Linen is one of the strongest fibers for knitting. It does not break down like wool does over time and as a result, lasts for centuries. It is cool, breathable, wicks away excess moisture, dries faster than cotton and is perfect for warm-weather sweaters, tops and dresses. It has a slight sheen and drape that makes garments elegant and creates a fabric that improves with age. It softens each time you wear and wash it. Linen yarns made of long-staple flax do not pill. If you have sensitive skin, the smoothness of the yarn and moisture absorbing qualities make this an excellent fiber to wear against the skin. A garment knitted in linen will not wrinkle the way a woven linen garment will. It is not susceptible to insect damage when stored.
Knowing the qualities of linen will help you make good project choices. But how does all this translate into knitting with linen? You will need to knit a little differently, so read on! Learning a few tips about knitting with linen will make the knitting process so much more enjoyable.
First of all, about that strong fiber that I mentioned in the first sentence; the flip side to this is that it can feel rough when you’re knitting it. Yes, it will get softer with each wash, but you have to knit it first. So if you want to soften it up a bit before you ever cast on, take the labels off the hank but leave it tied. Soak it in a sink of tepid water, add some fabric softener. For a natural fabric softener, use one part baking soda with two parts white vinegar in a sink of water. Let it soak. Press out extra water in a towel, and hang it up to dry. Then wind it and start knitting.
The wound cake of yarn will be messy so it is best if it stays put. When you pull yarn from a wound cake, let it unravel from the outside. If the ball doesn’t move around the house, and stays in place, you can almost wind 95% of the yarn out, leaving a mesh structure with just a few wraps of yarn left. It will sit there like a sculpture, if not tasseled about. So it’s probably not the best project for traveling or moving around from room to room. Once the yarn cake does collapse, the yarn can tangle easily and be difficult to form back into a ball. If you like to pull from the center, here’s another example of how knitting with linen will push you out of your comfort zone. Unwrap it from the outside and be mindful that the less movement the better.
Part of the strength comes from linen’s lack of elasticity. It feels like a waxed, smooth jute. It is not going to cling to the knitting needles the way wool does. If you try and knit with it like you normally would, your hands will get a real work out. When you knit a stitch, it may stand up and not hug the needles at all. In order to see the knit stitches wrap around the needle and lie uniform, you’ll be tempted to knit tightly. And this takes a toll on your hands and arms. My best advice whenever you start tightening up, is to stop. Think “KNIT LOOSELY”.
You want to knit with a loose tension. Let let the yarn flow and don’t worry about snugging up the stitches after forming them. You’ll want to go down two or three needle sizes than you normally would use for another yarn in the same weight. By using a much smaller needle, you are able to achieve the gauge by knitting loosely. The process of knitting will be more enjoyable.
Of course, practice on your swatch and change the needle size to one that allows you to get gauge. But if you’re not getting gauge on the smaller needle, before you go up to a larger needle, try knitting a little looser and see if that helps. The looser the better – your hands will thank you for it later! Our tension changes all of the time. We tend to knit tighter when stressed, anxious, short on time, upset, or during a cliffhanger of a movie. Some people knit tighter at night, some tighter in the morning. You may tend to knit tighter or looser, but know that your tension does indeed change. So you can purposely change it. Focus on knitting looser. And if a pattern has increases or decreases, by keeping it loose you’ll also be able to work those more easily.
Just relax your hands, relax your tension and don’t worry about forming perfectly uniform stitches. Some stitches will be larger than others. Linen isn’t perfectly formed and most linen yarns are thick and thin in places. A finished garment in Stockinette will not look like a uniform piece of Stockinette done in wool. It will have a more rustic look but it is supposed to.
While we’re talking about the look of the stitches, you might also want to use wooden needles. I use metal needles 90% of the time, except when I knit in linen. And bamboo works best for me with linen. The wood isn’t as slick as metal and helps keep the stitches a little more uniform, so the needles are doing the work instead of me. Everyone is different. We knit differently, hold our needles differently and tension our yarn differently. Just know that by changing things up with linen, you may find better, more pleasing results.
Remember that beautiful drape I mentioned? Linen will grow lengthwise slightly over time. A blocked Stockinette swatch usually does not change much from an unblocked swatch, measurement-wise (it will be softer and stitches will start to even up a bit), but wash after wash, you’ll find lengths may get a little bit longer. This is a plus when you’re knitting a summer top or tee, as it just becomes more comfortable with time. When I designed the Heartwood Cardigan [click here to see pattern details on Ravelry], I designed notches in the cuffs and hem to accommodate any lengthening and still allow for a pleasant fit.
