A long time ago A perfectly reasonably amount of time ago, I wrote some posts in which I went into obsessive detail perfectly reasonable and healthy detail about stitch mount, direction of wrapping, and all the lovely combinations we find in knitting. I had intended to write a couple of follow up posts talking about why we even care. I am now ready to do this. (finally.)
Let’s jump right into it.
You may remember that there are two ways your stitches can be sitting on the needle.
In the first picture, the stitches are sitting with the right leg (the leading leg, which is closest to the tip of the needle and the working yarn) in front. In the second picture, the leading leg is in back.
Now, remember that I am an emphatic promoter of the “no wrong way to knit” camp. I happen to knit so that my leading leg is in front. Many excellent knitters knit with their leading legs in back.
That said, it is important to know that there is a difference and to be aware that most patterns are written assuming that the leading leg is in front. By most patterns, I mean every pattern that I have ever seen (that is not to say that there may not be some out there that assume differently). Honestly, for maybe 80% of patterns*, it really doesn’t matter.
*I totally made that number up; my point is that it’s lots.
The difference is most pronounced when it comes to decreases. Here is why.
There are many different kinds of decreases, and these decreases look different from one another. Specifically, different decreases are said to “lean” in a particular direction. Frequently, patterns tell you to use one or the other with that in mind.
When a pattern tells you to “k2tog” (knit 2 together) they expect you to come up with this:
When a pattern tells you to ssk (slip, slip, knit 2 together through the back loops)*, they are looking for something like this:
Frequently, a pattern will have you do one kind of decrease on one side of the garment and the other on the other side, so that the decreases are symmetrical.The difference is especially important in lace knitting, where the choice of decrease affects the lines and figures in the lace.
In the rest of this post, I will go through these two basic decreases more or less step by step for stitches with the leading legs in front and stitches with leading legs in back, and we can see what adjustment must be made to achieve the same look.
Let’s start with the right leaning decrease, the K2tog.
When the leading leg is in front of the needle, the process looks like this:
Those people I know who knit through the back loop don’t hesitate when they see k2tog; they do what is natural and knit two together through the back loops:
This is called a K2togtbl, meaning “Knit 2 together through the back loops” (or the leg behind the needle). Notice that this makes a perfectly lovely left-leaning decrease. If an unsuspecting Back Loop Knitter were to use this stitch when a pattern says “K2tog”, the result will be a little different from what the pattern (and the knitter) expected.
If a Back Loop Knitter were to k2tog through the front loops, the result would be a right leaning decrease, but it would be twisted at the base.
This is the same thing that happens when a Front Loop Knitter does a K2togtbl.
So how do we get an untwisted, right leaning decrease when the leading leg is in back?
The process is actually the same as what Front Loop Knitters have to go through to get a left leaning decrease (which really makes sense when you think about it). Now, some of you might be saying, “Hey! You’re just changing the stitch orientation and knitting 2 together!” Yes. That is exactly what we are doing.
Let’s look at the Left leaning decrease for Front Loop Knitters.
Hey! You’re just changing the stitch orientation and knitting 2 together through the back loops.
So there we have it. That’s why it’s important to know about your stitch orientation. (One wonders why it took me year and a half to get around to writing this blog post…).
To sum up…
Front Loop Knitters:
Right leaning decrease = k2tog
Left leaning decrease = ssk (slip, slip, knit 2 slipped sts together through back loops)
Back Loop Knitters:
Right leaning decrease = ssk
Left leaning decrease = k2tog(tbl)
This means, Back Loop Knitters, that when a patter says “k2tog”, you should ssk and when it says “ssk”, you should k2tog tbl.
Now go knit lace!
For the rest of the evening, I will be crocheting a dinosaur tape measure. Pictures to follow.