy fabrics for all sorts of items. Here’s what you’ll discover in our beginner’s guide to knitting:

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All you need to get started is a quiet place, where you won’t be disturbed, and about an hour. You’ll also need a pair of needles and some yarn. Anything you can get your hands on should be fine, although we recommend you use a smooth wool or acrylic yarn, either double knitting (DK) weight with a pair of 4mm needles, or aran weight with a pair of 5mm needles. You can take a look at our recommendations for the best knitting needles, too.

The important thing to remember is that every knitter is different, and what works well for one might not suit another. There are also many styles of knitting, with different ways of holding the needles and working with the yarn to create knitted fabric. We’ll show you the most commonly used methods, but you should do whatever feels most natural for you. Just experiment until you find a comfortable way of performing each technique, and don’t worry if your preferred way is slightly different from ours, as long as the result is the same.

All the instructions in our knitting for beginners guide are for right-handed knitters. Some left-handed knitters will knit right-handedly, but if you’d like to knit left-handed, you’ll need to reverse our instructions (switching all ‘rights’ for ‘lefts’ and vice versa). You might find it helps to place the screen in front of a mirror and then you can copy the reflection of the images.

Are you ready? Then let’s begin!

Main image: Photo by Les Triconautes on Unsplash

How to start knitting

We’re going to show you each technique in the order you’ll use it, from cast-on to the knit stitch to cast-off. However, some people find the best way to learn is to ask someone else to cast on, then learn the knit stitch and how to cast off, then go back to learn how to cast on. We recommend a visit to a knitting group (many yarn shops hold sessions – it’s well worth asking) if you have any trouble, as someone will help you get started. There’s no right or wrong method, so do whatever works best for you. Good luck!

1. How to hold knitting needles

Pen Method

Grab a pair of knitting needles and practise holding them, one in each hand. One of the most popular ways to hold a pair of needles is the pen method. Hold the left needle approx 5cm from the point, as if you’re about to sharpen it like a pencil. In your right hand, hold the right needle as if you’re about to write with it like a pencil.

Knitting for beginners needles pen hold
Try holding your knitting needles as though you’re holding a pencil.

Knife Method

Alternatively, try holding the right needle like you would hold a knife. Place your index finger further down the needle, away from the thumb. If this doesn’t work for you either, just find a way that does! It may also change as you knit. Some knitters hold their needles like reins, while others even place one of the needles under their arm! However you hold the needles, try not to hold them too tight.

Knitting for beginners needles knife hold
Alternatively, you can hold your knitting needles like a knife.

2. How to hold yarn

Hold the yarn

When you first start knitting, you’ll probably hold the yarn by grasping it with all your fingers or resting it in the palm of your right hand. You’ll probably take your right hand off the right needle to move the yarn around the needle. This is called ‘throwing’ your yarn and it’s fine to do this when you’re starting out, although you might find it leads to a tight and uneven tension in your stitches.

Knitting for beginners holding yarn throwing
Try resting the yarn in the palm of your right hand.

Weave the yarn

Once you feel a bit more confident working the knit stitch, try weaving the yarn around your fingers. If you’re doing a lot of knitting, this method will help your fabric grow faster and more easily. Most knitters prefer to hold the yarn in this way, using the tip of the index finger to guide the yarn around the needle, without taking your right hand off the needle at all. Weave the yarn in and out of your fingers in a way that you find comfortable – some knitters wrap it around their little finger, too.

Knitting for beginners holding yarn weaving
Hold the yarn by weaving it around your fingers.

3. How to make a slipknot

Knitting is essentially a series of loops pulled through one another to create a fabric – so getting that first loop right is very important! The loop you’ll use to start your knitting project is called a slipknot and it’s super-simple to make. Read our walkthrough on how to make a slipknot for knitting.

