It could be intimidating to learn a new craft. Especially the one that requires manipulating two sticks to somehow make stretchy fabric out of a piece of yarn.
Let’s look at it this way – if knitting were difficult, it probably wouldn’t be passed down from generation to generation for millennia. If so many people were able to master this craft, chances are you can be pretty good at it as well. All you need is a road map – a set of simple step-by-step instructions that will take you from a ball of yarn to something you can put on and wear with pride.
In this “Learn to Knit” mini-course, we’ll make a pair of basic boot cuffs. I called them Santa Boot Cuffs because they make the top part of the boots look more textured, almost like boots with fur trim.
This pattern and the video that accompanies it make one of the forty learn-to-knit video patterns that I developed for Knitca yarn company a few years ago. The folks at Knitca kindly allowed me to re-edit the video, expand the written instructions and share this mini-course with all of you, my friends, who want to try their hand at knitting.
While making these boot cuffs, we’ll learn how to form the initial set of stitches (the process called “cast on”), how to knit and purl a stitch using two most common knitting styles – English and Continental, how to close all stitches (or “bind them off”), how to make an almost invisible seam and how to deal with the yarn tails.
These are the basics of knitting, and even if you’ll never ever watch another knitting tutorial, you’ll be able to make tons of scarves, headbands, blankets and basic sweaters with the set of skills that you’ll learn from this mini-course.
The pattern provides clear step-by-step instructions written out in a way that is similar to the language normally used in knitting patterns.
In the detailed photo tutorial, we’ll use lines from the pattern in the name of each step, but then I’ll explain what exactly these instructions mean and what you should do to follow them. There will be a lot of photos, tips and tricks to make sure everything is clear even to those new knitters who’s never had anything to do with yarns, threads and needles.
This way, you will not only learn how to knit, but you will also learn how to read a knitting pattern – a very important skill for any knitter.
Now, that we more or less understand what lays ahead, let’s get started.
First, download the pattern from the Resource Library and let’s take a look at the first two pages.
These pages provide vital information that affects our decision to make this project.
First, we see the name of the project. This name is not important. Patterns can have pleasant names, unpleasant names, cheesy names, weird names and names we can’t even pronounce. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is the information that comes next.
Photo is the first thing we usually look at when we choose a project. If you don’t like the look or the fit of a project, probably it is not a good project for you. Our time is precious, and it is better to spend it making something we like.
On the other hand, remember that you can make any project in any colour you can find in a yarn store, so don’t discard a project just because it is photographed in a colour that you don’t like. The colour is not relevant, the shape and the fit of the project are.
The second page of the pattern tells us about sizes, materials and gauge.
The Santa Boot Cuffs pattern comes in three sizes. It means that you can make a pair of boot cuffs that are either small, medium or large.
To decide which of the sizes to choose, look at the “Finished Measurements” section and find the number that is the closest to the circumference of the top part of your boot. Don’t worry if the measurement is not exactly the same – knitted fabric has quite a bit of stretch.
Of course, the instructions will be slightly different for each of the sizes. In most cases, the difference will be in the number of stitches and the number of rows we should work to make the project in a certain size. In this project, the sizes vary only in the number of stitches we cast on.
To help you avoid any confusion, knitting patterns usually list the numbers in the same order as the sizes listed in the “Size” section of the pattern. The first number refers to the smallest size. The other numbers are given in parentheses in the order from the second smallest size to the biggest size.
It is a good idea to go over the pattern and mark the numbers that belong to your size with a highlighter before you start to work on the project. I often circle those numbers with a pen or a pencil, as you can see in the photo below.
This little trick ensures that we don’t mix up instructions and use the correct numbers as we follow the pattern.
For every project we make, we usually use yarn, knitting needles and notions (little gadgets like a wool needle or a row counter). Santa Boot Cuffs pattern is not an exception. The pattern lists the materials as separate categories – Yarn, Needles and Notions.
Yarn requirements can be listed as a number of balls of a certain yarn or as a number of meters / yards of a certain type of yarn. The second way makes it easier to substitute the yarn and choose the one that is available in your area or the one that you already have in your collection of yarns (often called “stash”).
