Learn all about what is knitting! Knitting is a wonderful hobby that will enable you to create clothing, blankets, home decor, and more, all from two long needles and a single, very long thread. It is quite amazing that just by knowing how to form two stitches, knit stitch, and purl stitch, you can create such a variety of things - anything from a delicate lace shawl to a chunky sweater to a lovely warm pair of socks!
What is Knitting Definition
Knitting is a fiber art that involves joining interconnecting loops of yarn or thread in rows of stitches to create a fabric.
What Does Knitting Mean?
Knitting involves manipulating two long, straight needles and a long stretch of yarn to make interlocking loops, which eventually create a textile. That is the dry, factual description.
The emotional description would be: A fantastic, addictive hobby that keeps both your mind and your hands busy while at the same time producing useful garments, blankets, and toys!
If you are new to this wonderful craft, have a read of my starter article on how to knit.
What is Knitting vs. Crochet
By now, you may be asking yourself what is knitting vs crochet. Although both of these crafts produce a 2D fabric from a 1D strand of yarn, they are very different in style and technique.
The appearance of the fabric is the most obvious difference between the two crafts. Each craft has its own distinctive ‘look’ to the fabric. Knitting tends to drape more easily, and crochet is more solid. Knitting has a smoother look to it, whereas crochet has a more rustic look.
Knitting is more often associated with garments. It is easy to create rectangles or tubes with knitting, and it is easier to create patterns with colorwork with knitting. Crochet is not as elastic as knitting, that is, not as stretchy; it creates a denser fabric, probably more suitable for toys or home décor.
Knitting is done with two needles and two hands. It requires some muscle memory and agility of the fingers. The tension of knitting is easier to control than that of crochet.
Knitting has a huge variety of patterns available to make absolutely anything. Crochet has fewer patterns, although there is still a fairly large selection.
Knitting is generally slower than crochet because it is finer. This also makes it more elegant and refined. Cables and color work are far easier to achieve in knitting than in crochet.
History of Knitting
Knitting by hand has been practiced for thousands of years. It is still unknown where and how this art was created. Some believe that knitting originated when primitive man created webs out of roots. Others believe that Arabian nomads brought the craft to Europe. Others believe that this art form originated in Persia.
A pair of knitted socks discovered in Egypt in A.D. 1100 is the earliest example of true knitting.
Guilds governed the craft during the Middle Ages. The wealthier class wore knitted clothing. By the 16th century, knitting had advanced into a craft.
Knitting has a long history in Scotland. Knitting garments was a family affair in the 17th and 18th centuries. Sweaters were essential for Scottish Isles fishermen. Aran sweaters featured fair isle and cable patterns. During the French-Napoleanic wars, women banded together to knit socks and mittens for the troops. This practice was carried on throughout World War I and World War II.
Knitting was taken over by the Industrial Revolution with the invention of the knitting machine. Hand knitting was no longer able to compete with these knitting machines. But to this day, a hand-knitted garment is a treasured piece of clothing.
Supplies For Knitting
These are the essential knitting tools you will need when learning how to knit:
- Yarn (Read about the types of yarn). This can be cotton, wool or even acrylic.
- Knitting needles of a size suitable for that yarn. (Check the ball band of your yarn to see what knitting needles sizes are recommended). Most beginners use straight needles, but there are also circular needles and double-pointed needles for knitting in the round.
- Tape Measure
- Yarn needle for stitching up the pieces of knit fabric.
Not absolutely necessary, but useful to have are:
- Stitch markers
- Stitch holders
- Row counter
What is Knitting Styles
There are two main styles of knitting- the English Method and the Continental Method. The difference between the two lies in how you hold your yarn. These explanations are for right-hand dominant knitters. They would be reversed for left-handers.
You will be holding your working yarn in your right hand. This method is also called ‘throwing’ or American knitting. To knit in this way, hold the yarn in your right hand and ‘throw’ it over the needle to form the stitch. ‘Throw’ seems a little extreme to me, but you would use your right hand to lift the yarn and wind it around the needle. Perhaps when you are knitting really fast, it would be more of a throwing movement?
This is also known as ‘picking’ or German knitting. To knit with this method, the yarn is held in the left hand, and a small movement of the left index finger is used to ‘pick’ up the yarn to form the stitch.
The continental method is considered the faster of the two, but you should choose whichever is the easiest and most efficient for you. Very often, the style in which you are originally taught will be the best for you.
There are also other, less common styles of knitting, known as Lever knitting, Portuguese knitting, and Shetland knitting.
Basic Knitting Stitches
Here are the basic knitting stitches that all beginners will need to learn. Read about the knitting abbreviations for these stitches.
If you want more detailed instructions with pictures, read the article on the knit stitch.
