1. Knitting consists of 2 stitches: Knit, Purl. Everything else is a combination of both.
(A) Repeated rows of knit stitch produce GARTER stitch. It looks the same on the front side as it does on the back side.
(B) Repeated rows of purl stitch produce GARTER stitch. (Same as above, imagine that.)
(C) Knit one row, Purl one row, produces STOCKINETTE stitch, which on the front side looks like small "v"s and on the back side looks like...GARTER stitch. (Shocking, I know.)
(D) Combinations of Knit & Purl stitches produce numerous other stitches and patterns. The most common combinations being:
(i) Ribbing (Knit 1, Purl 1, knit the knits and purl the purls) or knit 3, purl 3 - any combination of either.
(ii) Seed, Moss or Rice stitch (K 1, P1, then Purl the Ks and Knit the Ps).
(iii) The aforementioned stockinette.
Various sources on the net illustrate these, and more, techniques and stitches. Check your local library or go browsing at book stores.
2. Methods of knitting vary*** They are:
A) English B) Continental C. Combined/Combination
English method is preferred for learning and recommended by the Craft Yarn Council of America (CYCOA). English knitting, for the new knitter, creates a better tensioned piece with less irregularities than Continental or Combined. VERY IMPORTANT: The most frustrating part for the beginner knitter is irregular tension when alternating rows of knit and purl stitch (stockinette). It is easy to get discouraged by this...but I promise you..practice makes perfect.
3. CASTING ON: Long-tail cast on -- see http://www.butlercountryknit.com/longtail.pdf
3A. Getting down to learning. First, learn the knit stitch (see below)--practice it for several rows (garter). Thereafter, learn the purl stitch (see below)--practice it for several rows (garter). Finally, learn stockinette and practice it. Stockinette will be the most challenging as far as appearances go. You will want to get your knitting tension to the point where, in stockinette, it does NOT look "ribby" on the back\wrong side. The front will look like a series of Vs, where the back will look like garter stitch - it is the backside that will show you whether or not your stitch tension needs improvement.
4. KNIT stitch. Right hand needle enters the stitch on the left hand needle, from left to right and front to back. Yarn goes behind right hand needle and around to the front, counter clockwise. Pulling the yarn down between the needles, you will feel a slight "click" as the yarn goes into place. "Catch" that yarn with the tip of the right hand needle, pulling it towards you through and under the stitch on the left hand needle, which "transfers" it to the right hand needle. Pull the completed stitch off left hand needle completely--the knit stitch is now on the right hand needle. This should be the first stitch that you practice, row after row, until you are comfortable with the motions/technique.
5. PURL stitch. Right hand needle enters the stitch on the left hand needle, from right to left and back to front. Yarn goes behind the right hand needle and around to the front counter clockwise. Catch the yarn on the right hand needle, pulling it under the stitch on the left hand needle and to the right. The stitch is transferred to the right hand needle. Pull the finished stitch off the left hand needle completely -- the purl stitch is now on the right hand needle.
NOTE: Yarn direction around needle counterclockwise is the same for knit stitch and purl stitch, always, in English and Continental style.
6. STOCKINETTE: Knit stitch and Purl stitch together. SEE 2 C and 2 D above.
7. SHAPING: Decreasing and Increasing. Numerous techniques exist. Generally you never increase more than 1 stitch at a time, but a pattern may call for a 3 stitch decrease instead of 2. Patterns usually specify which increase/decrease technique is preferred for that particular item.
A. Decreasing. The simplest decrease is to work two stitches together, decreasing by 1 stitch (K2tog or P2tog) which slants to the right.
Another popular decrease is SLIP 1, KNIT 1, PASS OVER (SKP or SKPSSO) which slants to the left. Insert the needle into the stitch as if to knit it, but without knitting it, slip it over to the right hand needle, then knit the next stitch, then pass the slipped stitch over the one you just knitted, and the decrease is complete. This is usually used in combination with knitting two stitches together at one end of the row to decrease, then SKP at the other end, since each will leave a unique mark on your finished piece.
B. Increasing. The simplest way to increase is called MAKE ONE. This is done by inserting the left hand needle through the yarn that is horizontal between two stitches, lifting it, and knitting it. (see below)
(i) Make One Right Slant: In Knit stitch, insert the left needle from back to front into the strand between the stitches. Knit through the front loop, inserting right needle from left to right/front to back to twist the stitch, then knit it. In Purl stitch, insert left needle from back to front into the strand and purl through the front loop.
(ii) Make One Left Slant: In Knit stitch, insert left needle from front to back into strand and knit through back loop to twist it. In Purl stitch, insert left needle from front to back into strand and purl through the back loop.
BAR INCREASE: Knit the stitch completely but do not pull it off the left hand needle. Reinsert the left hand needle into the BACK of the same stitch, knit it and transfer both stitches to the right hand needle. For these and more see: http://www.knittinghelp.com/knitting/basic_techniques/increase.php and http://www.knittinghelp.com/videos/increases
SPECIALTY INCREASE: Yarn Over (YO) or Yarn Forward (YF). This leaves a hole in the work. It is used for buttonholes and lace patterns, or decoration. It is most often worked on the knit side, often paired with a decrease to keep the stitch count consistent. Bring the yarn from the back of the work to the front between the needles. Insert the right needle into the next stitch knitwise, wrap the yarn around the needle clockwise and complete the stitch. For this and more see:
Some illustrated techniques can be found here: http://dnt-inc.com/barhtmls/knit/ - go to that site and hover over and click the stitch you require help with.
9. CASTING OFF: Knit (or purl) the first and second stitches. Insert the left hand needle into the FIRST stitch on the right hand needle and lift it over the second stitch. You have casted off 1 stitch. Repeat process of knitting a stitch, then lifting the prior stitch over that, until you have completed the bind off to the last stitch. Slip the last stitch off the needle, cut your yarn, and pull the yarn tightly through the last stitch tightly. The above are the basics. You should continue learning through books, patterns and websites.
***While it is a good idea to learn at least both English and Continental, it isn't necessary. Some people will be more comfortable with one style over the other--that is a matter of personal choice. Crocheter's may ultimately prefer Continental method since it is similar in motion to crochet. Combined method is a different story altogether -- often, a pattern will not work in combined method as written, and there needs to be a remedy. A fabulous site for combined knitting (which I suggest you look into after you feel accomplished in English method) is http://www.anniemodesitt.com
NOTE: While this post is not "copyrighted" it is comprised of my personal thoughts and experience when I was a new knitter, and in my teaching knitting and what I believed was pertinent to know. You may print it out for your own use, or post an url to it, but please do not copy and paste it to your own blog or website. Thank you.