While you can toss your linen garment into the washer and dryer, it will be difficult to have lace look as nice. While a pure Stockinette or textured garment can be laundered this way, if you have lace you’ll want to wet block it and use pins to stretch and open up the lace to really show it off. If you have wet blocked your garment, you may find that it is stiff when you remove the pins. Just crunch it up in your hands and voila! It will feel great. You can also put it in the dryer on air fluff for a minute to shake out any stiffness.
When weaving in yarn ends, weave in a bit more of yarn tail than you normally would. If you normally weave in 1” over duplicate stitch or 2” into a seam, add ½” or so, just to keep it snug. Remember it's not going to cling to other strands so make sure you're weaving in a long enough tail to stay put.
Linen is fabulous! It’s strong, gets softer with each wash, lasts forever, and is an enjoyable break from tight knitting if you tend to be a tight knitter. A garment knit in linen will last, stay in better condition for longer, and become softer in time. These will be your true heirloom pieces to be passed down to the next generation. If you haven't knit with linen, or it's been awhile, try it! You may just fall in love with linen. Knitting and wearing!
Hiatt, June Hemmons. The Principles of Knitting. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1988.
Editors of Vogue Knitting. Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book. New York, NY: SOHO Publishing, LLC/Sixth & Spring Books, 2018.
Paden, Shirley. Knitwear Design Workshop. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 2009.
Heartwood Cardigan, published in Interweave Knits Spring 2020 magazine, was knitted with Fibra Natura FLAX, by Universal Yarns in shade # 12, Tarragon.
I'm so addicted to slip stitch knitting! It’s fast, complex looking, incredibly vast, and simple to do.
Slip Stitch is defined as a stitch passed from one needle to the other without being worked.
Slip Stitch knitting uses slip stitches to create designs or texture, or both.
Note - Mosaic knitting and Brioche knitting are subsets of slip stitch knitting, but they are not covered in this article.
A slip stitch is probably the easiest technique in all of knitting, and certainly one of the fastest and most useful. It can be used to create a dense fabric, as an alternate way to work stranded colorwork, to create a decorative design on a fabric or as part of a structural role.
Stitches can be slipped knitwise or purlwise. When slipping stitches, always slip them purlwise unless instructed otherwise by the pattern. When you move a stitch from the left needle to the right needle purlwise, you do not change the orientation of the stitch. This means that a “normal” stitch has two legs, and the right leg rests to the front of the needle and the left leg rests to the back of the needle. The needle goes through the middle of the two legs. When you slip a stitch purlwise, it ends up on the right hand needle with the right leg still resting to the front of the needle. To do this, insert your right hand needle into the first stitch on your left hand needle from right to left, as if you were going to purl the stitch. Don’t purl it. Just move it from one needle to the next. (If the pattern says to slip knitwise, you will insert needle from right to left as if to knit and you will form a twisted stitch.)
In addition to slipping knitwise or purlwise, you can slip more than one stitch at a time, you can slip the same stitch again on the next row which stretches it, creating a visible vertical strand and compressing the fabric, you can slip a stitch so it draws diagonally or horizontally.
There are two very different applications for slip stitch knitting:
First, in a single color, slip stitches are used to either create dense, thicker fabrics which are durable and wonderful for coats, hats, mittens, placemats, outerwear sweaters, or just highly texturized sweaters. The purpose of slipping the stitch is to create a visibly decorative pattern.
Yarn can be held in the back, (wyib) as you slip the stitch to let only the slipped stitch show. When working with a single color, it is used when you want an elongated vertical stitch slipped over more than one row. Yarn can also held in the front (wyif) as you slip the stitch which carries a horizontal strand across the bottom of the stitch being slipped. This provides a woven look and takes on a very interesting look when worked in more than color. (See Plectics above).
When you use more than one color, you can create all types of designs by slipping a stitch from one color to a future row. The West Village Cardigan for children for example (below), uses three types of slipped stitches, one in a single color on the body and multi color slip stitch motifs on the hem and cuffs.
