A Word On Yarn Overs

This post is mostly aimed at new(er) knitters (than I). I have no intention of teaching my grandmother to suck eggs.

When I was first looking at the instructions for JSSBO, it took me a while for me to wrap my head around it. I kept repeating her knit stitch instruction to myself: “wrap the [yarn the] opposite direction around the needle from the standard yarnover”.


And then when I was looking for information on yarn-overs in another context (more on which another time), it suddenly clicked into place. There are two different types of yarn-over.

Let’s go back to what a yarn-over is trying to achieve. See this diagram of stockinette (cribbed from www.craftyarncouncil.com)? Ignore what the needles are doing. The bits I’ve filled in in blue are a small continuous section of yarn as it came off the ball. You can see that there is a short horizontal bar between the loops of yarn that form stitches over the needle. The idea of a yarn-over is to create a new stitch out of that bar by lifting it over the needle itself, in between the current stitches.


One way to achieve this is to do what I have always done, which is to just bring the yarn between the two needles to the ‘opposite’ side of the work when you reach the place that you want the new stitch. So, bring the yarn through the needles to the front if the next stitch is a knit stitch or bring the yarn through the needles to the back if the next stitch is a purl stitch. If you’re switching between knitting and purling on the same row, then you may just be able to leave the yarn on the opposite side of the work.

This works because when you come to knit (or purl) the next stitch, the yarn has to find its way back to the correct side of the work, so it travels over the needle as you are forming the stitch.

You’ll appreciate that when using this method, Jeny’s instruction doesn’t make much sense.

So what I found is that there’s another technique called a ‘yarn-over’. Instead of letting the yarn travel back over the needle itself, you actively take it there: bring the yarn forward through the needles, but then loop it back over the needle before forming your knit stitch. On the purl side, it would seem that you perform the wrap first (taking your yarn over the needle to the back) but then bring it forward through the needles.

Either method has the same result: forming a new stitch from that horizontal bar. But the method where you actively wrap the yarn over means that you have a looser tension on the next stitch because the knitting doesn’t have to ‘correct’ itself, I presume resulting in a slightly bigger hole.

Clever, eh? I would imagine that one’s considered American and one British or something. It certainly makes sense of the distinction between ‘yarn over’ and ‘yarn forward’. The method that I’ve been using seems to have worked fine for me so far and I’ve no particular intention of fixing what’s not broken – but I do like being able to understand my knitting like this, and understand why certain techniques produce certain results.


One thought on “A Word On Yarn Overs

  1. kirstinknits May 9, 2013 at 10:35 pm Reply

    Those directions made me realize that I had no idea there was a “standard” way to do YOs and other options too. I actually have to look at pictures most times I start the bind-off to make sure that I’m doing it correctly.

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