New knitters may be baffled by the terminology of the craft at first. Hearing old pros speak of knit, purl, garter, stockinette and rib stitches can be confusing, and you may wonder just how many stitches you have to learn before knitting makes sense to you. The knit stitch is the first stitch you learn, and garter stitch is usually the first stitch pattern you create.
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The Knit Stitch
When working knit stitches, the yarn coming off the skein is behind the needles. Knit stitches are made by inserting the needle in your right hand through a stitch on the needle in your left hand. When making a knit stitch, the right needle enters the stitch from the left front and comes out on the right back. You wrap the yarn around the inserted right needle counterclockwise, pull the wrapped yarn through the stitch and onto the right needle, then drop the worked stitch off the left needle.
The Purl Stitch
When working purl stitches, the yarn coming off the skein is in front of the needles. You insert the right needle into the stitch on the left needle through the front of the stitch, from right to left. After wrapping the yarn around the right needle counterclockwise, you push the right needle back through the stitch to complete the purl. The wrap stays on the right needle and you drop the purled stitch off the left needle.
Garter stitch is the fabric pattern you create when you knit every stitch in every row. This is usually the first stitch pattern beginning knitters learn, since it requires no purling. The knit stitch is a technique, but garter stitch is a pattern. Garter-stitch fabric looks like rows of bumps, whether you're looking at the front or back of the work. Knitters often speak of right-side and wrong-side rows. The right side is the outside of a knitted piece; the wrong side is the inside. In garter stitch, the right side and wrong side look the same.
Alternating Knits and Purls
When you alternate knit and purl stitches, you create more complex patterns. Knitting all right-side rows and purling all wrong-side rows creates a fabric called stockinette. The wrong-side purl rows look like garter stitch, but the right-side looks like columns and rows made of the letter V. When you knit a stitch or two, then purl a stitch or two and alternate the pattern on every row, you create stretchy ribbing, the kind you see on the neck and cuffs of sweaters. Once you know how to knit and purl, the world of knitting is your oyster.