The pattern for the Santa boot cuffs tells us that we’ll need 100 m / 110 yds of any wool yarn that has the equivalent of 100 m / 110 yds in 50 g / 1.7 oz (it is consistent with Worsted weight that is marked by digit 4 on the yarn label). We also know that the boot cuffs featured in the pattern photo are made with Knitca Woolly Warmth yarn (100% wool) in Dark Goldenrod colour.
When choosing the yarn, the best option is to find exactly the same yarn as the one mentioned in the pattern. It is the easiest and most fool-proof solution.
Unfortunately, some yarns might not be available globally, so we need to know how to substitute the yarn suggested in the pattern with a similar yarn that we can get in our local yarn store. I usually rely on the fibre content and the meters-in-grams / yarns-in-ounces system that I described in a tutorial called “How to Substitute Yarn in Three Simple Steps”.
The size of the knitting needles is their thickness and it is usually easy to find the right size – most yarn stores carry needles in all common sizes and of course, you can find knitting needles of any size in online stores.
Even though there are three main systems of needle sizes – Metric, US Sizes and UK Sizes – you can easily convert one size into another using the conversion chart that you can download from the “Library of Free Knitting Resources”.
Plus, knitting patterns often provide both metric and US sizes. For example, according to our pattern, we’ll knit our boot cuffs with knitting needles in size 6 mm (US size 10).
The gadgets mentioned in the “Notions” section of the pattern are not hard to find. In the majority of cases, you will need a wool needle (also called “tapestry needle”). It looks very much like a sewing needle but is thicker and not as sharp. Because knitting yarn is usually thicker than sewing thread, it is easier to thread it into a thicker needle that has a bigger eye.
Both knitting needles and wool needles can be made of metal, plastic or wood. Choose the ones that you like, and they will serve you well for many years.
Now let’s see why we have to use the yarn that is the same or similar to the one recommended in the pattern and why we have to pair it with knitting needles of a certain size.
Knitting patterns are usually very specific about the type of yarn and the size of the needles because the combination of “yarn thickness + needle thickness” creates a specific density of the fabric called “gauge” or “knitting tension”. It is shown as the number of stitches and rows in a 10 cm / 4″ square of the fabric worked in a certain stitch pattern.
Aside from yarn and needles, the gauge also depends on our knitting habits. Some knitters tend to knit tighter, others make a fairly loose fabric.
These variations highlight the uniqueness of every knitter. There is nothing wrong with being a “tight knitter” or a “loose knitter”, but we have to be aware of our personal knitting style and make adjustments (usually by choosing knitting needles in a smaller or bigger size) to make sure our gauge is the same as the gauge stated in the pattern.
Why gauge is so important? If the density of the fabric you make is not the same as the density of the fabric that the designer made as she was working on the pattern, it will not just affect the look of your project, but, more importantly, it will affect its size. That’s why knitting patterns often have special notes like “take time to check the gauge”, especially when the pattern explains how to make a close-fitting project like a hat or a sweater.
How do we know whether our gauge is correct? We take the yarn and the needles that we plan to use in our project and we use the stitch pattern mentioned in the “Gauge” section of the pattern to make a swatch – a little piece of fabric that gives us a preview of our future project. Then we place a ruler on the swatch and count the number of stitches and rows in a 10 cm / 4″ square of the fabric.
The good news is that we don’t have to match the gauge for the Santa boot cuffs. Boot cuffs are not a close-fitting item. It is not a big deal if they turn out to be a little bit smaller or bigger than the numbers provided in the “Finished Measurements” section.
Considering that you are probably eager to start making your boot cuffs, there won’t be much harm if we skip the swatching and gauge-measuring process.
Let’s take our yarn and needles and learn to cast on, knit, purl and bind off stitches while making a pair of cosy boot cuffs.
If you prefer to learn from a video tutorial, click here, or scroll to the bottom of this page to watch the embedded version of the video.
You can also click the name of each step to watch the part of the video tutorial that demonstrates that step.
STEP 1. Cast on 40 (48, 54) stitches.
