Learn to Knit, Free Projects, Needles, Yarn and How To Begin

hand knit washcloths

If you are at home more these days thanks to the Coronavirus, you may need to find a hobby to stay busy. How about knitting? Knitting is not just for Grannies! There is much to learn, which means your brain can be challenged for years learning new knitting techniques.

Even if you don’t have someone to teach you, YouTube videos can be a huge help. Getting started is the first step, where practicing on easy projects leads to bigger and better knits.

I’ve written this page with the beginner knitter in mind, with advice for yarn, needles and free project links. The best projects to begin with when learning to knit are simple back and forth projects. You knit one row, turn the needles and knit the next row – or purl.

When I lived in New Hampshire I knit scarves. I would cast-on and just go, trying out various stitches along the way to see what happened. I would cast off when the scarf was long enough. But a better idea is to knit smaller projects that are useful, like cloths for the kitchen and bathroom.

Cotton dishcloths hand-knit
Hand-knit cloths hold up well.

Let’s begin with an easy project, such as one of the dishcloths or facecloths below, which are knit with one color – or a variegated color. Whenever you knit something that will be used to wash with, choose a washable cotton yarn. Cotton yarn will be absorbent and easy to care for, going into the washer and dryer.

Here are some ideas for beginner projects with FREE patterns you can download at Ravelry. Join Ravelry (it’s free) if you plan to do more knitting because it can be a wonderful resource for patterns and help. You don’t have to be a member to get these patterns.

They use little yarn, so are inexpensive to make and in the end, you have a useful item. If it has some mistakes, who cares? This is a great way to practice without worrying about boo-boos.

  • Heart Face Scrubby – knits and purls create a “heart” on this project.
  • Seed Stitch Washcloth – knits and purls create a nubby fabric. personally, I love this stitch and it’s great practice for doing both of the most basic stitches in knitting.
  • Your Own Design: Knit a few rows and purl a row – or knit all rows. Make something up until it becomes the size you want. I have links below for help with CASTING ON and BINDING OFF.

Buying Cotton Yarn

  • Lily’s Sugar ‘n Cream Cotton Yarn – comes as single, affordable skeins, in sets, or on cones. They offer a huge selection of solid and variegated colors. Search Amazon (they have all types) and order online, or go to a local craft store such as Michaels, Joannes, or Walmart. This yarn is easy to find.
  • Key West Karribean Kotten Yarn – The blue and orange striped dish cloth in my photo below is made with this yarn. The colors are super bright and don’t seem to fade as quickly as the other cotton yarn. It does cost more, but I love the quality. This cotton yarn is perfect for making kitchen towel gifts!
Key West Karribean Kotten yarn in bright orange and blue
Karribean Kotten – comes in tropical colors

Needles, Types and Sizes

Straight needles are fine to use for little knitting projects. I had some of my grandmothers old straight needles and I used them when I began. But then I discovered the versatility of circular needles, which is what I mostly use these days.

Circular needles can be used like straight ones. Just pretend they are not connected! Turn the work each time you begin a new row. Once you begin to knit projects in the round, circular needles are needed and you will already have them. So my advice (if you have NO needles) is to buy a 16 inch (length), needle size 5 to 7 US to use to knit your washcloths. Chiaogoo Red are favorites of mine. Later on you can use that same needle to knit hats – most hats (unless they are for babies) are made using 16 inch needles.

Knitting needles come in various lengths as well as needle sizes. Tiny needles such as 0 – 3 or 4 US are used to knit tightly, such as for socks and mittens and / or when using lace and fingering weight yarn. Larger sizes will be used for heavier yarn weights and for knitting sweaters, hats, and bulky items.

Dewdrop shawl knitting
Beginning the Dewdrops shawl pattern

The Dewdrops shawl above is knit on a long, circular needle. I began knitting at the very bottom point, with only a few stitches. As I went on, more stitches were added and I needed that longer needle. Straight needles are too short to hold that many stitches.

