The Tip Jar: Twisted stitches
Have you ever knitted a pattern that called for twisted stitches? You probably have, and just do not realize it. Twisting stitches means you have oriented the yarn so the loop from the needle closes up when you knit it, causing the fabric to be a row of little “x”s instead of little “v”s. If you look below, I have marked which stitches are twisted because for some of you, this may just be what your knitting looks like (more on that later).
Here is a closer look. The stitches on the right are garter stitch, the ones in the middle are stocking stitch, and the ones on the left are twisted stocking stitch. See how the legs of the stitch cross each other, instead of laying flat next to each other? This means the stitches are twisted.
Twisted stitches are used as a design element in many Alpine-region patterns in addition to some Arans, and they strengthen the fabric of regular stocking stitch so they are excellent for elbow and knee patches, and for the heels of socks. When used as a traveling stitch, such as in a two- to three-stitch cable, they practically stand atop the fabric and offer beautiful stitch definition that can be seen from far away. There is one easy way to twist a stitch, and two more challenging ways, and quite honestly, the two challenging ways are usually done by accident (again, more on that later). To twist a stitch on the knit side, knit the stitch through the back loop.
Do you see how the right-hand needle is inserted into the back of the stitch? When you knit “normally,” or not twisted, you open up the stitch you are knitting and turn it to basically be ready for the next row. When you twist, the stitch stays closed. Easy-peasy, right? Well, twisting stitches on the purl side is a bit more of a challenge. Purling through the back loop takes a bit of getting used to; even after knitting for many years, it just feels incorrect to me every time I do it. Ready?
To twist a purl stitch, you will be purling through the back loop. This might be a bit confusing, since you feel like you are looking at the back loop, but the direction “purl through the back loop” means “purl through the loop on the side that’s not facing you.” So to purl through the back loop, you insert your needle from left to right, through the front loop of the needle, like this:
If this is your first time, make sure you are orienting the needle properly before sliding the tip further into the stitch, and then just wrap your yarn, pull it through, and you are on your way.
If you knit more loosely, do not despair if you are having trouble seeing the twist for the sake of the practice swatch. You can either go down a needle size or two and try again, or just stretch out your knitting a bit. Stocking stitches open up when you pull at them, since the yarn is really just laying in your knitting as an s-shaped, squiggly pattern. Twisted stitches are in more of a curly-que pattern, so they do not stretch. The stitches on the right below are the twisted ones, and they have no elasticity in the middle of the stitch like the stocking stitches.
So, what if your knitting looks like the photo below? Remember I said there are two more difficult ways to twist stitches and they usually happen by accident? Sometimes, your stitches are twisted and you do not even realize it is because of how you are knitting. Below is one row of twisted stitches alternating with one row of non-twisted stitches.
The two most common ways stitches get twisted by accident is that either the knitter is wrapping his or her yarn in the wrong direction, or stitches were picked up and placed on the needle incorrectly before knitting them. You can correct an incorrectly-oriented stitch either by knitting or purling through the back loop, as outlined above, or by re-orienting the stitch before knitting it. To re-orient the stitch, assuming the back leg is forward (or the stitch looks like it opens to the right instead of the left), slip it purlwise to the right needle, and then insert the left-hand needle knit-wise, into the middle of the stitch from front to back over the leg closest to you, to slip it back to the left-hand needle.
To correct it if you are winding the yarn the wrong way, you have to know you are doing it first. Your yarn should be going clockwise around the needle, so it would go under on the left and over to the right. If you are winding your yarn backward on either your knit or your purl row, then your stitches will be twisted. You may need a second set of eyes to watch you wrap your yarn, since you may be so used to looking at your yarn while you knit. This is where your roommate, employee from a local yarn shop, or a mirror come into play.
Look at your upcoming projects and see if any of them can benefit from a twisted stitch cuff, pocket, or patch on a well-worn part of the piece; it is actually quite attractive if either every row or every other row has a bit of twist. Twisted stitches add a great element to knitting patterns, so when you see a direction for a stitch to be “ktbl” (knitted through the back loop) or “ptbl” (purled through the back loop), get excited! You are about to do The Twist, and you will be the best dancer…I mean knitter…in the room.
Last updated: February 27th, 2014.