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The Anatomy of a Knit Stitch and Why It Matters

Knowing your stitches and their characteristics can help you in so many ways. It makes it easier to spot or fix mistakes, easier to count stitches, easier to twist or untwist them, and easier to mirror them when it comes to increases and decreases.

So, grab your closest knitting project and examine it along with me:

From the front, a knit stitch looks like a V.

It has two public sides that make up the V, plus the top of the stitch, which hides behind the bottom of the V above it. From the back side, the tops of the stitches look like little frowns. If you’re picking up stitches to knit a collar, or to close a gap when knitting a thumb, these frowns are the parts to grab. Just reach in through the front and put the frown on the needle with its right leg in front and knit into it normally. It’ll look beautiful.

The bottoms of the V’s hide behind and between the bottoms of each stitch. They all link together in a row. If you’re looking at them from the back side, they look like little smiles.

Those little smiles on the back side are actually called running stitches. They’re the horizontal lines that link together all the stitches in one row. When a pattern calls for a M1 increase, that means you’ll lift up the running stitch and knit into the back of it. These running stitches between the columns are also the bits you work with when you’re sewing up using Mattress Stitch or when you’re picking up and knitting a button band.

When the knit stitches are in the completed fabric, they look like neat little V’s, all laying flat together in a grid. But when the stitches are still on the needle, they’re not flat, are they? One side of the V is in front of the needle, and one side is in back. The top of the stitch, of course, goes over the top of the needle.

Take a look at that stitch on your needle. Which side of the V is in front? The right one? Excellent. All is right with the world.

If the left side is in front, the stitch is mounted twisted. In some stitch patterns, that’s a good thing. For regular old knitting, it needs to be reoriented so the right leg is in front. (Yes, I tend to call them legs. I think I got that from a class with Lucy Neatby. Wherever it came from, it has stuck.)

Knowing about stitch mount helps in a couple ways:

~ When you’re picking up stitches, place them on the needles with right legs in front. (Or, if they’re dropped, just rescue them any which way, then switch them around before you knit them.)

~ If the stitch is mounted twisted, with the left leg in front, you now know what to do with it to untwist it: Either reorient it or knit into the back loop. Both methods will untwist the stitch.

~ If you want to twist your stitch on purpose, you have two choices: reorient the stitch before knitting it (the long option) or knit into the back of the stitch (the short option).

~ To make your stitches twist in different directions, like for M1R or M1L increases, knowing how your stitches twist can eventually make those maneuvers second nature. This also works for twisted-stitch patterns.

To twist a stitch to the left, whether it’s with an actual stitch or a running stitch: With the stitch mounted normally (right leg in front), reach behind the stitch from right to left and knit into the back (left leg) of the stitch from right to left.

To twist a stitch to the right, whether it’s a normal stitch or a running stitch: Mount the stitch backwards (left leg in front) and knit into the front (left leg) of it from left to right.

I like to tell my students that if it feels slightly awkward and tight, it’s twisting. 🙂 If it’s too easy, it’s probably a normal stitch. This is especially true when picking up the running stitch to make an increase.

So, how do you remember which leg belongs in front? Here’s a handy little mnemonic trick:

  • When it’s mounted RIGHT, the RIGHT leg is in front.
  • Leave the LEFT leg behind: LEFT BEHIND. “Oh no! I’ve been left behind! Oh wait, that’s a good thing.”

Silly, I know. But hey, silly tends to stick in our brains. 😉

Tomorrow, more on mirroring increases and what to do when the pattern doesn’t specify which type of increase to use.

31 Days to Your Nicest Knitting series. #write31days #knittingtipsThis post is part of my 31 Days to Your Nicest Knitting series. Every day, I’ll post a new tip or trick to make your knitting nicer. You can follow along easily by subscribing. If you have any knitting problems you’d like me to fix, let me know and I’ll try to answer your question as part of the series. You can find all the posts in the series here.