How to Cast-On and Bind-Off

Once you have found or purchased your needles and cotton yarn, this is how you get started.

A simple cast on begins with a slip knot on the left hand needle. Then you will begin adding stitches – as many as the pattern calls for. That is your cast-on number and everything you make requires some type of cast-on. You will “cast on” as many stitches as are needed to begin knitting. The project will always become bigger than your cast on looks!

The video links below are some good ones I found. If you want to search for other cast-ons at YouTube, be my guest. There are many.

Basic Knitted Cast-On – Getting Started With a Knitting Project

There are many ways to cast-on, but all you need is the basics when beginning. I now use the Long-tail cast on, or the Norwegian Cast-on (aka German Twisted cast-on) because it’s faster, but for a long time I did this simple, basic cast-on. The others are more complicated, but you may like them.

From there, you begin knitting the pattern, or your rows of knitting as you choose if you are not following a pattern. When you finish all your rows, you must bind-off to finish the project.

Purl Soho’s Basic Bind Off

I like Purl Soho’s videos because they get right to the point. Also the teacher generally uses larger yarn and needles that make it easier to see what’s going on. Purl Soho also has many FREE patterns on their site, where they also sell pretty yarn – including cotton.

Once you know how to begin a knitting project, you either make up your own pattern / stitches as you go, or follow a pattern. Below I list links to videos showing the two basic stitches needed to create many patterns, the knit and purl stitches. You can do a lot with just these two stitches.

How to Do the Basic Knit Stitch

Anytime a pattern calls for knitting, this is the stitch you do. It’s the base for all knitting projects. These show English forms of knitting where the working yarn is held in the right hand.

How to Do the Purl Stitch

Many knitters dislike doing the purl stitch, but it’s not difficult and you will need to do it a lot if you choose to create anything with the “seed stitch” pattern. Purl stitches add texture as well. You can knit one row and purl the next to make the stockinette stitch. Doing this will create a smooth fabric.

Fun With the Knit and Purl

It is easiest to knit a few rows right after the cast on. From there, try some purls. If you alternate a row of knits and a row of purls, you will end up with stockinette.

In my little cloth samples below, I played around with these two stitches. I suggest you search YouTube to find beginner videos. Many knitting sites have loads of advertisement clutter to wade through to get to real information.

My Own Beginner Samples

Here are a few of my knitting samples. They are not beautiful, but they gave me practice. To leave a center “flat” area, knit a few rows back and forth – this means to do all knit stitches, for a few rows (4 or 5). On the next row, knit 5 and purl until 5 stitches remain, then knit those five. This way you are making a textured border with center flat (stockinette) stitches.

pink hand-knit facecloth
Center stockinette

On the white cloth I did some alternating knits and purls along the bottom and top borders. In the center I did seed stitch, also called moss stitch. Seed stitch is simply K1, P1 – switch off continuously across each row, but alternate row by row. First center row: K1, P1 (you need an even amount of stitches.) Second row: P1, K1 – your purls will be over the knits and knits will be done over the purls. It creates a pretty little texture.

center seed stitch
Seed stitch or moss stitch

On the gray cloth I made the same type of knit border and then for the center I knit 2 stitches, then purled 2 stitches (K2,P2). On the next row I did the same thing so the stitches lined up. On rows 3 & 4, I did the opposite (P2,K2). This is a double moss stitch.

Simple knitting facecloth
Two knits and two purls

As I knit my little cloths, I used various types of yarn. I honestly don’t remember what they were! I still make little cloths because nighttime knitting for me needs to be simple.

Want Something Bigger to Knit?

If you are not interested in little facecloths or kitchen items, check out my page on free shawls. You may never feel the need to wear a shawl, but they are popular choices in the knitting world AND the easy ones are great practice for beginners.

Try your hand at adding new colors and using variegated yarn on the Scrappy Bias Shawl. Learn what to do to make lacy holes appear in rows when knitting the No Fuss Shade-Loving Shawl.

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