4. How to cast on

Once you’ve got your initial loop you’re ready to create the first row of stitches – this is called the cast on row. There are numerous different cast-on methods, each with different qualities. Some, such as the cable cast-on, are used when you need a strong, firm edge. Others, such as the German twisted cast-on, are much more stretchy, making them ideal for cuffs and other places where a springier edge is needed.

In our guide to how to cast on knitting, we show you one of the most popular cast on methods, called knitting-on, and also introduce some other techniques and when you might want to use them.

5. How to do a knit stitch

The basic knit stitch is the foundation of all your knitting and the most important stich you’ll learn. The good news is that it’s easy to learn! Follow our tutorial on how to do a knit stitch to find out how it’s done.

Practice makes perfect, and it’s worth spending a while getting to grips with this stitch before moving on to anything else. Try knitting a pattern based on this stitch, such as our garter stitch cowl, to improve your confidence.

6. How to cast off

You’ve cast on and knitted some stitches, and now you’re ready to stop – but how? To finish your knitting you need to cast off (also called binding off in the US). Casting off gives your fabric a tidy edge and prevents it from unravelling. As with casting on there are many techniques you can use, from stretchy methods such as the sewn cast-off to smart, decorative versions including the tubular and i-cord cast-offs.

Our how to cast off knitting guide shows you the simplest technique, which is also the one you’ll use most.

How to pick up a dropped stitch

So you’ve lost a stitch somewhere – there’s no need to worry! All you need is a crochet hook and a little bit of know-how…

Even if they’ve been knitting for years, every knitter makes mistakes and has to ‘rip back’ or undo their knitting sometimes (also known in knitting terms as ‘frogging’ – ‘rip it’, geddit?). Knowing how to pick up a dropped stitch will make it much less scary when you do make an error. Here’s our guide to how it’s done:

What is a dropped stitch and how do I prevent it?

Dropping a stitch happens when a stitch slips off your needle as you’re knitting, leaving you with a loop that should be on a needle but isn’t. If it’s not picked up quickly, you’ll soon notice a hole.

What is a dropped stitch?
A dropped stitch is a stitch that has fallen off the needle, like this one.

Don’t panic, though – dropped stitches are not difficult to fix! A dropped stitch is easier to rescue when it occurs a row or two down from where you are, so pick it up again as soon as you can rather than letting it ladder.

As soon as you spot an error, make a note of how many rows back it is. That way, after you’ve repaired the mistake, you’ll find it easier to continue knitting from the pattern again.

The best thing you can do to help prevent dropped stitches is to look at your knitted fabric frequently. Check that you’ve got the right number of stitches on your needle according to your pattern. If you count them every couple of rows or so, you’ll soon notice if a stitch has disappeared.

Keep a couple of different sizes of crochet hook in your knitting kit, so you’re always prepared in case of disaster! Cheap, basic metal or plastic ones will work very well.

How to pick up a dropped knit stitch

If you’ve dropped a knit stitch, simply follow our step-by-step guide and the photos below to put things right.

Step 1

Insert your right-hand needle from front to back into the loop to stop it unravelling any further down. Now you’ve got the stitch on your needle.

Pick up a dropped knit stitch 1

Step 2

Next, pick up the loose strand of yarn above it. Slip the point of the right needle under the loose strand of yarn. The strand should sit behind the stitch.

Pick up a dropped knit stitch 2

Step 3

Insert the left-hand needle through the stitch. Lift the stitch over the strand and off the needle. You will have remade the dropped stitch.

Pick up a dropped knit stitch 3

Step 4

It’s on the wrong needle, so put the point of the left-hand needle through the front of the stitch and slip it on to the left-hand needle so it faces the right way.

Pick up a dropped knit stitch 4

How to pick up a dropped purl stitch

Step 1

Insert your right-hand needle from back to front into the loop to stop it unravelling any further down. Now you’ve got the stitch on your needle.

Step 2

Pick up the loose strand of yarn by slipping the point of the right needle, from back to front, under the loose strand of yarn. The strand should sit in front of the stitch.

Step 3

Insert the left-hand needle through the back of the stitch, then lift the stitch over the strand and off the needle. You will now have remade the purl stitch.

