Knitting 101: Learn the Basic Tools, Stitches, and Techniques
Now is a great time to take up knitting. Not only is it a relaxing hobby you can do at home, but knitting can also help reduce depression and anxiety. We've got all resources you need to get started including easy-to-follow illustrations. Whether you're wondering how to size a pattern or simply need to see how to cast-on, this helpful guide to knitting makes it easy to pick up your needles and yarn. We're also sharing our picks for inexpensive beginner knitting needles and thread. Reading instructions and curious about what those common knitting abbreviations mean? Check out our complete guide of the most-used knitting terms.
Sizes for most Better Homes & Gardens knitting projects are noted in the instructions. When one size is written out in capitalized letters, it is to note the size of the modeled garment. The instructions are written for the smallest size with changes for larger sizes in parentheses. When only one number is given, it applies to all sizes. For ease in working, before you begin, circle the numbers pertaining to the size you are knitting or crocheting.
Metric Conversions: To convert inch measurements to centimeters, multiply the inches by 2 ½.
Skill Level Rating Key
- Beginner: Projects for first-time knitters are labeled "Beginner." These patterns use basic stitches, minimal shaping, and very simple finishing.
- Easy: Projects labeled "Easy" use basic stitches, repetitive stitch patterns, simple color changes, and simple shaping and finishing.
- Intermediate: Projects labeled "Intermediate" use a variety of techniques, such as cables and lace or color patterns, with midlevel shaping and finishing.
- Experienced (Advanced): Projects labeled "Experienced" use advanced techniques and stitches, with detailed shaping and refined finishing.
Knitting requires at least two knitting needles to make the knitted fabric. Knitting needles usually are pointed at one end and have a knob at the other. They're available in plastic, bamboo, wood, steel, and aluminum (like these Anodized Aluminum Knitting Needles, from $4, Michaels). The needle you choose affects the gauge, or stitches and rows per inch, of your finished knitting.
Most knitting projects include a gauge notation. The gauge, or the number of stitches or rows per inch, is determined by the size of the needles and the weight of the yarn. Always work a gauge swatch (below) to see whether your tension equals the gauge specified in the instructions. If you have too many stitches per inch, you are working too tightly: Change to larger needles. If you have too few stitches per inch, you are working too loosely: Change to smaller needles. For practice sessions, choose medium-size needles (size 8 or 9) and a smooth, light-color yarn (like this Cotton Yarn, $15, Walmart) so you can see your work easily.
To make a gauge swatch: Using the recommended needles and yarn, cast on a few more stitches than the number indicated by the gauge printed on the yard band for 4 inches (10 cm). Work the pattern for at least 4 inches. Loosely bind off or remove the swatch from the needles. Place a ruler ($14, Joann) over the swatch; count the number of stitches across 1 inch and the number of rows down 1 inch, including fractions of stitches rows. If you have too many stitches and rows, switch to larger needles; if you have too few stitches, use smaller needles.
Making a Slipknot
A slipknot is the first step in starting most knitting projects. The instructions and diagrams show how to create one.
To begin, let the tail of the yarn hang in front of your palm, and loop the yarn loosely around the first two fingers of your left hand (A).
Pull the yarn attached to the ball underneath the yarn behind your fingers and then through the loop (B).
Hold the tail of the yarn in your left hand and the newly made loop in your right hand. Pull the tail to tighten, and make a slipknot (C).
Once you have your needles and yarn, and you've made a slipknot, here's how to get the first stitches onto the knitting needles.
Holding the knitting needle in your right hand, slide the newly made slipknot onto the knitting needle. Pull gently on the yarn to tighten the slipknot so it doesn't fall off the needle (A).
Lay the yarn attached to the ball in your left hand, slipping it around your thumb and holding it in place with the fingers of your left hand. Arch your thumb slightly to create a little tension (B).
Move the needle to the right of your left thumb, and then slip the needle tip under the strand of yarn that is in your palm (C).
Let the yarn slip off your thumb, and pull gently on the yarn to tighten the new stitch on the needle (D). Repeat steps B through D until you have the number of stitches you need to cast on, as indicated by your project instructions. Now you're ready to continue with one of the two basic stitches, the knit or purl stitch.
Here's what to do when the instructions say to "increase."
Insert the RHN (right-hand needle) into the front of the first stitch on the LHN (left-hand needle), and complete a knit stitch by wrapping the yarn around the needle and pulling it through the stitch on the LHN. However, do not slip the first stitch off the LHN. Carefully insert the RHN into the back of the same stitch you just knitted, as shown in the illustration. Complete this knit stitch by wrapping the yarn around the needle and pulling it through that same stitch on the LHN. With the two new stitches securely on the RHN, slip the first "old" stitch off the LHN. You have just increased one stitch.
This decrease appears on the knit side of your work and is usually used on the right edge of the row. It's often abbreviated as "sl1, k1, psso" and sometimes as "SKP." Both stand for the same technique, which is "slip 1 stitch, k 1 stitch, then pass the slipped stitch over."
