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Tighter purls

by ysoldateague June 12, 2014


In last week’s post I shared a tip for swatching in the round, which is necessary because differences in knit and purl tension can mean you get a different gauge working flat or in the round. This imbalance can also cause other problems.

Yarn flows backwards. If you ever have problems with ladders when working on dpns or magic loop try pulling the yarn tighter after working the second stitch on the needle. That will pull the extra yarn out of the space between the needles and the stitches just worked will help to lock it in place. 

In the same way extra yarn from a looser purl stitch and the yarn used to switch from knit to purl tends to flow backwards into the last knit stitch. You might have experienced this problem when working cables or wide ribbing — the final knit stitch of your cable or rib looks much sloppier than the rest. Trying to tighten the yarn while working that stitch or right after does nothing. The extra yarn isn’t there yet, so you can’t remove it. 

The trick is to work the following purl stitch more tightly. One way to do this is to wrap the yarn differently so that it takes a shorter path around the needle. This can be done whether the yarn is held in the right or left hand. 

Western style knitting involves the yarn moving around the needle in an anti-clockwise direction while for Eastern style knitting it goes clockwise. If you look at the illustrations below you can see that when purling the Eastern method results in less yarn being used — a shorter path is taken. 

Switching from Western to Eastern will change the orientation of the resulting stitch on the needle. 

This means that in order to keep the stitch uncrossed the needle must be inserted into the back loop when working the following row. 

Many knitters will find that they get the most balanced knit and purl tension by working knit stitches Western and purl stitches Eastern. Worth trying if you have noticed issues with rowing out. Annie Modesitt termed this Combination knitting and has written extensively about it — the main thing to note is that decreases must be worked differently to achieve the same slant. 

I don’t find my flat stockinette is noticeably imbalanced but I do use the Eastern purl when working ribbed or cable patterns. When working back and forth I work the first purl stitch following a knit Eastern — this will be alternating stitches on the right and wrong sides. You can see what a difference it makes on these swatches which were worked in the same yarn on the same needle size. 

For narrower rib patterns I find it’s easier to just work all of the purls eastern. If you’ve ever thought that the inside of ribbing worked in the round was neater than the outside this is a good solution. 

If you’ve been finding this series of posts helpful and you’re interested in garment knitting you might like to check out my book Little Red in the City which these illustrations are extracted from. 



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