"Reading" Your Knitting: Part 2 - Catching wrong stitches

Since I taught myself to knit, I had no idea that I was knitting "wrong" for ten years. I even taught others to do it the same way I did. True story, and not one I'm proud of.

Okay, "wrong" is subjective, as many other knitters knowingly use this "combined" style of knitting, but had I known what I was doing earlier, it may have saved me years of grief trying to figure out why my work looked funny and my increases and decreases were so hard to do.

So, in this lesson, I am going to teach you how to recognize if you made a stitch wrong. (Click on any image to see it larger.)

How Should Stitches on the needle Look?

Whether you knit English or Continental, your stitches should always lay on your needle in the same way - front leg to the right, back leg to the left - unless you are working a stitch that purposefully changes these around.

Coming from the previous stitch, the yarn should be coming from the front of the needle and through the stitch directly below the one on the left of your working stitch, then take a short horizontal jump right through the top of the stitch directly below your working stitch (creating the "bar"), then up over the needle from behind on the left and down in front. The yarn that comes down the front of the needle will pull slightly to the right of the one in the back (in the same stitch) if you stretch your work out along the needle, as it will run into the stitch below your working stitch to the stitch on the right in the previous row. This is true of both knit and purl stitches, if they are made correctly.

Knits and purls both look the same on the needle.

If your work doesn't look like this, take a deep breath, examine your work, and "follow the yarn." One of the following glitches has probably introduced itself to your project. Carefully following the path your yarn has taken should help you correct the problem fairly easily. (This is why it is helpful to know what the stitches should look like when done correctly.)

Yarn Overs - on purpose:

Unless specifically directed to do otherwise, most yarn overs should still have the front leg on the right. However, even this "normal" YO will make a strange-looking stitch that seems to be a little too angled, since it is coming directly from the previous stitch and going directly to the next one, with no intermediary stops into the stitches below.

If you actually meant for there to be a YO there (say for a buttonhole or an increase meant to leave a little hole, as is often used when working lace), that's okay. But what if your stitches look like this and you have no recollection of there being a YO in your pattern, let alone the row you just worked? Well, that means you have a Snag.

"The Snag" or Accidental Yarn Over - your needle picked up the "bar":

I'm sure there's a joke in that title somewhere: "Two needles and a crochet hook walked into a bar... yada yada If you're gonna snag my yarn over, it better be on purpose!" Okay, maybe not.

Sometimes your needles can accidentally "catch" the bar between stitches while you are working, and if you are not careful, will sneak it into your row so stealthily that you will not even notice the underage minor getting a little too comfy on the dance floor until you are 30 rows on and your decreases aren't adding up properly. (Unless you have a short-repeat pattern that makes it obvious right away.)

On the first row above where the precocious new stitch snuck in, it looks like a Yarn Over. This happens to me frequently when I am working in the round with double-pointed needles, especially if they are quite short--the "back" end of the needle I am working with can catch the bar and pick it up without me even noticing (until I get back around to it). This looks JUST like a Yarn Over. And--unless you notice it--will act like one, increasing your stitches all willy-nilly.

Really, a Yarn Over is just picking up the bar on purpose. In the case of a real Yarn Over, though, extra yarn is used and just "dropping" it would create a weird, "gooshy" spot in the knitting. Fortunately, with an accidental YO, you can usually just drop the extra stitch off the needle like a $5 hooker and have your work look just peachy. You might have to use your fingers or a needle tip to work any extra yarn that was pulled up into the imposter stitch back into the surrounding stitches to prevent that "snagged" look, though.

"The Snag" extended - your needle picked up the bar several rows down:

This happens much the same way as a normal Snag, except it looks WAY messier. Therefore, it can be more confusing to figure out what is going on. The bar that got picked up might have been between stitches, or even the centre of a stitch a couple or more rows below the row you are on. Remember, "follow the yarn." It might be trickier with this one, but if you can see that the stitch that looks so weird originated several rows down, and there were none below it at all, then you found the origin of your snag. Just drop it off the needle and all will be well.

However, once you've worked this "stitch," there is not much to do but rip back to it and drop it off.

You worked a stitch wrong:

For years, I knit in a weird, "blended" Continental fashion. This was caused by having my yarn go the "wrong" way around my right needle when creating purl stitches. So, when knitting stockinette, if I was looking at the "knit" side, my stitches would have the left leg in front and the right leg in back. To make my work look right, I would still knit into the right leg of these "twisted" stitches, I would just knit into the back loop, essentially "untwisting" my twisted stitch.

For a decade, I was blissfully unaware that I was doing anything out of the ordinary, although I couldn't figure out why my increases and decreases were so hard to work and always looked strange. Then I read how you were ALWAYS supposed to go into the front leg when doing the knit stitch. "Oh!" I said, and started doing that, even though it was harder (like working a Make 1 on every stitch. Very frustrating!)--until it finally occurred to me that now all my stitches looked twisted compared to the beautiful projects I saw in magazines and online. Thank goodness for YouTube! Once I saw my error, it was a matter of an internet search to discover where I had gone wrong. Despite the fact that I found a whole group of Ravellers who purposely use this style of knitting, I retrained myself to knit "correctly" as soon as I found out, because more complex stitches (like increases and decreases) work better if your stitches are all laying "properly." As a budding designer, I needed to know my designs would work the way they were meant to for everyone.

If you knit "Combined", and are okay with that look, then by all means continue. But if not, here is a video about the correct way to purl in Continental style:

And here is a video about the correct way to purl in English/American style:

In my next "Reading Your Knitting" tutorial, I will show you how to count rows between cable crosses and increases and decreases without using a counter.

Happy knitting!

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You may be interested in the following Advanced Beginner patterns: