Well, I SAID I was a Heretic…

I recently recorded an interview with the KnottyGirls Podcast, and we had an absolutely AMAZING time! I twirled around my backyard in my Sky Chair while we talked about many things.

Chief among them was my irritating insistence on using non-traditional knitting terms. On good days my odd thoughts are the sand in the oyster shell. On bad days, they’re just poison ivy.

In the early Summer I finished a marathon session of designing, which meant a marathon session of tech edit conversations back and forth this month.  I think I must be the average tech editors worst nightmare — a designer who uses different terminology, and has (what she thinks) is a logical reason for doing so!

It’s true, I do use some unusual terminology, but not in a stubborn or non-thoughtful way.  If a publication is set on their own style, I’m happy to back down and have their terminology laid over my design.  But I feel it’s incumbent on me to mention to editors some of my reasons for using a more logic-based approach to knitting terminology.

The first thing is to divorce tradition from useful definition. I know, I know, knitting is full of tradition, and much of it is fun and cool and quirky.  I don’t want to change every oddball thing that knitters do, but I DO feel that a few well chosen technology updates could make knitting more intuitive (and thus more joyful) for every knitter!

Some folks will cling to the terminology they’ve grown up with, and that’s fine. I’m not demanding that anyone change, but be warned that when you purchase a pattern from me, I may use terminology you’re not used to (always with an explanation of the term, and how it relates to a more traditional term if necessary).

I began using these alternative terms because in my classes I realized that different knitters will achieve techniques in different ways. Most knitters are Western, some knitters are Combination, a very small number are Eastern.

Combination Knit Stitch

Combination Knit Stitch

Here’s what I mean when I mention the following two terms

Western Orientation Eastern/Combination Orientation
A stitch which is seated on the needle so it wants to be knit through the front loop. A stitch which is seated on the needle so it wants to be knit through the back loop.

Note: You’ll know the stitch “wants” to be knit a certain way because when the needle is inserted that way the stitch opens up big and fat and wide.

Within these basic styles are then further differentiations in how a knitter holds their yarn, their needles, and how they actually form their stitches (wrapping, picking, scooping, etc).

For the most part I find labels more divisive than helpful, although they are sometimes necessary. I prefer terminology that is universal — more democratic — and can apply to ANY knitter regardless of their chosen knitting style.

In short, I prefer to describe the outcome of a knitting technique, rather than insist that the knitter get there in a specified manner. Here are a few examples of terminology I’d love to see changed.

Traditional Term What Is Meant Alternative Term
Knit 1 Tbl (knit 1 through back loop) Twist this stitch as you knit it Tw1 or Twist 1
How To Achieve This
Basically knit so that the stitch is "unhappy" – doesn't open up fully – so that the little legs of the stitch are twisted as you enter the stitch.
If you knit Eastern or Combination knit into the front of the stitch; If you knit Western knit into the back of the stitch.

Traditional Term What Is Meant Alternative Term
K2tog (knit 2 together) Knit 2 stitches together so they slant to the RIGHT K2tog-R

How To Achieve This
Insert the needle into the 2nd stitch on the LH needle; then into the 1st stitch on the LH needle and knit these two stitches together.
If you are a Western Knitter your stitches should already be seated to receive the LH needle without twisting. If you're a Combination Knitter you'll want to re-orient the stitches so they sit on the needle in the opposite direction THEN knit the stitches together.


Annie’s Hint:
The tip of the working needle will be pointing to the RIGHT when making this decrease!

Traditional Term What Is Meant Alternative Term
K2togTbl or Ssk or Skp (knit 2 tog through back loop OR slip slip knit OR slip knit pass over) Knit 2 stitches together so they slant to the LEFT K2tog-L

How To Achieve This
Insert the needle into the 1st stitch on the LH needle; then into the 2nd stitch on the LH needle and knit these two stitches together.
If you are a Combination Knitter your stitches should already be seated to receive the LH needle without twisting. If you are a Western knitter you will want to slip the first two stitches (either knitwise twice; or knitwise then purlwise) and then knit these two sts together as an Ssk.



Annie’s Hint: The tip of the working needle will be pointing to the LEFT
when making this decrease!


Traditional Term What Is Meant Alternative Term
Wyif Hold the yarn toward you WyRS if the Right Side of the work is facing; WyWS if the Wrong Side of the work is facing.
Wyib Hold the yarn away from you WyWS if the Right Side of the work is facing; WyRS if the Wrong Side of the work is facing.


How To Achieve This
In some techniques (Double Knitting) you will want to hold the yarn toward you while working on the Wrong Side of the piece. This can be confusing when the term is "With Yarn in Front"; I've had many students email me with questions about this. Using the RS/WS as the point of reference seems natural and more clear.


Knitting In The Round / Knitting Garter Fabric

When Working as a Combination Knitter

When knitting in the round, or back and forth in garter, you must do one of two things:
1) Either knit through the front loop of each stitch (the tip of the working needle will point to the RIGHT as it enters the stitch) in the traditional Western Style, or
2) As you wrap each knit stitch, wrap it in the OPPOSITE DIRECTION than you normally do.  This will cause the stitch to be seated in the Combination manner in the following row/round and will set up the stitch to be entered through the back loop, in the Combination Style.

At this point I hope I haven’t confused you too much! I just want folks to THINK about their knitting logically, not be slaves to outdated or inexact terminology which makes full comprehension of complex techniques more difficult. I am the G.B. Shaw of knitspeak.


After writing this piece, inspired by some questions tech editors had for me, I discovered the reason that I’ve been receiving emails from folks trying to knit my Paisley Shawl from Jane Austen Knits.

