I remember how tricky it was, when I first started knitting, to find patterns that explained what I was supposed to do instead of presenting me with a wall of abbreviations and numbers. Even though I'm much better at reading patterns now, I still lose my place when I blink, and for simple projects I wish people would just say things like 'decrease 8 stitches on every other row' rather than 'row 30: k [x], *ssk, k[x]*; row 32; k[x-1], *ssk, k[x-1]*' and so forth. Bleargh. If you can tell me the basic principle in a single breath, then do so, rather than making me count my stitches.
So in the expectation that I'm not the only one who likes to be told how a thing works (rather than having to figure it out from blindly painting by numbers), I'm going to post the basic templates I use to knit some common items, and explain every dang thing as plainly as possible. If there's a question I didn't answer, no matter how basic, please ask it!
Basic Hat Template
This is a beginner-level knit, but if you use it as a jumping-off point for fancier stuff, the sky's the limit. I'll mention some of my favorite embellishments afterwards. If you're not used to using double-pointed needles, this would be a good project to try them out on.
Here's the abbreviated version, the notes I work from myself:
Using worsted weight handspun on #5 dpn’s:
co 80 st on 4 needles (20 ea), join
2x2 rib 8 rows
k 30 rows (total incl. rib 5.5 in)
pm at center of each needle
dec row: ssk at beginning of each needle, after each marker
k 2 rows
k 1 row
k 1 row
dec until 8 st remain, break yarn, sew tail through and draw tight.
And now here's the verbose version, where I explain EVERYTHING!
-- About 50g/1.75oz of worsted-weight wool. Most skeins are at least that much, so one skein should do it. Worsted-weight is about 12wpi (wraps per inch); if you're not sure, you can test it by wrapping a length of it around a ruler. Hats are pretty forgiving, so you've got some wiggle room here.
-- A set of five double-pointed needles. I generally use size 5 (3.75 mm) needles, but again, you have wiggle room. You can go up or down sizes to get gauge, or just use your favorites and wing it. The hat will fit somebody. (You can also use a circular needle if you prefer them; I hate them for anything smaller than a sweater, but that's just me.)
-- Four stitch markers. You can get cheap plastic ones at your local yarn store, but I prefer the dangly kind with glass beads and whatnot. Not only are they more fun to look at, they're just a tad heavier and the rings are metal, so they're easier to move from one needle to another; just scoop them up and they slide into place, tick!
-- A tapestry needle or yarn needle for sewing in the ends of the yarn when you're done.
-- Some kind of cast-on. I like the long-tail cast-on, but any kind will do really.
-- Knit and purl stitches.
-- Some kind of decrease. Use ssk if you want it to look like the picture.
Excellent instructions and handy videos of all these things can be found here: knittinghelp.com
-- A hat like this usually takes me three or four hours. Even if you're learning as you go, you should be able to do one in a weekend.
How to make the hat:
-- Knit a gauge swatch. I get 4 stitches per inch (which is 16 per 10 cm) with worsted on 5's. Knit a little square, measure an inch's worth of stitches in the middle of it, and see what you get. If you're noticeably off, you'll probably want to try bigger or smaller needles. Or you could adjust the number of stitches; as long as it's a multiple of 8, you'll have no problem with the decreases.
-- Cast on 80 stitches on 4 needles. That's 20 per needle. It's tricky to get 80 stitches on one dpn, so there are a couple things you could do. What I usually do is cast on 21 stitches, slip the most recent stitch onto the next needle and cast on 20 on that needle, etc. This means you've got a dangling chain of needles hanging out of your hand, but if that doesn't bother you, it's pretty simple. Just gotta remember not to end up with one extra stitch on the last needle, since you're not slipping it anywhere. Another option is to cast onto a straight or circular needle, then slip the stitches onto your dpn's.
-- Join, being careful not to twist. Patterns always say this. The day you scoff at 'being careful not to twist' is the day you'll twist it and not notice for an hour; do not tempt the knitting gods.
-- Work knit-2 purl-2 ribbing for 8 rows. Knit two stitches, then purl two stitches; keep doing this. If the number you cast on is divisible by 4, it'll line up right. The number of rows you do it for is fungible. You probably want at least 4 to keep it from curling; other than that, it's totally up to you.
-- Knit until the hat is about 5.5 inches long. That's 14 cm, and the measurement includes the ribbing. Most hat recipes say 6 inches, but I find that a frustrating length; long enough to meet my eyebrows and make me look like an ape, not quite long enough to turn up the brim. You can, of course, alter it if you want your hat taller.
-- Place a marker at the middle of each needle. Since there are 20 stitches on each needle, there'll be 10 on either side of the marker.
-- Decrease at the beginning of each needle and after each marker for one round. That's a total of 8 decreases; you should now have 9 stitches on either side of each marker, 18 per needle total.
-- Knit 2 normal rounds. No decreases, just knit.
-- Do another decrease round. Just like you did before; beginning of each needle, and after each marker.
-- Normal round.
-- Decrease round.
-- Normal round.
-- Decrease every round until 8 stitches are left. You can even go as far as 4 stitches left, but that's just one stitch per needle; your needles are going to want to slide out, especially if they're metal.
-- Break yarn, leaving about 6 inches. Or cut it. The only reason patterns say 'break' instead of 'cut' is because a clean-cut end is harder to splice. You don't need to splice this.
-- Thread tail through remaining stitches and draw tight. I find it easiest to use the yarn needle as if it's another knitting needle, and just slip the stitches onto it from the dpn's, then pull the tail through once the dpn's are out of the way. They're kind of a hedgehog at this point, so it's easy to get tangled otherwise.
-- Sew in ends. Poke your needle through a stitch near the ring you just drew tight, rather than through the center; the yarn will hold better that way. Then just sew the yarn through the backs of a few stitches on the inside. Cut the excess, leaving at least a cm to keep it from pulling loose. Then thread the tail from where you started onto the needle and sew that inside the same way.
-- Show everyone your fab new hat. I still do this, no matter how many I've made. :D
There are lots of ways you can make this hat your own. I personally like to knit it plain and let the yarn speak for itself; I'm proud of my handspun and like to showcase it. But I've sometimes added stranded colorwork patterns, embroidery, beads, little fleece flowers, etc. Most knitting stitches will work just fine, too; ribs, cables, moss stitch, various pattern stitches. Even fairly dense lace stitches will work, although if you go to a thinner yarn you'll get an awfully floppy hat.
Have fun! And again, any questions at all, just ask. I want these instructions to be plain as day even if you're a total beginner.