Saturday, June 30, 2012

Left Hand Knitting

Shortly after I started knitting, I got told by just about every knitter I met that there is no such thing as left-handed knitting. Knitting goes from right to left, working needle *firmly* in the right hand *at all times*. Being a novice to the craft, I believed what I was told. The folks who tried to impress upon me these basic facts of knitting may have been mis-informed themselves, or well intentioned and trying to avoid confusing a knitting newbie. Whatever their reasons, they were wrong.

Before I get into the techniques for left hand knitting I'm going to go over what happens during right hand knitting. This knitting anatomy needs to be understood if you want to avoid some headaches later on. Starting with some terms...:
  • The "front" of your work is the part facing you, regardless whether it is the right or wrong side. 
  • The "back" is the side facing away from you. 
  • "Right" side is the side that will be on display when you are finished with the project and "wrong" is the part that will hidden, such as the inside of a shirt. 
  • The "working needle" is the needle that catches the yarn while 
  • the "holding needle" holds the stitches that have yet to be worked onto the working needle. 
  • When wrapping yarn around the working needle, "inside" refers to the space between the needles and "outside" is the area away from both needles. 
  • "Up" is above the working needle, and "down" is the below the working needle. 
  • The "tail" is the yarn strand that starts at the work in progress and leads to the yarn ball. 
  • The "working leg" of a stitch is the one that is closest to the working needle. 
  • The "holding leg" of a stitch is the one closest to the hand holding the holding needle.
In right hand knitting, or regular or traditional style, you knit from right to left, stitches held on the left needle and worked onto the right needle. The knit stitch is made by holding the yarn tail behind the work, inserting the working needle from left to right, from the front of the work to the back, and then the tail is wrapped around the working needle from the inside and down to outside and up.  The purl stitch is made by holding the tail in front of the work, inserting the working needle from right to left in the front of the work, and then the tail is wrapped around the working needle from the outside and up to the inside and down. Stitches' working legs should be on front of the holding needle.

Left hand knitting matches the way you wrap your yarn, but mirrors how you insert your working needle. This is because left hand knitting is essentially a horizontal flip of right hand knitting.

Left hand knit stitch, wrapping from
inside and down to outside and up.
The left hand knit stitch is made by holding your tail in front of the work and inserting your needle from back to front, right to left. The knit stitch is still wrapped from inside-down to outside-up.

Left hand purl stitch, being wrapped
from outside and up to inside and down
The purl stitch is made by holding the tail behind the work and inserting the working needle through the back loop from left to right. Again, it is still wrapped from outside-up to inside-down. Stitches' working legs should be on the back of the holding needle.

Personally, I'm finding that switching from right to left hand knitting makes flat-worked stockinette a LOT more fun to knit as I'm no longer turning my work, resettling the piece I'm working on, rearranging how I hold the needles, and so on.

A few easy "gottchas" for the knitters first trying this:
  • If you wrap the stitches wrong you will twist your stitches. Twisted stitches have the working legs on the back of the holding needle when working right to left and on the front when working left to right. If you work into the holding leg by mistake, when the stitch drops off the holding needle it will form a loop, not to mention feel much stiffer to work than if knit through the working leg. Twisted stitches can be hard to spot in relaxed fabric, but stand out when the fabric is pulled tight because they look like they're choking the stitch above them.
    The yarn tail is coming off the left needle,
    indicating that the piece is being worked
    from left to right.
  • The tail of the yarn always comes off the working needle. If the tail is coming from the left needle, you were working left to right when you put your knitting down and if it comes off the right needle then you were working right to left.
  • Especially as you're getting used to knitting left to right it's a good idea to push the new stitches all the way on the working needle as you make them to ensure your tension isn't too tight, and double especially if you hold your yarn "Continental" in your left hand.

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