Knitting by hand is fun, relaxing, and practical. And while it can look intimidating, as knitting instructor Charlotte Hintzen says, “Knitting is just a skill, it’s not an art form: anyone can learn it.” 

While it’s debatable whether knitting is an art form—advanced, complex knits can be highly artistic—it’s true that knitting is a relatively simple skill that can be learned, no matter your level of artistic ability. Learn the basics with this guide to knitting for beginners, including some starter projects, like easy scarf knitting patterns for beginners.

What Do I Need as a Knitting Beginner?

knitting supplies
You’ll need these key supplies to get started with knitting.

The essential supplies to begin knitting are:

  • Straight knitting needles 
  • Yarn (either wool or a synthetic fiber)
  • A measuring tape
  • Scissors
  • Tapestry needle

Optional but useful supplies include:

  • Blocking pins
  • Gauge swatch and needle sizer
  • Stitch markers, for counting and keeping track of rows
  • Point protectors, to stop your stitches dropping off your needles when you’re not working on a piece

Wooden or bamboo needles are best for beginners because they’re not too slippery. The labels on yarns recommend certain size needles, and thicker is better for beginners. The same applies to yarn: opt for a chunkier type when you’re starting out.

Learn to Knit from Scratch

Knitting 101: The Basics for Beginners.

5 Steps to Learn How to Knit

Most beginner knitters like to see knitting in action to learn best. So while these are the basic steps required to begin knitting, we recommend reinforcing these instructions with a good visual knitting for beginners tutorial.

Step 1: Tie Yarn Onto Knitting Needle

knitting slip knot
Begin by knotting your yarn onto your needle.

Attach the yarn to one needle with a slip knot. Tighten the knot, but not too tightly—you want it to be able to move a little up and down the needle. You only need to make one slip knot.

Step 2: Cast On

knitting cast on
Casting on is beginning the first row of stitches.

Creating your first row of stitches from the slip knot is called casting on. To do this, insert the second knitting needle (the one that you didn’t tie the slip knot onto) into the slip knot and place this needle behind the first.

Taking the yarn attached to the ball of yarn, loop it around and behind the back needle. Using the tip of the back needle, take it through the first slip knot. Transfer the new loop created onto the first needle.

Repeat until you have as many stitches as you need for the pattern or project you’re following. If you’re beginning by creating a knitting swatch for practice, it doesn’t really matter how many stitches you create at first—around 20-30 is a good number that’ll allow you to practice.

Step 3: Knit Your First Row

knitting first row
Knit your first row of plain stitches.

To knit your first row, follow a similar method to how you cast on. However, instead of creating a row of knots (stitches) on one needle, this time you’ll be transferring each new stitch, and the original stitches they connect to, onto the second needle.

Step 4: Knit a Purl Row

So far, you have been learning how to knit what are called “plain” stitches (sometimes also called knitting stitches, but that can be confusing because all the stitches are knitting!). If you continue to knit only with plain stitches, your finished product will have the same texture on both sides, which is called a garter stitch. Your piece will look something like this:

knit purl
A swatch made with plain stitch will look like this.

However, there are two types of stitches in knitting. All items, however complex the design, are made with one (or a combination) of these two stitches. The second type of stitch is called the “purl” stitch. By alternating rows of plain and purl stitches, your swatch will look like this:

Plain and purl kitting stitches
A combination of plain and purl stitches creates this look.

Plain and purl stitches can be combined in different ways to create different types of textures, effects, and designs. For example, ribbing:

Ribbing knitting
Ribbing is created by combining plain and purl stitches in a particular order.

Knitting a purl stitch isn’t difficult—essentially, it’s knitting a plain stitch backward. Bring the yarn to the front of your work, then insert the needle into the stitch and push it through the front. Bring the yarn over the top of the needle and around, and slide it through so that the stitch comes onto the second needle.

Knitting a purl stitch.
Knitting a purl stitch.

Step 5: Cast Off

Cast off knitting
When you’ve completed your piece, you need to cast off.

Once you’ve created your swatch or other piece of knitting and are ready to finish, you can’t simply pull your knitting needles out of the stitches—that would cause the piece to unravel! You need to cast off, the opposite of casting on. (This is sometimes called binding off, too.) You should only cast off on a row with plain stitches, not purl stitches.

To cast off, knit two stitches onto the new needle. Take the first of these two new stitches and loop it over the second stitch. Continue this process, always having two stitches to work with on the second needle.

When you get to the last stitch, pull the yarn up to create a longer loop:

knitting loop
Create a loop with the last stitch.

Remove the needle and knot the final stitch to secure the end, so your hard work doesn’t unravel.

Easy Knitting Projects for Beginners

Many free knitting patterns for beginners are available, but it takes a bit of extra time to learn to read and make sense of a printed (or online) knitting pattern. Like learning the basics of knitting, it’s best to consult a visual tutorial or class.

Scarf

knit scarf
Student work by Deborah Piragibe for Knitting I: Learn the Basics with a Simple Scarf

Many people start by knitting a scarf, as there are many easy scarf knitting patterns for beginners available. Scarves are simple because they don’t have to include complex patterns or curves—they’re made in one long piece. You can add tassels for a bit of flair, but you don’t have to.

Snood

Snood
Student work by Katie Simmons for Knitting 101: Create a Timeless Snood

A snood is similar to a scarf, but it’s connected at the ends, into a loop. So if you’ve mastered the basics of a scarf and want to get a bit more creative with textures, knitting a snood allows you to practice. The snood in the picture uses a chunky moss stitch to create the texture.

Washcloth

knitted washcloth
Knitted washcloths are practical and allow you to practice essential stitches.

There may be only so many scarves and snoods you need in your wardrobe, so another ideal way to practice is by knitting handy washcloths. If you select a suitable yarn (i.e., one that’s not too fluffy or absorbent), these can be great alternatives to store-bought face cloths. Knitted washcloths don’t need to be large, so this is one of the quickest beginner projects you can work on.

Arm-knitted Scarf

knitting
This quirky knitting technique doesn’t require needles!

Arm knitting is a funky alternative to traditional knitting—think of your arms as the needles! This type of knitting isn’t complicated, and anyone can learn. Because your arms are standing in for the knitting needles, you’ll be creating big, chunky pieces, like blankets or oversize scarves. 

Cozy House Socks

knit socks
Learn to knit these comfortable socks to wear around home.

Once you’ve mastered some of the basic stitches and are becoming more confident with your knitting, try some slightly more complex projects. House socks are a good way to practice because they don’t need to be perfect (unlike, say, a sweater), but still give you the chance to knit more than just straight lines. Sock knitting patterns for beginners are a good stepping stone, as knitting the heel, toe, and ribbing at the ankle requires you to learn techniques that will be useful if you want to move on to more advanced projects