The Most Important Knitting Skill (Especially for Beginner Knitters)

In almost ten years that I’ve been teaching people to knit, I noticed that most beginner (and not just beginner) mistakes happened because of the lack of understanding how the knitted fabric is created. The skill of understanding what happens when we make a stitch, what kind of stitch it is and how it interacts with other stitches – that skill is the most important of all. 

We can make lots of scarves, hats and even sweaters without knowing a thing about entrelac or short rows. But we’ll be stumbling with every stitch, making lots of mistakes and feeling discouraged if we don’t understand our knitting.

If we are persistent and keep practising despite feeling discouraged, we’ll eventually comprehend how knitting functions and we’ll feel more confident and knowledgeable (that’s what they call “experience” :-)) 

Why wait until it happens? In this tutorial, I’ll explain the basics of this important skill and save you from all the mistakes and frustration you might have had if you had to discover these simple concepts on your own. 

It all starts with a simple fact that each row is a wave. You can see it clearly in the middle of this swatch:

And here’s how it looks in a video tutorial.

The swatch is worked with very fine yarn in a simple stockinette stitch, but I used a much thicker yarn for one row so you could clearly see that a row resembles a wave. In case you are wondering, this technique is called scribble lace knitting.

This wave is made of curves, with each curve representing one stitch. Here’s what I mean:

You can also see that “wave” when you observe a set of stitches on a needle, like the one in the photo below and in this part of a video tutorial:

Note, that all stitches on a needle look exactly the same. A stitch becomes a knit or a purl only after we make a new stitch out of it, or “work it”. 

If we want to create a knit stitch, we pull the yarn through that stitch from back to front. This way, the loop of yarn that we pull through the stitch covers the top part of the original stitch and hides it from us. All we see is the bottom part of the stitch that resembles a V.

If we want to create a purl stitch, we pull the yarn through that stitch from front to back. In this case, the yarn loop (new stitch) brings the top part of the original stitch forward, and we see it as a horizontal bar that looks like a little purl.

That brings us to the second simple truth – knit and purl are in fact two sides of the same stitch. That means that every stitch looks like a knit on one side of the work, and like a purl on the other side of the work. 

Stockinette stitch that we all love and use so often is the perfect demonstration of this concept. All stitches look like knits (Vs) on one side:

And those same stitches look like purls on the other side:

Because we are making every new stitch out of a stitch in the previous row (basically, building stitches on top of each other), stitches are neatly organised in columns

If we count all stitches in one column, we’ll know the number of rows we’ve worked so far. Likewise, if we count all knits and purls in one row, we’ll know how many stitches are in that row. It’s quite simple, right?

With all of the above in mind, now we understand that if we accidentally drop a stitch, it won’t just disappear. The “wave” will remain in place, but the yarn freed up by the unravelled stitch will redistribute between the neighbouring stitches making them bigger. That means that we can restore that stitch and return it back to the needle.

Moreover, if a stitch is dropped, it won’t unravel immediately, even if you use a slippery yarn. It will be sticking out of the work, and in most cases, we can easily pick it up and continue working as if nothing happened (just like I did in this part of the video tutorial)

Let’s run an experiment:

Take a piece of thick yarn in a solid colour. Use a lighter shade to see the stitches better. Cast on 10 to 14 stitches and work for 10 to 14 rows in stockinette stitch (knit all stitches in one row, and purl all stitches in the next row, then repeat). Finish with a purl row. You’ll have a swatch that looks like this:

Knit 4 to 5 stitches in the next knit row.

Now drop one stitch off the left needle. See, it’s not going anywhere. 

Pull the swatch sideways, and observe how the stitch is unravelling and moving down the column of stitches. The stitch becomes a strand of yarn.

Turn your work and look at the purl side. The unravelled stitch looks the same on both sides – it’s just a strand of yarn.

Now pull the swatch sideways again and observe how a stitch is unravelling on the purl side of the work. You can see how the loop is moving out from the stitch below and turning into a strand of yarn. 

Play some more with unravelling stitches and observing them from both sides of the work. 

As you see, knitting is not some kind of a “black magic”, it’s just a series of “waves” linked together to create a stretchy fabric. Keep your stitches in rows and columns, and you won’t have to worry about fixing mistakes. And of course, there is nothing scary about a dropped stitch.

Are you feeling more confident now? I hope you do 🙂


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.


Happy knitting!

Maryna Shevchenko - www.10rowsaday.com

Let’s be friends on GoodReads 🙂

The most important knitting skill | 10 rows a day
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