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The Anatomy of Twisted Stitches

If I were to name one knitting superpower I have, it would be this: spotting a mile away when someone's done twisted stitches without intending to do so.

This is a mistake that many beginning or self-taught knitters make. To those pollyannas who are now thinking there is no right or wrong way to knit as long as you're happy with the end result: 🐂💩. With twisted stitches you have to know how they affect your knitted fabric, when to use them, and when not to use them.

How to spot if you're doing twisted stitches... when you're not supposed to?

Crossed stockinette stitch

Crossed stockinette stitch happens when you alternate rows of regular stockinette and twisted stitches. Usually this happens in flat knitting when either your knit rows or your purl rows accidentally get the twisted treatment. Whereas a regular knit stitch stands firmly with both legs straight, a twisted stitch has its legs crossed (as if it needs go really badly).

On the swatch below, you can clearly see when I switched from stockinette stitch to crossed stockinette. The alternating rows of straight and twisted stitches result in a zigzag effect on the fabric.

Crossed stockinette stitch results in a zigzagging fabric.

Crossed stockinette stitch is sometimes also called half twisted stockinette because half of the rows are plain stockinette, half are twisted. Crossed stockinette stitch can sometimes be the desired effect... but in most cases it's unintentional. (And I think it just looks ugly.)

Twisted stockinette stitch

Full twisted stockinette stitch happens when stitches on both the knit and purl rows are twisted. Compared to regular stockinette stitch, twisted stockinette looks grooved or ridged instead of smooth and even. Depending on how you're twisting the stitches, the fabric slants either to the left (like in my swatch below) or to the right.

Twisted stockinette stitch is grooved and biased.

In flat knitting the back and forth direction of rows somewhat balances out the biasing effect that comes with twisted stitches. But when working in the round, all rounds are constantly worked in the same direction which is why the biasing effect is even worse, making the work slant even more.

The swatches above show the drawbacks of unintentional twisted stitches:

  • The fabric is tighter than regular stockinette.

  • The fabric is less stretchy than regular stockinette.

  • The fabric tends to bias like a cheap t-shirt.

  • Because the fabric is tighter, the same area of fabric uses more yarn.

  • The motion of doing twisted stitches is harder on your hands.

If your stockinette stitch swatches look anything like the ones above and you're always struggling to get gauge, you're likely working in twisted stitches without realizing it. So what can be done about it?

How to fix (unintentional) twisted stitches?

1. Check your stitch mount

The first thing to do is examine how your stitches are mounted on the needle. One leg goes in front of the needle, the other behind. But which one should be on the front? The right leg. Think of the stitches standing in line, facing towards you, the knitter.

Correctly mounted stitches face to the left. Right leg is in front of the needle, left leg behind.

If your stitches have their backs turned against you, they're facing the wrong direction. This is called a reverse stitch mount.

In a reverse mount stitches face to the right. Right leg is behind the needle, left leg in front.

2. Knit through the leading leg

Now that you've got your stitches facing the right direction, double check that you're always working them through the right leg of the stitch. This is also called the leading leg.

Twisted stitches can happen when you either work a correctly mounted stitch through the back loop OR a reverse mounted stitch through the front loop. When you work a correctly mounted stitch through the back loop, it results in a stitch that's twisted to the left and makes the fabric bias to the left, like in my sample swatch above.

Correctly mounted stitch worked through the back loop twists to the left.

When you work a reverse mounted stitch through the loop in front of the needle, it results in a stitch that's twisted to the right and makes the fabric bias to the right.

Reverse mounted stitch worked through the front loop twists to the right.

In both cases the right leg is literally the right leg to work through, no matter how your stitches are mounted.

3. Wrap the yarn the right way

There's one more thing you need to check that can cause twisted stitches: how the working yarn goes around the needle to form the next stitch.

Wrapping the yarn counter-clockwise results in a correctly mounted stitch.

Continental knitters: check that you're scooping the working yarn with the needle going over and under the yarn rather than below and up.

Throwers: check that you're wrapping the working yarn around the needle going counter-clockwise rather than clockwise.

What happens if you do the opposite? You get a reverse mounted stitch.

Wrapping the yarn clockwise results in a reverse mounted stitch.

Now that you know the difference between a regular knit stitch and a twisted stitch, you can judiciously use them for best effect and stunning results in your knitting projects. Because twisted stitches make the fabric tighter, they can be used in twisted ribbing for really neat-looking cuffs, for example. My favorite kind of ribbing!

Printempo and Evighet, two peas in a traveling stitch pod.

Worked on a reverse stockinette background, one-stitch cables of twisted stitches become traveling stitches (also known as Bavarian Twisted Stitches). I use twisted stitches a lot in my sock patterns and they also make an appearance on the Mirkwood Cardigan yoke.

Twisted stitches and reverse stitch mounts also come in handy in some decreases, such as in turning a regular right-leaning K2tog into a left-leaning decrease by working it through the back loops (K2tog tbl).

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#knitting #tutorial #twistedstitches #twistedribbing #stockinette #twistedstockinette #crossedstockinette #travelingstitches #stitchmount #backloop

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Susanna Winter is a knitwear designer, creating timeless and elegant pieces with clean lines. She has been knitting for over 20 years, knit blogging since 2007, and designing knitting patterns professionally since 2016.

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