Learn to Knit: Teach Yourself How to Knit

Updated on July 18, 2019
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Katy has been knitting and crocheting for 10 years and selling her items at local craft shows in Colorado for 3 years.

This guide will take you from a complete beginner to advanced techniques and how to continue learning. My goal is to thoroughly cover the basics of knitting and then point you to resources to learn more. As you progress through teaching yourself to knit, you can return to this guide to learn more.

This guide teaches you to learn to knit with online resources
This guide teaches you to learn to knit with online resources

Time Commitment

Before you start on this endeavor, you want to know what you’re getting into.

How Long Does It Take to Learn to Knit?

You can learn the basics and be able to make a basic scarf in 1–2 afternoons of learning. How long it takes you to make the first basic project will vary, but I’d plan on a couple of weeks.

How Long Does It Take to Knit Projects?

Most knitters can make a hat in 8 hours and a scarf in 24 hours. That gives you a really rough idea of how long projects should take once you have the basics down.

How to Start Knitting

To start knitting, you need three things:

  1. Yarn
  2. Needles
  3. Knitting Pattern

For yarn, make sure you have enough for your project. Choose a weight and color you like. I recommend staying away from really chunky yarn or really thin "lace weight" yarn. Really thick yarn is easy to split with needles and really thin yarn takes a long time to complete projects.

For needles, make sure they’re sized correctly for the yarn you have. Usually there's a handy square on the yarn label that lists needle size, and that's a good rule of thumb.

For a knitting pattern, find a beginner-friendly pattern and learn the techniques it uses. Or learn the basic stockinette stitch and make your own scarf.

The next “Knitting Basics” section will take you through details of these three elements.

All About Yarn

Beginners' Hint: Look for a mid-weight acrylic or wool blend for your first project, like Wonderful Worsted Wool Blend Yarn. It's soft and comes in beautiful colors.

Yarn Weight

Yarn comes in different weights or thicknesses. Yarn weight ranges from thin sock yarn to super chunky yarn.

I recommend a mid-weight yarn like worsted or aran for your first few projects. Fingering yarn is so thin your first project will take forever. And super chunky yarn can be difficult to deal with.

Yarn Material

Beginners shouldn't worry too much about yarn material. Acrylic is an affordable place to start. When you're ready to invest more, learn about these yarn fibers:

  • Acrylic - Soft, Washable, Affordable
  • Wool - Warm, Durable. But can be scratchy
  • Silk - Use for lightweight projects
  • Cotton - Breathable but stiff
  • Merino Wool, Alpaca, Cashmere - Expensive but completely worth it

It's easy to find acrylic yarns at large craft stores like Michaels and Joann's. They also tend to carry wools and wool blends. For the natural fibers check out your local yarn store or an online retailer like KnitPicks.com.

All About Knitting Needles

Beginner's Hint: Use the US 8 or US 9 from this Straight Knitting Needle Set if you selected the worsted weight yarn above.

Next, we need to find some knitting needles. You'll need to consider diameter, length, and type.

Needle Sizes

Needles come in a range of sizes. Both the diameter of the needle and the length is important.

Diameter: US 0–15 or 2–10mm

The thickness, or diameter, of the needle, will determine how big the stitches are. Thus, it needs to match the weight of the yarn.

US 0 (2mm) is a very thin needle used for lightweight yarn like lace.

US 6–8 (4–5mm) is a good size to use with a worsted weight yarn.

Needles come as large as US 15 and bigger. Use those with very chunky yarn.


Needle length is simply the length in cm or in. You need to pick the right length for your project. Socks will need short needles while a big blanket will need longer ones.

There’s no hard and fast rule for needle length. You just need needles that are realistically sized for your project.

Needle Types

There are two main types of needles: straight and circular.

Straight needles are typical straight knitting needles. Use straight needles to make flat items like blankets and scarves.

Circular needles are a set of two needles joined together by a plastic tube. These allow you to knit in a circle, called knitting in the round. Tubular garments like hats, gloves, and socks are made with circular needles.

