garter stitch

Knitting your first stitches

There are only two basic stitches in knitting: The knit stitch, and its reverse counterpart, the purl stitch. Basically all other stitches are either combinations or variations of the two. Once you can knit and purl, you will be able to create wash-cloths, potholders, scarves and cowls with a variety of pretty structured patterns. In this post you will learn how to do the knit stitch, but before we jump into the videos, let’s take a look at the fabric you will produce with the knit stitch alone.

Garter stitch

The simplest stitch combination is called garter stitch and it’s made by knitting every single stitch. You hold the needle with the cast-on stitches and knit them one by one, in the process moving them to the right hand needle. Once all the stitches of the row are on the right hand needle, you turn the work, by switching the needle with the stitches to the left hand. Then you repeat the process, knitting every stitch on the row, turn again, knit the row, and so forth. This creates a textured, reversible fabric which looks great for e.g. winter scarves. Garter stitch is the first thing you will practice.

Example of garter stitch in knitting
Garter stitch is a reversible fabric produced by knitting all stitches on both sides of the work

Get knitting

No time like the present: Grab your yarn and needles and cast on any number of stitches between 10 and 30 for this first practice piece. See my previous post for how to cast on. It’s a good idea to note down exactly how many stitches you cast on, because you may accidentally make new stitches, or drop some, so in the beginning you are going to want to count your stitches each time you finish a row. Once you have cast on, check out this excellent video by Davina from Sheep & Stitch.

Now, it is your turn. Start by knitting 10 rows, and make sure to count your stitches at the end of each row. Note down if you have lost or gained a stitch in a given row, but continue knitting. Remember, this is just a practice swatch so it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. In a later blog post we will go through the typical mistakes, how to spot them, prevent them, and fix them. Try watching the video again, and then continue for another 30 rows. By now, at least some of your knitted fabric should look like garter stitch, and hopefully you are already seeing some improvement. If not, continue until you start to make fewer mistakes. Take a photo of this your first knitting attempt. You will be amazed how much better your second try will look.

How to hold and tension the yarn

That first video didn’t really clarify how the yarn is held and wrapped around the fingers. How you wrap the yarn around your hand and fingers is a personal choice, and it will affect how much tension you put on the stitches as they are formed. You should experiment and figure out what feels natural to you. Here are two video examples of how to tension the yarn. Check them out, compare to the previous video, and try each method for a few rows to see if you like it.

Note about knitting styles

There are as many different styles of knitting as there are hands knitting. There is no right or wrong knitting style – they all produce the same stitches and the same fabric, only the yarn and needles are held in different ways. The biggest difference is whether you hold the working yarn in your left or your right hand. The videos above showed knitting in the English style with the yarn held in the right hand. This is the most common method in England and the United States. Holding the yarn in the left hand is called continental knitting, and it is the most common method in continental Europe. Ideally you are going to want to try out both, and see what works best for you. If you learn both, you may find that you prefer one method for one type of knitting and the other in different situations. If you can do both, you will later have a huge advantage when you want to learn to do stranded color work, such as fair isle knitting.

The important thing for now is to learn how the yarn is wrapped around the needle tip and drawn through the old stitch to create a new stitch. However, once you can successfully make the knit stitch, you will want to try out different methods for holding and tensioning the yarn, as shown above. If your first language is English, it is probably easier to learn the English style first, for the simple reason that all the English-languaged YouTube videos aimed at beginners show the English style of knitting. If you speak a European language besides English, you will probably be able to find great beginner knitting videos in your own language, and they will most likely show continental knitting.

Knitting for left-handed people

Continental knitting may be easier to learn for left-handed people. If you are left-handed, and you struggle with learning how to knit, please be aware that there are knitting videos specifically aimed at left-handed people. They teach a style sometimes called mirror knitting where you keep the needle with the stitches in the right hand, then knit them onto the left hand needle. However, I would recommend trying to learn to knit either English or Continental style, if possible, because it will make it simpler to understand patterns, and look up more complicated techniques on YouTube. After all, every knitting style require getting used to unfamiliar simultaneous movements with both your hands.

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