Learn to Knit for Beginners – Lesson 1, How to Knit and Purl

Learn to Knit for Beginners how to knit

Welcome back to my Learn to Knit for Beginners series.  This lesson we are going to start to learn how to knit!

If you missed it, I put an introductory post here describing the course and the equipment you will need to learn to knit. If you didn’t already, please check it out!

For this lesson you will need:

A set of knitting needles and a ball of yarn. (Yes, that really is it!)


In the introduction, I recommended buying some DK, Aran or Chunky weight yarn and a size 5mm or 6mm needle to learn with. If you’re not sure what that means or you want more information have a look at my introductory post, I put LOTS more information in there! 🙂

You can find Learn to Knit for Beginners – Introduction here.

In Lesson 2 I’ll be sharing a simple beginner pattern for a scarf which you can knit yourselves. I’ll share yarn recommendations for this pattern. For now, and for yarn and needles to practice with, go with the yarn I recommended in the introduction.

So let’s get started with Lesson 1!

In this lesson we’re going to look at:

  • How to hold your yarn and needles and the two different knitting styles. (Known as “English style” and “continental style”)
  • How to start your piece (“cast on”)
  • Pretty much ALL knitting is done using two stitches, the Knit Stitch and the Purl Stitch.  The good news is you will have learned both of those by the end of this lesson!
  • I’ll then show you my favourite technique for ending your swatch to make sure your piece doesn’t unravel! (cast-off)

I’ve included a “Jargon Buster” at the end of this Lesson (and each lesson in the series). So if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check there. Or ask me a question in the comments section below!

How to hold your needles and yarn

English Style Knitting Vs Continental Style Knitting

There are a few different styles of knitting but the main two that you will come across are “English Style” Knitting and “Continental Style” knitting.

In English-Style knitting, you will hold the yarn in your right hand and make the stitch by looping the yarn over the knitting needle. English Style Knitting is sometimes referred to as “throwing” because of the motion that your hand takes to move the yarn around the needle.

Holding your yarn and needles “English Style” looks like this:


In Continental Style knitting, you will hold the yarn in your left hand and pick-up the yarn with the needle to make the stitch. Continental style knitting is sometimes referred to as “Picking” due to this motion of picking the yarn through. Some say that it is easier for crochters to learn how to knit continental style, as they are already used to holding the yarn in the left hand.

Holding your yarn Continental Style looks like this:


I will be teaching you “English Style” knitting in this course. Please give it a go, even if you are a crocheter, personally, I knit English style, and even though I crochet, I still find it easier than continental style. So it is personal!

Right Handed vs Left Handed

I’m right handed and so I will be teaching you how to knit from a right-handed perspective. We will hold the yarn in the right hand and use the right-hand to make the stitches onto the left-hand needle.

As knitting is a two-handed sport, the advice for left-handed knitters is to give it a go in the same way, holding the yarn in the right hand.

It might feel odd at first but TRUST ME, it will feel just as odd for the right-handed knitters at first!! If that doesn’t work for you, left-handed knitters will just mirror what right-handed knitters do, holding the yarn in the left hand.

How to hold your yarn

In English Style Knitting, you will hold your yarn and needles like this.


Your right hand controls the tension of your yarn (how loose / tight your stitches are). To provide this tension, you will need to let the yarn “slide” through your fingers at a the rate you control. Wrapping your yarn around your fingers will help control this.

How to “tension” your yarn

Tension (how loose / tight you hold your yarn) is important to maintain even stitches.  The aim is to control how much yarn the stitch gets. Each stitch should have the same amount of yarn to be the same size.

I “tension” my yarn by holding it like this.  This allows me to use my little finger and index finger can control how tight the yarn is.


When I’m knitting, I let the yarn slide gently through my fingers when I’m wrapping the yarn around the needle to make the stitch (you’ve got to use yarn to make the stitch). I then grip my little finger tighter, holding onto the yarn once the yarn is wrapped round the needle.

When you are learning how to knit, tension will take a little bit of of practice so don’t worry if you don’t get it straight away.

You might also find that there is another way that works better for you. Another way you could hold your yarn is as follows. It’s very similar, but without the wrap around the little finger, you control tension here by squeezing your fingers together or relaxing them.  Personally I find it harder to control the yarn this way.

Tip from me

There really isn’t a right way to hold your yarn, go with what words for you. Experiment a bit, once you have made a few swatches you should find a way that works for you.


How to Cast-on

Before you start knitting, you need to load your needles with a number of stitches to allow you to start knitting. This is known as “Casting-on”.

The number of stitches that you “cast-on” will be determined by your pattern. The number that you choose will influence how wide your piece of work will be.

When you have cast on, each “loop” of yarn on your needle will be a stitch.

For example, here I have cast on 20 stitches.


