How to learn to knit

How to learn to knit

I’m asked this question, in one form/context or another, on an increasingly frequent basis, and it probably should have been first in the Beginning to Knit pool of posts. But it’s kind of a hard question to answer! You’ve seen an Instagrammer knitting some amazing mitts, or you’ve ventured into a store with a friend and witnessed the aesthetic splendor of modern yarn selections, or you remember your great-grandmother knitting when you were tiny and you’ve always wanted to learn. Maybe you’ve gone so far as to buy a ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles. And the question is: Now what? How do I learn how to knit?

As with most things, getting started is the hardest part — especially if you’re an adult human trying to learn from scratch. In order to knit at the most basic level, you need to know two things: 1) how to cast on stitches (i.e., get the first row of stitches onto your needle) and 2) how to knit into those stitches to begin forming a fabric. From there, you can build your knitting skills at a feverish pace, but those are the first two building blocks. Like any new thing, it will feel awkward and maybe a little frustrating until you get the hang of it, and the better teacher you have, the better.

There are lots of options, and in reality you’ll use some combination of them all:

If there is a yarn store where you live and you can afford their introductory class, there’s really no better bet than learning from a professional. A good teacher not only knows how to teach knitting, but she knows more than one way of doing each and every thing and can help you find the techniques that will work best for you. A class will get you off on the right foot. In addition to yarn stores, there are loads of fiber festivals and knitting conferences that offer whole rafts of classes — at all levels and taught by traveling pros — which are generally well worth the investment. The big ones are Stitches, Knitting Lab and Vogue Knitting Live. At those events, there are often free Knitting 101-type lessons to get you over that first hump. If you’re averse to classes and have means, there are also private tutors in the world — ask your yarn store for recommendations.

Knitters love to convert people to knitting, so don’t be shy about asking for help. Anyone — an aunt, a neighbor, a coworker — who is a reasonably skilled knitter can show you the basics. They may not be as good at teaching as they are at knitting (I was incredibly lucky in this regard) and they may only be able to show you how they do it, as opposed to a pro who can walk you through all the options, but having a human being show you and sit with you while you try your hand at it is priceless.

If neither of the above is an option, see if you can find a knitting group in your area. Most towns have at least one that meets casually at some bar or coffee shop or library, and if you show up at one of those and ask very very nicely if anyone will show you the basics, there’s a chance someone will say yes. Have these two things with you: A ball (not a loose skein) of worsted-weight yarn, and size US7 knitting needle (either a circular, pictured above, or a pair of straight needles).

Once you know how to cast on and knit stitches, I absolutely recommend that you watch videos at Knitting Help or The Purl Bee or YouTube, etc., to expand your skill set. (More on that here.) If you’re a quick study, good with your hands, and patient with yourself, it might even work to learn from scratch that way. If you’re going to attempt it, you’ll want to know first that there are two basic “styles” of knitting. Continental knitting is also referred to as “picking” and it involves holding the yarn in your left hand. English knitting is also called “throwing” and involves holding the yarn in your right hand. Knitting Help in particular has videos for each basic skill done in both styles, so you can watch and try both ways, and see what feels most comfortable to you. A hybrid approach would be to take an online class, at a site like Craftsy or Creative Bug — not exactly as interactive as a real live teacher, but a step up from a video, in that regard.

I know hoards of people have learned to knit from the “Stitch ’n Bitch” book, as just one example, and I find that amazing. Even being a visual learner, I find knitting diagrams and descriptions mostly inscrutable. So while I have a stack of books I use for reference — like when I want to compare a few different people’s advice on how to accomplish a certain thing — I wouldn’t have been able to learn to knit from them. But clearly it works for others!

No matter how you learn those starter skills, I really recommend signing up for classes to expand them. And/or finding a knitting group to hang out with. And/or attending “knit night” at your local yarn store. I’m always saying this, but things come up in conversations among knitters that don’t come up in books or videos, where the focus is simply on walking you straight through a specific skill. So take any opportunity to place yourself amongst knitters knitting. And if you take only one class, make it a class in fixing mistakes. You will make mistakes (not just at the beginning) and knowing how to fix them will keep your frustration level down and your bravery high.

To everyone reading this who already knows how to knit, as always you’re encouraged to share your thoughts on the subject below! And for anyone who’s about to ask: The yarn in the picture is some Fino that Manos del Uruguay sent me.


See also: Advice for new knitters, Getting beyond garter stitch and the rest of the Beginning to Knit series.


16 thoughts on “How to learn to knit

  1. Simply, Karen, you are the best! I don’t think any “knitting instructor” could have said it better !! Is the Fino as lovely as I think it will be, when I finally get around to ordering ??

