Untwisted stitches: Left-handed, continental combined knitting

Background

I first learned to knit from my mom but after many dropped stitches, I gave it up. I was reintroduced to knitting by a co-worker, who very patiently talked me through it and provided me with a couple sets of needles and some bright pink wool to practice on. She was right-handed, so I had to try and reverse whatever she was doing in order to do it left-handed. I made a couple of projects, including a very complex cabled Michael Kors jumper:

It wasn’t long before I realised, however, that some of my stitches were twisted. I scoured my knitting books and looked online for tutorials and help on how to knit left-handed without twisting stitches. I can’t say it was easy. My next few projects had straight stitches when created on the knit side, but twisted stitches when created on the purl side. Eventually, I got it – the style and method of knitting that was quickest, easiest and twist-free for me is left-handed, continential combined knitting. So below, I offer a tutorial for left-handed knitters – this isn’t the only way to knit left-handed and it isn’t without difficulties – you still have to reverse cables, manage left and right leaning decreases and knitting in the round requires wrapping the wool differently – but for those who might find the combined and/or continental style more comfortable and quicker, I hope this photo tutorial helps.

Definitions

The left-handed bit should be fairly straightforward – left-handed knitters work by moving stitches from the right needle to the the left.

Continental refers to which hand holds the wool. A left-handed continental knitter will hold the wool in his/her right hand. This is in contrast to picking, in which a left-handed knitter would hold the wool in his/her left hand. Simple as that. There is more about  Continential Knitting on Wikipedia

Combined refers to how the stitches are oriented on the right-hand needle and where you place the left needle in order to create a stitch. Annie Modesitt seems to be the guru of combined knitting and her Annie Modesitt.com website has lots of info about it (again, written for right-handers). The advantages, as she lists them, seem to be more even knitting and the ability to knit more quickly without as much pressure on the wrists. I have to say I just find it easier.

It seems to be quite common for combined knitters to also knit in the continental style.

the knit stitch

Working a stockinette fabric with the stitches on the right needle (knit or right side)

Stockinette knit stitches

1. When you knit in the combined style, your knit stitches will be oriented with the leading leg of the stitch on the back of the needle, as seen below:

Knit stitch orientation on the needle

the leading leg of your next stitch, or the bit of the wool loop that connects to the stitch on the left needle, is on the back of the needle

2. Insert your left needle straight into the stitch on the right needle, with the left needle going behind the right needle:

Inserting the needle for the knit stitch

the left needle goes straight into (or from front to back) the stitch on the right needle

3. With your right hand, move the wool under the left needle so you can scoop the wool through to create a stitch on the left needle before moving the old stitch off the right needle.

Wool placement for a knit stitch

The wool goes under the point of the left needle so it can be scooped through to create a stitch

Scoop the wool through the stitch on the right needle to create a new stitch on the left needle. Then drop the stitch off the right needle

the purl stitch

Working a stockinette fabric with the stitches on the right needle (purl or wrong side)

1. When you purl in the combined style, your purl stitches will be oriented with the leading leg of the stitch on the front of the needle, as seen below:

the leading leg of your next stitch, or the bit of the wool loop that connects to the stitch on the left needle, is on the front of the needle

2. Insert your left needle straight into the stitch on the right needle, with the left needle going in front of the right needle:

the left needle goes straight into (or from front to back) the stitch on the right needle

3. With your right hand, move the wool under the left needle so you can scoop the wool through to create a stitch on the left needle before moving the old stitch off the right needle.

The wool goes under the point of the left needle so it can be scooped through to create a stitch

Scoop the wool through the stitch on the right needle to create a new stitch on the left needle. Then drop the stitch off the right needle

Also check out

MommyDiane on youtube has some good videos on knitting left-handed, along with a website and a DVD. She wraps her wool in the opposite direction from the instructions above – the main thing is that you end up with untwisted stitches

Happy stitching!

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18 thoughts on “Untwisted stitches: Left-handed, continental combined knitting

  1. Pingback: Long tail cast on photo tutorial for lefties « I made this!
  2. Pingback: Untwisting your stitches in the round | I made this!
  3. Thank-you! I’m a new knitter and this is how I knit. I only figured it out when making a pair of socks. The stockinette that was in the round was fine, but when I got to the heel where I was knitting one way and purlong the other, I noticed that knitting seemed harder to do and the stitches looked different. That’s because they were crossed. The mental acrobatics I have to perform to understand instructions written for right-handed western English knitting is phenomenal. I still don’t know what to do with increases and decreases, but I’m getting there!

