The Textile Knitting Process

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Do you have a favorite warm sweater or pair of fuzzy socks? Do you know how those items were made? In this lesson, learn about the process by which textiles are knitted.

What Is Knitting?

We all like to wear many kinds of clothing.

When it's cold out, a warm sweater can be very comforting. And a T-shirt can be relaxing on a steamy summer day. But did you know that both were likely made in the same way? Sweaters, T-shirts, and a range of other textile goods, like socks and blankets, are made by knitting.

Knitting is a process of using long needles to interlink or knot a series of loops made by one continuous thread. Each loop or knot connects to another one, and when enough loops have been made, the result is a flat piece of material called a textile. To cover another basic definition, a textile is a fabric material made by interlacing natural fibers like wool or cotton, or synthetic fibers like polyester. Most textiles are made either through knitting or a process called weaving, in which vertical and horizontal threads are interlaced on equipment called a loom. Knitted materials tend to be more elastic and have more give than woven materials, which tend to be tighter and firmer.

Knitting is done using one continuous thread and needles
knitting process

Knitting has been around for a very long time. Scholars think it was probably invented in the Middle East around the 5th century CE, and then it spread to other parts of the world. It can be done by hand, or by a device called a knitting machine that uses many steel needles mounted on a frame called a needle bar. The machine simply mechanizes the process of pulling threads through loops to create stitches. Machines can be round or horizontal. They can be small or large circular machines that take up an entire room.

Example of an antique knitting machine
knitting machine

The Knitting Process

So, how is knitting done? We can't discuss the whole process in detail because there are many variations in types and patterns of knits. Next, let's cover some of the basics and discuss hand-knitting.

Getting Started

To start a new hand-knitting project, first, you have to complete an initial step called casting on, where a series of stitches are made on one of your knitting needles. Casting on creates the foundation row of stitches for whatever you are making. You start by making a loose kind of knot called a slip-knot, and then you work a thread through it. You then repeat that basic process until you have a row of loops on the knitting needle.

Examples of knitting needles
Knitting needles

Basic Stitches

Then you can begin on the body of your knitting project. You might want to use a basic knitting stitch called a garter stitch. In a garter stitch, each loop goes through the loop beside it with the yarn behind the knitting needle. In other words, you run the thread or yarn through every stitch. When you reach the edge of the item, you switch and follow the same process, again making sure to connect each stitch. The result is a rigid fabric.

Another basic stitch is the purl stitch. In a purl stitch, you also connect each loop with another loop. The only difference is that you keep the yarn in front of the knitting needle. This creates more wavy lines across a fabric surface.

If you are making a knitted item by alternating whole rows of knit and purl stitches, the result is called a stockinette stitch pattern. This is the way many knitted items are made, and it results in a fabric with vertical rows of connected 'V' shapes.

Detail of a knitted textile
knitted surface

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