Knitting, what is it? I've often wondered. So I sat down and took a good look at what I was doing, and turns out it's using pointy sticks to pull loops of yarn through other loops of yarn. Amazing!
So I did a little more research, and I figure I can explain pretty much everything (so long as I stop and think about it first). So here you have it: everything there is to know about knitting, in parts.
Some Simple Things Explained First
Knitting: Using pointy sticks to pull loops of yarn through other loops of yarn. Now, this next bit is important. Your loops of yarn are arranged like so:
(There's a needle through them, and they all connect to each other, but for simplicity's sake that's pretty much the arrangement).
You will then pull some new loops through these loops. If you pull the new loops towards you, you get something like this:
Stockinette Stitch: If you do this enough, you end up with Stockinette Stitch, basically a bunch of loops that have been pulled toward the front of the fabric each time:
Stockinette stitch is pretty, relatively flat as a surface, but has a tendency to curl, so experienced knitters will throw in some purling to stop the curl (even if just used along the edges, that's enough).
Purling: Using pointy sticks to pull loops of yarn through other loops of yarn. Unlike knitting, when you purl you will pull your new loops through the old loops away from you. Knitted stitches and purled stitches are identical, it's just that one is the front view and the other's the back view.
[Note: If you like purling more than knitting (believe or not, some do), then you can always do circular purling and just invert your project from time to time to see what the stockinette side will look like!]
Garter Stitch: if you're knitting in the round, Stockinette Stitch is easy to produce ... just keep knitting, around and around, and you'll always be pulling those loops forward. However, if you're do flat knitting with straight needles where you reach the end of a row, turn your work, and come back again from the other side, then Garter Stitch is the easiest to produce--it's knitting on both sides of your work, and when you knit on the front, you (without any additional effort) inevitably make a purl on the back, and when you knit on the back (again, without even meaning to) you will make a purl on the front. Essentially, it's reversible.
Crochet: Shockingly, it's using a single hooked needle to pull loops of yarn through other loops of yarn. The single hook alone differentiates it from knitting, but there's another distinction. The loops (crocheters won't use that term, but for simplicity let's go with it) lie horizontally, like so:
And the rows are built up from the edges of these stitches, not from the top:
So it's a completely different kind of animal from knitting altogether, even though superficially it seems like it ought to be quite similar. It is a good skill to have in one's back pocket, because it's good for attaching decorative seams overtop of ugly seams, for instance. Uncle Stashley once knit epaulettes, for Pete's sake, on his shoulders, to disguise his ugly shoulder seams. No longer! Crochet to the rescue. (Or I could learn to seam better, but hey, life's full of tough choices.)
Ribbing: alternately small numbers of knit stitches with small numbers of purl stitches, and then consistently making the same kind of stitch whenever you encounter it again. For instance, k2 p2 again-and-again (in the round) will yield a nice elastic cuff, say, or neck, or hem, depending how many of them you go for. Some patterns will elaborately spell out things like "k2 p2 k2 p2 k2 p2 k2, turn your work, p2 k2 p2 k2 p2 k2 p2, turn your work" etc. when all that's happening is you're doing ribbing. When you see a purl stitch, purl it, when you see a knit stitch, knit it. Easy! Soon this will become instinctive, like changing the channel when what's-his-face comes on.
Reading Your Knitting
A beginning knitter must learn to read their stitches if he or she ever hope to advance to intermediate status.
Because I started with garter stitch (constantly making knit stitches doing flat knitting turned over at the end of each row) I found reading my knitting very tricky. It's much more obvious with stockinette what each stitch looks like, in your finished fabric, and ribbing is pretty easy to figure out as well (it's small columns of stockinette alternating with small columns of Reverse Stockinette). But essentially a knit stitch will look like this:
(There will generally be other nearby stitches, a cast-on edge below, etc., but again, for simplicity's sake, this is the knit stitch).
One thing that confused Uncle Stashley as a beginning knitter was "which thing is actually the knit stitch? Is it the loop above? The kind of airplane pillow shaped V-ish stitch below? Both together?" And the correct answer is it's the kind of airplane pillow shaped V-ish stitch below.
The loop's just a loop--whether you knit, or purled, or knit two together, etc., your loop is just gonna be a loop. Right now the loop has its side to us, but once you knit it (or purl it), next round, it'll flatter out to face us.
So logically, the purl is what happens when I flip my knitting around:
And now, from the back, you can only see the bit of the airplane pillow that goes behind your neck (if you were a loop, or if airplane seats were transparent).
So now you can practice reading knitting. Here are what you should be looking for, approximately charted. I'm going to use "V" for knit stitches ('cause they look sorta like a V) and "—" for purl stitches ('cause, ditto). Here's stockinette:
Reverse Stockinette (i.e. the back side of a stockinette fabric, consisting entirely of purled stitches (regardless of whether they were actually purled, or are the backs of stitches that were knitted, there is no difference other than original execution):
Garter Stitch (knit each row, or, and it's about the one thing that circular knitting doesn't make more efficient, knit one round purl one round etc. That's why most circular knitting is stockinette!):
2 x 2 Ribbing:
Pop quiz! What is this combination of stitches?
Okay, that was mean. But it's intended to illustrate what beginning knitters see when we first look at our work: just a big bumbled blur. But rest assured (it happened to Uncle Stashley) at some magical moment in the future you, even you, will indeed be able to read your work. Maybe not enough to recognize "oh, that's where I k2tog when I should have ssk'd," but enough to tell knits from purls and figure out where in the pattern you are if you lose your place. Have hope!
(I had the same experience a few weeks ago with my first attempts at crochet, and now I'm approximately able to figure out where I am, except for the first/last stitch of each round—those look weird enough to convince me I'm doing 'em wrong.)
On the Needles
(I will mark with a ! those projects that have advanced, and !! those projects that are new to the blog.)
!Sweater Sample (from the Sweater Workshop, on the 2x2 rib section)
!Cabled Viking Hat (On 2nd repeat of the cabled section)
!Sophie's Universe crochet project (Part 3: Round 17)
!GGN Norwegian Ski Sweater (about 13.25 inches into it, from the bottom)
!Persian Dreams Blanket (row 40 of the second hexagon)
!A Random Blanket (about 38% through)
On the backburner:
Vice Versa scarf (double knitting!) starting the fifth row of squares
Feather Duster Lace Shawl (I'm repeating, for the first time, the body section)
A Church Mouse sock (post-heel)!
World's Simplest Mittens (prior to thumb)
A Hitchhiker Scarf (started over a year ago. It's for when I'm needing mobile knitting and every other project is stuck at a complicated point. I will be in the middle forever, I guess)
Simply Ribbed Scarf (again, it's ancient, intended for emergency mobile knitting, and I'm in the middle)