To The Left-Handed Knitters: You Can Knit Your Own Way

By Sarah Johnson

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If you're right-handed, you probably don't even notice the myriad of ways the world just works for you. Since roughly 85-90% of the population is right-handed, all sorts of little things are designed with right-handed people in mind. This includes the world of knitting where almost all of the patterns, tutorials and instructions are designed for right-handers. None of this fazes me, as a right-hander, but when I was trying to teach a left-handed friend to knit, I realized how awkward it can be.

Though it's incredibly challenging, the concept of left-handed knitting seems simple enough. Just switch your needles. Instead of casting on to the left-hand needle, you cast on to the right-hand.

knitting left handed

Then, the needle you work with is the left-hand needle while the right-hand needle holds the stitches you're working into. Knitting and purling are the same concepts, where you still either work with the yarn behind your needle or in front of it. Your right side and wrong side of the fabric are still the same based on where those yarn bumps belong. A left-handed knitter just has to figure out how to make all of these basics feel natural without as much guidance as a right-handed knitter would find.

The first tricky part might be figuring out how to hold the needles and your working yarn. A right-handed knitter may not be able to explain to a left-handed knitter how to do those things in reverse. Instead, the most helpful thing to do may be to mirror a rightie's actions. Sit facing a right-handed knitter rather than sitting next to him or her and trying to copy the movements.

Continental knitting may be a better fit for left-handed knitters than English. Many experts recommend that left-handed knitters learn Continental knitting as that style involves holding the working yarn in the left hand. A left-handed knitter would be copying the yarn hold of a Continental knitter and could then choose whether to copy the needle holds as well or to switch so the left needle is the working needle. In the end, all knitters find their own perfect yarn hold and needle work, whether it's English, Continental, or some hybrid. Though a left-handed knitter may have to do a little more experimentation to find that sweet spot.

Once you've figured out how you feel comfortable holding the needles and your yarn, you're ready to discover all there is to know about knitting, even if you do have to put your own slant on things.

For any simple pattern that just calls for stockinette or garter stitch or a rib, there won't be much to think about. A knit two, purl two rib will look the same in the big picture whichever way you knit. Where you'll need to pay attention is on a more complicated pattern that includes elements like increases and decreases or a color chart. When knitting left-handed, everything is a mirror image of right-handed knitting. You're starting at the end of the row instead of at the beginning. It isn't enough to work the pattern as written if you're working a pattern that involves more advanced knitting elements. You'll wind up with a backwards project. A curved project will be shaped on the wrong edge unless you rework the pattern.

There are some patterns and resources designed specifically for left-handed knitters, but they are rare finds. If you can't locate a pattern written for left-handed knitters and you don't want to stick with a rib scarf, it's worth it to take a few extra minutes and re-write out the pattern. The most basic idea is to reverse the pattern. Start at the end and work back to the first stitch in the row.

If you're working with a color chart, re-graph the chart on a piece of graph paper. To help visualize the change, some left-handed knitters hold a mirror up to the color chart and then look at the reflection.

The biggest problems left-handed knitters will face involve cabling, increases, and decreases. These three knitted elements will all look a little different when worked in reverse. A left-handed knitter has to put a little more thought into these elements because every subtle change of the angle the needle works into the stitch can affect the slant. This is where finding resources for left-handed knitters can come in so handy because other left-handed knitters have already worked out how to create a left or right-slanting decrease. From a pattern, you can tell which way the increase or decrease should slant. You just have to think about how to create that slant while knitting in reverse.

Cable knitting also has to be thought through a little differently. Remember that following the directions exactly as written will create a mirror-image of the intended design, so think about reversing everything. If the pattern calls for the cable needle to be in front, hold it in back, and vice versa. Or you can follow the pattern instructions and you'll simply have a cable that twists in the opposite direction.

Some argue that left-handed knitters generally develop a better sense of how patterns work and how to visualize stitches because they do have to think about each pattern in depth before beginning.

So what do you think, left-handed knitters? Do you prefer to knit right-handed so you don't have to do as much pattern-tweaking? Or do you prefer to let your dominant hand do the work and adjust patterns to fit your style?

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