Step 4

It’s on the wrong needle, so put the point of the left-hand needle through the front of the stitch and slip it on to the left-hand needle.

How to pick up a dropped stitch several rows down

To put this right, you’ll need a crochet hook or two. Use a small one (try 3mm) for fine yarns, and a large one (5½mm) for thicker yarns. Always work from the knit side of your work, whether you’ve dropped a knit or a purl stitch.

Step 1

Knit up to the last stitch before the ‘ladder’. Look down the ladder to find the loop of the stitch. Insert the crochet hook from front to back through the loop of the dropped stitch. Use a hook smaller than your needles.

Fix a dropped stitch several rows down 1

Step 2

With the hook pointing up, insert it under the first ladder rung. These horizontal rungs correspond to the places where the vertical loops of your knitting usually are.

Fix a dropped stitch several rows down 2

Step 3

Pull the ladder rung through the loose stitch. Repeat until you’ve taken the stitch all the way back up. The further down your stitch was, the tighter the rungs will be, but try to get them through.

Fix a dropped stitch several rows down 2

Step 4

Now transfer the stitch from the crochet hook to your left-hand needle, without twisting it. Finish the row and you’re done! Don’t worry if the knitting looks a bit odd, the tension will work itself out.

Fix a dropped stitch several rows down 4

Types of knitting stitches

There are five main types of knitting stitches that you’ll encounter:

1. Knit and purl stitches

The knit stitch and purl stitch form the foundation of all knitted fabrics, and you’ll be amazed how many different patterns you can create using just these stitches.

You’ll use them to make the two most popular stitch patterns, garter stitch and stocking stitch, ribbing stitches for the stretchy cuffs and hems of garments, and to add decorative textures to your projects with stitch patterns such as moss stitch.

Little Purl Chevron stitch pattern
You’ll be surprised how many stitch patterns you can make with just knits and purls!

2. Increase and decrease stitches

If you want to knit anything other than a plain rectangle, you’ll need these stitches. Learning how to increase a stitch in knitting and how to decrease in knitting allows you to change the number of stitches on your needle to make a piece of fabric wider or narrower. These stitches are also used to create the pretty stitch patterns used in lace knitting.

The basic increase and decrease stitches every beginner needs to know are k2tog (knit two together – a right-leaning decrease), ssk (slip, slip knit – a left-leaning decrease) and yo (yarn over – the basic increase). There are lots more variations that you’ll come across, including double and even triple decreases, but for now these three simple stitches are all you need to take your knitting to the next level!

How to decrease
This is what right-leaning and left-leaning decreases look like in a piece of knitting.

3. Cable stitches

You’ve probably seen the beautiful woven cables of traditional gansey sweaters and wondered how they’re made. They may look incredibly complex, but cables really are easy when you know how – we promise!

A cable is simply a change in the order that the stitches are worked. You put a small number of stitches onto a cable needle and hold them in front of or behind the knitted fabric ready to be worked later. Using this simple principle you can create all kinds of stunning, intricate designs.

Cable Rib stitch pattern
Change the order in which you work the stitches on your needle to create cables such as this one.

4. Decorative stitches

The next category of knitting stitches is decorative stitches. This includes all sorts of creative stitches that you’ll use to add some extra flair to your knits. There’s loop stitches, for adding a fluffy look, raised stitches such as bobbles, nupps and puffs to provide texture, duplicate stitches for adding small motifs and fixing colourwork mistakes, and many more.

Not all of the decorative stitches you’ll encounter are knitted. Many knitters also make forays into other crafts, and embellish their projects with embroidery, crochet or even cross stitch. So if you have other skills, why not use them in your knitting?

Santa Hat Knitting Pattern
We’ve used loop stitch to create the fluffy brim of this Santa hat.