Making a slip-knot

The first step in most cast-on techniques is making a slip-knot. That is fairly, simple, you can make it as follows:


Different Cast-on techniques

There are a number of cast-on techniques and they are all useful for different situations.

My favourite cast-on is the “long-tail cast-on”. It’s a good all-rounder and very simple to do. I put a full photo-tutorial for how to do this cast-on here. I’ve also recorded this short video showing the steps below.

Now its time to have a go yourself!

Go and check out the photo-tutorial, watch the video, then:

  • Use this method to cast-on between 26 stitches (if you have chunky yarn) and 30 stitches if you have Aran or DK yarn.

In the video, I’ve cast on 10 stitches, just to show you how! I’ll count them for you at the end!

How to hold your needles

For pretty much ALL knitting (which includes purling!) you will start and the right hand end of a row (set of stitches) and work from right to left.

That means that your left hand needle will have the stitches on to start with and you will knit or purl these onto your right hand needle, which will start empty.

Your “Working Yarn” (the yarn coming from the ball that you will be making stitches with) will be coming from the right hand side of your work, from the last stitch you made (or cast-on).

Tip from me: There will also be a “tail yarn” which is the bit left over from when you cast-on. Don’t knit with this bit! Be especially careful about this when you are knitting your first row as it is easy to confuse these at first!


Hold your needles on-top, like you would a knife. Like in the picture below.

You’ll see that my right-hand needle is empty and my left-hand needle has all the stitches on.


How to knit the Knit Stitch

So now we have cast-on and learned how to hold our needles and yarn we can (finally!) start knitting!

The first stitch we’re going to learn how to knit the Knit stitch.

Have a look at the 26 or 30 stitches that you have cast-on.  Holding the needle with the tip pointing towards you, you’ll see that each stitch (loop) has yarn that runs down the front and back of the needle (right and left as you’re looking at it). This is known as a front loop and a back loop. For knitting and Purling we are going to be using the front loop.

Pick up your work and hold the “working yarn” (the yarn that is coming from the ball of yarn that you will use to make the stitches) behind / underneath the needle like shown in the picture below.

You will make a knit stitch as follows:

In the pictures, I’ve shown you what it will look like on this initial cast-on and what it will look like once you are knitting.

Step 1


Step 2


Step 3


Step 4


Step 5


Repeat these steps for the next (and all stitches) in the row

Take a look at this video showing you how to make multiple knit stitches:

Now its time to have a go yourself!

What I’d like you to do now is:

  • Knit all of the stitches on your needle. ie, I want you to Knit to the end of the row.
  • At the end of each row, turn the whole piece around so that the working yarn is coming from the right hand side of the knitting again.
  • Then knit back across each stitch in the row until you get back to the other side
  • Keep doing this until you feel that you have had a good practice of the knit stitch. Concentrate on getting to a smooth movement and making each stitch as even as possible.

Tip from me

You will have to keep shuffling stitches along your left hand needle but try not to have them all bunched up at the end of the left-hand needle as they are more likely to fall-off. As you can see in the video, I’m holding the stitches with my left hand to keep them in place.

Note from me: In the pictures and video I’m alternating rows of knit and purl stitches in my swatch. As you are just (at this stage!) doing rows of knits, it WILL look different from mine so don’t panic.

How to knit the Purl Stitch

Now you have learned how to knit the Knit stitch, we are going to learn how to knit the Purl stitch. You will make the same movements as you did for the knit stitch, except that the working yarn will be in front of your knitting.

Hold the knitting in the same way, but this time, have the working yarn in-front of your needle as shown in the pictures below.

We will make the purl stitch as follows:

Step 1


Step 2


Step 3


Step 4


Step 5


And that is it, you’ve learned how to knit the purl stitch! Nice one!!

Just in case it helps, here is a video showing the purl stitch steps:

Now it’s time to have a go yourself!

What I’d like you to do now is:

  • Purl every stitch in the row.
  • Turn your work, so that the working yarn is coming from the right hand side of the knitting again.
  • Purl back across the next row

Keep repeating these steps, turning at the end of each row. Concentrate on getting to a smooth movement and making each stitch as even as possible.

Once you have got the hang of purling, try alternating one row of knits with one row of purls. See what texture that makes!

We will be exploring how to combine knit and purl stitches to make different knitting textures in Lesson 2.

Note from me: In the pictures and video I’m alternating rows of knit and purl stitches in my swatch. As you are just (at this stage!) doing rows of purls, it WILL look different from mine so don’t panic.

Casting Off

The final key skill you will need to learn is how to stop your work un-ravelling at the end.

This is called casting-off. As for casting-on, there are a number of different ways to do this. I will show you a basic cast-off.

This cast off creates a fairly rigid edge (without much stretch) and so if you were making something which needed a really stretchy edge (like a sock cuff!) you might use a different cast-off.

