Before you start to knit

If you're picking up needles and yarn for the first time, here's some basic information to get you started. You only need to learn two basic stitches - knit and purl - because after these two every different stitch is just a variation or combination of these two techniques.

Don't be put off if your first attempts are uneven, you will soon be able to confidently knit any project that catches your eye, from the simplest scarf to the most gorgeously textured and embellished sweater.


Knitting needles

There is a huge choice of knitting needles available in different woods and materials. The key to good needles is for them to be flexible, smooth and have well-shaped points. Avoid lovely decorative tops because they can make the needles heavy and give you wrist problems.


    Metal needles  Wooden needles  bamboo needles

           Wooden needles                   Metal needles                        Bamboo needles


Knitting needle size chart

There are three systems of sizing needles and this table gives you the equivalent sizes across all three systems.


Metric (mm) US  old UK and Canadian
25 50 -
19 35 -
15 19 -
10 15 000
9 13 00
8 11 0
7.5 11 1
7 10 1/2 2
6.5 10 1/2 3
6 10 4
5.5 9 5
5 8 6
4.5 7 7
4 6 8


5 9
3.5 4 -
3.25 3 10
3 2/3 11
2.75 2 12
2.25 1 13
2 0 14
1.75 00 -
1.5 000 -


Buying yarn

Most patterns will tell you what yarn to use, so try to buy that to get the same result as the pattern writer. When you buy yarn, look on the paper ball band wrapped around it for an X symbol to know what size needles will work best with that yarn. It is important to buy the best yarn you can afford, because you will see the quality in your finished project.


Reading a written pattern

Knitting has a language of its own with standard abbreviations to save space because if patterns were written out in full they would go on for pages and pages. There are also characters such as brackets and asterisks that denote different sizes or repeated instructions.

  • Square brackets [ ]

Square brackets are used when a sequence of stitches needs to be repeated or where more than one stitch needs to be worked into the same stitch or place.

  • Asterisks*

These are sometimes used in place of or in conjunction with square brackets. The most common place to find one is when the pattern asks "rep from *," which would mean that you go back to find the first asterisk before this instruction and repeat the section of pattern from this point.

Sometimes asterisks are used in pairs, for example "rep from * to **." This means the pattern is repeated from the first single asterisk above the instruction to the next double asterisk. Be careful to make sure you are working from the correct asterisk, because some patterns use them throughout – always search backward from the instruction and use the first asterisk you come to.

  • Round brackets ( )

Round brackets are used to give you stitch counts at the end of a row, and to give alternative instructions for different sizes. For instance, if the sizes are small, medium and large and you choose to knit the medium size, then this will be the second size in the pattern instructions. In the pattern you might find something like 'Cast on 84(88:92) sts' so to knit the medium size you will need to cast on 88 stitches, the second number listed. The first size is always shown outside the brackets and the remaining sizes within them.


Making a slip knot

To cast on you need a starting point and this is the slip knot. The slip knot will always count as the first cast on stitch.



Hold the working (ball) end of the yarn in your right hand and wrap it around the fingers of your left hand.



Put the tip of a knitting needle, held in your right hand, through the loop around your fingers.



Wrap the working end of the yarn round the needle and pull the needle, and the yarn wrapped around it, through the loop around your left hand.



Keeping the yarn on the needle, slip the loop off your left hand.



Pull gently on the ends of the yarn so that the loop tightens around the needle.


Holding the needles and yarn

Holding the needles is one of the toughest things to master in knitting, so if you find it hard, don't be put off - it gets easier after this. How you hold the needles will depend on how you plan to knit, but you may not know that yet.

You can hold the yarn in your right or left hand. If you hold it in your right hand, that is the English way; if you hold it in your left hand then that is the Continental way of knitting. Though awkward at first, holding the needles either way becomes much more comfortable with practice. Have a go at both methods and you will quickly find out which one is most suitable for you.

  • English method

This is the most commonly used method in the UK and USA. The needles are held differently in the right and left hands.



Hold the needle with the stitches on in your left hand. Wrap the yarn around the little finger of your right hand and then come up between your index and second fingers.



Hold the other needle in your right hand, placing it in the crook between the thumb and index finger, in the same way as you would hold a pencil. The right-hand index finger is going to control the tension (gauge) of the yarn, so it is important to keep the yarn slightly taut around this finger.


First Knits


The content on this page is taken from First Knits, published by LoveCrafts. 

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Last updated: 11-Jul-2013 at 10:00 AM