We already know that each of the three numbers tells us how many stitches to cast on for each of the three sizes – 40 stitches for the Small size, 48 stitches for the Medium size and 54 stitches for the Large size.
What we don’t know yet is what exactly we should do to form that initial set of stitches on the needles.
There are different methods that allow us to make new stitches. For this tutorial, I chose to use the “knit-on cast on” – a way that has the same steps as the process of knitting.
Before we start to cast on stitches, we need to find the yarn end in our ball. There are two ends – one is inside the ball and the other one is outside the ball. We can start from either of them, but it is usually easier to find the end that is outside the ball – simply pull any strand that you see outside the ball, and it will eventually lead you to the yarn end. Often it is tucked inside the ball.
The cast on starts with a slip knot. Here’s how we make it:
1.Make a loop so that the working yarn (the one that comes from the ball) is on top of the yarn tail.
2.Without flipping it over, place the loop on top of the working yarn. The shape looks a bit like a pretzel.
3.Take the strand in the middle of the loop with your left hand and the yarn tail with your right hand and pull tight to make a knot.
4.Place the loop on one of the needles and hold this needle in your left hand the same way as you hold a fork. Pull the working yarn to make the loop smaller. This is our first stitch.
Now take the other knitting needle in your right hand to cast on more stitches.
Before we do that, I want to mention that there are two ways to hold the working yarn – we can hold it either in our right hand or in our left hand. The first option is called the English way of knitting, the second one is the Continental way of knitting.
Both styles work well and you’ll be able to knit no matter which of these styles you choose. So try both ways and pick the one that feels more comfortable to you.
You can test both knitting styles as you cast on stitches as follows:
1.Insert the tip of the right needle from left to right into the first stitch on the left needle. The right needle should be at the back of the left needle.
2.Wrap the working yarn clockwise around the tip of the right needle. Here’s how we do it with the yarn in the right hand, and here’s how we do it with the yarn in the left hand.
3.Draw the yarn wrap through the stitch on the left needle to make a new stitch.
4.Place the new stitch on the left needle and pull the working yarn a bit to adjust the size of the stitch.
Repeat steps 1 – 4 to cast on as many stitches as you need for the size you are making.
Make sure the stitches are not too tight. They should be loose enough to easily slide on the needle.
Now spread the stitches on the needle and count them. Remember that the stitch formed by the slip knot also counts as one stitch.
STEP 2. Knit all stitches in every row until you complete 18 rows / 9 ridges, and the piece measures 6 cm / 2.5” from the cast on edge.
The initial set of stitches is on the needle and we can use it to knit a new stitch out of each stitch we cast on in the previous step.
Here’s the good news – whatever we did when we cast on stitches was, in fact, knitting. That is the beauty of the knit-on cast on – it uses the same steps as knitting.
The only difference is the last step – we won’t place any new stitches on the left needle. Instead, we’ll slip the original stitch off the left needle and keep the new stitch on the right needle. As we work stitch after stitch, we’ll gradually transfer all stitches from the left needle to the right needle.
Here’s how it happens (you can also watch it in this part of the video course):
1.Bring the working yarn to the back of the work. Insert the tip of the right needle from left to right into the first stitch on the left needle. The right needle should be at the back of the left needle.
2.Wrap the working yarn clockwise around the tip of the right needle (same way as we did when we cast on stitches).
You’ve probably decided by now whether you feel more comfortable knitting with the yarn in your right hand or in your left hand. No matter what knitting style you picked if you feel that the yarn is too loose and you struggle to control it, wrap it around your little finger, as it is demonstrated in this part of the video.
3.Draw the yarn wrap through the stitch on the left needle to make a new stitch.
4.Slip the stitch off the left needle.
Repeat steps 1 – 4 until your left needle is empty and all stitches are transferred to the right needle. When it happens, it means that you’ve knit one row. Congratulations!
Spread the stitches on the needle and count them. The number of stitches should stay the same throughout the project.
Now turn your work. It means taking the needle with the stitches in your left hand and the empty needle in your right hand. Knit all stitches for one more row and one more row after that. Go on and on until you complete 18 rows.
