Step One: Get some yarn and needles.
This may seem like an obvious step but if you're like me you're thinking "okay, but which yarn and which needles?" So I'm going to advise you to do something I
This little square tells you which needles are appropriate and how many rows and stitches you need to knit to make a 10 inch square, which is the gauge. Let's not worry about the gauge and just look at the needle size. In this example, the optimal size needles are a size seven. For your first skein, I would recommend yarn somewhere around the nine to ten and a half range so you can really see what you're doing. Grab about three skeins because you're eventually going to make a scarf once you get going.
Now, needles. Needles come in a wide variety of materials, including plastic, aluminum, wood and bamboo. For your first needles, I highly recommend wood or bamboo. It's more expensive but the yarn really grips to these kinds of needles and you don't have to worry so much about needles slipping off your yarn which can drive you freaking batty when you're just starting out.
Step Two: Go home and turn on your computer.
Specifically, you want to point your browser to knittinghelp.com. This is where you're going to learn everything you need to know to get you started. This website is amazing because she offers videos for most of the techniques you can think of and you can learn them at your own pace, whenever you need them, in the comfort of your own home. I'll walk you through the beginning, and then you're on your own.
The first thing you need to learn is to cast on, which is how you get your yarn on the needle and start your project. I suggest you learn the long tail cast on which happens to be the featured video on the main page right now, but can normally be found on the page called "Get Started and Learn to Knit" by clicking on "View Knitting Videos." Watch the video, start casting on, and then frog (what we call ripping out the stitches and starting over) your cast on and practice some more! When you feel ready to continue, get ready to knit, so go on to the page about the Knit Stitch.
A couple of things you should know: First of all, if you're left handed (like me!) I strongly recommend you try knitting right handed first. Believe me, I am as lefty as they come, I totally consider my right hand to be stupid, but I knit right handed. This is largely because I didn't have the crutch of someone sitting in front of me so I could mirror them; I only had these videos to mimic, so that's what I did. If you really, really can't follow these videos, you'll have to find someone to either teach you or let you mirror them for a while (or, like the website suggests, you could hold up a mirror to your monitor).
Secondly, there are two major methods of knitting and you'll have to choose one: the English method (which I do), in which the yarn is held in the right hand and "thrown" onto the needle, or the Continental method, in which the yarn is held in the left hand, and is faster but may need a little longer to excel in. Check out the videos for both of these methods and try them, then pick one.
Now. I recommend knitting a few rows, like maybe ten or so, then frog and start over. Your goal is to have your rows and stitches looking uniform; this means that your tension is good and this is very important later on down the road.
Once you feel comfortable with the knit stitch, try out the purl stitch. Remember which method you picked for knitting? Check out the corresponding video for the purl stitch. Then practice your purling technique. Remember (and this will make more sense after you've got your feet wet): knitting every row makes a garter stitch, knitting one row and then purling the next row makes the stockinette stitch.
If you really want to get adventurous, you can try a rib stitch. Cast on in multiples of four (twenty stitches would be good) and then knit two stitches, purl two stitches, etc. until you get to the end of the row. Don't forget that before you purl, you have to bring the yarn to the front of the work, and then to the back of the work before you knit! When you start the next row, you'll do knit two, purl two, all the way down again. After ten rows or so you'll see the rib pattern start to emerge.
So how long does this take? As long as you're willing to practice. It's going to be different for everybody, depending on how much time you have for watching videos and how fast you pick everything up. After a couple of days of practicing and frogging and practicing again, I was starting my first project, and you can, too.
So you've got a few skeins of yarn, what better first project than a scarf? First, decide what kind of pattern you like: garter makes a pretty and warm scarf, rib makes a fun pattern all the way down, or you can experiment with your knits and purls. Then cast on and keep on knitting until you're nearly out of yarn. Don't forget to watch the video to learn how to cast off when you're done and you'll be finished with your very first project!
Next time: Where do I go from here?