- CAST ON - Create a slip knot and cast on the required number of stitches or width.
- INSERT NEEDLE - Place the right-hand needle into the back of the first cast-on stitch, from front to back.
- YARN OVER - With your right hand, carry the working yarn over your needle, and wrap it around the right-hand needle, counterclockwise.
- PULL - Now, pull that wrap down between the needles firmly. Slide the right needle back slightly so that the loop you have created is close to the tip. Keep a slight tension on this wrap of yarn, and bring the tip of the right needle through the loop on the left needle, with the yarn still wrapped around it. The right needle will move in front of the left needle, pulling the loop with it.
- SLIDE OFF - Now allow the original loop on the left needle to slide off that needle, keeping the new loop on the right needle. A little knot will form under the needle. Your first knit stitch is made.
If you create a whole swatch of fabric using only knit stitch, you will have worked a garter stitch sample.
If you want more detailed instructions with pictures, read the article on how to purl stitch. The main difference between a purl stitch and a knit stitch is that with a purl, the needle goes through at the front of the stitch.
By repeating the purl stitch every row, you will also be making a square of garter stitch. Your garter stitch sample will look exactly the same whether you have made it with knit stitches or purl stitches.
This knitted stockinette stitch has a right side and a wrong side. The right side is made up of little v shapes made by using a knit stitch. The wrong side is formed by the characteristic bumps made by the purl stitch.
If you want to create stockinette or stocking stitch, you must work one row of the knit stitch, then one row of purl stitch, alternating each row all the way until your fabric is the required length. You will end up with a flat side where the knit stitches are and a bumpy side where the purl stitches are. Once you can do both knit and purl stitches, you can also create ribs.
Rib knit stitch is a knitting pattern that gives the appearance of vertical columns of stitches. It is made by working columns of knit stitches alternating with columns of purl stitches. It gives extra elasticity to your knit fabric.
- Cast on the required number of stitches.
- Work across the row, alternating k1, p1 all the way across the row.
- Turn your work.
- If you have an odd number of stitches, you must now start with p1. Then k1, p1 across the row.
- If you have an even number of stitches, just repeat k1, p1 across the row.
Your stitches must be worked in a repeating pattern to form vertical columns. The easiest way to check the columns is to look at the stitches from the previous row and work them as they appear. So if the stitch has a v shape of a knit stitch, knit it; if it has the rounded bump of a purl stitch, purl it.
Intermediate Knitting Stitches
As soon as you have mastered the basics of knit and purl stitches, you will be ready to start experimenting with intermediate knitting stitches, as they are just different combinations of these basic stitches.
Seed Stitch Knitting
The knitted seed stitch is just worked with knit one, purl one, but each time you are working the opposite stitch on top of the previous stitch.
If you have an even number of stitches:
- Row 1: knit 1, purl 1, repeat to end.
- Row 2: purl1, knit 1, rep to end.
You can see from these instructions that in each row, a purl must sit on top of a knit stitch, and a knit must sit on top of a purl stitch. This is what gives the stitch its lovely texture. When the fabric is complete, it looks like a handful of seeds have been scattered across it.
Moss Stitch Knitting
Seed stitch and moss stitch knitting are often confused because they are very similar. Both involve working in knit1, and purl 1 across the rows.
The difference is that when working moss stitch, you will work two rows of k1, p1, then 2 rows of p1, k1. So you have a 2 row repeat of each row.
Moss stitch needs to be worked on an even no. of stitches. With Moss Stitch, instead of working a knit on top of a purl and vice versa, you will have 2 rows of knit on top of 2 rows of purl, and only after that will you work the ‘opposite’ stitches.
Yarn Over Knitting
Yarn over is a simple technique that involves wrapping the yarn over the needle an extra time to make a lacy hole in the fabric, which won’t run. It is abbreviated in patterns as YO.
More Knitting Techniques
1. Casting On Knitting
Before you can even start working all these stitches, you will need to know how to cast on knitting.
There are a number of different methods to do this. Read more about the methods here.
- Single Cast On - This is also known as the wrap or thumb method of casting on. It is definitely the easiest method but is not always as neat as some of the other methods.
- Knitted Cast On - This one is fairly stretchy, and the formation is almost like forming a knit stitch. This was how I was taught to cast on as a child. It takes a little longer than the single cast-on, but gives you a nice elastic, stretchy edge, which is easy to knit into when working your first row.
- Cable Cast On - This one has no other names! It is not quite as elastic and stretchy as the other methods, but it looks neater! It is sturdier than the knit cast on.
- Longtail Cast On - This one is also known as the double cast on, the two strand cast on, or the butterfly cast on. It is definitely more complicated than the other methods, but on the other hand, it creates a lovely neat border and is seldom too tight or too loose. It is the method most favored by experienced knitters.