Double Pointed Needles (DPNs) can be used instead of circular needles. These are straight needles that have points at both ends. DPNs are needed for heels of socks and the tops of hats.

Circular knitting needles in 3 different sizes and 3 different lengths.
Circular knitting needles in 3 different sizes and 3 different lengths. | Source

Find a Beginner's Pattern

Beginner’s Hint: This free Garter Stitch Scarf Pattern by Rowhouse Yarns is a great introduction. It uses the yarn and needle sizes I recommended earlier.

You can use the pattern recommended above or find your own.

Techniques Required

A true beginner pattern will only expect you to know:

  • How to cast on.
  • How to do a knit stitch.
  • How to purl (maybe).
  • How to cast off.

You can learn all four of those techniques easily with this guide or YouTube.

Yarn and Needles

You want to find a pattern that matches the yarn and needles you’d like to use. It can be easier to first select that pattern and then buy the supplies.

Project Type

A scarf or washcloth is a perfect project. Both are knit flat (i.e., with straight needles) and sizing isn’t too important. That way, if your gauge is slightly off it won’t make the end project unusable.

The Total Beginner: Cast On

Once you learn to cast on and do the knit stitch, the world of knitting starts to seem attainable.

How to Cast On Knitting

Before you can do anything else, you need to cast on. “Casting on” means adding the first row of stitches to your needles.

There are many ways to cast on. For a beginner, I recommend starting with the "knit cast on." It’s called that because the method is very similar to the knit stitch. So once you learn this method, it will help with the actual knitting.

Watch the video below to learn how to use that method.

How to Cast On Knitting

Beginner Technique: Knit Stitch

Beginner's Hint: if you cast on with the knit method above, this is the same except you keep the new stitch on the right-hand needle.

Okay, here's where you actually learn to knit!

You'll be adding a loop to the first stitch on the left needle and then transferring it to the right needle. Then you repeat with the next stitch on the left needle until you've knitted all the stitches on the left needle.

Watch the video below to see how to do the knit stitch. Replay the video until you can follow along and knit your own stitches.

How to Knit Stitch (Video)

What Was Most Difficult About Learning to Knit?

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How to Knit a Tube: Knitting in The Round

Use circular needles or DPNs to knit in the round. This creates a tube instead of a flat rectangle.

How to Join in the Round

Joining is the hardest part to learn about circular knitting. You cast on your stitches with whatever method and then ." the two ends to begin your first row.
There are many methods out there but two important things to watch out for:

  • Don't twist your stitches!
  • Don't leave a gap!

What does it mean to not twist your stitches? All your stitches need to be pointing the same way at the start of your tube. Otherwise, you'll get a twisted tube! Also, be aware that if you simply start knitting the first stitch, a gap will probably form at the join. You can look up methods to join in the round to avoid this. The method I use might be the simplest:

  1. Skip the first stitch you would knit
  2. Knit all the way around to the last stitch
  3. Knit the first and last stitch together

Stitches are Different in the Round

As you work flat patterns and in the round patterns you'll notice they create stitch patterns different. For example, stockinette stitch knit flat is one row knit and the next purled. But to create that in the round you knit all the rows.

Why is this?

Remember, when you knit straight you turn the work every row. That means you're flipping your knitting and working from the backside.

Contrast that with circular knitting. When knitting in the round, you just keep going when you hit the end of the row. You're always working on the "right side."

About Tension

Tension will become more important with more advanced stitches like colorwork and cabling. But it’s important to be aware of your tension as a beginner.

Tension is how loose or tight you hold the yarn as you make stitches.

Most beginners make their stitches too tight. This makes it difficult to slip the right-hand needle in and slows down your knitting. If you’re knitting too tight, watch experienced knitters on Youtube. Their knitting is very relaxed. Nothing is tense or forced.

The goal with tension is to be natural and consistent.

© 2018 Katy Medium


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