A step-by-step tutorial on how to start knitting the easy continental way. All the basic techniques beginners need to learn for their first project.
So, how do you knit? Are you wondering about the basics for beginners you absolutely need to learn? Or do you want to make the switch to continental knitting? Well, then you came to the right place because with this step-by-step tutorial I tried to create a comprehensive resource I wish I had when I started learning how to knit – high-resolution pictures and videos included.
I’ve been knitting for well over 30 years now, I have been designing my own patterns for just as long, and I firmly believe that knitting is a super easy craft to learn – if taught the right way. Sadly, a lot of the tutorials and books I’ve come across in the past years often focus on seemingly easy short-cuts.
Instead, I’ll be showing you basic knitting techniques that are just as easy but much more ergonomic and versatile. Techniques that will be able to last you a lifetime and will allow you to knit faster and with less strain on your joints. In this tutorial, you will learn:
|1. Cast on||2. Knit stitch||4. Bind off|
|A simple technique to start the knitting process.||The basic stitch that turns your yarn into fabric.||Finish your knitting and keep it from unraveling.|
|→ Jump to the cast-on instructions||→ Jump to the knit stitch instructions||→ Jump to the bind-off instructions|
Reading tips before you start
- The best knitting needles for beginners
- The best yarn for beginners
- Is knitting hard to learn? What to expect
- Basic knitting supplies for beginners
Anyways, let’s dive right into it and show you how to knit the easy way.
Note: I tried to explain knitting using simple words and no lingo. But if you still run across a term or acronym you don’t understand, I have a knitting glossary here on my blog as well.
1. How to cast on
Before you can actually start knitting, you need to create a row of simple loops around your needles as a base. This process is called cast-on or casting on. Think of it as a stable fundament, much like when you build a house.
In knitting, there are probably 50 different ways to cast on. As a beginner, I urge you to stick to the longtail cast on. Why? Because it’s very versatile, quite stretchy, and quite easy once you get the hang of it. Some older books will show you the single cast-on as your first technique instead. While definitely easier at first, it creates a very solid edge that you will have a very hard time knitting across in the first row.
Step 1: Wrap the yarn around your pinky finger two times clockwise. The ball should be on your left and a sizeable tail that is around 4 times as long as your final project will be wide. E.g., if you want a scarf that is 10 inches wide, then leave a tail of 40 inches.
Step 2: Bring the yarn across the back of your hands.
Step 3: Wrap the yarn around your thumb clockwise once.
Step 4: Secure the tail between your ring and pinky finger.
Step 5: Pick up one knitting needle (or hold two needles together for a stretchier edge) with your right hand, and insert them into the loop around your thumb coming from below.
Step 6: Grab the yarn towards your index finger coming from behind.
Step 7: Pull the yarn through the loop around your thumb.
Step 8: Remove your thumb from the loop.
Step 9: Pull tight by spreading your thumb and index finger from inside.
Step 10: Pull the right needle towards you to create a “slingshot”.
Step 11: Repeat steps 5-10 until you cast on the required number of stitches. (So insert the needle into the loop around the thumb, grab the yarn towards the index finger, pull through, remove the thumb, and tighten up.)
Try to keep those stitches as even and uniform as possible. So, tighten up slowly and make sure they sit right next to each other without big gaps.
Hint: For my little practice piece, I cast on 20 stitches. I am using 5.00 mm needles and a DK cotton yarn. But depending on your yarn weight you may want to cast on more or less stitches. Check the yarn label. It should tell you which needle size works best for that particular quality. And here’s a handy little guide that will help you calculating yarn requirements for the longtail cast-on.
2. How to knit the knit stitch
Once you cast on the required number of stitches, it’s time to show you how to knit. If you mastered the cast-on, this will be actually not a lot more difficult.
Step 1: Turn your knitting needle around. The little tail should hang down on the right side.
Step 2: Wrap the working yarn, the yarn connected to the ball, around your pinky finger of your left hand two times (or only once if you notice that the yarn cannot flow freely).
Step 3: Bring the yarn across the back of your hand again.
Step 4: Pick up the knitting needle with your cast on stitches a bit like you would hold a knit. The yarn connected to your index finger should be nice and taut without slack. If there is, pick up the yarn again more closely or pull on the other end to tighten it up a bit.