    • It does take some serious mental gymnastics sometimes, but I take heart in the knowledge it means we’re better knitters in the end! If I can ever help decipher instructions, or provide another type of tutorial, please let me know.

      • Thanks for the reply. 🙂 My main concern now is increases and decreases. I’m looking at a pattern that calls for “gull lace.” Written out it is:

        Row 1: k1, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, ssk, k1
        Row 2: purl
        Row 3: k2tog, yo, k3, yo, ssk
        Row 4: purl

        I’ve heard that left-handed knitters have to switch k2tog and ssk because they lean the opposite way from a right-handed knitter’s decreases. I’ve also heard that combination knitters have to switch k2tog and ssk because they lean the opposite way from a western knitter’s decreases. (And also change the way they do them so when they k2tog, they do it through the back loops, and when they ssk, they slip the stitches as if to purl though the back loops) So, does this mean that if I knit left-handed and combined, I can do the decreases as they say (but going through the back loops instead of the front where required) because the two differences (almost) cancel each other out?

        This means that when a pattern says “k2tog” (talking to a right-handed western knitter), I would do a k2tog tbl
        and when a pattern says ssk, I would do a ssk (with the slips going through the back loops as if to purl)

        Am I right about this?

        Also, do I do my yarn-overs differently than a right-handed western knitter, or are they the same?

        Thanks again! My brain hurts. 🙂

      • You are sort of right – left handers do need to swap increase/decrease instructions when reading a pattern but not necessarily because they slant the other way. It depends on what kind of knitter you are. A k2tog is a right-slanting decrease for a right-handed knitter and for a left-handed combined knitter. But it is left-slanting for a regular left-handed knitter. So if you were reading a knitting chart (where they only indicate the direction of the slant, not what kind of stitch to use to make it), you (as a comibined left handed knitter) and a right-handed knitter would probably both use k2tog when you saw the / symbol that indicates a right-slanting decrease. A regular leftie knitter would use something else, like a ssk.

        What makes things more complicated is when you read pattern instructions, like the one you’re working on. Your first row is this:

        k1, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, ssk, k1

        A right handed person is working from the right side of the fabric to the left. Following these instructions, their fabric would look something like this:

        x\oxo/x

        This is because the first knit stitch for the row is the one on the right, followed by the right-slanting k2tog, then a yarn over, knit stitch, yarn over, a left-slanting ssk and ending with a knit stitch.

        As a combined knitter, if you followed the same instructions as written, your pattern would look like this:

        x/oxo\x

        The decreases are the opposite way because you are starting at the left side of the fabric. So you knit the first stitch on the left, then a right-slanting k2tog, and so on. This is why combined knitters need to swap around the decreases in order to get stitches going in the correct direction.

        (Another way to think of this is to picture the fabric and which way the slants should be headed. When instructions are written for right handed people, they start by writing the instruction for the stitch on the far right and work their way to the left. It’s confusing because you read the instructions from left to right, but are creating stitches from right to left. As lefties, we read instructions and create stitches from left to right – which should be easier! – but because the instructions are written for right-handers it gets confusing. Regular left-handed knitters actually don’t have to reverse any directions, even though their slants are the opposite way – but let’s not make things even more confusing by thinking about that too much…)

        So – short answer: for written instructions, swap k2tog for ssk or any other left-slanting decrease (I prefer k2togtbl). Swap ssk (or k2togtbl) for k2tog. And your decreases will be correct.

        I’ve also tried to explain this confusing phenomenon here:

        For yarn overs, you need to wrap the yarn so the stitch will be open when you get to the other side. Which way you wrap depends on whether you’re working back and forth (flat knitting) or in the round. Assuming flat knitting (knit the first row, purl the second), you need to wrap the yarn around the left needle from front to back. Take your right hand (holding the yarn in the back of the work on a knit row) bring it to the front, wrap it over the top of the left needle which brings it to the back of the work again. When you get to this stitch on the return row (the purl row), and do a purl into the yarn over, you will see a lovely open ‘hole’ appear.

        If doing a yarn over on the purl row (less common), reverse the directions.

        Hope this helps – do let me know if I can clarify anything.

    • I felt a great rush of gratitude reading this blog. I have been trying to learn knitting and struggling with twisted stitches. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Thanks so much for the detailed reply. I realized some of the stuff you were saying as I started to work it out, but it helps to have confirmation and someone to bounce thoughts off of. I had made one too many changes: one change for being a left-handed knitter and one change for being a combined knitter. But then I realized that if I were a left-handed western knitter, I could follow the written directions exactly because my k2tog would be a left-leaning decrease instead of a right-leaning decrease, but I’m also going in the opposite direction, so those two changes cancel each other out. This means I just need to adjust the pattern for being a combined knitter.

