How to knit tutorial: how do your stitches sit?

Are your stitches sitting pretty?

How do your stitches sit on your needles? In this post I shall explain the different ways in which stitches may sit and how you can control which way they sit, for knitting both left- and right-handed.

How do your stitches sit?

In my last post I wrote about a basic knit fabric structure – stocking stitch. The diagram below shows stocking stitch fabric without needles (from the right side). Before I discuss how stitches sit, I want to introduce you to some useful terms that will help us understand this. The leg of the stitch nearest the ball of yarn (yarn end) is the leading leg (right leg in this diagram); the leg furthest from the yarn end is the lagging leg (the left leg).

Stocking stitch with cast-on edge & selvedge

Stocking stitch fabric on a knitting machine

When stocking stitch fabric is on a knitting machine, there is one needle (grey hooks below) per stitch, so the stitches are flat.

Stocking stitch on knitting machine

Hand knit

So what happens in hand knit? Each stitch has to rotate slightly to allow it to sit on the same knitting needle. There are two possibilities:

  • The leading leg is in front of and the lagging leg behind the needle;
  • The lagging leg is in front of and the leading leg behind the needle.

Let’s look at these possibilities for knitters who knit right-handed, then those who knit left-handed.

Knitting right-handed

So, when knitting right-handed, where the stitches start on the left needle and move to the right needle, the right leg is the leading leg and the left leg is the lagging leg.

Here, the stitches sit so that the leading leg is in front of the needle; this is normal for Western-style knitters.

Stocking stitch on needle, stitches sit with leading leg at front, RHIn the following diagram the leading leg is behind the needle; this is the normal way that the stitches sit for Combination style knitters and Eastern style knitters (however, the fabric structure is different for this style). Most Western style knitters will have met stitches which sit like this from time to time. Sometimes this is deliberate, for example when working some decreases a stitch or two may be swapped from leg at front to leg at back by slipping it knitwise. This may occur by accident when some stitches have been unravelled or a dropped stitch picked up and placed on the needle with the leading leg behind.

Stocking stitch on needle, stitches sit with leading leg at back, RH

Knitting left-handed

So, when knitting left-handed, where the stitches start on the right needle and move to the left needle, the left leg is the leading leg and the right leg is the lagging leg.

Here, the stitches sit so that the leading leg is in front of the needle; as with right-handed knitting this is the normal way that knit stitches sit for Western style knitters.

Stocking stitch on needle, leading leg at front, for knitting left-handed

In the following diagram the leading leg is behind the needle; as before this is the normal way that knit stitches sit for Combination style knitters and Eastern style knitters.

Stocking stitch on needle, stitches sit with leading leg at back, LH

How do you control which way stitches sit?

The position of the leading leg in a stitch is determined by the way that the yarn wrapped around the needle when the stitch was formed.

Positioning the leading leg at the front

If the leading leg is to be at the front of the needle, the yarn must be wrapped around the needle so that the yarn end is at the front.

The next diagram shows how this is done for a knit stitch when knitting right-handed; the yarn is held at the back of the fabric, so it must pass over the needle then under it to return to the back.

Stocking stitch on needle, stitches sit with leading leg at front, yrn, RH

The diagram below shows how this is done for a knit stitch when knitting left-handed; again the yarn is held at the back of the fabric, and again it must pass over the needle then under it to return to the back.

Stocking stitch on needle, stitches sit with leading leg at front, yrn, LHIf you look at the two diagrams again, you will see that when knitting right-handed, the yarn is moved around the needle (viewed from the non-pointed end) in a clockwise direction, whereas when knitting left-handed the yarn moves in an anticlockwise (counterclockwise) direction.

Positioning the leading leg at the back

If the leading leg is to be at the back of the needle, the yarn must be wrapped around the needle so that the yarn end is at the back.

The diagram below shows how this is done for a knit stitch when knitting right-handed; the yarn is held at the back of the fabric, so it must pass under the needle then over it to return to the back.

Stocking stitch on needle, stitches sit with leading leg at back, yrn, RH

The next diagram shows how this is done for a knit stitch when knitting left-handed; again the yarn is held at the back of the fabric, and again it must pass under the needle then over it to return to the back.

