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How to knit: Tips for Beginners

As the saying goes, love never comes along when you’re longing for romance. You’re more likely to fall in love when everything in your life is running smoothly, and love is the last thing you're thinking of!

A love of knitting often follows the same path. We might not wish to knit when everything in our lives is harmonious and ticking along nicely. Often, it’s the opposite. Many knitters pick up their needles and yarn and learn to knit for the first time when they’re feeling anxious, out of sorts, or at odds with the world. Knitting, like other creative crafts, calms, relaxes and slows you down. And the result is a unique, handmade scarf or jumper!

If you’re new to knitting and wondering how to get started, you’ve come to the right place. Discover all you need to know about knitting for beginners, from choosing the best yarn and needles to how to cast on, basic stitches and casting or binding off. You’ll soon be creating your very first piece of knitting. 

Choosing your materials 

All you need to start knitting is some yarn, knitting needles and a few accessories. There’s a vast range of yarns to choose from, so discover which types are technically suitable for your project and what kind of knitting needles you prefer. When you’re working with gorgeous yarn and needles you love, knitting will be easy!

Yarn 

Yarn is classified by the type of fibre from which it’s spun (wool, cotton, silk, alpaca etc.) and by weight - lace, sock, DK, chunky and so on. These two characteristics help you to decide on the most suitable yarn for the piece you’re planning to knit.

To begin with, choose double knitting wool or Aran yarn. Opt for a solid colour or one with a slight fleck so you can see the stitches clearly. A medium shade is best for your first attempts: pale shades can get grubby quickly while dark colours make it harder to see the stitches.

Avoid unevenly structured yarns or ones with a halo such as mohair, angora, bouclé or silk. They look and feel gorgeous, but are trickier for beginners. The easiest fibres for novice knitters to work with are pure wool or wool blends.

Knitting needle sizes and materials  

Knitting needles come in a wide range of different sizes and types. The knitting needle size you need will depend on your knitting pattern, your yarn, and your tension (how tightly or loosely you naturally knit). The finest needles available are 0.70 mm and the largest 20 mm. 

Metal needles are perfect for fast knitters but are cold to the touch and less flexible. Wood knitting needles are beautiful to work with and last a lifetime while bamboo needles are light, flexible and more affordable than wood. They’re also less slippery than metal so are a perfect choice for beginners. 

You’ll also need a few accessories: 

  • 5 mm crochet hook for picking up dropped stitches
  • Embroidery scissors for cutting yarn
  • Bag to carry and protect your knitting - a shopper or tote bag will do
  • Absorbent hand cream 

Skein Winding 

Yarn is usually supplied in skeins or hanks. If you try to knit from a large skein of wool, you’re likely to get in a tangle. Open up the skein, loop it around a chair back or a pair of willing hands, and wind some yarn into a ball. The chair back is traditional, but not required. You can also use your own knees bent toward your chest or the two hands of another person. 

Knitting for beginners: the basics

Transforming your ball of yarn into a piece of knitting using nothing more than two needles might seem like quite a challenge. But let’s break it down into basic steps!

Casting On

Before you start to cast on, put the label for your yarn in a safe place. It contains important information such as the colour number, dye lot number and gauge. You might even want to attach a small piece of the yarn to the label for reference. 

To start any knitting project, you first have to create some loops on your needle; this is casting on. There are many methods of casting on. The long-tail cast on method is the most commonly used one. It is not as stretchy as some methods, but it’s not too firm either.  For a firmer edge the cable cast on method is used and the German twisted cast on method gives a stretchy edge ideal for socks, cuffs, gloves and hats. 

The basic stitches

The basis of any piece of knitting is the knit (K) or plain stitch. To make a knit (K) stitch, with your yarn behind your needle, insert your right needle into the front of a loop on the left needle from the left, catch the yarn with the right needle, and bring it through to form a new loop. To make a purl (P) stitch, position the yarn at the front of the work, insert the right needle into the front of a loop on the left needle from the right, catching the yarn with the right needle, and bringing it through to form a new loop.

Once you’ve mastered these two stitches, a world of beautiful stitch patterns awaits! Alternate rows of knit and purl stitches create a stocking stitch pattern. Stocking stitch gives you a stretchy fabric, smooth on the front and slightly bumpy on the reverse. With different combinations of knit and purl stitches, you can make rib stitch, (knit one, purl one), garter stitch, (all knit stitches), moss knitting stitch, cable stitches and lace stitches.

Casting or binding off 

Once you’ve completed your piece of knitting, you need to remove it from the needles without it unravelling. To do this, you must cast off or bind off the stitches. This creates a neat, secure edging to your knitting. 

How to read knitting patterns 

When you’ve knitted a few trial pieces and learned the basics, you’ll be ready to start knitting from a pattern. A pattern advises you about the type of yarn and size of needles to use. It then guides you through the knitting process, giving you step-by-step instructions on how to knit each row. Because they use abbreviations to save on space, knitting patterns can seem confusing to beginners. Some abbreviations are easy to understand, such as K for a knit stitch, P for purl, CO for cast on and BO for bind off. Others may be less familiar: you’ll find a list of abbreviations used at the start of the pattern. 

Finishing and blocking

Most garments are knitted in several pieces such as back, front and sleeves. Before you sew the pieces together, it’s best to block them to give a professional finish. Blocking involves dampening the knitting, stretching it to the required shape and size, pinning it out and then ironing it lightly under a cloth.

If you leave a long end of yarn when you cast off, you can use this when joining the pieces or weave it into the seams