Make it a habit to count stitches after every or every other row. If the number of stitches is different than the number of stitches you cast on in step 1, or if you notice that in some part of the fabric the stitches are not stacked on top of each other like little building blocks, it means that somewhere along the road you’ve made a mistake.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU NOTICE A MISTAKE?
First, I want to tell you what you shouldn’t do – don’t panic, don’t think that knitting is not for you and don’t unravel everything. Respect your work and save as much of it as possible. We all make mistakes, but, thankfully, we came up with ways to fix them. Very few knitting mistakes can’t be fixed without unravelling the whole project.
To fix most mistakes, we simply need to un-knit a few stitches until we get to the spot where the mistake happened. Then we undo the funny-looking stitch and knit that stitch and the rest of the stitches until we reach the end of the round.
The process of un-knitting is called “tinking”. If you read the word “knit” backwards, it will read as “tink”. So “tinking” is knitting backwards. Here’s how we do it step-by-step:
1.Pull the working yarn to the left to open the stitch that is below the first stitch from the tip of the right needle.
2.Insert the tip of the left needle from the top down into the “opened” stitch.
3.Slip the first stitch from the tip of the right needle.
4.Pull the yarn to undo the slipped stitch.
Repeat these steps to return to the spot where the mistake happened, then undo the stitch with the mistake.
That’s it – the mistake is fixed and we can go back to knitting all stitches in every row until we make 18 rows.
The stitch pattern that is formed by knitting all stitches in every row is called garter stitch. It creates a lovely texture that looks exactly the same on both sides of the work. Another distinctive feature of this stitch pattern is ridges – textured horizontal lines that are formed by two rows of stitches.
It is much easier to count ridges than rows. By the time you finish this step, your piece of knitted fabric should be 9 ridges long. Note that the cast-on edge is not counted as one ridge.
STEP 3. Work in stockinette stitch for 12 rows. Finish with a purl row.
In this step, we’ll learn another common knitting stitch pattern – stockinette stitch. It is used to make jersey fabric and you will most likely see it when you look at the fabric on one of your t-shirts.
This pattern is built by two rows. We work row 1 of the pattern, then we work row 2, and then we repeat these two rows until the fabric is as long as we want. That’s why knitting stitch pattern dictionaries say that this pattern has a “two-row repeat”.
In the first row of the stockinette stitch pattern, we knit all stitches. That means that we do the same thing that we did when we worked the first 18 rows of the project. So far, we don’t see any difference in the texture of the fabric. The fabric will change after we work the second row of the stockinette stitch pattern.
In the second row, we purl all stitches.
Purling is a mirror version of knitting. If you look at the wrong side of a purl stitch, you will see a knit stitch. This concept is explained in a tutorial called “The Most Important Knitting Skill”.
Here’s how we purl a stitch:
1.Bring the working yarn to the front of the work. Insert the tip of the right needle from right to left into the first stitch on the left needle. The right needle should be at the front of the left needle.
2.Wrap the working yarn counterclockwise around the tip of the right needle.
3.Draw the yarn wrap through the stitch to make a new stitch.
4.Slip the stitch off the left needle.
Repeat steps 1 – 4 until your left needle is empty and all stitches are purled to the right needle. You’ve just finished your first purl row.
Turn the work and you will notice that the fabric underneath the needle is not textured. It is flat and even. The stitches look more like little letters “v” then the bulky bumps formed by the garter stitch.
Work rows 1 and 2 of the stockinette stitch pattern six times until you complete 30 rows from the cast on edge (18 rows of garter stitch and 12 rows of stockinette stitch). At this point, the piece should measure about 12 cm / 5” from the cast-on edge.
Stop after you work the purl row for the sixth time. When you turn your work, you should see the knit side of the work.
STEP 4. Bind off all stitches.
The knitting part of making a boot cuff is over, but we can’t just take the needle out of the work and pretend that the work is done. First, we have to close all stitches to make sure they do not unravel.
The process of closing stitches is called binding off or casting off. Here’s how it works:
1.Knit 2 stitches.
2.Insert the tip of the left needle from left to right into the second stitch from the tip of the right needle.
3.Pass the second stitch over the first stitch on the right needle.
