Knitting backwards

Also known as: Mirror knitting

Context

This article is about creating new stitches with stitches moving from the right to the left needle. Undoing stitches is referred to as “tinking” (the word knit backwards) and is not covered here.

Most knitters pass stitches from the left needle to the right needle as they make new stitches. This means that when working in stockinette, the public side rows are knit as knit stitches and private side rows are knit as purl stitches.

Some patterns need only a small number of stitches to be made before the work has to be turned for the next row, such as working in short rows. Turning the knitting takes time, and it may be faster to continue with the same side of the knitting facing you. This means that you are transferring stitches from the right to the left needle, so that you need to form the stitches in a different way to “normal”. This is often called “knitting backwards” or “mirror knitting”.

How to do it

Styles of knitting

When knitting “normally”, holding the yarn in the right hand when knitting a stitch is often called “English style” and holding the yarn in the left hand is called “Continental style”. The way the yarn is passed round the needle differ in the two styles. In the English style, typically the yarn is wrapped around the receiving needle with a finger, whereas in the Continental style the typical method is swing the receiving needle to pull the yarn.

When knitting backwards, the role of the receiving needle passes to the left hand, so that the motions associated with the English style are used when the yarn is held in the left hand and those associated with the Continental style are used when the yarn is held in the right hand. In this article, I use the term “English” when the yarn is held in the same hand as the receiving needle and the term “Continental” when the yarn is held in the same hand as the receiving needle. This means that to avoid swapping the yarn from one hand to the other when you change direction, you would use one style working from right to left and the other working left to right.

Stocking stitch swatch with half the final row completed. The working yarn is attached to the stitches on the left hand needle with the next stitch to be knit on the right hand needle.
Yarn coming from stitches on the left.

Knitting backwards – English style

Making knit stitches

Left needle being inserted from left to right into the back of the first stitch on the right hand needle with the left needle passing behind the right needle. The yarn is held behind the work.

Hold the working yarn in your left hand behind the fabric.

Place the left needle through the first loop on the right needle, passing behind the right needle. The left leg of the loop should be behind the left needle.

Yarn being wrapped round the left needle. Starting at the back, passing to the left of the needle, round the front and returning to the back on the right side of the needle.

Starting at the back. Pass the yarn to the left of the left needle, then around the front to return to the back on the right hand side of the needle.

The working yarn being pulled through the stitch held on the right hand needle.

Using the left hand needle, pull the working yarn through the loop on the right hand needle.

The new stitch is being pushed left onto the main body of the left hand needle. The right hand needle is being prepared to be pulled out of the old stitch.

Continue to move the new stitch down the body of the left hand needle past the tapered tip.

Remove the right hand needle from the old stitch.

Continue to the next stitch.

Making purl stitches

The purl side of the fabric is facing forwards. Stitches already made in the current row are on the left hand needle and stitches from the previous row are on the right hand needle. The working yarn is held in front of the left needle.

Hold the yarn in your left hand with the yarn in front of the fabric.

The purl side of the fabric is facing the viewer. Stitches already worked are on the left hand needle. The working yarn is in the left hand. The left hand needle has been placed through the centre of the first stitch on the right hand needle, passing from back right to front left. The left leg (that was at the back of the right needle) lies across the front of the left needle, and the right leg (that is on the front of the right needle lies behind the left needle. The tip of the left needle is in front of the right needle.

Insert the left needle into the first stitch on the right needle. The left needle goes from back right to front left. The left (back) leg of the stitch from the right needle is in front of the left hand needle, and the right (front) leg of the stitch is behind the left needle.

Turn the left needle so that it points towards your right.

The working yarn is being wrapped around the left hand needle. It is being passed towards the right across the front of the needle before returning to the left behind the needle.

Wrap the working yarn around the left hand needle, passing the yarn from left to right under the needle and then taking it behind the needle.