(A) Slip one stitch as follows: With your yarn in back of the work, put the RHN from back to front into the first stitch on the LHN as if you were going to purl the stitch. Without doing anything with your yarn, carefully slip that first stitch from the LHN onto the RHN. Knit the next stitch.
Pass the slipped stitch over as follows: On the front of your work, put the LHN from left to right into the second stitch (the slipped stitch) on the RHN. Lift this stitch over the first stitch (the previous knitted stitch) on the RHN, and then over the tip of the RHN; let it drop completely off both needles. You have just decreased one stitch.
Working Two Stitches Together
This decrease appears on the knit side of your work and is usually used on the left edge of the row. It also can be worked on the purl side of your work. It's often abbreviated as "k2tog" or "p2tog."
Normally, you would insert the RHN into the first stitch on your LHN. In this case, skip the first stitch completely, and put the RHN into the second stitch and at the same time into the first stitch on the LHN. Notice that the RHN is now through two stitches. Complete the knit stitch by wrapping the yarn under and over the RHN and carefully pulling it through both stitches. Allow the two stitches to slip off the LHN; let the new single stitch remain on the RHN. You have just decreased one stitch. To purl two stitches together, put the RHN into the first stitch on the LHN as if you were going to purl the stitch, and at the same time insert it into the next stitch on the needle. Complete the purl stitch as you normally would, carefully pulling the yarn through both stitches. Slip the two stitches off the LHN, and let the new single stitch remain on the RHN. You have just decreased one stitch. This increase appears on the knit side of your work.
Knit Two Together (K2TOG)
The decreased stitch slants to the right. Working from left to right at the point of the decrease, insert the tip of the right-hand needle into the second and then the first stitch on the left-hand needle; knit two stitches together.
Purl Two Together (P2TOG)
The decreased stitch slants to the right. Working from right to left at the point of decrease, insert the tip of the right-hand needle into the first two stitches on the left-hand needle and purl two stitches together.
Slip, Slip, Knit (SSK)
The decreased stitch slants to the left. As if to knit, slip the next two stitches from the left-hand needle one at a time to the right-hand needle. Insert a left-hand needle into these two stitches from back to front, and knit them together from this position.
Here's the technique you need when your knitting pattern calls for a change of color.
Drop the color you've been working with behind your work. Insert the RHN into the next stitch, then pick up and lay the old color on top of the RHN. Let it lie there as you pick up the new color with your left hand, and wrap it under and around the needle as if you were going to knit the stitch. Before completing the knit stitch, push the old color off the top of the needle, then complete the knit stitch with the new color.
Common Knitting Abbreviations
- * : repeat the instructions following the single asterisk as directed
- [ ]: work instructions within brackets as many times)as directed
- ( ): work directions in parentheses as many times as directed
- approx: approximately
- beg: begin(ning)
- bet: between
- CC: contrasting color
- cn: cable needle
- cont: continue
- dec: decrease(s)(ing)
- dpn(s): double-pointed needle(s)
- est: established
- foll: follow(s)(ing)
- FP: front post
- inc: increase(s)(ing)
- k or K: knit
- kwise: knitwise
- k2tog: knit 2 stitches together (right-slanting decrease when right side facing)
- lp(s): loop(s)
- M1: make one, an increase
- MC: main color
- p: purl
- pat: pattern
- pm: place marker
- psso: pass the slipped stitch over
- pwise: purlwise
- p2sso: pass 2 slipped stitches over
- p2tog: purl 2 stitches together (right-slanting decrease when right side facing)
- rem: remain(s)(ing)
- rep: repeat(s)(ing)
- rev: reverse
- RIB: ribbing
- rnd(s): round(s)
- RS: right side of work
- skp: slip, knit, pass over
- sl: slip
- sm: slip marker
- ssk: (slip, slip, knit) slip 2 stitches, one at a time knitwise, insert the left-hand needle and knit 2 together (left-slanting decrease when right side facing)
- ssp: (slip, slip, purl) slip 2 stitches, one at a time knitwise, pass back to left-hand needle, purl together through back loops (left-slanting decrease when right side facing)
- st(s): stitch(es)
- St st: stockinette stitch (knit all RS rows and purl all WS rows)
- tbl: through the back loops
- tog: together
- WS: wrong side of work
- wyib: with yarn in back
- wyif: with yarn in front
- yb: yarn back
- yf: yarn forward
- yo: yarn over
- yon: yarn over needle
- yrn: yard around the needle
More Common Stitches
Garter Stitch: Knit every row. When using a circular needle, k one round, then p one round; repeat.
Stockinette Stitch: Knit all RS rows and purl all WS rows. When using a circular needle, k every rnd.
Reverse Stockinette Stitch: Knit all WS rows and purl all RS rows. When using a circular needle, p every rnd.