Note: The working yarn needs to be in the bottom back of the needle. So, make extra sure that it looks exactly as on the picture and you didn’t accidentally loop it around coming from the front.
Step 5: Pick up the second needle with your right hand – again a bit like you would hold a knife.
Step 6: Insert the right needle, your working needle, into the first stitch/loop on the left needle from left to right. You may need to slide the stitches a bit further to the tip of the needle first.
Step 7: Next, wrap the yarn around the needle counter-clockwise by coming in from behind with your knitting needle.
Tip: Think of it like the knitting needle as the center of a clock. And when you look at it from above, the yarn needs to go around counter-clockwise.
Step 8: Pull the yarn through the first loop. You may use your left index finger as a guide.
Note: A knitting needle has no hook at the end. So it’s important that you change the angle of your right knitting needle to a more horizontal position before you try to pull the yarn through. You can scrape the tip of your right needle against the left needle a bit to keep the yarn from slipping past.
Step 9: Drop the first loop, the one you just worked through, off the left needle. Tighten the resulting knit stitch on your right needle up by pulling on the working yarn.
Step 10: Repeat steps 6-9 until you used up all stitches on your left needle. Make sure that the working yarn always stays in the back of the needle.
It’s always the same motion: Insert from left to right, grab the yarn from behind, pull through, drop the loop, and tighten up.
How to start the second row
All the stitches on one needle are called a row or a row of stitches. Once you finished the first row, it’s time to turn your work around and start the second row. But you may have noticed that knitting is done from right to left but your yarn is still at the end of the row.
Well, just spin the needle around clockwise and the yarn is right where you need it. Make sure that your working yarn is still tensioned correctly and double-check whether the working yarn is in the back and you didn’t accidentally create a loop or pull the first stitch around.
And then continue knitting the knit stitch into every single loop of that row. And every time you reach the end of a new row, turn your work around again. This will produce a fabric called Garter Stitch.
Every fabric has two sides, and what you are doing here is, you are knitting the right side and then the wrong side. The row where you start is typically the right side, and the next row (or all even number rows) are the return rows.
Note: If you want to know how many rows you have knitted, here’s how to count rows for garter stitch.
How to join a new ball
At one point or another, you may run out of yarn. So what do you do then? Well, you have to join in a new ball and it’s actually remarkably easy. Here’s how to do that.
Step 1: Finish knitting one row. There should still be a short tail of around 5 inches left. You’ll need that later on for weaving in.
Step 2: Tie a simple knot around the tail of the old yarn using the new yarn. Again, leave a little tail of around 5 inches.
Step 3: Slide the knot all the way to the base of the first stitch.
Step 4: Pick up the new yarn/color and continue knitting as before
Here’s a more detailed tutorial on how to change yarn and colors in knitting with further options for later projects.
How to fix mistakes
But what happens if you make a mistake? Those stitches are slippery after all, and sometimes you may drop one and things unravel. What then? Do you have to start all over again? No, of course not.
You can easily fix mistakes using a crochet hook. I have a full tutorial that shows you how to fix mistakes in garter stitch. It’s actually remarkably easy.
3. How to bind off
Now, how do you finish your knitting? I showed you how to knit, but you can’t just pull out your knitting needles. If you’d do that, all your hard work would unravel! That’s why you need to secure the stitches on our needle. This process is called bind-off or cast-off (both terms mean the exact same thing) and here’s how to do that.
Step 1: Knit two stitches as normal.
Step 2: Insert your left needle into the second stitch on your right needle from left to right.
Step 3: Lift that second stitch over the first one.
Step 4: And drop it off the needle. The first stitch stays on the right needle.
Step 5: Knit one more stitch.
Step 6: Lift the new second stitch over the first one and drop it off the needles.
Step 7: Repeat steps 5-6 until there is only one stitch remaining.
Step 8: Break the yarn, and pull out the last stitch using your knitting needle.
Step 9: Pull on the tail to tighten up.
Tip: Here’s a tutorial that shows you how you can create a much neater last bind off stitch.
5. How to weave in ends
There’s one last little technique you should learn right away when you start learning how to knit. Why? Well, there are at least two tails still hanging down from your project. One from the cast-on and one from the bind-off. And you can’t just cut them away. If you’d do that your work would unravel.
