How to Use the Book

How To Use the Book

The following contains some excerpts from the Introduction to The Principles of Knitting, slightly rewritten for use here.


The Principles of Knitting is a different type of technique book in several respects. Most are more like a cookbook — a technique will have a brief explanation of what it is for, followed by instructions and a few drawings.

In a book of that kind, you can dip in anywhere and extract something of interest without regard to what goes before or after it; there are usually a few options, but each knitting technique stands on its own. This is very convenient when you want to find one quickly, or have forgotten how to do something you’ve used before.

In contrast, The Principles of Knitting not only provides instructions and illustrations for how to do a technique, but each one is explained — what its characteristics are, how it can be expected to behave in a fabric, and under what circumstances it is best applied. You will find the instructions are relatively short, while the explanations are often more lengthy. Combined, they provide you with the how and the why so you truly understand a technique instead of learning it by rote.

In addition, related techniques are grouped together and their pros and cons discussed so you can compare them and choose the one that best suits a project. As a result, The Principles of Knitting is more like a textbook, and you will miss some of what is most useful in it if you simply lift one technique out of context.

However, there is no need to start at the beginning and work your way through the whole book. In order to get an overall view of what it has to offer, I suggest you first read the introduction to each chapter. You may find one or two are of immediate interest, and want to leave the others for later.

When you are ready to start a new project, make a list of the techniques you will be using. For each one, turn to the relevant section and read about that type of technique; there are often several that could be used for the same purpose.

In order to choose among them, read the material above and below the instructions to get an idea of which one might be best. If something is new to you, or you find more than one, try them on a swatch to see how they work with your yarn and needles, and with the surface or color pattern you plan to use.

Looking through the material in this way will not only deepen your understanding of techniques that are already familiar, but introduce you to new ones, as well. You might decide to substitute a different technique for the one recommended in a pattern, or if you are planning a design, discover a new approach to some aspect of the project.

As you explore the book in this way, you will find that some techniques are suitable for many applications and you will use them often, while others are more specialized, but it is good to know the latter are there when you need them.

In addition to this project-oriented approach, there are several chapters that I strongly recommend because they contain information relevant to everything you might want to knit.

By far the most important of these is “Stitch Gauge”. I know this subject is a frustrating one for many knitters, and many of you don’t even want to bother with it. I hope to persuade you to reconsider.

The innovative method for finding gauge discussed in The Principles of Knitting was introduced in the first edition and refined and expanded upon in the second. It is unlike those recommended in most books and patterns in several important respects. I think you will find that it not only makes it easier to find gauge, but the results are far more accurate and reliable.

Furthermore, there are significant other benefits that come from making a swatch that more than outweigh the relatively small amount of time it takes. I really hope you will read this material; it can make a major difference in how satisfied you are with what you knit.

If you design your own patterns, I think you will also find  the chapters that follow “Stitch Gauge”, in the section called Pattern Design, to be of interest. Among other things, there is information about how to measure yourself, or someone else, and draw a schematic, how to develop a design based on a sewing pattern, and how to alter a knitting pattern you have purchased. There is also an innovative new approach to charting a garment pattern that is remarkably quick and accurate and requires little or no math. The chapter on charting stitch patterns also contains new approaches that makes it possible to chart even the most complex ones, including Double Fabric patterns that are different on each side.

I also encourage you to read the chapters on “Fibers and Yarns”, which will help deepen your understanding of the basic materials of the craft. While the information contained there is relatively brief in light of the vast amount written on the subject, it is intended specifically for knitters. It will give you a better sense of how to select a yarn suitable for any project you have in mind, or if you start with the yarn, it will help you decide how to make the best use of it.

Also important is the chapter on “Cleaning and Dressing a Knit”, which has information about how to wash a swatch before you find the gauge. as well as how to clean and shape the the finished garment and care for it thereafter.

Finally, I suggest you read “Knitting Methods”, the first chapter in the book. Even if you are an experienced knitter, you may find tips for how to improve some aspect of the method you already use, and you will find suggestions there for how to teach someone else to knit.

Furthermore, I recommend that every knitter learn more than one method; it really does not matter which ones they are. All have their pros and cons—tasks they excel at and those they are less well suited for—and being able to switch to a different method that better suits a particular project is a great advantage for any knitter. And should you have an injury that prevents you from knitting in the usual way, it is nice to have an alternative that will allow you to keep going.

 If You Are a Beginner

This is a big book and looks daunting, but I want to assure you that beginners were very much on my mind as I wrote it.

A good foundation in technique is the best way to start a new craft, because it will allow you to take pride in your first efforts; this builds your confidence and encourages you to continue.

You can get started with a very limited number of basic techniques. In fact, I think you will be surprised by how many wonderful things you can make with so few of them.

Then, for each new project you take on, learn one or two more. This will give you a sense of how easy it is to develop new skills, and you will soon want to take on new challenges.

But first things first: you must start by learning how to put some stitches on a needle. This is called casting on (or binding on), and the first step is to attach the yarn to the needle with a Twist Start or a Slip Knot; either will serve as the first stitch.

Then use Knit Half-Hitch Cast-on to add 20 or 30 more stitches to practice on. This cast-on technique is fun to do and there is a good set of drawings accompanying the instructions that will help make it easy to learn.

Next, you need to learn how to knit. Turn to the chapter on “Methods”, where you will find several options for how to hold the yarn and needles and work the two most basic stitch techniques, Knit and Purl. I recommend you start with the Right-Hand Method, which is described first, because it is very easy to learn and the instructions were written for beginning knitters (later you will want to learn one or two of the other methods). Practice Knit and Purl until your hands have learned how to do them well enough that you no longer have to think about every move.

For more detailed information about Knit and Purl, turn to the chapter “The Stitches” to learn about the structure and characteristics of these basic stitches (they are actually two sides of the same stitch).

While you are there, also read about Turned Stitches, Slip Stitches, and Twist Stitches. These are simple variations of the basic stitch and appear alone or in combination with other types of stitches in many patterns; familiarity with them will give you a good foundation of knowledge to build on later.

Then, unless you want to knit scarves forever, you will want to learn how to make something other than a rectangle. The chapter called  “Shaping” discusses what are called increases and decreases; the former add stitches to the number on the needle so the fabric will get wider; the latter remove stitches so the fabric will get narrower.

Decreases are quite simple and all you need to begin with is a Knit Right Decrease and a Knit Left Decrease (there are two ways to work the latter, but they both do the same thing).

There are far more increases to choose from, but you will manage just fine if you learn about the Yarnover and the Turned Yarnover, the Running Thread Increase, and perhaps the Rib Increase, all of which are very easy to do. Eventually you will want to learn the Raised Increase because it is so good at what it does, but save that for later because it is slightly more challenging.

And finally, when you are done with whatever you make, you will need to know how to cast off (sometimes called binding off). This type of technique is used to remove the stitches from the needle in a way that gives the fabric a finished edge and prevents the stitches from unraveling. The basic Chained Cast-Off is easy to do and serves nicely for almost every purpose.

Before you embark on your first pattern, also read the material on Written Stitch Patterns and Written Garment Patterns. These will explain how to read pattern instructions, which use a specialized set of terms and abbreviations that make it possible to write the material in a very concise way. Patterns can look quite mysterious and complicated at first glance, but once you get the idea of how they are done, they are easy to read.

Finally, whenever you do not understand a term used in the discussion or instructions, please turn to the “Glossary” in the back of the book for definitions.

So take up yarn and needles and join us in this creative and satisfying craft.