  2. When I was a kid my grandmotherly neighbor took on teaching me to knit. I was probably 10yrs old. I can still see her beautiful hands working the stitches. I remember that she had me make a simple pair of slippers. I didn’t stick with it very long. Fast forward many years. My husband starts up spinning and weaving and I find I can no longer resist the colors, the feel of beautiful yarn. And yarn is so very beautiful in so many ways now. I can’t get my hands on his handspun as he’s using it for projects, so I start with whatever. I remember planning on casting on, wondering if I’d remember how. I’d looked at some books, but as you said, inscrutible. As I held the needles and yarn, wondering how to wrap it around my fingers, I was suddenly sitting with Mrs. Huntley. I could see her hands – it was so real! – and my fingers just naturally wrapped the yarn Continental style. The feel of beginning to knit again took my breath away.
    So I agree completely: real human being knitters, if at all possible. They will tell you you can. They will encourage and they will rejoice in your success. Powerful way of becoming a yarn addict, I mean, Knitter.
    A caution from a very experienced knitter friend of mine: if your teacher doesn’t fit your learning style, run! And find someone who does.

  3. What a terrific post! I am one who learned to knit from a combination of reading a book, Knitting for Dummies, and seeking out classes at local shops when and where I could. This was just before the internet exploded. The internet has been a great help because it can be very hard to find knitting classes in your local area. YouTube is great for seeing knitting techniques demonstrated and thank you for mentioning Craftsy and Creative Bug. For a terrific class on how to fix errors, Lion Brand Yarn offers a class on fixing your errors. It is taught by Patty Lyons and it’s terrific!

  4. Ha, I totally learned to knit the “Stitch’n’Bitch” way! Although I have a Nana who used to knit prolifically, she has always lived on the other side of the country from me. My first attempts at teaching myself were utterly weird and convoluted, but when I heard the editor of “Bust” magazine was publishing a knitting book, my then-20-something heart knew hope, and I grabbed a copy as soon as I could! I still find the little diagram of the stitches sitting the right and wrong way on the needle one of the most useful knitting visuals ever :)

    • I’d love to see that. It’s one of the most important things for a new knitter to understand, for sure — huge part of that whole fixing/avoiding mistakes equation.

  5. My mom taught me to knit when I was about 12. I knitted a little stuffed horse and never pick knit another thing. Fast forward about 26yrs and I wanted to knit again. My mom passed away when I was 15, so she couldn’t teach me again. I went on, typed in Knitting and found a great group of ladies in my area. They taught me the basics again at a meetup to knit a scarf, and just like mjoxrieder, it all came back to me. Anytime I have a question, or need to learn something new, the Meetup group is there. They meet in local coffee shops at least 3 or 4 times a week.

  6. The internet was my sole resource for learning how to knit, and it was great. My biggest hurdle in learning how to knit (after picking it up and putting it down many times over the years) was in deciphering a knitting pattern. So I jumped onto YouTube and searched for each of the acronyms I didn’t understand – K2TOG, SSK for example – and went from there.
    Ravelry was also very important in being able to ask questions, share pictures of my progress, and read other people’s experiences of the same pattern I was knitting.

    I am so proud to tell people that I taught myself online because it shows them that anyone can do it, you don’t need to have a friend/grandma/neighbour who knows how to knit, which I think is a barrier for a lot of people who want to start.

    • It’s awesome that we even have that option. I would very likely not be knitting (or at least not beyond the basics) if not. My friends taught me to knit and purl and then I pretty much learned everything else through web videos, one abbreviation at a time.

      • I wholeheartedly agree that you don’t necessarily need a live teacher, especially if you’re a misanthropist like me. A friend showed me how to single crochet, I got obsessed with crochet and taught myself to intermediate level over the next 3 years. About 6 mths ago I finally taught myself to knit from youtube and sites like yours; after having tried and failed to learn from family/friends multiple times in the past. I only did it in order to make a garment I’d always wanted and couldn’t afford to buy but I’m now obsessed with knitting and love it more than crochet. I find Ravelry project pics/comments super helpful for construction and google fills in the gaps for any new technique/terminology I need in order to complete a pattern. My husband taught himself how to knit off Youtube just so he could make me a pair of ribbed fingerless gloves for Christmas so it’s definitely doable. I just don’t really enjoy knitting/crafting with other people, crafting is my “me” time so youtube learning suits me best; but I think the reason it worked is because crocheting gave me the confidence to just try things out without fear. After all the worst thing that’ll happen is I frog and start from scratch, which is probably the best way to learn anyways ;-)

  7. I learned to knit entirely from the website! (Plus a few extra Youtube videos along the way.) When I finally worked up the nerve to knit in front of other people, I was so anxious- was I doing it all wrong, had I chosen the wrong style/needles/yarn, and would they laugh at me? Turned out, I was doing pretty good, and everyone was just happy to see a new knitter :) That’s the beauty of any “art”- there is really no right way to do it (regardless of some folks’ strong opinions), as long as you enjoy it and have a sense of humor! Lovely blog by the way.

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