While it may seem complicated, knitting is a skill that anyone can learn with a little patience and some practice. And, in this day and age of “fast fashion,” taking the time and energy to create something with your own hands adds a lot of intrinsic value to an item. This means knitting is not only a fun and relaxing pastime, but also it enables you to make a meaningful gift for someone you care about. The simplest way to dive into this world is to knit a scarf — it is just one long piece, after all — and once you have a handle on the basics, you’ll be able to churn one out in no time. So, if you’ve never once touched a ball of yarn or a pair of knitting needles, this guide is for you.

Knitting Supplies You’ll Need

There are three main things you need to get started knitting a scarf: a pattern, some knitting needles, and some yarn. It will also be helpful to have a pair of scissors, a measuring tape, and a large sewing needle for different steps along the way, but these are not requirements for jumping right into your project.

Scarf Knitting Pattern

You wouldn’t start building a house without a blueprint, would you? The same goes for knitting—except you don’t need all the permits. 

Thankfully, the internet is filled with free and low-cost scarf knitting patterns from which you can choose. Additionally, most yarn brands will print free patterns on the back of the labels, making your yarn purchase a handy two-for-one deal.

When you first look at a pattern, it may seem like a lot of technical mumbo jumbo that you don’t immediately understand. A lot of that will be cleared up later in this guide, so when you’re choosing a knitting pattern for a scarf, just make sure it’s a design you like and that it’s suitable for a beginner’s skill level. 

Knitting Needles for a Scarf 

different knitting needle sizes
Source: Bekathwia via CreativeCommons Flickr
The whole gamut of knitting needles is seen here, with some crochet hooks also thrown in.

Your knitting needles are the proverbial hammers that you’ll use to build your scarf. In general, the larger the needle’s thickness, the easier it will be for a beginner. When you use small gauge needles, your yarn will also be thinner, making it extremely difficult to see your stitches. Your pattern will tell you which size you should use for each project. Size 10 (6.00 mm) needles are a happy medium that will work for most beginner projects.

For a more comprehensive guide to knitting needles, check out this breakdown

Scarf Knitting Yarn

knitting chart
Source: Instagram
There are a LOT of numbers here, but for your purposes, focus on rows 1 and 5.

If you’ve ever perused your local craft store’s yarn selection, you know the options are endless. Outside of choosing your preferred color, there are two important things to consider: weight and material.

A yarn’s “weight” or thickness traditionally is measured on a 0-7 scale, with 0 being the thinnest and 7 being the bulkiest. These numbers will also have a corresponding suggested needle size. For example, size 4, a.k.a. “worsted” weight yarn should generally be used with knitting needles size 7-9. 

In terms of material, acrylic is the least expensive option. While it may not feel as nice as a wool or cotton yarn, it’s a great choice for starting out due to its low price point and the fact that you might have to start your project over a few times to get it right. Acrylic yarn is also the most abundant type in most craft stores, so it’s very easy to find.

Knitting Stitches for a Scarf

There are a whole host of different stitches you can create when knitting a scarf. However, they are all variations on two simple stitches: the knit stitch and the purl stitch.

Knit Stitch

big sheet of knit
Source: Andy712b via Flickr CreativeCommons
Continuous rows of the knit stitch form what’s called the Garter Stitch.

The knit stitch, also referred to as the plain stitch, is the bread and butter of all knitting. Once you’re able to master this stitch, you’ll be able to create a scarf in no time. In fact, you can make a scarf entirely of this stitch and it will look a lot like the picture above.

To make a knit stitch, put your right needle into the stitch from the bottom to the top, working behind the left needle. Loop your working yarn from back to front around your right needle. Then, by bringing your right needle through the loop you just created and onto the front of your left needle, you will be able to easily pull the stitch off the left and onto the right. At its core, knitting is adding stitches as you move them from left to right.

Purl Stitch 

The purl stitch is simply the knit stitch done backward. Whereas in the knit stitch your right needle will enter a stitch behind your left needle from bottom to top, in the purl stitch your right needle will enter a stitch on top of your left needle from top to bottom. Keeping your working yarn on top of your right needle, wrap it around the right needle from back to front. Then, you push your right needle through the loop you just made and pull the stitch off the left needle.

