Left vs. Right

Last week I took a survey on Quizilla to find out what kind of knitter I am. Many of you may have already taken this quiz. If so, then you saw that one of the choices for the question about how you, personally, follow pattern instructions was as follows:

SSK is the traditional right leaning decrease, and it matches the k2tog which produces a left leaning decrease.

As a freelance writer and proofreader, my immediate impulse upon reading this statement was to look for a way to contact the person who wrote it, since they’d clearly made a huge mistake. K2tog, or knit two together, is a right leaning decrease, and is in fact the only right-leaning decrease. Every other decrease, including slip-slip-knit (SSK) leans to the left.

I mentioned this to my wife (who henceforth shall be known as Z), from whom I’d received the link to the survey. A fellow proofreading freak, our evening dinner conversations often consist of the grammar, punctuation, and factual errors to which we’ve been subjected throughout the day. She informed me that I was the one who was mistaken, and that SSK always leans to the right, with k2tog going the other way.

Crazy? Well, Z is a left-handed knitter. She’s forced to reverse many knitting pattern instructions, and has to put up with knitting books like Gertrude Taylor’s America’s Knitting Book, which contains this lovely little ditty:

If you are left-handed, you should not knit from left to right. Left-handed people write in the same direction as right-handed people do, so too, you should knit in the same direction as all knitters do, so that others will be able to help you.

This is ridiculous, of course, but apparently Z and I have been working our decreases in the opposite direction the whole time we’ve known each other. Who knew? So, I ask you: which way do your decreases go? Are you left-handed? If so, do you knit left-handed? What are the right-handed ways in which knitting instructions drive you nuts?

Oh, by the way, according to that survey, I’m a knitting purist. Whatever.


  • Beth says:

    I always got that confused until someone pointed this out: The stitch that your right needle enters first will be on top.
    So in a SSK, the right needle goes in to the right stitch first, so the decrease leans to the right. For a K2Tog, the right needle goes in to the left stitche first, so the decrease leans to the right.
    For the centered double decrease, Slip 2 knit pass 2 over, the needle goes in to the center stitch first, and it ends up on top.
    Of course, this assumes that you are knitting right handed.
    BTW, I love your blog, particularly the analysis of the google search terms. I never knew until I checked, but my site is one of a very few that come up when you type in “addi turbo size 0”

  • Daniel says:

    You are correct with the traditional sense. Many people confuse lefthanded with continental, backwards, and reverse knitting. There are infinite ways of double talk on this subject. I teach all of them, but if the person doesn’t understand what is taking place in the process, they will not be able to truly read all patterns. In the end, there are two factors that make a pattern correct: the designer’s instructions (unfortunately not all designers know how to write or are very clear) and the methods they use (which if there wasn’t a standard, we would always be consulting a primer to the designer’s mind.)
    Yes, I’ve taken the test, too, but I knew I was a purist. People tell me I’m indifferent and indecisive. I tell them, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

  • Grace says:

    I am left-handed and knit continental style. I guess I must knit continental in a right-handed manner because I have never reversed decreasing instructions to get the correct decrease. Huh.

  • natalie says:

    the k2tog is right leaning because the top stitch leans towards the right. how much clearer could that be? =)

    i was stumped by that line in the quiz, too. is it just a knitting purist thing that we understand directions?

  • Lee says:

    I just learned to knit a few months ago. A friend showed me the basics but after that I was pretty much on my own, so I’ve depended on books and websites, and for the most part they’ve not treated us left handed knitters very well. I did just fine until I tried knitting something from a graph (self-link). Twenty rows in and it looked nothing like it was supposed to, and I burst into tears and threw the whole thing into the trash in angry frustration.

    I now judge knitting books by how they deal with left-handers (even the otherwise excellent SnB falls short). The authors might address holding the yarn and needles, but I’ve never seen a single acknowledgement that us southpaws will have to adjust the patterns because we are knitting from left to right.

    I hadn’t even thought of decreases slanting to the left or right. I’m glad I came across this entry before I got to the decreases in the (first) sweater I’m making!