The working yarn has been placed around the left hand needle from left to right so that the working yarn passes below the left hand needle with the free end behind the left hand needle. The swing continues to take a loop of the working yarn to the back of the fabric through the centre of the old stitch on the right hand needle.

Swing the left hand needle away from you so that it draws a loop of the working yarn through the stitch on the right hand needle.

Continue until the new stitch is on the left hand needle.

Remove the right hand needle from the old stitch.

Knitting backwards – Continental style

Making knit stitches

Left hand needle being put through the stitch on the right hand needle. The left (back) leg of the stitch has been placed to the back left of the left hand needle, with the stitch then passing in front of that needle. The yarn is held behind the fabric.

Hold the yarn in your right hand.

Push the left hand needle through the first stitch on the right hand needle. The tip should pass in front of the back leg and behind the right needle.

The yarn of the old stitch should pass behind and to the left of the left hand needle, cross the front and then cross the top of the right hand needle.

The left hand needle passes behind the right hand needle from bottom left to top right through the stitch on the right hand needle. It is being swung back and to the left to catch a loop of the working yarn that is held above and to the right of the needle tips by the index finger of the right hand.

Hold the working yarn on the index finger of your right hand above and slightly to the right of the needle tips,

Swing the tip of the left hand needle backwards to pick up a loop of working yarn and then bring it up and then forwards and downwards with the yarn passing from behind the left hand needle, across its front, and then passing back to the finger on the right.

The tip of the left hand needle with a loop of working yarn passing to the front of it is being pulled forwards through the centre of the stitch on the right hand needle.

Continue the forward motion of the left hand needle to pull the loop of working yarn through the stitch on the right hand needle.

The new stitch is on the left hand needle and is being pushed onto the body of that needle before the right hand needle is removed from the old stitch.

Continue to bring the left hand needle forward and then push the new stitch onto the body of the needle.

Remove the right hand needle from the old stitch.

Making purl stitches

The new stitches of the current row are on the left hand needle. Stitches from the previous row are on the right hand needle. The yarn is being held to the front of the fabric and passes from the front over the index finger of the right hand.

Hold the yarn to the front of the fabric, passing across the front of the right hand index finger before being tensioned by the right hand.

Tip of left hand needle being passed behind back leg of the stitch on the right hand needle and passed to the front through the centre of that stitch.

Place the tip for the left hand needle through the centre of the stitch on the right hand needle, passing behind the back (left) leg of that stitch.

Continue to move the left hand needle so the tip lies in front of the right hand needle.

Left hand needle swinging in front of the yarn and then up and back to form a loop of the working yarn.

Swing the left hand needle forward, passing on top of the working yarn. Continue the swinging motion so that the tip moves back and up to catch a loop of the working yarn.

Loop of yarn on left hand needle being pulled through the stitch on the right hand needle towards the back.

Pull the loop of yarn through the stitch on the right hand needle. Continue until the left hand needle with the loop lies behind the fabric.

New stitch on the left hand needle being pushed onto the shaft of that needle before the right hand needle is taken out of the old stitch.

Push the new stitch onto the shaft of the left hand needle.

Remove the right hand needle from the old stitch.

Increasing, decreasing and more complicated stitches

When knitting backwards you need to be aware that you are knitting in the opposite direction. This means that to achieve the same result you will need to make stitches in a different way. This article does not go into detail but as an illustration the standard left- and right- leading decreases are discussed here.

K2tog – knit two together – will be formed by placing the needle into the second stitch from the tip of the needle and passing it through both that and the stitch nearer the tip. This will result in a left leaning stitch (when knitting “normally” you would use a ssk to do this).

ssk (skpsso) – slip, slip, knit (slip, knit, pass slipped stitch over) – will be formed by slipping the first stitch on the right needle knitwise (with the right hand leg to the front of the receiving needle) and then doing the same with the second stitch and finally placing the right hand needle parallel to the left hand needle through both stitches and wrapping the yarn around the left hand needle. This makes a right leaning stitch.

Helpful links

You might like to view the video tutorial: Knitting Backwards (T202002).