All About the Yarn Over: How to Do It, When to Use It

My opinion when I first tried knitting a yarn over: scary, but magical.

It seems like leaving a hole in your knitting is the absolute last thing you’d want to do. Actually, you may have even accidentally made a yarn over in your knitting without realizing it. But learning how to do a yarn over can open up so many possibilities.

Take a look at how to do a yarn over, plus what knitting a yarn over can do for your knitting.

Yarn overs for center increases in knitting

Yarn overs used in center increases

What the yarn over looks like

The yarn over isn’t shy. It stands out among other stitches, a hole in the middle of all kinds of beautiful knitting.

I recently attended the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair and purchased a color block shawl kit from Knitty and Color, a yarn company in Atlanta that has some unbelievably beautiful colors. Their simple color block shawl uses yarn overs to make increases in the triangle shawl both in the center of the shawl and along the edges. Check out the center of my in-progress shawl above and you’ll see pairs of yarn overs knitted up the center of the shawl. These yarn overs serve two purposes: they’re decorative, plus they make increases in the shawl. (We’ll talk about both of those later!)

How to make the yarn over

There are two types of yarn overs: one for knitting and one for purling. I’m going to show you how to do the yarn over for knitting.

Ready to make some holes in your knitting? Let’s do it!

1. Knit up to the point where you’d like the hole to appear (If you’re using a pattern, the pattern will tell you where the yarn over goes).

2. Wrap the yarn around your right needle from front to back.

How to knit a yarn over

Wrapping yarn for the yarn over

3. Hold on to that yarn as you insert your needle into the next stitch to knit as usual.

By making the yarn over, you’ve created an extra stitch on your needle.

What the yarn over does

Increases a stitch

We already saw that yarn overs create an extra stitch on your needle. Creating an extra stitch, of course, is a way to make an increase. In the case of my shawl, making those yarn overs in the center gives the shawl its triangular shape as I increase two stitches in the center on each right side row.

Yarn overs decorative edge in knitting

Yarn overs add a decorative edge to the shawl

Creates a gorgeous design

Why in the world would you want a hole in your knitting? Two words: lace knitting.

Sometimes, in lace knitting, there are lots of yarn overs in each row as part of the design. In that case, not all the yarn overs are used for increases. The yarn over will be followed by a SSK (slip, slip, knit) or K2tog (knit two together).

Courtney's Spiral Hat knitting pattern

Photo via instructors Kate Gagnon Osborn & Courtney Kelley

If you’ve ever looked at a lace knitting pattern, you’ve surely seen a lot of yarn overs in there. Check out the Spiral Hat pictured above. See those little holes in the body of the hat? Those are yarn overs, and they’re super simple to knit in the round.

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