11 Essential Skills Every Knitter Should Have

Pick Up These Skills for Great Knitting

People often say that knitting is simple because it comes down to just two stitches—knit and purl—but there's really more to it than that. When you're learning to knit, there are lots of possible skills to learn and garments to try them on.

So where should you start? This guide to essential knitting skills starts at the very beginning and works up to techniques that are great to know how to do even if you don't use them very often.

  • 01 of 11

    Casting On Stitches

    Stitches cast on using the long tail cast on. © Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    There are lots of different ways to get stitches on your knitting needle, and it's a good idea to commit a few of them to memory. The long-tail cast on is probably most common among knitters with some experience, but there are also good times to use cast ons like the wrap and knit cast on.

  • 02 of 11

    The Knit Stitch

    A finished knit stitch. © Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    It's most common to learn the knit stitch and get comfortable with it before you learn to purl. Whether you decide to learn the English or continental style is really up to you, how you feel comfortable and if someone is teaching you. You'll probably eventually want to be able to knit reasonably well in either method.

  • 03 of 11

    The Purl Stitch

    Forming a purl stitch. © Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Once you're comfortable with knitting, it's time to learn to purl, which is sort of the opposite of knitting. With these two stitches you're able to make the most common knit fabric, known as Stockinette Stitch. As before, there is the English and continental method, and one will likely be easier for you.

  • 04 of 11

    Binding Off Knitting

    Binding off stitches. © Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Though there are many different ways to bind off knitting, one is by far the most common. (So common, in fact, that I don't know if it has a name other than "bind off.") This one will do for most of your needs as you learn to knit.

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  • 05 of 11

    Increasing Stitches

    A knit in the front and back shown in the knit fabric. © Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Once you're comfortable knitting straight flat pieces you might want to start adding and subtracting stitches to make different shapes. Knit in the front and back (linked above) is probably the most common increase for new knitters, but it's handy to know how to make one, also.

  • 06 of 11

    Decreasing Stitches

    Knitting two together. © Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Now that you know how to add stitches, you'll need to know how to take them away, too. Knit two together (linked above) is a quick and easy way to get rid of a stitch; slip, slip, knit is another popular choice.

  • 07 of 11

    Knitting in the Round

    Knitting in the round with circular knitting needles. © Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Knitting with circular and double-pointed knitting needles takes a little bit of practice but makes it possible to knit sweaters in fewer pieces, knit socks and make hats without seams.

  • 08 of 11

    Lace Knitting

    A row of eyelets working into a piece of knitting. © Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    A special kind of increase known as a yarn over, paired with particular decreases, makes a holey kind of knit fabric known as lace. While knitting fancy lace shawls is certainly not a requirement of being a good knitter, it's helpful to know how eyelets work so you can work a simple lace pattern into a pair of fingerless gloves or make a place for a drawstring to go on a bag.

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  • 09 of 11

    Knitting Cables

    Knit fabric with an allover honeycomb cable pattern. © Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Cables are simply a way of working stitches in a different order from the way they are usually presented on the needles. You can hold stitches to the front or back of the work as you work other stitches, and these simple movements can produce some really dramatic results.

  • 10 of 11

    Mattress Stitch

    Seaming two pieces of knitting with mattress stitch. © Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Mattress stitch is a strange name for a basic finishing technique used when you need to sew two pieces of knitting together. It's the best way to finish the side seams on a sweater or sew afghan blocks together.

  • 11 of 11

    Fair Isle Knitting

    A stranded knit coffee cup cozy on a Mason jar. © Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Fair Isle or stranded knitting is a classic way to add color to knitting that involves working with two different colors for short stretches across the row or round. This type of knitting is often worked circularly, so it's great if you have that skill first. This is also the time when being able to knit both English and continental style can be helpful.