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Knitting is an age-old craft that has held its own against competition from cheap, fast fashion. Its very appeal is that knitting an item—whether a baby blanket or a sweater—takes time and care and a lot of passion. But unless you were taught to knit from a young age, it can sometimes seem like a daunting hobby to pick up. It not only looks tricky, but there are all these unusual knitting terms to learn. Purling, casting-on and off, ribbing… where to begin?  Here, we introduce you to some of the most common and important knitting terms you’ll come across as you learn to knit. You’ll be following a pattern with ease in no time—and hand-making those cottage-core cardigans of your dreams.

9 Common Knitting Terms

scarf
Student work by Paula Mariani for Knitting I: Learn the Basics with a Simple Scarf

If you’re already familiar with some fabric craft basics, you may know some of these terms. This isn’t an exhaustive list of every word or phrase you might come across when knitting, but it does cover the most important ones.

1. Yarn

yarn
Source: Instagram
Knitting yarn comes in many textures and colors.

Yarn is the fiber you use to knit with. It’s sometimes also referred to as wool, but it doesn’t have to be actual wool (i.e., the hair of a sheep or other animal). There are three main types of yarn: 

  • Animal fibers (wool, cashmere, silk)
  • Plant fibers (cotton, linen, bamboo)
  • Artificial fibers (acrylic, nylon, rayon)

These types of fibers are also often blended to make the most of the best qualities of each type.

Yarn comes in a series of different weights, from 0 (lace weight) to 7 (jumbo). The lighter and finer the yarn—and thus the lower the number—the more delicate the final knitted piece is likely to be. Skillshare knitting instructor Melissa Warren recommends beginner knitters start with a weight between worsted (4) and super bulky (6), as they tend to be the easiest to work with.

2. Fingering Weight

yarn
Diagram showing the different yarn weights, from 0 to 7.

Fingering weight yarn is also sometimes called sock weight because it’s used to make socks. This soft, fine yarn can also be used to make shawls and other garments that need to be thin. Hand knitting with fingering weight yarn requires thin needles and is perhaps not the best place for beginners to start their experiments with knitting. However, intermediate knitters should give knitting with fingering weight yarn a go.

3. Worsted Weight

knitting a scarf
Source: Instagram
Worsted weight yarn is the easiest for beginner knitters to work with.

Worsted weight yarn is in the middle of the yarn pack: it’s chunky but not too chunky, delicate but not too delicate. It’s a great choice for beginner knitters because it doesn’t take a magnifying glass to see your stitches. Worsted weight yarn is good for knitting sweaters that are cozy but not uncomfortably thick.

Knit Your Own Clothing and Accessories

Knitting I: Learn the Basics with a Simple Scarf

4. Skein

skein of yarn
A skein of yarn, with the information included on its label.

A skein is when the yarn fibers are coiled into a loose twist to keep them tangle-free. A skein of yarn tends to be less compact than a ball, and you’ll often find yarn sold in stores by the skein. Skeins of yarn are usually sold with a paper label that lists everything a knitter will need to know about that yarn, including the yarn type, weight, and care instructions.

5. Cast-On

teal yarn
The cast-on stitch is essential to getting started.

Every knitting project must begin somewhere, and this is essentially what casting-on means: creating your first row of stitches. It’s from this first row that the rest of the garment will be built and attached. Casting-on is no more difficult than other types of stitch, but it requires a special process. Most knitting tutorials for beginners will provide a lesson on casting-on. 

6. Cast-Off

Casting-off secures your stitches together and stops them from unraveling.

If casting-on is starting your knitting, then yes—you guessed it—casting-off is finishing it. As you’re working on a knitting project, there’s always the fear that you’ll drop a stitch and all your hard work will unravel. Once you’ve cast-off properly, all your stitches are secure. Think of casting-off as finishing off. 

With a simple project like a scarf, you’ll probably only need to form cast-off stitches once, at the end. With more complex projects with different sections, you’ll probably need to cast-off (and cast-on) multiple times as you complete different pieces of a garment.

7. Purl

purling
Purl stitching moves the needle from the top to the bottom of the stitch. 

There are two basic types of stitch in knitting: plain stitch (sometimes just called knit stitch) and purl stitch. While you could knit an entire garment just with the plain stitch, the item wouldn’t be very stretchy. A combination of plain and purl stitches (one row plain, one row purl) is what gives the typically “knitted” look. 

There’s no need to be afraid of the purl stitch: It’s actually just the opposite of a plain stitch, in that the needle goes into the stitch from the top to the bottom, rather than from the bottom to the top. Once you’ve mastered the plain stitch, mastering purl stitch is straightforward.

8. Welting

knitting
Source: Instagram
Welting alternates rows of plain stitch with rows of purl stitch to create a type of ribbing.

Once you’ve learned to alternate your plain and purl stitches, you’ve learned welting. In knitting, welting is one (or more) row of plain stitches that are alternated with one (or more) row of purl stitches. 

The simplest and most common form of welting is one row of plain followed by one row of purl, which is called the garter stitch. Welting can vary in the number of rows of plain and purl stitches that are alternated, and knitting patterns will specify what you should do. Stretchy ribbing in knitted garments is formed through welting.

9. Yarn Warp

knits
Source: Instagram
These shawls show the potential of yarn warp knitting or weaving.

Yarn warp, or warp knitting, is a type of knitting in which the yarn zig-zags along the length of the fabric rather than following simple, neat rows. It’s a more common method in machine knitting and weaving than in hand knitting. Unless you become an advanced knitter or textile artist and want to experiment with complex methods, you probably won’t need to worry too much about this method. 

Ready to Learn to Knit?

sweater
Get the hang of knitting and you’ll be able to make beautiful sweaters like this.

There are so many resources out there for people who want to learn to knit or who want to take their beginner skills to the next level. Whether you want to make something super simple, like a scarf or blanket, or advanced, like a Fair Isle sweater, knitting is a fun and relaxing creative outlet.

It’s often easier to follow a visual video tutorial than to try to recreate the steps of knitting through written instructions. This way, you can copy the hand and finger positions and movement of the yarn until you become confident that you’re doing it right—which you’ll be doing in no time!

Learn More About Knitting Stitches

Knitting 101: The Basics for Beginners