Learn the KNIT Stitch: a Comprehensive Guide

February 12, 2020

There are three basic stitches in knitting on which just about every other stitch or technique is built. The knit stitch (K), the purl stitch (P), and the Yarn Over (YO).  The knit and purl stitches are very similar in structure but created in different ways. We will learn about the Purl and Yarn Over stitches in the future. For this post, we are going to answer the question, ‘How to make a knit stitch‘ using lots of photos and long, very detailed instructions. I want to be very detailed so you can learn the right way from the beginning.

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knitting needles with yarn

Thoughts for Absolute Beginners

If you are an absolute beginner and right handed, I offer you this advice: Knitting very much relies on using both hands equally. It is going to feel awkward from the beginning no matter which is your dominant hand.

If you are an absolute beginner and left handed, I offer you this advice: you can learn the same way as a right handed knitter, the techniques and patterns shown here and almost everywhere else are written for right handed knitters. There are some good resources (see below) for learning the basic techniques and movements for left handed knitting. It is merely a mirror of right handed knitting. When reading a pattern, if it says use the left needle, you would use the right needle and vice versa. The real source of frustration you may find if you decide to learn left handed is the lack of patterns written for left handed knitters. There are tricks to make it easier but it is still extra work every time you want to make something that is written for a right handed knitter.

Since this craft is new for you, doing it as if for a right handed person from the beginning is likely not going to be any more difficult. Knitting very much relies on using both hands equally, I like to think of it as a dance, they need to know where each other is at all times. It is going to feel awkward from the beginning no matter which is your dominant hand. There is a method of making stitches with the yarn in your left hand called Continental that is still for right handed knitters. It is another great alternative, if as a left handed knitter you do not want to go through the hassle of translating every pattern first. Here is a good blog for left handed knitting resources: thelefthandedknitter.

Getting Started

First you need the right supplies. Not sure what they are? Check out this Checklist:

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I will be showing you how to make a knit stitch with some stitches already on the needle. I prefer to teach my local, in person students the knit stitch before a cast-on (getting the yarn on the needles). You wonder how I do it? I pre-knit the stitches onto the needle for them. Since we are doing this from a distance, you will need to get some stitches on the needle somehow. Check out this quick tutorial video – nothing fancy, just enough to get started.

Come back when you have some stitches on your needle. I recommend 20 to start, not so many that you go nuts trying to cast them on, but enough to get a feel for what we are learning and easily see your work.

After you master the knit stitch, the other techniques will be easier and the more you understand about the knit stitch, the quicker you can start doing more advanced techniques. As with just about anything, the more you practice, the better your knitting will be.

PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! I mean it! (Anybody want a peanut?) If you don’t understand that reference, you have not watched one of the best movies of all time, “The Princess Bride”. I recommend you do it as a reward for mastering the knit stitch!

VERY IMPORTANT Details to Keep in Mind

● Since there are two needles, one is held in the left hand and is called the left hand needle. Same goes for the right hand, it is called the right hand needle.
● Knit with the working yarn, the yarn that is connected to the skein/ball of yarn, not the short tail left over from casting on.
● Yarn will be hanging off the back of the right hand needle when doing the knit stitch. If you set down your work, make sure you working yarn is on the right side of your stitches before proceeding. Only more advanced techniques might be different. This is a pretty important, but easy rule, to follow so you do not get confused when resuming.
● We will be making the same movements for every stitch, the yarn winds around the needle COUNTERCLOCKWISE. REMEMBER this always. (There are other ways of knitting where this rule does not apply, but for the sake of learning the basics, just REMEMBER COUNTERCLOCKWISE!)

Before We Start the Knit Stitch…

Imagine you are standing and you have this weird rod that you need to straddle. (Weird I know, but it helps you paint a mental picture that you are less likely to forget.) You should always stand with your right foot forward and your left foot back behind you when straddling the rod. This is the correct way a stitch should look. This is what you want to end up with every time. See below:

Prepping for first knit stitch
Here are the previously cast on stitches (in this case I have worked a small length to better show you) and I am pulling gently on the working yarn to show how stitches are supposed to look while resting on the needle.

ONE OF THE *MOST IMPORTANT* THINGS TO KNOW AS A BEGINNER KNITTER:

Looking at the needle up close, at the stitch/loop closest to my right hand:

The bottom of the ‘leg’ in the FRONT is leaning to the RIGHT.

The bottom of the ‘leg’ in the BACK is leaning to the LEFT.

If I could make this information jump out and smack you in the face, I would. It’s THAT IMPORTANT!

Starting the Knit Stitch

The knitting needle goes into that little triangular opening just below the knitting needle in that first loop on the right of the image above, near my right hand.

Putting the right hand needle in the stitch
Here the needle is inserted properly. Remember “IN”.

Now that you know where to put the right hand needle, let’s get to it. Insert the right hand needle in the triangular area, it wants to go in from the front left to the back right of that first stitch. The needle wants to be there, the yarn is positioned so that it is easy and you do not need to bend your wrists in a weird way. We are going to make a mantra to remember how to do the knit stitch. Yes, a mantra. You know, something you say over and over that helps you remember how to do some task. For this first part, I want you to remember the word IN.

Now that the needle is in the stitch properly, hold both needles with your left hand in a plus or cross shape. Snug the yarn up around the needles, you do not want a big gap.

Holding both knitting needles at the same time.
Holding both knitting needles at the same time in your left hand, leaving your right hand free to tighten the loop.

Here is where the COUNTERCLOCKWISE comes in, you are going to take that working yarn that is in your right hand and wind it around the needle that is vertical, going COUTERCLOCKWISE. The yarn goes COUNTERCLOCKWISE when you are pointing the needle towards your face and looking down the shaft of it.