In either single or multi color slip stitch, when you slip a stitch up more than one row, you will compress the fabric, making it denser with more rows to an inch than you would get without slipping the stitches. These type of slip stitch patterns are designed to manipulate the stitches to create a highly textured fabric.
The second application, involves keeping the row gauge the same, and does not pull a stitch up to another row. It is used as an easy way to work Fair Isle. When working Fair Isle, the stich is slipped with yarn in back. You can work any Fair Isle pattern as written by working with only one color at a time. You work each round twice: first you work it in the first color of the first square on the chart, knitting only those colored stitches and slipping the stitches on the chart that are in the second color. Then you drop the first color, pick up the second color and work that round again, slipping the stitches that you just worked on the previous go around. If you are working flat, back and forth in rows, work on circular needles so you can slide the work back to the beginning to begin knitting the same row again in the second color.
One word of caution however, you will not be able to catch long floats with this technique, so look over the charts before you begin to make sure the colors change frequently. If you have sections of only one color that are 1" or more, you want to avoid this way.
You will also still need to spread your stitches out to keep the floats on the back from pulling tightly. This method is fun to do, but doesn't solve all of the tension and disappearing stitch problems of traditional Fair Isle knitting. It can make your Fair Isle a little more uniform and yarn more manageable. It's a great way to work your first Fair Isle piece.
Overall, slip stitch knitting is easy enough for beginners to do, and when I was designing Plectics, I almost classified this Easy. It’s definitely a good sweater for a confident beginner. It uses single color slip stitch at the cuffs and hem, and multi color slip stitch at the yoke. It's a fun and fast pullover!
Traveler's Sweater (below) uses one color throughout and you can see the amazing texture that this particular slip stitch pattern creates. This fabric is denser, with more rows per inch than Stockinette stitch.
To try this fun way of knitting, look for patterns specifically designed with slip stitch patterns, or try any Fair Isle pattern and work it using only one color at a time (remember to work each round twice; once in each color).
It is a wonderful knitting option for knitters who suffer from tendinitis or arm pain from knitting since you keep everything light. You don't want to pull stitches tightly when you are knitting or purling them after a slipped stitch, because you want that strand that runs behind (or in front of) the slipped stitch to lie flat. For this reason, it's helpful to keep your tension a little on the loose side, especially if you tend to be a tight knitter.
It is also a great way to create a sweater you can be proud of if you struggle with even tension. The slipped stitches tend to mask any guttering or rowing out that can be visible in stockinette stitch. Of course striving for even tension is the best solution in your knitting. But try slip stitch and you may be pleasantly surprised at how good your knitting looks when you're finished. Just another reason why slip stitch knitting is good for beginner-intermediate knitters.
Gonzalez, Leslie. “Slip Stitch Knitting Redux.” Cast On Aug – Oct 2014: pp. 10-12.
Hiatt, June Hemmons. The Principles of Knitting. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1988.
Stanley, Montse. The Handknitter’s Handbook. Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles Publishers, Inc., 1986. Distributed in US (New York, NY) by Sterling Publishing Co, Inc.
Walker, Barbara. A Treasury of Knitting Patterns. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1968.
The Three Needle Bind Off Purlwise allows you to use 3-needle BO with Reversed Stockinette or Garter stitch, where your purl stitches are on the right side of your garment. This creates a seam that blends in nicely with the purl stitches and is hardly noticeable.
You can read the step-by-step instructions below or watch the video [click here].
How to work the Three Needle Bind Off Purlwise:
1. The setup is the same as regular three needle bind off. With the right sides held together (we’re working with Reversed Stockinette so we want the purl sides together), needle tips pointing in the same direction, and same number of sts on each needle, insert 3rd needle knitwise into the first stitch on the front needle. Leave it on the needle.
2. Wrap yarn counterclockwise around 3rd needle tip to bring the yarn in front. (You’re setting up a purl stitch and you always bring your yarn forward before you purl.) Insert 3rd needle purlwise into the first stitch on the back needle and purl this stitch. Let it fall from the back needle.
3. Take the yarn clockwise around 3rd needle tip to the back of your work. Lift the front knit st that is being held open, over the st that you just purled and off the needle. You have 1 st on the 3rd needle. Do these steps again and you'll have 2 sts on the 3rd needle.
4. Lift 2nd st over 1st st and off. Continue until all stitches have been bound off.
What we’re doing is knitting the stitches on the front needle and purling the stitches on the back needle. You bring your yarn forward before purling, then bring it to the back before knitting.