Well, the reason was that the tech ed on this project decided they didn’t like my own chart, so they rewrote it, making significant changes that make knitting up the edging of the chart practically impossible.

If you’ve tried to knit this up and have failed,

Here is the IK Jane Austen Knits chart (changed from my original)Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 4.55.02 PM

…and here is my own chart,

annie paisley chart


Symbols aside (I never expect anyone to use my own symbols, these are just what I use when writing up the pattern to send in to the editor) there are some significant changes.  All of the ‘non stitch’ sections were removed – but these are NECESSARY to create the lace the way I designed it.

Also, the VDI’s were removed and some VDD’s were changed to K2togs.  I don’t know why, but there it is.

The faggoting between the green and blue sections won’t look the same, either, as in my chart they’re worked as a kind of lace/garter, but in the IK chart it’s St st, and thus not as sturdy and the holes will collapse easier.

Below are some of the terms I use for those of you who may not be familiar with them:

  • St st – Knit on RS, Purl on WS
  • Rev St st – Purl on RS, Knit on WS
  • Sl 1 wyRS – Slip 1 stitch with yarn held to Right Side of work
  • Sl 1 wyWS – Slip 1 stitch with yarn held to Wrong Side of work
  • YO – Yarn Over
  • K2tog-R – See above (aka k2tog)
  • K2tog-L – See above (aka Ssk)
  • P2tog-L – Purl 2 together so the dec slants to Left when viewed on the RS of the work (same as K2tog-R when worked on WS of work)
  • VDD = Vertical Double Decrease: Sl 2 sts as if to work k2 tog-R, k1, pass slipped sts over (decrease of 2 sts)
  • VDI – Vertical Double Increase: K into front of st, YO, k into back of same stitch.
  • Inc 1 Right: Knit into st immediately below next st on needle, then knit next st on needle, creating a right-slanting inc.
  • Inc 1 Left: Knit next st on needle, then into st immediately below that st, creating a left-slanting inc
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11 thoughts on “Well, I SAID I was a Heretic…

  1. Sue

    Well, I for one love your logical terms–especially since as a combination knitting fan, I’m constantly translating directions written for normal folks. What’s most maddening is the constant inference/statement that the given style (usually Western here in the US) is the only one w/ no mention of any alternatives. I wouldn’t be knitting if it weren’t for your combo method. I always felt all thumbs before. Thanks!

  2. becka

    I don’t know how I never noticed your little Annie’s Hint about the direction your needle is pointing and the direction of the decrease. That is completely brilliant.

  3. Nicole

    Thirded! I also knit combination, and am constantly frustrated, annoyed, and driven to tears by traditionally written patterns.

    I recently learned how to make buttonholes, and this was the process: 1- do what the pattern says, 2- not be able to figure out where the yarn needs to go, 3- look at the end result, 4- know the result is WRONG, 5- get Annie’s book of the shelf, 6- read her explanation, 7- do it that way, 8- breathe a sigh of relief.

    So thank you for your book, and thank you for trying to fight the good fight for combination knitters.

    Note to editors: People will only give you their money ONCE if they cannot use your patterns successfully. Listen to Annie, she is trying to help you MAKE MORE MONEY.

  4. BonnieA

    Thanks, Annie,
    I so agree! Just tell me if the decrease goes to the right or the left. I’m smart enough with my own knitting to work it out.

  5. Robin

    For a lefty, you make complete sense, and with your definitions I don’t need to transpose every instruction to work for a lefty. Thank you!

  6. Sayeh

    This does clarify a lot of things. Wish I had seen this a lot sooner, I used to be more of a combination knitter, I guess I’m more of a western knitter now. I realized I was a combination knitter when I came across a pattern with knit 1 tbl, and I was confused. since I was always knitting through the back loop…I changed my methods since then. Though I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have.

  7. Jodie

    I think learning how your stitches are supposed to look (and BTW I loved your decrease slanting tip too!) is a really important thing to learn in knitting. Being able to read my knitting and pick up on twisted stitches has been a livesaver.

  8. LissaG

    Thanks for this, very instructive. Can I make on additional comment to ‘democratize’ your instructions?

    I’m left-handed and I knit left-handed, some call it ‘mirror knitting’. Although many lefties do knit right-handed, a healthy minority of us do not.

    So… When you give instructions like ‘insert right needle into left’, it’s the opposite for me, and other lefties. I’ve seen some designers democratize this language by giving instructions like ‘insert dominant needle into stitch-holding (or passive) needle’. This makes it accessible to everyone and lefties don’t have to switch all the instructions.

    Just a thought… And thanks again.

  9. Lydia-Ann

    As a left-handed person who knits mirror, I applaud your “outcome based” method of describing knitting terminology.

    When I have taught people to knit, I don’t let them look at any written pattern instructions until they can knit, purl, yo, and do right and left leaning decreases. Then when they understand how, I introduce them to the standard abbreviations.

    Learning the theory of stitch formation goes a long way in helping create knitters who understand knitting, as opposed to simply following instructions.

    But really, a standing ovation for you and your non-traditional, but very useful definitions.

  10. JustGail

    I’m bookmarking this post. I’ve tried knitting sporadically, but I think part of the problem may be that I’ve been knitting “wrong”, at least according to most instructions. Maybe with this, I’ll have a bit more success, or at least feel not quite so lost.

    You mean a tech editor just wholesale replaced your instructions with her’s?!?! And apparently never even tried to knit it? Yeesh! Not a good move Interweave! Now, how many will blame Interweave, and how many will blame you for their lack of success?

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