Crochet Yarn Overs and Yarn Unders: What’s the Difference?

Are you using yarn under graphic

Almost every crochet stitch includes the instruction “yarn over”. But what is a yarn over and how is it different from a yarn under? Does it really make a difference in your crochet?

Yes, it does make a difference. Let me explain. Read all the way to the bottom of the post, then watch the video.

I’m using American crochet terminology.

How to Yarn Over

Start with your hands in the ready position, as shown in the photos. The hook is in front of the working yarn.

Neutral "Ready" position for right hand
Neutral “ready” position for right hand

Your dominant hand holds the hook and your non-dominant hand controls the yarn, with the working yarn coming over your index finger. This means that if you are right-handed, the hook is in your right hand and the yarn in your left. If you are left-handed, the hook is in your left hand and the yarn is in your right.

Neutral "ready" position for left hand
Neutral “ready” position for left hand

Press back with the hook and at the same time bring the yarn over the hook from back to front. The yarn will be crossing the front of the hook from upper right to lower left if you are right-handed, and from upper left to lower right if you are left-handed.

Yarn over for right-handed crocheters
Yarn over for right-handed crocheters
Yarn over for left-handed crocheters
Yarn over for left-handed crocheters

How to Yarn Under

Start in the ready position as described above, but bring the hook over the top of the working yarn, so that the yarn crosses the front of the hook from lower right to upper left for right-handers, or from lower left to upper right for left-handers.

Yarn under for right-handed crocheters
Yarn under for right-handed crocheters
Yarn under for left-handed crocheters
Yarn under for left-handed crocheters

Single Crochet: Yarn Over and Yarn Under

To work a regular single crochet, insert the hook into the stitch, yarn over — notice the position of the yarn — and pull up a loop, then yarn over and pull through two loops on the hook.

Some crocheters work a yarn under instead of a yarn over at a crucial point. Often they don’t even know they are doing a yarn under! Here’s what typically happens:
Insert the hook into the stitch, yarn under — notice the position of the yarn — and pull up a loop, then yarn over and pull through two loops on the hook.

Why Does It Matter?

Take a look at the photo below. In the first few rows, I crocheted a regular single crochet, made with yarn overs. The two legs of these single crochet are parallel to one another.

regular sc compared to crossed sc
The stitch circled in red is crossed, while the stitch circled in green is straight.

Then I switched techniques on the last row. On that row, after I inserted the hook into the stitch, I did a yarn under then finished off the second step with a yarn over. In this example, the two legs of the single crochet are crossed.

The yarn unders create twisted stitches, but they also change the gauge and the drape of the fabric. Chances are, if you’ve been working unintended yarn unders, you’ve been having trouble matching the pattern gauge! Try it yourself and see the difference.

Some people like to use yarn under single crochet stitches for amigurumi projects. That’s fine, as long as it is intentional!

Double Crochet: Yarn Over and Yarn Under

Double crochet has three yarn overs, and thus three opportunities to make yarn unders. However, let’s concentrate on what happens when you do a yarn under right after you insert your hook into the fabric, as above.

Here’s a regular double crochet: Yarn over, insert the hook into the stitch, yarn over and pull up a loop, (yarn over, pull through 2 loops) two times.

See how the legs at the base of the double crochet are parallel?

double crochet with parallel legs made with yarn over
The strands on the base of this double crochet are parallel.

Here’s a twisted double crochet: Yarn over, insert the hook into the stitch, yarn under and pull up a loop, (yarn over, pull through 2 loops) two times.

Twisted double crochet stitches made with yarn under
The base of these double crochets are twisted.

This time, the legs at the base of the double crochet are twisted.

Know the Difference

If you are just learning to crochet, pay attention to the way you are wrapping the yarn over the hook. Get into the habit of checking that you are working a yarn over (unless the pattern says otherwise).

If you have been crocheting for a while and have only just discovered that you are doing unintentional yarn unders, it’s not too late to change!

Take time to study what you have been doing, then practice working yarn overs instead of yarn unders. It may feel strange at first, but you will eventually find that it is easier to get the yarn through the fabric with a yarn over.

Has this post been eye-opening to you? Have you discovered that you were yarn undering when you should have been yarn overing? Let me know in the comments.

The following affiliate links might provide a small income to me if you buy something, but don’t cost you anything extra.

The yarn I’m using in the photos and video is Marly Bird’s Chic Sheep from Red Heart. The crochet hook is Clover Amour, size 5.5 mm.

Keep Learning

Want to know more about crochet? I’ve got resources and links to up your skill level.

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.