Introduction to Knitting (Part 1)

In this tutorial you’ll be learning about materials, and how learning how to cast on. If you’ve never tried to knit before it’ll feel like quite an alien motion, but stick with it! Your goal this week is to learn how to make a slip knot and cast on using the ‘long tail method’, and to cast on 96 stitches (that’s the amount we’ll need for the hat). Plenty of time to practice all the steps!


So, first things first – materials. For this knitalong you’ll need:

  • 4.5mm circular needles (80cm in length)
  • 100g of aran-weight wool (worsted-weight will also work)

You can buy the materials at any knitting shop (online or in person), but if you would like a ‘woolly’ yarn that isn’t too expensive I would recommend using Drops Alaska yarn for your hat – it’s not too expensive, and it’s a sturdy, wooly yarn. Perfect for starting out (and indeed one of my favourites).

Needles come in different materials, the most common being plastic, wood and metal, and it is totally up to you what you use. I prefer metal, but I’ve knitted with all of those in the past. As hats are round objects we’ll be using circular needles – they’re needles that are connected with a cable to allow you to knit round things. You’ll also find straight and double-pointed needles, but we won’t be using those for now. Circular needles come in different length but I find that 80cm works well for hats, so I’d recommend you getting that size. ‘4.5mm’ is the width of the needle. We’ll learn more about that (and the kind of fabric that produces) throughout this course, but 4.5mm is a good size for aran-weight yarn, particularly as hats are really forgiving.

‘Aran-weight’ is a term to signify the thickness of the yarn – yarn comes in different weights, from really thin lace-weight to very thick bulky or chunky yarn. The most common weights you’ll see are 4-ply (often used to knit socks), DK (stands for ‘double-knit’, often used to knit jumpers) and aran (often used to knit hats). That’s very basic guidance though – there are loads and loads of patterns for aran or 4ply jumpers, or socks make with chunky yarn, or hats made from 4ply – it’s all about the kind of fabric you want to end up with. I’ll say more about patterns and yarns in a later post. I think aran-weight is a great weight of yarn to start out with – thick enough that it ends up pretty quickly, and also keeps you warm, and – being thick(ish), it’s easier to handle than some of the thinner stuff.

Casting On

Let’s start knitting! Or rather, let’s learn how to cast on!

‘Casting on’ is what we call the first step in knitting – getting your first row of stitches onto your needles. There are loads of different ways to do this, but my favourite is the long-tail cast on, and that’s what I’m teaching you here. It looks and feels fiddly at first, but keep at it – it will become muscle memory before too long and really feel like something you don’t have to think about it. 

There are two parts to casting on in this way: making a slip knot, and casting on stitches. I’m showing you how to do both in the video at the top of this tutorial. 

A slipknot is a loopy knot that you can pull apart, and you can see instructions for it here. It’s basically pulling a loop through another loop, and placing that loop on your needle. This loop becomes your first stitch – your anchor, if you like. I would suggest that you practice making slipknots until you are comfortable doing it without instructions, and until it no longer feels like an alien motion – make a slip knot, put it on your needle, take it off again and undo it. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat! 

Once you know how to make a slipknot it’s time to cast on your other stitches! As you know this is the ‘long tail’ cast-on, and as the name suggests we’re looking to have a long tail for our slipknot. To practice casting on about a foot of yarn is a good amount, but for the hat itself you’ll need a longer tail. You get a tail by pulling out a foot (or whatever length you require) of yarn from your ball before making your slipknot – so rather than making your slip-knot at the end of your yarn you’ll make it a little ways inwards.

As the video shows you, ‘long tail cast-on’ involves holding your needle in your right hand and the yarn in your left. Let me know if you’re lefthanded and are finding it tricky to invert this – I’ll gladly talk you through it by video chat. Be warned – the instructions below sound very complicated, but they’re really describing the tiny steps necessary to for one smooth action. I think the video is a lot clearer, but I’ve tried to write them out as precisely as I can here. If you’re struggling to do this cast on I can recommend searching for ‘long tail cast on’ – there are lots and lots of youtube videos and websites showing you how to do it.

To cast on (in this long tail fashion), hold the needle in your right hand, with the slipknot about an inch or so away from the point of the needle. Unravel a couple of feet of yarn from the ball. Let both strands dangle down – the shorter one, and the one that leads to the ball. Grab the two strands loosely with the bottom three fingers of your left hand while inserting your thumb and index finger between the two strands of yarn, perhaps 4inches/10cm or so from the needle. Spread your thumb and index finger and swivel your thumb to the front – it’s a wrist turn and you’ll end up making a weird L shape where your index finger points right and your thumb points up, and you’re looking at the palm of your hand (or rather, the three other finger loosely holding the two strands of yarn). When you hold your needle horizontal (in front of your left hand), you’ll see several strands of yarn: two coming from the slipknot on the needle in a V-shape, and two either side of that behind. We’re interested in 3 of these: the two Vs, and the one on the very left. The fourth one stays where it is – keep holding on to it. To cast on your first stitch, move the needle underneath the bit of yarn on the very left (the non-V strand) from the left – kind of along the side of your thumb. Move your needle towards the right, towards the right-hand V strand, and move your needle across that V-strand, and round to the left again underneath it (in an anticlockwise motion.  Pull it towards you, between the two strands looped round your thumb – underneath the ‘non-V’ strand you’ve just picked up. Once you’ve pulled it through the thumb strands you extract your thumb and slip the yarn off it, and you start pulling downwards with the three fingers holding the long end of the yarn (the fourth strand, remember?). As you’re pulling down use your thumb to pull on that same strand – the one that your three fingers are holding – to tighten the stitch you’ve made on your needle. That’s it – you’ve cast on a stitch! To keep casting on more, repeat this same motion – it sounds really bitty and complicated but, once you get the hang of it, it’s one smooth motion. As you’re pulling the yarn down at the end of the stitch-making your thumb is already in the right position for starting the next stitch – at the end of a stitch your thumb and forefinger will be making a kind of C-shape, and to start the next stage you just flip them again – turning your wrist – into that weird L we started with, flipping your thumb upwards while turning your wrist so that you’re looking at the palm of your hand.

Practice casting on stitches – 5 at a time, 10 at a time, 20. We’ll be casting on 96 for the hat, and that’s your goal for this tutorial: to cast on 96 stitches (we count the slipknot, so it’s slipknot plus 95 stitches). 

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