    The “short answer” part didn’t make sense to me though, but I’m wondering if there’s just a confusion with the terms. So, as I understand it, a western “ssk” (with the leading legs in front) is really just a quick way to accomplish the same things as a combination k2tog tbl (where the leading legs are in the back). In the same way, in order to execute a western style k2tog, as a combination knitter, I first have to reorient the stitches so that the leading leg is in front. Then I just do a western k2tog. So then MY short answer would be western k2tog= combination ssk (which in this case means slip 2 stitches as if to purl through back loop, put them back on other needle and knit them together) and western ssk= combination k2tog tbl. This doesn’t match what you said in your short answer though, but it seems to be working on my pattern.

    For the first few rows of this pattern, I was doing “k1, k2tog tbl, yo, k1, yo, reorient stitches and k2tog, k1” and that turned out to be wrong. What I needed to do was “k1, reorient stitches and k2tog, yo, k1, yo, k2tog tbl, k1” In that case, my left-leaning decrease is k2tog tfl (after reorienting stitches) and my right-leaning decrease is a k2tog tbl.

    Thanks also for the information about the yarn overs. That makes sense.

    Well, all this figuring was quite overwhelming, but now that it’s starting to make sense to me I feel that it was all very worthwhile. If I knit western right-handed, I could more easily just follow patterns without thinking, and that would probably be nice, but I like know more about the mechanics of what I’m doing.

  5. Ok, now I’m thinking about it more, and I’m not sure anymore that the western ssk is the same end result as a combination k2tog tbl because in the western ssk, the left stitch is on top (if you’re knitting left handed), and in the combination k2tog tbl, the right stitch is on top (if you’re knitting left-handed). Now I’m getting all confused again. . .

    • I always recommend that you figure out how you like to do a left and right slanting decrease and then stick with that, substituting in patterns as needed. If you can understand whether the pattern (or chart) as written is asking for a left or right slanting decrease, you can then just pop in your favourite decrease in its place. I wouldn’t get too concerned about what it would be for a western lefty, unless of course you’re trying to teach one how to do something!

      • A combination k2tog means I’m going through the back loops, right? Then I’m doing it right. Yay. 😉 thanks again for all the help.

      • If by back loops you mean the loops on the back side of the needle, then yes. It would also be called the leading leg, as it’s the bit of the yarn (for that loop) that is closest to the needle point. It is the same action as a knit stitch, just done through 2 stitches.

  6. Oops. I’ve been trying to avoid calling that the “back loop” because when I was trying to figure this out, I had no idea what that meant! Yes, I meant the leading leg (which is at the back at this point) Thanks. 🙂

  7. Thanks so much! This information has been a life-saver. My LYS has been encouraging me to learn how to knit like a right-hander for many years, but I am so left hand dominant, I have resisted.

  8. THINK I TALKED TO YOU LAST WEEK BUT ANYWAYS WHEN YOU DO A KNIT SITCH LEFT HANDED
    SITE I WRAP THE YARN TO THE LEFT ADN WHEN I PURL I WRAP THE YARN TO THE RIGHT IS THIS CORRECT? I DO KNOW HOW TO PURL AND KNIT BUT JUST WANTED TO MAKE SURE IM WRAPPING
    THE YARN THE CORRECT WAY AROUND THE NEEDLE ALSO TRYING TO DO THE LETTER A
    CHARTED IT OUT MY FIRST ATTEMPT ARE LETTERS DONE THE SAME WAY AS WHEN I READ
    THE DIRECTIONS FROM SOMEONE OR A KNITTED DISHCLOTH WITH A PATTERN FLOWER OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT I READ THERE DIRECTIONS WRITTEN DIRECTIONS STARTING ON ROW
    1 THE OPPOSITE WAY AND IT COMES OUT BUT READING CAHRTS IS IT THE SAME WAY
    AS NOT SURE WANT TO DO THE NAME ANN FOR MY DAUGHTER BUT ITS NOT COMING
    OUT FOR SOME REASON AND IM DETERMINED TO DO IT BUT NEED HELP I CHARTED IT
    OUT WITH X FOR YOU COULD SEE THE DESIGN BWANT SO MUCUT NOW IM GETTING CONFUSED
    I LIKE BUYING PATTERNS BUT WANT SO MUCH TO CHART IT OUT PLUS WRITE THE DIRECTIONS
    FOR HER NAME ANYAYS PLESE EMAIL ME THANKS SINCERELY PATTY

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