Life with Fiber and Fiber Arts

Ways of Knitting, Part 3: Why We Care May 20, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hannah Cuviello @ 9:33 pm

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:

K2tog (knit 2 together); right leaning decrease

When a pattern tells you to ssk (slip, slip, knit 2 together through the back loops)*, they are looking for something like this:

ssk (slip, slip, knit): a left leaning decrease

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:

K2tog process, with leading leg in front

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:

K2togtbl (natural K2tog when the leading leg is in back).

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.

K2tog through the front loops, when leading leg is in back

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?

SSK (slip, slip, knit 2 slipped sts together) when leading leg is in back; right leaning decrease.

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.

SSK (Slip, slip, k2 slipped sts together through back loop) with leading leg in front; left leaning decrease.

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.

The end.

Now go knit lace!

For the rest of the evening, I will be crocheting a dinosaur tape measure. Pictures to follow.


5 Responses to “Ways of Knitting, Part 3: Why We Care”

  1. sarah Says:

    Verry nic blog have you, great work 😉

    Mvg Sarah


  2. Thank you very much this is a really helpful subject.
    I like the way you make the emphasis and the way you use the pics and anything else…I was knitting combined method a time ago, now I prefer to knit continental, that’s change!
    I prefer the perfect look of the stitches since I made it first time.
    Thanks I recommended your blog post for friends who knit combined.

  3. Rachel Says:

    thanks for this post! I’m a beginning knitter, and I have finally become consistent at knitting english style thanks to multiple watchings of youtube vidoes! (before that I knit through the front the back anywhere convenient really) and I am struggling to wrap my head around what happens when you knit. Yesterday I had my husband sketching all the possible combinations of knitting two stitches together on a napkin (we came up with four including the two with the wierd twists in them) but still not really getting what the results are. This post really helped illuminate things!

  4. Padmar Says:

    I just found your blog. I do both crochet and Tunisian and am just trying to learn to knit in Continental. What I found most difficult was holding up the left index finger to tension the yarn while holding the needle at the same time, my finger started aching very soon. I soon learned that everyone has their own way of holding yarn (and knitting, too) – so confusing!
    Also, I couldn’t understand why my stitches seemed so tight – things were difficult! Thanks so much for explaining the stitch mounts and twisted stitches so beautifully, that’s solved most of my beginner problems, which is a relief. Hopefully, things will be smoother from now on 🙂

  5. kdirksak Says:

    This is awesome. I was going to do this myself in an attempt to figure out what I’m doing wrong and to figure out the best methods/styles/approach for me. Thanks so much for sharing.

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