Which way was I going?

This post is part of a series about the basics of the not-exactly-knitting parts of knitting.

Say you’re knitting along, and you get interrupted in the middle of your row by something that can’t wait – your lab equipment dinged, the kid’s crying, your hot date is here, dinner’s burning, a pikachu just appeared a block away, anything. You come back to your knitting, and you’ve forgotten which way you were going. How do you figure it out?

Depending on exactly how you put down your knitting, and if you were on a purl or a knit row, it may look slightly different. But in every case, your working yarn (the yarn coming from the ball) will be looped over one of your needles, and not the other. That one should be your right hand needle. So the short answer is, follow the working yarn. But sometimes it can be a little hard to tell exactly where it’s going.

First you have to make sure the working yarn isn’t tangled around your needles and project. Especially if it’s been moved, my yarn tends to wrap itself around whatever it can find while I’m not looking. So your first step is to unwrap any of the working yarn that unwraps easily. Keep going until your working yarn actually goes through a loop that’s already part of the knitting.

From there, your knitting may be in one of three configurations. Generally, when I put down my knitting, I stop after having pulled the new stitch through the old one, but before slipping the old stitch off the left-hand needle. This leaves loops on both needles, and looks like this*:

This situation is possibly the most difficult to see what’s going on, but it’s also one of the safer ones to mess with. If you can’t figure it out just by looking, pull one of the needles out of its loop (JUST ONE loop). If you pulled out what should be the left-hand needle, you’ve completed the interrupted knit stitch, and your working-yarn loop should be clearly on the other needle. If you pull out what should be the right-hand needle, the working-yarn loop will come unsecured and a tug on the yarn will pull it out. But the old stitch will still be on the left-hand needle, and you’ll be ready to re-do the stitch.

The second possible configuration is if you finished the knit stitch entirely, giving you this:


This one’s a little easier to see. The working yarn should be pretty clearly going to one needle, and not to the other. That needle (the one the working yarn goes to) should be your right-hand needle.

The last place your knitting could find itself is after inserting your right-hand needle into the old stitch, but before pulling the new stitch through, which looks like so:

This one’s also kind of confusing – you’ve got both needles going through one stitch. Again, the trick here is to follow the working yarn. It should lead you to one needle, and not the other. Again, that needle should be your right-hand needle.

If you end up going the ‘wrong’ way, don’t despair! You can un-knit, or tink (which is ‘knit’ backwards, get it? Get it?) back to where you reversed direction. There will be a bump in your row there. If you don’t want to (personally, I hate tinking, and avoid it if at all possible), and you don’t mind a bit of a bump and a bit of a hole in your project, just ignore it! There will be a noticeable hole, but your knitting will still be perfectly stable. When you come back to that spot on the next row, just knit on like normal, and you’ll have just learned a more advanced shaping technique, called a ‘short row!’**

Happy knitting!

*Note about the picture captions: I’ve included pictures for doing a knit and a purl row of a stockinette stitch swatch, from the side in the correct orientation to keep going (what I’m calling the front side), and from the other side (what I’m calling the back side).

**Short rows generally have an extra step (called a ‘wrap and turn’) to hide that hole, but otherwise it’s exactly the same thing.

For other posts in this series:


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