The Basics of Knitting

What is a stitch?

The word 'stitch' can have one of two different meanings in knitting. The first is talking about individual stitches, the ones you make to put the working yarn into the fabric, the second is talking about the pattern of individual stitches that make up a particular texture or design in the fabric.

Learning the names of some of the most common types of stitches is important, especially when you're just starting. You might see a pattern call for something like "knit five inches in stockinette stitch" and while it saves a lot of space and time in the pattern, if you don't know what stockinette stitch is, you're going to be very lost!

What kinds of stitches are there?

There's a lot of stitches out there, and learning so many can seem like a daunting task, especially when the designs on some of them show complex patterns of knits, purls, yarn-overs, increases, and decreases. Heck, there's even half a dozen or more ways to increase or decrease! It's all very confusing for a beginner, so let's look at some of the more common and beginner-friendly types of stitches.

Knit stitch
Knit stitch is the very first stitch most knitters learn. It's made by holding the working yarn behind the needles, poking the right hand needle, facing away from you, through the loop on the yarn (also called a stitch!), wrapping the working yarn over the right hand needle, and then pulling the working yarn through the loop and onto the right hand needle. Tada! Your very first knit stitch. If it seems confusing from the description, don't worry. It'll start to come naturally to you soon enough.
Purl stitch
Purl stitch is nearly identical to knit stitch, save that instead of the right hand needle going into the back of the live stitch, it goes into the front. The result is something that looks like a knit stitch on the opposite side of the fabric, while knit stitches look like purls on the opposite side.
Stockinette stitch
Stockinette stitch is made by alternating between knitting on the 'right side' (RS) and purling on the 'wrong side' (WS). The result is what most people see as the classic knitted fabric, with its signature Vs on the right side. This is one of the single most common stitches in western knitting.
Garter Stitch
Garter stitch is possibly one of the easiest stitches to learn, and a great one for beginners who are working on a project that doesn't have a 'right side' or 'wrong side' in its fabric. Simply put, garter stitch is completing each row in knit or purl stitch. So long as it's consistent, garter stitch will, when completed, have a reversible look consisting of horizontal, ridged rows.

What stitches should I use to start?

My suggestion is to learn your basics, which are Knit and Purl, and use those to perfect garter stitch and stockinette stitch. After that, ribbing and seed stitch are good places to go from there. If you want to try something fancier, try looking at eKnitting Stitches for some inspiration!