Take the time to master these two stitches before jumping into any project. Creating a practice swatch—a small knitted piece of repeated stitches—will help make these two stitches muscle memory and, soon enough, you’ll be cranking them out while binging your favorite TV show.

How to Knit a Scarf: A Step by Step Guide

You have your materials, you’ve practiced your stitches, now it’s time to dive into your scarf project. The best way to learn when it comes to knitting is visually, so it’s really helpful to take a class. However, the following steps will give you an overview of what to expect.

Step 1: Read the Pattern

Like reading a recipe before you start cooking, reviewing a knitting pattern will provide you with the ingredients and steps for your completed project. Every pattern likely will have the following:

  • Skill level: Beginner, intermediate, or advanced
  • Project size, for example 4” x 55”
  • Suggested knitting needle size and yarn type
  • An abbreviation list that is used to read the instructions
  • The full instructions

Before starting the project, it’s helpful to review all of this so you know what you’re getting into. 

Step 2: Make a Slip Knot

how to cast on to needle
Skillshare instructor Davina Choy shows off a completed slip knot.

Every knitting project begins with getting your yarn attached to your needle, and the slip knot is often the suggested way to do so. There are many ways to make one, but here is the simplest.

Leave about a 10” tail on your yarn, then make a loop. Reach into the loop and pull the tail through it to create another loop—now it should look like a loop in a loop. Insert your knitting needle into the new loop and pull on the yarn that is attached to your yarn ball. This will tighten your knot around your knitting needle, leaving a short “tail” end and a longer “working” end that continues into your yarn ball. 

Step 3: Cast On 

casting on
Casting on stitches to your needle is always your first step.

Now, it’s time to create your first row of stitches. This process, commonly referred to as casting on, can be done in a variety of different ways, but it is an essential part of the process.  

Your pattern will tell you how many stitches to cast on—this will be the width of your project. Hot tip: don’t pull your cast on stitches too tight. You’ll want them to be slightly loose so that you can work into them later.

Step 4: Follow the Pattern

Skillshare instructor Davina Choy begins the process of knitting her first row.

When you start your pattern, you always want to make sure that your left hand is holding the needle with the cast on stitches and your right hand is holding the naked needle. Then, at the end of each row, you “turn” your work so that your left hand is again holding the stitches. 

Here’s a small pattern example:

CO: 16 stitches

Row 1: *K2, P2; repeat from * across

What this means is you cast on 16 stitches. Then in your first row, you knit stitch twice, purl stitch twice, then repeat that process until you reach the final stitch. Always reference the abbreviation guide included with the pattern if you get lost.

Step 5: Cast Off

Notice how, when casting off, the left needle is going into a stitch on the right needle.

Once you’ve reached either the end of the pattern or the desired length of your scarf, it’s time to cast off your stitches. This process “completes the loop,” so to speak, and ensures that your scarf won’t unravel after you have finished.

There are several ways to cast off, but perhaps the most traditional way is to knit two stitches as normal. Then, using your left needle, pass the first knit stitch over the second one. This will leave one stitch on your right needle, allowing you to continue all the way across the row until the last stitch. Snip your excess yarn, leaving about a 6” tail, and pull it through that final stitch to create a knot.

Step 6: Weave the End

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end! But there’s still that pesky yarn tail flopping around. The simple fix is to weave that end into your project. Using a thick tapestry needle, you can weave it back and forth through your stitches so that it essentially locks in place and you will never have to see it.

Practice and Patience

Even the best knitters have to start somewhere, and it’s guaranteed they made plenty of mistakes as they started out. But don’t let that deter you! Knitting is a lot like riding a bike. In the beginning, you are going to fall, but eventually you will gain dexterity and balance, and it won’t be long before you’re doing a 360 in a half-pipe. (Or, in this case, knitting more advanced scarves and moving on to hats and mittens!)

Have patience with yourself as you’re learning, and you’ll eventually feel that immense satisfaction of casting off your final stitch and holding your very first scarf in your hands. 

Start Your Knitting Journey!

Knitting 101: The Basics for Beginners

Written by:

Luke Field