For the front, go into the stitch as if to knit.
For the back, yarn forward, purl the st, yarn back.
Lift the knit stitch held open over the purled st.
Bind off one stitch.
This creates such a nice seam that blends in nicely to purl stitches. I hope you find it useful. Many knitters love to join shoulders with the three needle bind off. It is a convenient way to end your work and join the front and back at the same time. With so many cable patterns using reversed stockinette as a background stitch for the cabling, there are many times where you end up with lots of purled stitches around the shoulders. Patterns will have you bind off and seam, which has its own advantages (stronger, more stable seam, etc.), but the Three Needle Bind Off Purlwise gives you another option that is fun to do, looks great and saves time. I hope you enjoy it!
When you're substituting yarns for a pattern, knitters know that if that pattern calls for a worsted weight yarn, that substituting another worsted weight yarn is the thing to do. But all worsted weight yarns are not the same. Some yarns like cotton are inherently heavier than yarn made of angora. But even within the vast area of Worsted Weight Wool, you'll find balls of yarn that will weigh differently.
Why does weight matter?
When you finish your garment, you will either end up with a fairly lightweight sweater or an extremely heavy one. If you're doing a lot of cables which takes more yarn, a sweater knit with a heavy fiber will be even heavier. This affects your shoulder seams, the neckline drop, the sleeve length, and the overall comfort. If you're knitting with lace, a heavy yarn will really widen the openwork and leave you holes bigger than you wanted. Brioche uses almost twice as much yarn as stockinette, so you'll definitely want to minimize the total weight.
In these cases, you'll want to select a yarn that weighs less. This is a yarn that gives you more yards per gram in each ball/hank/skein.
On the other hand, if you're working with a "puffy" stitch pattern that you want to lie flat, a heavier yarn will help pull the garment down and stretch out that pattern to a pleasing texture. If you're working with elongated stitches that only look cool when actually elongated, you don't want a yarn so light that the dropped yarn overs puff out and glob together. You want them stretched out to give the full effect.
In these cases, you'll want to select a yarn that weighs more. This is a yarn that gives you less yards per gram in each ball/hank/skein.
Also think about the size. You can use a heavier yarn with a Woman's XS than you can with a Men's size 5X.
When substituting yarn for a pattern, first figure the weight per yard of the yarn listed in the pattern. Divide the total grams by the total yardage on the ball band to find out how many grams one yard of yarn weighs. This is easier to do in grams than ounces since with ounces you'll end up with a slew of fractions to contend with.
Below is a comparison of WORSTED WEIGHT YARNS, ranked from lightest to heaviest:
As you expect, the cotton blends are the heaviest. But look at the difference in wool! There's a big difference in Brooklyn Tweed Shelter at 0.36 grams per yard compared to Sugar Bush Bold at 0.53 grams per yard. A sweater that uses 1300 yards of yarn will weigh 468 grams with Shelter and 689 grams with Bold. That is a substantial difference that you will notice as soon as you pick up the garment.
Sometimes you want it light, sometimes you want it heavy. But knowing that the weight will have an effect on the finished garment, is an important tidbit to tuck away in your brain.
Before you make your next substitution, think about what you're creating and how you want it to behave. Then grab your phone to do a quick calculation to figure out how much one yard of yarn weighs before purchasing your yarn. When you invest time and money into a hand knitted garment, you want it to turn out the best that it can be. This quick little trick helps to do just that!
All this chatter about seamless knitting leaves me feeling a need to defend the humble seam. I know, I know, you either knit or you sew but not both. Knitters generally don't like to sew. A cast on or bind off with a tapestry needle leaves many knitters shaking their heads NO. We all know how to Kitchener, but how many knitters say, YIPPEE, I get to Kitchener!
Frankly, knitters go out of their way to avoid sewing. So when a flat piece can be worked in the round, it is. When working a baby cardigan, many knitters cast on the left front, place a marker, cast on the back, place another marker and cast on the right front, all to avoid stitching a seam.
But there are benefits to seams! They provide stability, keep the garment in place and give it a nice shape. A pullover knitted in the round can take on a barrel shape around the middle, which is not the look we want. A seamed sweater tends to hang flatter, giving a more flattering look.
