No More “Front” and “Back”

February 5, 2020

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126 Comments
  • not sure this is worth a revolution. it is nice to better understand how knitting works, but it comes mostly with practice IMHO. I never found the instructions referred to confusing, and having them written in the new way would be fine too.

    • Very cool!

  • Interesting article and it doesn’t ‘change the look of the finished garment. I will try to remember RS and WS and hope pattern printers will soon catch on!

  • Yes!!! Your proposal makes things much clearer.

  • Woah! So much sense! Thanks Bristol. ☺️

  • Bravo! As one who doesn’t typically turn one’s work, but rather “knits back backwards” (for lack of a better explanation), this makes perfect sense and eliminates the extra step of translating the instructions!

    • Now we need an article on how to knit back backwards!

      • AGREED!!!!!!!

      • I have been doing that for years. Typically a right-handed knitter knits right to left on the right side rows. For wrong side rows, I don’t turn my work, I knit left to right, as a left-handed knitter would knit the right side rows.

    • A phrase better than “knits back backwards” is “knitting to and fro.” I learned this phrase from Joyce Williams, a wonderful knitter who attended Elizabeth Zimmermann’s /Meg Swansen’s knitting camp and wrote a book with Meg. Joyce was left-handed and when be taught beginning knitters she taught them to work with the public side of the fabric facing and always knitting – “knitting to and fro.” Sadly, Joyce is no longer with us.

      • I had no idea this could actually happen!
        Homework for me, discover knitting to and fro technique.

        • It has some nice effects: Every row is a RS row and you never turn your work. It’s especially nice for colorwork because you don’t tangle the ends turning! Now I feel like I should sit down and practice!

  • I concur. I have another example of this: ktbl: as i am right hand, taught by a left handed continental knitter and tension my yarn with my left hand all my stitches are already untwisted and positioned to be ktbl: it’s faster and neater.

    • I’m very curious about how you knit differently from me – a continental with yarn tensioned in left hand – I thought that was what continental meant. Clearly we knit differently because I don’t encounter your issue.

      • It has to do with how you work the purl stitches. It’s explained very well in “Little Red in the City” by Ysolda.
        It’s I think called combination knitting, and it makes it quicker and easier to work purl stitches, but it makes your stitches sit on the needle differently.

      • I had to envision this process in my feeble brain ( read this at 4 a.m……apparently our cats on EST). I think the RS/ WS feels correct! Where do I learn backwards or to and fro!!
        Thanks for making my day… phew, I thought my title was Trained Feline Chef!
        Kate

    • Yes, this so much! I’m a left-handed combination knitter and the amount of refiguring what I need to do with most patterns is quite something. I’m obviously used to it, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying, it just becomes a background annoyance instead a foreground one.

      As left-handed knitter I’d like to abolish talk about left and right needle in patterns too. Maybe we could talk about working and holding needles or something like that?

  • Hear! Hear! I second this motion!

    • I third it 🙂

  • So so good! I think this will be especially helpful for newer knitters. Or people who are new to a certain type of knitting like knitting a sweater for the first time. I see how this would help to further understanding of garment knitting in particular. We all learn in different ways. And there are different techniques that help some of us more than others. For those of us that are visual learners, myself included, this is brilliant. Because understanding what the knitting does is very important for me to understand what I am doing. It is also very helpful when needing to tink. Because if I know what the knitting is doing then I know how to undo it to fix a mistake. Thanks for the great insight!

    • Thank you for that well-thought, well-spoken comment.

    • I agree! I need to know the construction of what I’m knitting to successfully tink.

    • I agree, I think this could be helpful for newer knitters. I’m going to have to give some thought to this, because oftentimes directions in knitting ARE from the perspective of the knitter, and it would be hard to change things. Not impossible, but hard.

      I mean, how would this work with things like cables.

      I got to give this some thought, because I’m not quite sure I agree.

  • I like this very much! Entirely sensible, and completely logical

  • I like it. Also, isn’t RS/WS the terminology used elsewhere in the world?

    As a left handed knitter who knits left to right (mirror opposite of most knitters—my German mom sat across from me and I simply mimicked her motions), I’ve always had to read instructions carefully, decipher the goal for each action, and then flip the action as I knit.

    And thank you for using short rows as your example—just as I’m about to tackle an improvised short row sleeve cap on my husband’s cardigan.

