I’m asked this question, in one form/context or another, on an increasingly frequent basis, and it probably should have been first in the Beginning to Knit pool of posts. But it’s kind of a hard question to answer! You’ve seen an Instagrammer knitting some amazing mitts, or you’ve ventured into a store with a friend and witnessed the aesthetic splendor of modern yarn selections, or you remember your great-grandmother knitting when you were tiny and you’ve always wanted to learn. Maybe you’ve gone so far as to buy a ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles. And the question is: Now what? How do I learn how to knit?
As with most things, getting started is the hardest part — especially if you’re an adult human trying to learn from scratch. In order to knit at the most basic level, you need to know two things: 1) how to cast on stitches (i.e., get the first row of stitches onto your needle) and 2) how to knit into those stitches to begin forming a fabric. From there, you can build your knitting skills at a feverish pace, but those are the first two building blocks. Like any new thing, it will feel awkward and maybe a little frustrating until you get the hang of it, and the better teacher you have, the better.
There are lots of options, and in reality you’ll use some combination of them all:
1) TAKE A CLASS
If there is a yarn store where you live and you can afford their introductory class, there’s really no better bet than learning from a professional. A good teacher not only knows how to teach knitting, but she knows more than one way of doing each and every thing and can help you find the techniques that will work best for you. A class will get you off on the right foot. In addition to yarn stores, there are loads of fiber festivals and knitting conferences that offer whole rafts of classes — at all levels and taught by traveling pros — which are generally well worth the investment. The big ones are Stitches, Knitting Lab and Vogue Knitting Live. At those events, there are often free Knitting 101-type lessons to get you over that first hump. If you’re averse to classes and have means, there are also private tutors in the world — ask your yarn store for recommendations.
2) HAVE A FRIEND OR FAMILY MEMBER HELP YOU
Knitters love to convert people to knitting, so don’t be shy about asking for help. Anyone — an aunt, a neighbor, a coworker — who is a reasonably skilled knitter can show you the basics. They may not be as good at teaching as they are at knitting (I was incredibly lucky in this regard) and they may only be able to show you how they do it, as opposed to a pro who can walk you through all the options, but having a human being show you and sit with you while you try your hand at it is priceless.
3) RELY ON THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
If neither of the above is an option, see if you can find a knitting group in your area. Most towns have at least one that meets casually at some bar or coffee shop or library, and if you show up at one of those and ask very very nicely if anyone will show you the basics, there’s a chance someone will say yes. Have these two things with you: A ball (not a loose skein) of worsted-weight yarn, and size US7 knitting needle (either a circular, pictured above, or a pair of straight needles).
4) CONSULT THE INTERNET
Once you know how to cast on and knit stitches, I absolutely recommend that you watch videos at Knitting Help or The Purl Bee or YouTube, etc., to expand your skill set. (More on that here.) If you’re a quick study, good with your hands, and patient with yourself, it might even work to learn from scratch that way. If you’re going to attempt it, you’ll want to know first that there are two basic “styles” of knitting. Continental knitting is also referred to as “picking” and it involves holding the yarn in your left hand. English knitting is also called “throwing” and involves holding the yarn in your right hand. Knitting Help in particular has videos for each basic skill done in both styles, so you can watch and try both ways, and see what feels most comfortable to you. A hybrid approach would be to take an online class, at a site like Craftsy or Creative Bug — not exactly as interactive as a real live teacher, but a step up from a video, in that regard.
5) READ A BOOK
I know hoards of people have learned to knit from the “Stitch ’n Bitch” book, as just one example, and I find that amazing. Even being a visual learner, I find knitting diagrams and descriptions mostly inscrutable. So while I have a stack of books I use for reference — like when I want to compare a few different people’s advice on how to accomplish a certain thing — I wouldn’t have been able to learn to knit from them. But clearly it works for others!
No matter how you learn those starter skills, I really recommend signing up for classes to expand them. And/or finding a knitting group to hang out with. And/or attending “knit night” at your local yarn store. I’m always saying this, but things come up in conversations among knitters that don’t come up in books or videos, where the focus is simply on walking you straight through a specific skill. So take any opportunity to place yourself amongst knitters knitting. And if you take only one class, make it a class in fixing mistakes. You will make mistakes (not just at the beginning) and knowing how to fix them will keep your frustration level down and your bravery high.
To everyone reading this who already knows how to knit, as always you’re encouraged to share your thoughts on the subject below! And for anyone who’s about to ask: The yarn in the picture is some Fino that Manos del Uruguay sent me.