5. Colourwork

It’s not technically a stitch, but we couldn’t complete this section without mentioning colourwork! Colourwork is the term used to describe any knitting project that involves more than one colour of yarn. The first colourwork method you’ll learn is stripes – simply changing yarn at the end of a row. Another technique that’s great for beginners is slipped stitches. These can be used to create two-colour patterns that look elaborate but are easy to work.

Once you’ve mastered these you’ll be ready to try the two big colourwork techniques: Fair Isle and intarsia. Fair Isle knitting is used for small blocks of colour and typically involves switching back and forth between two shades on each row. Intarsia knitting is used for bigger blocks of colour – think ‘picture’ knits, such as children’s garments with characters on them, bold 1980s-style motifs, and so on. Both techniques tend to be worked in stocking stitch, but require special ways of holding your yarn and changing colours to ensure your fabric looks even and you don’t get in a tangle.

one ball knits free main
Our Fair Isle mug hug pattern is a fun introduction to colourwork knitting.

Types of knitting wool

All knitting wool is yarn but not all yarn is wool! For knitters the term ‘wool’ refers specifically to the fibre from a sheep. The term ‘yarn’ refers to any fibre used for knitting, including wool.

Yarns are categorised by weight, but this doesn’t mean how much they weigh on a set of scales – instead it refers to the thickness of the fibre. We recommend that beginners start with DK yarn, as it’s a medium thickness and easy to handle. Choose a thin yarn such as lace or a thick yarn such as super-chunky and you may find it harder to work with. For more on this topic, take a look at our yarn weight conversion chart and beginner’s guide.

Two fibres that are ideal for newbie knitters are wool and acrylic. These are both smooth and hard-wearing, so they can stand being ripped back and reknitted, and they’re good value for money too. Go for balls of yarn rather than hanks, otherwise you’ll have to wind your yarn into a ball before you can knit with it, which can be time-consuming.

Beginner knitters are best avoiding cotton, because it doesn’t have much natural stretch (although it’s great for new crocheters!), as well as novelty yarns such as fur, which make it hard to see your stitches.

Knitting yarn
Hanks of yarn (right) need to be wound into balls (top left) before they can be used.

Best yarns for beginners

Here are some suggestions for first yarns to try:

1. Cascade 220 Superwash (100% wool, DK)

This high-quality pure-wool yarn comes in more than 100 different colours.

2. Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino (55% wool, 33% acrylic, 12% cashmere, DK)

Treat yourself to a luxurious cashmere blend. It’s a joy to work with!

3. Hayfield Bonus DK (100% acrylic, DK)

This popular yarn is great value and ideal for practising your stitches.

4. King Cole Merino Blend DK (100% wool, DK)

A fantastic budget option. It also comes in 4ply, aran and chunky weights.

5. Stylecraft Special DK (100% acrylic, DK)

A perennial favourite amongst knitters, you can’t go wrong with Special DK!

Knitting essentials for beginners

There are only three things you need to start knitting: needles, yarn and a pair of scissors. However, as you progress there are a few other tools you’ll want to keep in your knitting bag. Look out for knitting toolkits that include all the accessories you need in one handy carry case, or buy them individually when you require them.

1. Tape measure

Measure your tension and more. A clear straight ruler is also handy.

Buy Pony Mini Spring tape measure from John Lewis

2. Tapestry needle

You’ll need one of these to sew up pieces of knitting. A regular sewing needle won’t do the job!

Buy Knit Pro tapestry needle set from LoveCrafts

3. Stitch holder

Useful for making garments where you may need to set stitches aside to work later.

Buy Korbond stitch holder set from Create and Craft

4. Needle gauge

Want to know what size that unidentified needle is? A gauge will tell you.

Buy Clover knitting needle gauge from Deramores

5. Stitch markers

Keep your place in more complex patterns using these handy clip-on markers.

Buy Clover locking stitch markers from Minerva Crafts

6. Crochet hook

Yes, every knitter needs one of these! Use it to pick up dropped stitches and more.