2. Casting Off
Once your project is complete, you will need to learn how to cast off (bind off) your stitches neatly so that they don’t come undone. Do keep in mind that if you are working a combination of knit and purl stitches as part of your pattern, you must bind off the knit stitches knitwise and the purl stitches purlwise.
So if you were working with a k2, p2 rib, you must continue to k2, p2 as you bind off. It will look far neater this way than if you just knit across the whole row as you bind off.
Once again, there are a number of different ways to cast off.
- Standard Cast Off - This is the most commonly used and the easiest method. It is also called the ‘French Method’.
- English Method - This gives a more textured cast-off edge. It involves knitting 2 stitches together before passing the loop over to bind off.
- Elastic Or Stretchy Cast Off - This is good for necklines, where you need to be able to pull the garment over your head! Y
- I-Cord Bind Off - This is useful when you want a very neatly bound edge that is going to be visible, for example, the top of a pocket or the edge of a collar.
- Picot Bind Off - This one sounds rather complicated but is not, and it is easy to learn. It gives an attractive edging with little spikes or bumps called picots.
3. Increasing Knitting
With most items of knitting, you will need to shape the fabric to get it to fit nicely. One method of increasing knitting is to use the ‘Yarn Over’ method. This creates a little lacy hole with each increase.
If you want a more invisible increase, you will need to try one of the following methods:
- Loop Cast On Method
- Bar Increase. Knit Into Front And back Of Stitch
- Lifted Increase
- Make One Increase
4. Decreasing Knitting
Knitting two stitches together are the simplest method of decreasing knitting. As it will cause your decrease to lean to the right, it is best used at the end of a row.
Other methods of knit decreasing include:
- Knit two together to back of loop - This method slants the decrease to the left, so it is good for the beginning of a row.
- Slip one, knit one, pass slip stitch over - This decrease looks neater than the previous one but is slightly more difficult. This decrease slants to the left, so it is also good for the beginning of a row.
- Center Double Decrease - This method is useful when you want to decrease in the center of a row.
Knitting Stripes - How to Knit Stripes for Beginners
What Can I Knit for Beginners
Here are some simple knitting patterns for beginners to try:
Knitting a Scarf
A scarf is a great way to learn to knit because no shaping is required! You just need to select which stitch you would like to practice and then knit a long rectangle out of that stitch. Read how to knit a scarf.
Beanie or Knitted Hat
Once you feel you can cope with a little bit of shaping, learning how to knit a hat is a super project. It is small and quick to knit and, again, is a good way to practice any new stitch. Plus, beanies make lovely gifts!
Learning how to knit a flower is an important skill if you want to decorate your knitted items.
Learning how to knit a coaster is a wonderful skill for beginners. Coasters are made from a simple square or rectangular shape.
What can I Knit - More Knitting Patterns
If you are after a knit project for intermediate skills, then try these roundups from my blog:
What is Knitting FAQs
Why is it called knitting?
The name knitting comes from the word “knot” and is thought to be derived from the Dutch verb knutten, which is similar to the Old English cnyttan, "to knot."
What is the most common type of knitting?
The pattern used most often in knitting is the stockinette stitch. It is simple to work with and creates a pleasing, smooth fabric with a right and a wrong side. It is made by knitting one row of knit stitches, then one row of purl.
What kind of activity is knitting?
Knitting is a craft as well as a leisure activity, chosen for pleasure, relaxation, or emotional satisfaction. It is usually done in one's spare time, but some knitters knit as a way of making extra income. There are many health benefits to knitting- it really does benefit the mind, the body, and the soul! It keeps your brain active, improves hand-eye coordination, reduces stress, keeps you busy, and can even be a good social activity if you find like-minded people!
What is more popular, knitting or crochet?
While crochet has seen a recent surge in popularity, knitting seems to be more popular. There are more knitting patterns available than crochet patterns. Many people prefer the look of a knitted garment to a crocheted garment, and knitting uses less yarn than crochet! But in the end, it all comes down to personal preference and which craft you enjoy the most.
Which is knitting right side?
Whichever sides of the fabric you would like it to be! But it is generally accepted that the knit side of the stockinette stitch is the right side, and the purl side is the wrong side. The same goes for more complex patterns such as cables or lace knitting. But if you like the look of the purl side, by all means, make it your right side!
What is Knitting - In Conclusion
I hope this article has answered any questions you may have had about what is knitting and has inspired you to try this wonderful hobby! It is truly rewarding to be able to make your own unique clothing as well as to make one-of-a-kind gifts that will be greatly appreciated for the time and effort you have put into them!
Now that you have read all the basic details about this handicraft, you can delve into each aspect of knitting in more detail and start with a healthy, lifetime addiction!
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