You will cast-off when you don’t want to knit any more of that piece, ever. ie: at the end of the pattern. If you want to stop knitting for a bit, but you haven’t finished your work yet, don’t cast off, I’ve put some tips below about how to store your work whilst you’re working on it!

How to Cast Off

Step 1


Step 2


Step 3


Step 4


Here is a video of the cast-off steps above, which I hope will help.

When you get to the last stitch on the row, cut the working yarn, leaving about a 15cm of yarn still attached to the knitting needle (also called a “tail”).  You don’t have to measure this, just leave enough to thread onto a needle to hide in your work (we will sew it in later).

Final cast-off steps are as follows:

How to Knit - cast-off

Now it’s time to have a go yourself!

Once you have had a good go at Knit Stitches and Purl stitches, have a go at casting off your work.

Then…cast back on and knit and purl again.

You’ll be a pro in no-time but don’t forget that it will take some practice to get really good. It took me several hours to get to a point where my fingers remembered what they wanted to do and several hours longer so I could do it comfortably. Don’t give up if you don’t get it immediately.

Keep trying, remember, if I can knit YOU can knit!

Putting your work down

Final thought from me. It is of course possible to put your knitting down and pick it up again. I would recommend trying to get to the end of a row before doing it though, it makes it much easier to pick up again!

If you are using circular needles and you want to put your work down, push the work down onto the cables, it shouldn’t fall off there!

If you are using straight needles, a good top is to push your stitches down to the bottom end of the needles and then push the ends of your needles into the ball of yarn, it should hold it on for a bit of moving it around. You can get “end-stops” for needles if you want to transport them!

I am here to help!

If at any point you have any issues, question, comments, please post them either below in the comments section, or you can find me on facebook here or here. I really am here to help so please don’t struggle in silence. If you are struggling with something, chances are that someone else is too, so think of it as helping them!! 🙂

Please show me how you’re getting on!

I’d really love to see what you’re up and I know you can’t add pictures to the comments on my blog so:

If you’re on facebook – please share them on my facebook page Jo Creates Facebook Page or if you’re sharing them in your own newsfeed, please tag me so I can see what lovely knits and purls you are making!

If you’re on instagram, please post pictures of your knitting practice using the hashtag #learntoknitjocreates.

That’s it for now…

Well done for getting to the end of Lesson 1 of this Learn to Knit for Beginners course!

You have learned how to knit the knit stitch and the purl stitch.  Well done you! 🙂

In Lesson 2, we will look at combining knits and purls to make different textured knitting. We’ll also explore different yarn types and what they can be used for. Don’t forget, next lesson will also include a free pattern for a scarf that you can knit yourself so remember to come back for that!

Thank you so much for joining me! I hope that you have fun knitting and purling.

Jargon Buster

Before I go, here is this Lesson’s “Jargon Buster” as promised:

Back Loop The yarn running down the back of the needle for each stitch
Cast Off / Casting off Method of fastening-off stitches at the end of your piece of work to stop them un-ravelling
Cast on / Casting on Method of adding stitches to the needles to allow you to begin knitting
Continental Style Type of knitting where you hold the working yarn in your left hand and pick up the yarn to make the stitches
English Style Type of knitting where you hold the working yarn in your right hand and loop it around the needle to make the stitches
Front Loop The yarn running down the front of the needle for each stitch
Row Each horizontal line of stitches.
Tension This refers to the tightness of the yarn and your stitches.  The aim is to get then an even tension and they will then be an even size
Turn your work Usually done at the end of a row.  Turn your work by 180° so that the working yarn is coming from the right hand side of your work again.
Working yarn This is the yarn which you are using to knit / purl with.  It will be the yarn coming from the ball of yarn.

18 Responses

  1. Very clearly written! It will be a great reference for me as I have recently picked up knitting, but I have yet to finish my first washcloth 😂 I have too many crochet projects going! I do really enjoy knitting though! It’s so fun to learn something new (and have a reason to buy more yarn haha) 😊

  2. I can do these! But I only know one way of casting on (where I wrap the yarn round my thumb, and I’d love to learn some different ones. I’ll give long tail casting on a try first

  3. I love the way that you explain things so clearly. I’m definitely going to give it a go as soon as I finish up a couple of crochet projects. I want to finish them off because I’m pretty sure that once I get started with this I will only want to practice knitting and not want to pick up my crochet hook! LOL 😀

  4. Jo Gretton

    Hi Jo, what do I do when I’m casting-off and have 1 stitch left on the right hand needle (none on the left)? It seems if I just pull the needle out will it unravel? Thanks!

  5. Laura Steele

    So I just discovered that I’ve been “purling” incorrectly! Thank you for showing me how it’s actually done.

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