Buy Pony Easy Grip crochet hook from LoveCrafts

As you advance your knitting skills you may also need a ball winder and swift (for turning hanks of yarn into knittable balls), tools for blocking your knitting, and wool wash to keep your finished knits in tip-top shape. That’s not to mention all the beautiful knitting needles there are to choose from, including super-sharp lace needles, luxury wooden needles, interchangeables and more!

Knitting patterns for beginners

We have some great patterns to get you started on your knitting journey! Find more first project ideas in our beginner knitting patterns collection.

1. Garter stitch cowl

Get to grips with the knit stitch and make yourself a cosy neckwarmer from our garter stitch cowl pattern. It uses chunky yarn and big needles so it’s easy to see your stitches – and you’ll be finished before you know it!

garter stitch scarf
Make your first knitted garment with our chunky garter stitch cowl pattern.

2. Stripy placemat

Have a go at simple stripes with this knitted placemat pattern and add some colour to your dinner table. It’s worked entirely in garter stitch, which means you can focus on getting those colour changes just right.

Free knitted placemats pattern
Add some colourful fun to dinner time with garter stitch stripes and tassels.

3. Textured phone cover

Protect your mobile from bumps and scratches with our quick-knit phone cover. The beautiful stitch pattern is created using only knits and purls – easy peasy! You’ll also try sewing up seams and adding a button.

phone cover knitting pattern main
It looks complex, but it’s not! If you know how to knit and purl you can create this stitch pattern.

How to read knitting patterns

Every publication presents their knitting patterns slightly differently, but there are a few key elements you’ll see again and again.

1. Materials list

This tells you what you need to finish the project (yarn, needles and other supplies), and lists stockists who sell the products mentioned.

2. Tension

Find out how many stitches and rows will create a 10x10cm square using the yarn and needles given in the pattern. Make sure your own tension matches this figure (by knitting a test swatch and changing to bigger or smaller needles if necessary) or you could run into trouble!

3. Abbreviations

Most patterns refer to a set of standard knitting abbreviations printed elsewhere, like the knitting abbreviations list we use here on Gathered, then include any special or unusual abbreviations in this section.

4. Diagram/schematic

This shows you the shapes and sizes of the knitted pieces you’re creating. It’s particularly handy when you want to see how the pieces fit together and how big they should be after blocking.

5. Size guide

If you’re making a garment you need to know which size to choose, and the size guide will give you all the information you need. Many patterns also use colour coding to help you tell the different sizes apart.

6. Charts

Colourwork, cable and lace patterns will often include charts because many knitters find these easier to follow than written patterns, especially for more complex designs. Learning how to read charts in knitting patterns is well worth the effort!

7. How-tos

If the pattern includes something that requires a little more knowledge, such as a tricky stitch or special technique, you might see a how-to or step-by-step instructions to guide you through.

8. Pattern instructions

This is the most important bit – the pattern itself! Make sure you read it through before you begin, so there aren’t any suprises later on. Knitting patterns use abbreviations to help keep them brief and concise, but they’re easier to decode than you might think at first glance. Read on to find out more…

Understanding knitting abbreviations

Knitting patterns can look like they’re written in another language, but with our help you’ll soon become fluent. Below are some of the most common terms you’ll encounter and what they mean, and take a look at our complete guide to knitting abbreviations for the rest.

K knit (the basic knit stitch)

P purl (the basic purl stitch)

st stitch

g st garter stitch (knit every row)

st st stocking stitch (alternate between knit and purl rows)

k2tog knit the next two stitches together (1 stitch decreased)

ssk slip 2 stitches one at a time, knit 2 slipped stitches together (1 stitch decreased)

yo yarn over (1 stitch increased)

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We hope that this beginner’s guide to knitting has inspired you to pick up some needles and yarn and cast on your first project! Head to our knitting section for more how-tos and project ideas.

More beginner knitting guides

Enjoyed this knitting for beginners guide and ready to learn more? Our tutorials will help you take your first steps in knitting.

Stockinette stitch (stocking stitch)