One of the most important areas to seam is the neckline. So many of us place the back and front neck stitches on a holder instead of binding them off, then pick them up again when working the collar. Why go through the trouble of binding off 40 stitches if you need 40 sts back on the needle to continue knitting. The reason... is that it provides stability.
A seam holds the garment place. It keeps the neckline the width it's supposed to be. Stitches that continue from the back into the neckline are stretchy and will expand outward. A nice, high turtleneck will quickly slip down into a crew neck that runs down into your collar bone. If a sweater stretches down your shoulder and takes on a shape of it's own, it is most likely due to the absence of a sturdy, seam. The few minutes that you save by putting the stitches on the holder will cause disappointment later when the garment is worn. To keep your sweater squarely on your shoulders, with your lovely collar in place, bind off the front and back entirely. Sew the shoulder seams in place, then pick up your stitches and work the neck.
Next is the shoulder. This join can take on a lot of stress with heavy garments made from cotton or longer tunic length sweaters and dresses. Heavily cabled sweaters also add weight which tests the shoulder seams. This is where you'll likely need extra reinforcement to keep the garment from stretching out too much. Heavy fronts and backs that are joined with the 3-needle bind off will often exhibit stitches that are stretched out of shape and add extra length at this junction. When dealing with a heavier fabric, it's best to bind off the shoulder stitches then seam them together. For fine fabrics, and lightweight, cropped garments, or children's sweaters, the 3-needle bind off works just fine.
Seams done properly look neat, finished and professional. They enhance the garments and give it a polished look. They are also wonderfully slimming on skirts. A solid piece of skirt fabric has little to distract the eye. Two or more pieces seamed together break up the width, create slimming panels. Seams can be turned inside out and worked with a different color yarn to create a whimsical, accent especially fun on children's sweaters.
There are many seaming methods to chose from depending on your needs. The versatile Mattress Stitch allows the benefit of working with the Right Side of the fabric facing you, so you can match up color work, patterns, and cables. It is virtually invisible and can be used to join many different types of stitches. If you learn only one seaming method, learn the Mattress Stitch. The backstitch is fast. The crochet method is easier on the hands/arms and doesn't require the same length of yarn to constantly move in and out of the fabric, which is good for yarns that pull apart easily like Icelandic yarns. Whichever seaming method you chose, do consider the function of the particular seam. If you don't want a bulky ridge, you might want to pass on the crochet method.
When you bind off that last stitch, think of the knitting phase finished, and the fun "finishing" phase is next. Put the work down for the night, wait until the next morning when you're fresh and have new light streaming in the windows, and embrace the finishing technique of seaming. You'll thank yourself later with garments that just wear better.
Ages ago, I walked into my local yarn shop and said I was done with superwash yarns. Sweater after sweater ended up so much larger than the pattern called for and had super long sleeves that were unwearable. Yes, I had swatched, and I had knitted the pattern exactly as written, but ended up with an expensive, time wasted mess.
With more and more amazing superwash yarns popping up, the desire to knit with them is becoming irresistible. When wool yarn is treated to become "superwash" it is stripped of it's natural elasticity properties. It won't spring back into shape after being soaked in water. It grows in size. And this can ruin a carefully hand knit garment.
But there is a way around this. You can knit with a superwash yarn and have your sweater turn out as expected. You just need a bit of planning and math. (just a little).
I always list in the notes section of my patterns that are worked in superwash yarns, to measure lengths vertically with the weight of the garment hanging from the needles. But there is just so much explanation that you can write into a pattern before it becomes tedious to read, especially for knitters who are already know this.So I'm taking a few moments to elaborate here, and arming you with the knowledge and steps to take to be able to knit a garment that fits with superwash yarns.
1. Knit a swatch. As a wise knitter told me once, "We all knit swatches after all! We either knit 4x4" swatches or 18x20" swatches." With superwash yarns, this is a must!
2. Measure the UNBLOCKED swatch. Write down your stitch and row gauge over at least 4".
3. Block it. Soak it in water, roll it in a towel, lay it flat, pin it and let it dry.
4. Unpin it and fluff it out. Lay it back down and with a ruler, measure the dry, blocked swatch and again write down your stitch and row gauge over 4".
5. Your stitch gauge, after blocking, must equal the stitch gauge of the pattern. Some patterns list both the pre and post blocking gauges, and if they don't, it is standard practice that patterns will list the gauge after blocking. If your stitch gauge doesn't match, try a different needle size, make a new swatch, and measure it before and after blocking.