Wrap yarn around left needle
Start wrapping the working yarn around the vertical, right needle COUNTERCLOCKWISE.
wrap yarn counterclockwise around needle
Keep going around needle COUNTERCLOCKWISE
Wind yarn counterclockwise
Keep going COUNTERCLOCKWISE
Pull the yarn to the back of the work and hold it there.
Pull the working yarn to the back of the work and hold it there.
Yarn is now wrapped around the right needle
The yarn is now wrapped completely around the right needle one time.

Now that the yarn is wrapped COUNTERCLOCKWISE around the right needle we can say AROUND. Get it?? We took the yarn all the way AROUND the needle.

So now we are at IN & AROUND for our mantra.

Start to pull the right needle down
Start to slowly pull the right needle down, without letting any loops drop off.

If you think this is too long of a post, we are going very slowly so that you get a good, solid foundation of this stitch. After all, the whole craft is named Knitting!

Slowly pull the right needle down while keeping the counterclockwise wrapped yarn on the needle. We want that yarn to stay on the right needle for a while.

Keep the  yarn loop on the right needle
Catch the yarn on the right needle.

Draw the needle forward, towards you. Keeping the yarn on the right needle the whole time. We are coming OUT the way the needle went in. So we tell ourselves OUT, the third part of our mantra. One more step to go.

Pulling out the yarn loop to form the knit stitch
Pulling out the yarn loop with the right needle to form the knit stitch.

The yarn is still on the right needle, exactly where we want it to stay.

Pulling the completed knit stitch off
Pulling the completed knit stitch off the left needle. My finger is holding on just to show you that it was there and now we want that one to fall off.

We want the loop that we put the needle into at the beginning of the knit stitch to fall off the left needle. We worked that stitch by drawing the yarn through it, it will not unravel/ravel and now the new stitch is moved over to the right needle. This is where we say OFF in our mantra.

One knit stitch complete
The new knit stitch is complete, it has moved from the left needle to the right needle.

That is one stitch done completely. Now repeat the procedure everywhere that calls for a knit stitch. Use the mantra to help remember the steps.

IN | AROUND| OUT | OFF

You can mutter it under your breath for as long as it takes to remember the technique. Just maybe not too loud so people don’t look at you funny.

Two quick photos showing it for the second stitch in on the left needle, now you will be able to recognize it!

Now that you have seen the steps to make the knit stitch, it really is a simple maneuver to practice. We are adding a new row of stitches on top of the previous row.

Knitting halfway across a row
Knitting halfway across the row to see the new stitches stacked on top of the old.

We continue to build onto the row below, slowly making our way up. See the little “V’s” created by the knit stitch? See this post to help you remember later which is the knit stitch.

The image above has all knit rows on the bottom of the sample where it looks bumpy. If you keep knitting all your stitches with no purls, it will not look that smooth like the image above shows right under the needles. The top part of the sample is knit in a stitch pattern called Stockinette Stitch. Stockinette stitch is used in most knitting projects so we will be learning about it in the future.

If you want to remember what a knit stitch looks like, check out this post with a little ditty I came up with to remember this important info!

Do you have any questions? Let me know! Did this make sense to those of you who have tried it previously without much luck?

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4 Comments

  • Reply Debbie October 28, 2020 at 6:54 pm

    Hi Marissa,

    I came to your blog from what I assume is the same Washington Post article as Tammy. However, I want to say THANK YOU! I have not done much knitting in several years and decided to pick it up again. Your blog has served as a much needed refresher (and confidence builder). I am right handed but have friends who are lefties. To a person, they prefer to knit right handed because it is easier than translating patterns, etc. I look forward to following your blog. And who knows? I might take up sewing again as well.

    • Reply Marissa October 28, 2020 at 7:20 pm

      Hi Debbie! Thank you so much for your kind words! Yes, I agree that I’d rather learn something for my non-dominant hand than have to go through 3x work to use my dominant hand! So glad you picked knitting up again, hopefully I will see your comments on some sewing posts too! Cheers, Marissa

  • Reply Tammy October 7, 2020 at 5:52 am

    Stumbled onto your blog from the article in the Washington Post today. I’m a long-time knitter but had not run across you before, so I was immediately intrigued. And then I came to this post, with the worst possible advice for left-handed people, and will not be back. I am 61 (today, in fact!) and have been knitting for (gulp) 50 years. I’m left-handed and it’s utter garbage to say that any lefty needs to learn to knit right-handed. I’m all for knitting however feels right to someone — continental, English, standard, mirrored, whatever, but telling lefties that knitting involved “both hands” so you might as well do it the righty way is terrible advice. Surgery involves two hands, as well. Do you want your left-handed surgeon operating on you right-handed? Hello — and goodbye.

    • Reply Marissa October 7, 2020 at 9:38 am

      Hi Tammy,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment on the post. First off, Happy Birthday! I hope you are able to do something you enjoy today! I am so glad that you pointed this out to me. Please know I did not just write this without thinking about it or to be lazy or out of ignorance, my experience as a knitting teacher helped me form this advice. I had left handed students that had tried to knit left handed but were frustrated with the mirroring and lack of patterns already written for left handed knitters. We talk about the overall movements of knitting that often require a little dance with both hands and also about continental knitting. They liked the alternative choice of learning like a right handed knitter, they thought they had to learn as a lefty and glad they didn’t have to ‘translate’ right handed written patterns. So please do forgive my misjudgment on this. I absolutely agree that I would not want a surgeon using their non-dominant hand for an operation! I do hope that you will help and point out any other misjudgments I make and keep reading. I love hearing from readers, good or bad comments! This is how I make a better site and better products. Cheers – Marissa

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