4.Take the left needle out of the stitch you passed over. Then knit another stitch.
Repeat steps 1 – 4 until you have one stitch left.
Cut the yarn leaving a yarn tail that is about 50 cm / 20” long. If you don’t have a ruler, measure a tail that is four times as long as the length of the fabric.
Pass the yarn tail through the last stitch.
Pull tight to secure.
STEP 5. Make a seam at the back of the boot cuff.
In this step, we’ll turn the piece of fabric that we’ve just made into a boot cuff that we can put on top of a boot. All we need is to seam two sides of the fabric together to make a tube.
We’ll use two variations of the mattress stitch to make sure the seam is as nice-looking as it can be.
With the knit side of the stockinette stitch facing you, align two sides of the boot cuff and thread the long yarn tail into a wool needle.
First, let’s join the bind off edge:
1.Insert the wool needle under the two legs of the first bound off stitch.
2.Then insert the wool needle under both legs of the last bound off stitch.
Now that the bind off edge is joined and aligned, we’ll seam the sides of the fabric made in stockinette stitch.
1.Insert the wool needle from the bottom up under a horizontal bar between the first and the second stitches from the right side of the work. Choose the bar that is the closest to the previous stitch we made in this seam. Draw the yarn through.
2.Then insert the wool needle from the bottom up under the corresponding bar on the other side of the seam.
3.Repeat these steps to join a few bars on one side of the work to the corresponding bars on the other side of the work.
4.Pull the yarn to close the gap between the sides.
Continue until you join the sides of the fabric made in stockinette stitch. As you get closer to the section worked in garter stitch, make sure the sides are aligned and the first ridge of the garter stitch doesn’t have a jog.
Now, let’s seam the sides of the fabric made in garter stitch. We’ll use the same method as we used when we joined the sides of the fabric made in stockinette stitch, but this time, we won’t join the horizontal bars. Instead, we’ll look for the “bumps” at the edges of each garter ridge.
1.Insert the wool needle from the bottom up into the first bump at the very edge of one of the sides. Draw the yarn through.
2.Then insert the wool needle into a corresponding bump on the other side of the seam. Draw the yarn through.
Repeat these steps to seam each bump on one side of the work to a corresponding bump on the other side of the work. Pull the yarn to close the seam. Then pull the fabric along the seam to make sure the seam is not jammed and the fabric around the seam is relaxed.
Make a stitch to join the sides of the cast on edge the same way as we did when we joined the sides of the bind off edge at the very beginning of the seam.
Thread the yarn tail into the last stitch and pull tight to secure the yarn.
The boot cuff looks very much like a boot cuff right now, but we have to deal with the yarn tails that are hanging from the cast on edge and ruining the look of our project.
STEP 6. Weave in loose ends.
It is tempting to snip the yarn tails off and declare the boot cuff to be finished. If we do yield to the temptation, we’ll soon regret it – the short tails will get undone, the part of the seam will unravel and the corners of the fabric will turn into a mess.
To ensure this unhappy scenario never happens to us, let’s hide those loose ends properly.
1.Thread one yarn tail into a wool needle and snake the needle through a few stitches on the wrong side of the work. Draw the yarn through, then pull the work sideways to relax the fabric.
2.Then snake the wool needle through one or two stitches in the opposite direction. Draw the yarn through and pull the work to relax the fabric. Trim the excess yarn.
Repeat these steps to weave in the other yarn tail.
Now, at last, our boot cuff is ready to keep our boots cute and our legs warm.
But it is not enough to make just one boot cuff. It needs a pair. Repeat steps 1 through 6 one more time to make the other boot cuff. When people compliment you on your boot cuffs, you can proudly say that you’ve made them yourself 🙂
If you enjoyed this tutorial,
here’s something else you might find helpful:
“Neat Side Edges” Book
Learn twelve ways to make side edges of a knitted project nice and tidy. Plus, ways to fix side edges, and a way to improve edges of finished projects.
Dealing with Unfinished Projects
Dictionary of Knitting Symbols and Abbreviations – E-Book
Eastern (Russian) Knitting Simplified
How to Shape Neckline Without Binding Off Stitches – E-Book