  • Jenn says:

    Great blog! I clicked here from knitty.com. After reading this post I completely doubted my ability to decrease and picked up my current project to see which way I lean. Result – my decreases are as yours. Huh. Did the person who wrote the quiz just get confused?

  • Denise says:

    I’m a lefty and a self taught knitter for one year. I’ve tried to ignore the “should” and “must” way of thinking and now have a totally unique way of knitting that’s an amalgam of what works for me. My stuff seems to come out okay. Happy knitting!!!!

  • Nardhelain says:

    I am a lefty, but I knit right-handed. The first time I “learned” to knit, I was about 9, and I was much less ambidextrous than I am now. Since there are no left-handed knitters in my family, I was taught to knit right-handed and I had enough trouble with it that I gave it up altogether. I had another go in my early twenties, except this time, I tried to teach myself. Got a few books, sat in front of a mirror trying to do it left-handed, and all I succeeded in doing was giving myself a monstrous headache from trying to read the instructions backwards. So, I threw in the sponge and went with the right-handed method, which I’ve been using ever since. I knit Continental style, though, so there really isn’t much difference between the amount of work the dominant and non-dominant hands do.

    Strangely enough, however, I crochet left-handed and can’t do it right-handed to save my life. Probably something to do with the fact that I hold a crochet hook like I hold a pencil. But I digress.

  • Great site and love your projects! I was looking for a masculine site as I knit for my husband and three sons.
    I agreed with the quiz question and am right handed. My son, 11, for whom I just received a ‘boys knit’ button, is ambidextrious though tends to write left-handed mostly. I received a lot of advice to teach him to do things right handed when it became obvious he could do many things equally with both hands. I ignored the advice and my son writes/draws/paints/throws/drums… with both hand equally well. I taught him to knit right-to-left with yarn carried in left hand since that’s what I usually do. He does well, but is only following a cable chart for the first time, so we’ll see how that goes.
    I think knitting right to left is backwards for us righties anyway, for write left to right of course, but it puts the ‘working’ needle in our right hand I guess is the logic. I can also knit mirror image to what is usually printed in books. My son and I are very two-handed in our knitting style, moving both needles about the same.
    When teaching knitting, I find the ones who have the most trouble (following my example anyway) are people strongly one-handed, whichever that may be. I say whatever works is right, reversing directions or not for lefties.
    I have two younger sons, one right handed and one left handed. I guess time will teach me a lot about handedness and knitting direction. This is an interesting topic indeed.

  • Mary says:

    I call myself a lefty, but I’m really more ambidextrous. I never questioned it when my right-handed mother taught me to knit… maybe that was why it was extremely confusing at first!

    This reminds me of calligraphy (not Chinese, but with quills and metal nibs). These pens were apparently made for right-handed people, so when I first learnt calligraphy as a child I just wrote with my right hand; maybe it was easy enough ’cause I’ve always had good hand-eye coordination. But when I picked up calligraphy 5-10 years later, I just used my left (and usual writing) hand.

    Your post makes me consider whether to try knitting left-handed… just something else to try! Also, I’ve been trying my hand at Continental too, and I’m wondering if that “single active digit” part is confusing me. I’ve tried it with my right index but maybe I should be using a finger from my left hand?

  • Norma jean says:

    Hi all,
    I knit left handed.
    I have new patterns out just for left handed knitters,
    And C.D.’s coming out this fall.
    I would love to hear from you and what you think.

    Norma jean.

  • im ambidextrious in knitting, as well as softball. are there very many people who knit both right and left handed? maybe im just weird. =)

  • Anna M says:

    Interesting post. I am a left-handed continental MIRROR knitter. I just gotta be free. I just gotta be me.

    I knit stitches from the right hand needle to the left, and hold the yarn in my right hand. I knit INTO THE BACK LOOP! My K2Tog leans to the right. My ssk is. . . jacked up. I have to figure it out because I want to knit lace.

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