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The Basics of Knitting
Learn how to knit your own mittens, hats, scarves, and more. Here we take you through the step-by-step instructions and teach you how to cast on, knit, purl, and cast off.
There are two basic knitting styles, the English method and the German/Continental method, but the only real difference lies in how the yarn is held.
With the English method, the working yarn is held in the right hand; with the German/Continental method, it is held in the left. While both methods produce equally fine results, here we use the German/Continental method.
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How to Cast On
To begin knitting, you will need to create a foundation row of stitches on your needle by "casting on."
1. Make a slipknot by looping yarn into a pretzel shape, leaving a tail end at least three times the width of what you are knitting (if your scarf is 8 inches wide, you'll need a 24-inch-long tail). Slip knitting needle through pretzel shape as shown, and pull yarn ends to tighten.
2. Drape tail of yarn over left thumb and working yarn (ball end) over left index finger. Use your other fingers to catch yarn lengths in left palm. Insert needle upward through loop on thumb.
3. With needle, catch the working yarn that's on your index finger, and pull it through the loop on your thumb. Remove thumb from loop. Keeping yarn ends secured in palm, reposition thumb, and tighten new stitch on right-hand needle. Repeat these steps until you've cast on the required number of stitches.
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Knit Stitch How-To
Hold the needle with cast-on stitches in your left hand. Wrap the working yarn around your left index finger, and hold it in back of the left-hand needle.
1. Insert point of right-hand needle from front to back into the first cast-on stitch on the left-hand needle, opening up a stitch.
2. Catch working yarn with right-hand needle.
3. Pull yarn through opened stitch.
4. Slip cast-on stitch off left-hand needle while holding middle finger against second cast-on stitch to ensure it does not also slip off. The stitch on the right-hand needle is the newly formed knit stitch. Continue knitting across the cast-on row. When you have emptied the last stitch from the left-hand needle (completing a row), exchange needles, returning the needle with stitching to your left hand.
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How to Purl
The purl stitch differs from the knit stitch in two fundamental ways: The working yarn is held in the front of the project instead of the back, and the needle is inserted from the back to the front instead of from front to back. Hold the needle with cast-on stitches in your left hand. Wrap the working yarn (ball end) around your left index finger, and hold it in front of the work.
1. Insert point of right-hand needle, from back to front, into the first cast-on stitch on the left-hand needle, opening up a stitch.
2. Lay working yarn over needle from front to back by moving left index finger downward.
3. Push working yarn from front to back through cast-on stitch. Slip cast-on stitch off left-hand needle while holding middle finger against second cast-on stitch to ensure it does not also slip off. The stitch on right-hand needle is the newly formed purl stitch. As a purl stitch faces you, it looks like a grain of rice; its reverse side looks like a V.
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If your pattern calls for a cabled stitch, which looks like a braided, ropelike cable, don't worry: It's much easier to stitch than it appears. Basically, you knit as usual but hold a few stitches in reserve on a cable needle until you need them.
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How to Pick Up a Dropped Stitch
If you drop a stitch while knitting, don't panic; it's simple to retrieve it with a crochet hook.
1. With the knit side facing you, insert crochet hook, front to back, into loop of dropped stitch.
2. Use hook to catch the first horizontal "ladder," and pull it through loop to the front.
3. Repeat until all ladders have been pulled through loop. Place the stitch back onto left-hand needle, with the right side of the loop on the front of the needle.
To pick up a stitch dropped on a purl row, turn your work around, and follow the directions for picking up a dropped knit stitch.
Photography: Thomas Straub7 of 9
How to Join Yarn
To join a new ball of yarn while knitting, simply stop knitting with the old ball (leaving at least a 6-inch tail) and begin knitting with the new one (also leaving a long tail). The first stitch will be loose; pull yarn ends to tighten it.
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How to Cast Off
These necessary steps keep stitches from unraveling once they're removed from the needle.
1. Knit two stitches. Insert left-hand needle into first stitch; lift stitch up over second stitch and (2) off the needle. Continue knitting stitches in this manner until all stitches have been cast off. Cut working yarn, leaving a 6-inch-long tail. Pull tail through last stitch to secure.
3. Use a yarn needle to weave tail ends of yarn through backs of several stitches, picking up only surface loops.
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An easy way to keep track of your yarn sizes and needle gauges is with our knit gauge cards. Simply fill out a card with color, gauge, pattern, and other relevant information for each project and store cards together in an easy-to-access place.