Stocking stitch on needle, stitches sit with leading leg at back, yrn, LHTake a look at the two diagrams again; you will see that when knitting right-handed yarn moves around the needle (viewed from the non-pointed end) in an anticlockwise direction, whereas when knitting left-handed yarn moves in a clockwise direction.

You may have realised that the way in which the original stitch sits on a needle does not affect how a new stitch will sit. If, in the diagram above, the left-hand stitch was sitting with its leading leg at the front, then wrapping the yarn round the needle in the way shown will still form a new stitch with the leading leg at the back. This applies to any combination of stitches and yarn wrapping.

Pulling it all together

So for knitting right-handed:

Leading leg of original stitch

Wrapping of yarn

Wrapping of yarn

Leading leg of new stitch

Front

Over then under

Clockwise

Front

Front

Under then over

Anticlockwise

Back

Back

Over then under

Clockwise

Front

Back

Under then over

Anticlockwise

Back

… and knitting left-handed:

Leading leg of original stitch

Wrapping of yarn

Wrapping of yarn

Leading leg of new stitch

Front

Over then under

Anticlockwise

Front

Front

Under then over

Clockwise

Back

Back

Over then under

Anti-clockwise

Front

Back

Under then over

Clockwise

Back

These ‘rules’ apply equally to forming knit and purl stitches. So, if you knit right-handed and you wrap the yarn in a clockwise direction your new stitch will sit with its leading leg at the front whereas, if you wrap the yarn anticlockwise your new stitch will sit with its leading leg at the back. And vice versa if you knit left-handed.

What about you?

Now, if you haven’t already, I’d like you to look at the way you knit. Cast on about 10 stitches and knit a few rows of stocking stitch ending with a purl row.

  • Firstly, do you knit left- or right-handed? This is not necessarily the same as being left- or right-handed; if you knit right-handed, your stitches will move from the left to the right needle whereas if you knit left-handed, your stitches will move from the right to the left needle.
  • Then, decide whether the leading leg is at the front or back of the needle?
  • Now, move the yarn round the needle for the next knit stitch. Does the yarn travel in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction?
  • Finally, finish your knit row and repeat for a purl row. Is the leading leg at the front or back? Do you move the yarn clockwise or anticlockwise to form a new purl stitch?

If your answers are:

  • your leading leg is at the front,
  • you move your yarn clockwise (knit right-handed) or anticlockwise (knit left-handed) for both knit and purl stitches.

… then you are a Western style knitter. This will be most of you.

However, if your answers are:

  • the leading leg at is at the back,
  • you move your yarn anticlockwise (knit right-handed) or clockwise (knit left-handed).

… then you are an Eastern style knitter (and your stocking stitch fabric will look quite different).

Some of you will be thinking that you are knitting in a mixture of Western and Eastern style. This is known as Combination knitting. In the usual method the leading leg is at the back and the yarn is moved clockwise for knit stitches, whereas for purl stitches the leading leg is at the front and the yarn is moved anticlockwise (knit right-handed). And if you combination knit left-handed, the leading legs are in the same position, but the yarn is moved in the opposite direction.

Some of you may be thinking that something is not quite right with your stocking stitch fabric. You may have looked closely at your stitches and realised that some of them do not look like the ones I have drawn – that they are not open loops, but twist – something else is going on; find out more in my blog post about twisted stitches.

Want to learn more?

Take a look at my other tutorials. Choose from:

Tutorials for knitting right-handed

You knit right-handed if your right hand is your working hand (regardless of which hand you use to hold the yarn) and you move your stitches your left to right needle as you knit.

Tutorials for knitting left-handed

You knit left-handed if your left hand is your working hand (regardless of which hand you use to hold the yarn) and you move your stitches move from your right to left needle as you knit.

Tutorials for crocheting right-handed

You crochet right-handed if your right hand is your working hand (regardless of which hand you use to hold the yarn) and your new stitches are on the left of your old ones.

Tutorials for crocheting left-handed

You crochet left-handed if your left hand is your working hand (regardless of which hand you use to hold the yarn) and your new stitches are on the right of your old ones.

Or maybe you’d like to come to one of my short courses or workshops or book a special personalised one-to-one tutorial.

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