6. Once you have a blocked swatch that matches the pattern's stitch gauge, use this swatch and figure the percentage that your swatch lengthened. Compare your pre-blocked row gauge to the post-blocked row gauge. If the pre-blocked row gauge is 32 rows=4" (8 rows=1") and after blocking it's 28 rows=4" (7 rows=1"), 8 div by 7=1.14. The length increased by 14%. You can also measure the new swatch. If the old one was 4" and the new one is 4.57" 4.57/4=1.14.
If the swatch is 10% larger, then it increased 110% of the original size. This equates to (110/100) or 1.1. This is the number you'll need.
10% = 1.1
15% = 1.15
20% = 1.2
22% = 1.22 etc.
(If blocked is 10% larger, you can't just reverse it all and say the pre-blocked swatch is 90% smaller. It's close, but not accurate.)
7. Back to row gauge! If your blocked swatch was 10% larger, you'll divide by 1.1 remember. Use this knowledge when knitting lengths. When a sweater says to"work until piece measures 18" and divide for armholes", you'll want to lift your needles up and measure the length with the weight of the piece hanging from your needles. Place the tape measure just under the needle so you're measuring the last row of stitches worked that are lined up under the ones that are on the needle. Let the tape measure hang until it reaches the bottom. You'll stop knitting when you've reached the length called for in the pattern, in this case 18" divided by 1.1 which equals 16.36". That is a big difference, especially if you're working sleeves.
Since you've done the pre/post block experiment, you know that, in this scenario, a piece of knitted fabric measuring 16.36" unblocked, will grow 10% after blocking and become 18". The percentage changes with every project. Yarn, needle size, tension, and stitch pattern all affect the percentage of growth. So you'll want to do this every time you're knitting with superwash yarns.
If you're unsure of your math, or just nervous about proceeding, you can always stop 3-4" short of the length that the pattern states to knit to, take a tapestry needle threaded with yarn and run it through all the stitches, remove your needles and soak the unfinished piece. Block it and measure it after it's dry. This will help you to figure out how much more you need to knit before proceeding. Once it's dry just re-feed your needle into the stitches, remove the waste yarn and continue on. You can always start knitting the sleeves or front while it's drying, because we need to keep knitting right?
There are many reasons why you might end up knitting with a superwash yarn, and I hope this helps you to knit garments with confidence. You've mastered the hardest part - knitting stitches into a lovely fabric. By tweaking your process just a tad, you'll end up with a garment that fits. And expand your repertoire of yarns in the process.
If you have any questions, please ask here. (It's not a live a chat, the link will direct you to an email, just so you know.)
[NOTE - this article applies to those who knit either English or Continental style. Both are considered "Western Knitting", and proper orientation of a knit stitch is where the right leg of the stitch is on the front needle. If you practice "Eastern Knitting" where you knit and purl in reverse, and the left leg is on the front needle, the below article will not apply.]
Unintended bias in knitting causes a garment to twist to one side in a spiral nature and is caused by too much twist in the yarn. This is more common in inelastic yarns like cotton and in yarns that are 2-ply. In wool blends yarns it is most often caused by the yarn being overspun.
Z twist yarns rarely give us trouble with creating bias. It’s the S twist yarns that are the culprits. This is because when a yarn is inelastic or twisted too tightly and you knit it, the very process of wrapping the yarn around the needle for each new stitch adds more twist to an S twist yarn. Knitting removes twist from a Z twist yarn. When the twist tightens, the entire fabric will slant or skew to one direction, which ends up wrapping around the body if you’re knitting a garment. If you've ever had a cheap t-shirt or cotton shirt that twists, this is why. The side seam ends up swirling around to the front and back of the top and it just won't hold straight no matter what you do it.
It doesn’t matter whether you knit English or Continental style, because when you knit either style, the yarn is traveling around the needle in the same direction. In Continental style, your fingers make smaller movements and the needle moves around the yarn instead of guiding the yarn around the needles with your fingers which happens in English style. But when you examine each in slow motion, you’ll see that the yarn is wrapped counterclockwise around the needle in both methods. Once you've knit a stitch, the right leg of the stitch will be on the front of the needle and the left leg of the stitch on the back of the needle.
