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All you need to get started with knitting

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 every other different stitch is just a variation or combination of these two techniques.

What you'll need to get started

The type of wool or yarn should be selected to suit each individual project, taking the composition and thickness into account. The choice includes wool, cotton, linen, silk, acrylic, nylon, blended fibres and novelty yarns. Your pattern will determine the type of yarn you should be using.

Knitting needles come in a range of sizes from very fine to really fat. It is important to choose needles that feel comfortable in your hands and allow the stitches to slide along easily. The size is determined by the type of yarn and style of pattern but most garments require an average size needle.

Knitting patterns are available for a wide range of projects. When knitting an item of clothing be sure to follow the same size throughout the pattern. One set of figures indicates it applies to all sizes.


Reading a written pattern

Knitting has a language of its own with standard abbreviations to save space - 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.

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.


Knitting abbreviations

  • C - contrasting shade of yarn
  • Cn - cable needle
  • Dec - decreasing
  • Inc - increasing
  • K - knit
  • Knit up  - pick up and knit stitches along edge of knitting
  • Meas - measure
  • MS - main shade of yarn
  • P - purl
  • Patt - pattern
  • RS - right side
  • Sl1 - slip one stitch
  • St(s) - stitche(s)
  • St st - stocking stitch
  • Tbl - through back of loop
  • Tog - together
  • WS - wrong side
  • Yfwd - yarn forward
  • Yfrn - yarn forward round needle
  • Yon - yarn over needle



Last updated: over 3 years ago