Instead, you need to weave in tails. While I have a full tutorial on weaving in ends with 10 essential techniques, here’s the most basic method you can use for garter stitch.
Step 1: Thread the tail on a sharp tapestry needle.
Step 2: Push apart two of the ribs, and go right through the legs of the knit stitches in between. Pierce right through the yarn and follow the course of that little “valley” for around 6-8 stitches.
Step 3: Pull the tail all the way through, stretch out your knitting, and cut the tail.
Congratulations! You learned how to knit. So, what’s next?
Well, first of all, I want you to pat yourself on the back. Be proud of your achievement. Even if your first little swatch looks a bit wonky still, don’t fret over it. Instead, I want you to take it and put it into your personal treasure box as a reminder of that day when you finally mastered this incredible hobby.
Other than that, there are of course tons of things still to learn. So, first of all, don’t forget to check out my free knitting school. And maybe even subscribe to my newsletter so we can stay in touch and I can send over some free patterns.
Other than that, you can already start some exciting little projects with your new-found skills:
I really urge you to practice the 3 basic knitting techniques I showed you in this tutorial: cast-on, knit stitch, and bind-off.
Your mind and your muscles need time to get familiar with the new motions. Once you’ve knitted a couple of thousand stitches, you will be able to perform them on a subconscious level. You won’t need to worry about every little micro-movement of your fingers anymore. But this process will take time.
In the beginning, knitting might feel like juggling raw eggs. There are so many things you need to handle at the same time. But with a bit of practice, you will be able to do it without thinking. In fact, advanced knitters (like me) can knit without even looking at their needles.
And once you feel reasonably proficient, you can move on to the next couple of techniques. The purl stitch, the second basic knitting stitch, will open up a whole new world. With it, you will be able to access most of the traditional knitting stitch patterns.
And from there, it’s only a short stretch until you can learn how to knit socks, hats, or even sweaters. But remember, go slowly, take breaks, and never over-challenge yourself. Oh…and you might want to check out my tutorial on how to read knitting patterns. It’s not particularly hard (don’t be afraid!) but there are a couple of things you should be aware of.
Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.
- Cast on 20 stitches using the longtail cast on.
Step 1: To do this, wrap the yarn around your pinky finger two times clockwise.
Step 2: Bring the yarn across the back of your hands.
Step 3: Wrap the yarn around your thumb once clockwise.
Step 4: Insert the needle into the loop around your thumb from below.
Step 5: Grab the yarn towards the index finger from behind.
Step 6: Pull the yarn through the loop around your thumb.
Step 7: Remove the thumb from your loop.
Step 8: Tighten up by spreading thumb and index finger.
Step 9: Pull stitches towards you to create a slingshot.
Repeat steps 4-9 to cast on the required number of stitches.
- Knit the knit stitch.
Step 1: Turn your knitting needle around clockwise and tension the yarn the same way you did for the cast on. Make sure the yarn is in the back of your needles.
Step 2: Insert the second needle (using your right hand) into the first loop on the left needle from left to right.
Step 3: Wrap the yarn around the needle counter-clockwise.
Step 4: Pull the yarn through the loop.
Step 5: Drop the first loop of the left needle.
Step 6: Repeat steps 2-5 until you knit across every single cast-on loop and there are no stitches left.
Step 7: Turn the needle around clockwise so the working yarn ends up on the right side. Again, make sure the yarn is in back.
Step 9: Continue knitting the knit stitch into every single loop of the second row.
Turn around after you finished each row and continue knitting. This will produce a fabric called garter stitch.
- Finish your knitting by binding off all stitches.
Step 1: Knit two stitches.
Step 2: Pass the second stitch over the first using your left needle.
Step 3: Drop the lifted stitch off the needles (the first stitch needs to stay put).
Step 4: Knit another stitch.
Step 5: Lift the new second stitch over the new first stitch, and drop it off the needles as well.
Step 6: Repeat steps 4+5 until there is only one stitch left.
Step 7: Break the yarn, and pull out the last stitch. Tighten up the resulting knot with your fingers.
- Weave in the ends with a tapestry needle.
Step 1: Thread tail on a sharp tapestry needle.
Step 2: Pull the needle through the legs of the stitches between two ridges. Cover around 8-10 stitches in that manner.
Step 3: Stretch out your knitting and cut away the excess yarn.