Bias is more noticeable in Stockinette stitch. When you incorporate a combination of knit and purl stitches, it can help but not always. Cables can actually increase the bias because of the extra tightness that occurs when forming them. Working in twisted stitches can cause more twist as well which is what we are trying to avoid in overly twisted yarns.
If you’ve wound your own skein and are pulling from the center, pull out a foot of yarn and hang it next to a foot of yarn from the outside. The yarn in the center may be pulled tighter than the yarn at the outside, because when you’re first getting the swift going, if you allow the ball winder to pull yarn from the stationary swift, it will stretch tightly at first. Once you get some momentum going and less yarn is on the swift, you’ll notice that the tension eases off. However, this is not causing the bias.
When you examine two pieces of yarn, one from the center and one from the outside of the cake, the center strand may be pulled tighter but the amount of twist remains the same. Once you remove the tension from the center, both strands should lie the same. If you just pull on a strand, it makes it tighter, but doesn’t affect the twist. The amount of twist can be determined by looking at the number of crosses that one strand makes on the other. The closer the diagonal lines are together the more twist you have. Measure out about 6” of yarn from the center of the skein and 6” from the outside, then count the number of diagonal slants in each piece. If they are close to the same then you have the same amount of twist in each end of the yarn.
More often than not, the root of the problem lies with the way the yarn is spun before you buy it. Bias cannot be steamed out. Severe blocking may help, but once the fabric is dry it will have a tendency to skew again. Knitting flat & seaming the sides is better than knitting in the round but again, it will not eliminate it.
The correction needs to be made during the act of knitting.
For overspun yarns, one easy, but time-consuming method is to pull out a yard or so of yarn, take a clothespin and clip the yarn to the ball. Let the ball of yarn hang from the work so it untwists itself, then knit normally from the untwisted yarn. Or by hand, untwist a section of yarn, clip it to something (pillow, blanket, your shirt, anything really), and knit until you reach the clip. Then untwist another section and keep doing this. Eventually you’ll need to let the ball spin itself back to a normal position.
Another better, faster remedy when working in Stockinette is to wrap the yarn in the opposite direction (under and clockwise instead of over) when forming the purl stitch on the WS rows. Then when you’re working the RS rows, knit each stitch through the back loop. This untwists the yarn and you’ll notice instead of a tightly swirled S on the needle, you’ll find a very loose one that almost resembles a single ply. If you’re working with 2 ply yarn, instead of a twist on the needle, you may actually see both plys squeezed together and lying almost side by side, with just a little twist between them.
If you’re working in a combination of stitches this becomes a bit trickier, since the front & back of the same stitch need to be altered in order to reduce the amount of twist in the yarn, and at the same time prevent the stitch from becoming twisted. A twisted stitch has the bottom two strands of the V crossed. When you pull the stitch apart, instead of the V opening up at the bottom, you’ll see the strands crisscross and become tight. You do not want twisted stitches (unless the pattern calls for them in the design.)
By wrapping the yarn around the needle the wrong way (clockwise) when making a purl stitch, and knitting through the back loop when knitting this same stitch on the next row, you are orienting the stitches on the needle so that the left leg is at the front of the needle and the right leg is at the back. This is opposite of how stitches are normally oriented. If you were to only do one of the two, for example, knit a stitch through the back loop, then purl it normally on the WS row, you would have a twisted stitch. But since you’re knitting through the back loop on the RS AND wrapping the yarn around the needle clockwise when purling on the WS, both actions counter each other out and the stitches remain untwisted. And you are accomplishing your task of untwisting the yarn every time you work a stitch.
Most of the time we don’t realize we have a problem until we’ve knitted a few inches and the fabric begins to slant. If you notice that the yarn is kinking and doubling back on itself, that’s a sign that it’s spun too tightly. Removing some twist at this point may save you time in the long run. Watch the yarn as you go though. Sometimes you'll find sections of yarn with a tighter than normal twist, then it evens out.
I hope this tip helps and that it brings some answers to the puzzle of unintended bias. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and if you can fix the problem as you knit you’ll be able to continue creating a garment that you can be proud of.
Hiatt, June Hemmons. The Principles of Knitting. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1988.
“Adding twist to splitty yarns." 07MAY18. <https://yarnsub.com/articles/techniques/adding-twist/>
Hello! I'm Donna. I knit every day and enjoy designing knitwear that is artistic, intricate and comfortable. I specialize in women's sweaters with a contemporary silhouette.