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How to Avoid Twisted Stitches in Knitting

Twisted stitches closeup
Four twisted stitches surrounded by non-twisted stitches

What causes twisted stitches in knitting, and how can you avoid them?

Beginning knitters often end up twisting their stitches, either single stitches or entire rows of stitches, but they don’t know why it happens. Even long-time knitters may be twisting stitches and not even know they are doing it!

The key is in understanding stitch orientation: how the stitches are mounted on the needle. Read on for an explanation of how to avoid twisted stitches in knitting, then scroll down to watch an in-depth video demonstration.

Understanding Stitch Orientation

Stitch orientation diagram

While they may not even be aware of it, most knitters I know expect their stitches to be sitting on the left needle with the leading edge of the stitches in the front of the needle.  By “leading edge”, I mean the side of the stitch that needs to end up as the right leg of the stitch as it lies flat.

That way, when you knit into the front loop of the stitch, the leading edge comes off the left needle first and the stitch ends up with the yarn at the base of the stitch uncrossed. I’m demonstrating on stockinette stitch, but it’s true for garter stitch and other pattern stitches as well.

Knitting Through the Back Loop

Knitting through the back loop illustration with twisted stitches
Knitting through the back loop

If the stitches on your left needle are oriented with the leading edge in front and you knit into the back loop of the stitch, you are knitting into the trailing edge. The resulting stitch will be twisted.

Sometimes a pattern instruction tells you to “knit through back loop” (tbl). This is what they mean; it’s how you intentionally twist a stitch.

Dropping & Ripping Out Stitches

Mixed stitch mount illustration
Mixed stitch mount: with leading edge in front and in back of needle

When you’ve dropped a stitch or ripped out a row of stitches, you just want to get the stitches back on the needle however you can before you lose them. That’s fine, but they may end up back on that needle every which way, with some sitting backwards on the needle.

When you knit the recovered stitch(es), be sure to knit into the leading edge. If the stitch is oriented normally, that will be the front loop. If it’s mounted backward on the needle, you’ll need to knit into the back loop (the leading edge) to avoid a twisted stitch.

Purling Backwards

This next “method” of unintentionally twisting a stitch happens more often with continental knitters—those who hold the yarn in the left hand. However, it can happen to anyone.

The stitches on the left needle were created when you wrapped your yarn around the needle on the previous row. The direction that you wrapped the yarn determines the stitch orientation. When you purl, wrapping the yarn counter-clockwise creates a stitch that sits with the leading edge in front.

Reverse stitch mount illustration
Reverse stitch mount: with leading edge in back of needle

However, if you wrap your yarn clockwise on the purl row, when you turn—ready to knit—you’ll notice that all the stitches are mounted backwards. In other words, with the leading edge in back. To avoid creating an entire row of twisted stitches, you’ll have to knit into the back loop (leading edge).

This method of wrapping clockwise on purl rows and knitting into the back loop on knit rows is called “combination knitting”. If you choose to do this (instead of wrapping your yarn counterclockwise), be aware that it has some side effects. You may have to make other adjustments in your knitting, especially in regard to shaping and creating certain stitch patterns.

The Simple Solution to Twisted Stitches

There’s an easy solution to the problem of accidentally twisted stitches: Understand how your stitches are sitting on the left needle, and always knit into the leading edge of the next stitch, whether it is the front loop or the back loop.

For other knitting techniques, check out Knit: Basics & Beyond.

2 thoughts on “How to Avoid Twisted Stitches in Knitting”

  1. Thank you so much for this very clear explanation. I am a beginning knitter, and until now, I was never able to see the proper orientation of the stitches! The clear diagrams and also the terminology of “leading” edge really helped, as well as your other explanations.

    I am a continental knitter, and I am so happy to find I am wrapping my yarn in the correct direction!

  2. I’m so happy I could help! Learning to “read” your knitting will go a long way toward improving your skills. I hope you’ll subscribe to my YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/edieeckman) and my newsletter (www.edieeckman.com/newsletter) to learn even more. Happy knitting!

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