    • I just want to pipe in as a fellow lefty and say here, here! My personal knitting revolution would be to stop referring to the right and left needles as such as I spend a not-small amount of time swapping those words in my head when reading/watching tutorials (and then when attempting the thing and then second-guessing the thing).

      Do I have a better solution? Probably not. I read something once that suggested using the term “working needle” and I really liked that but, I’ll admit, I’m too new of a knitter to know if that would actually work across all types of knitting styles. And I don’t know what I’d call the other needle if one is the Working Needle. The Needle of Holding? The Lazy One? I don’t think I have enough understanding of the knitting linguistics to suggest anything here!

      And as a new knitter, I also have to say thanks to Bristol for this post, it certainly made things clear from a construction point of view!!

      • How about project needle? Although I’m sure someone can come up with a better name.

      • Carson Demers, author of “Knitting Comfortable – the Ergonomics of Handknitting,” uses ther phrases “holding needle” and “working needle,” phrases I find very helpful when describing knitting techniques.

        • These are the terms – working and holding needle – I would prefer as a fellow leftie.

        • I am a okay with all of this!! Sounds like the article I read was on the right track with working needle! And I like holding needle! Frankly, anything that encourages people to stop telling me I should just learn how to knit right-handed instead of trying to figure it out left-handed would delight me. Left-handed and proud of it!

  • Right side, wrong side, front, back. I think these terms are interchangeable. It’s all in your perspective.

    • Ha ha, I had a similar internal talk lately, when I tried to understand if by “to the back”, while at the WS meant the WS or RS actually 😉 it would make life easier, less space for interpretation of what the designer had in mind. Especially in cases where both options make sense.

  • I’m in!!! That makes so much more sense to me! I think you might have even helped a few dyslexia knitters out there.

  • Thankk you for this! I teach beginning knitters regularly, and ‘front’ and ‘back’ vs.RS and WS is something they almost always find confusing. This is so much clearer.

  • GURRRL you ROCK!

    Most of my knitting happens while I’m riding a train, bus or subway.
    I sometimes have to “rewrite” my pattern instructions so that I don’t have to constantly flip to the ABBREVIATIONS which is usually on another page.

  • I’m curious what Bristol thinks about left-leaning vs. right-leaning decreases and increases on the front and back; those can be confusing because to make it right-leaning on the front, it needs to lean left on the back. (In my own mind, I tend to think of them as center-leaning or edge-leaning because that helps me to remember which way to work them on the back, and that it’s not fundamentally left vs. right, but a center-leaning decrease on the right edge of a piece would be worked differently than one on the left edge, so it doesn’t really fit this scheme!)

    • I’m totally with you on this one ☝️

      • Me, too! Leaning increases are very confusing to me.

    • I’ve never had a problem with wyif so whatever. But YES I do struggle with right and left leaning for exple when I want to decrease on a sleeve. Which one do I use before and after the marker? When I’m knitting cuff up? Shoulder down? I’d be way more excited to get clarity on that.

  • So what happens when you’re knitting a scarf/shawl/cowl that doesn’t really have a wrong side or a right side?

    • I was going to say that!

      • Me, too!

    • Your stitch marker designates which side you are considering the “right” side.

    • I like to take a length (about 15″) of cotton white yarn and tie a big bow, with the bow on the “public side” (what many peopler refer to as the “right side”). Don’t make a knot, just do a bow, putting the one “ear” of the loop through twice. This holds the bow well, but makes it easy to take out by just pulling on the two ends of the yarn.

  • If you have a sewing brain, ‘front’ inherently means the right side, ditto back/wrong. As in fabric – because in knitting you are creating a fabric.
    To follow your logic, we should also use the terms ‘proper left’ and ‘proper right’ when describing a garment. That would avoid confusion as well.

  • The voice of reason in a sea of confusion that will lead this knitter to calmer waters. Many thanks

  • YES!!! This is something I struggle with even being a seasoned knitter!

  • Okay, but maybe we’re overthinking this a bit? I don’t remember having trouble with the original wording, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed.

    • Front faces me, back is away from me when knitting. Took a long time to learn that because I kept thinking front was the side facing the public (good one mentioned by another commenter!). I hesitate about RS/WS what with instructions for RS and LS, of a garment, say, different meaning.
      In the RS/WS proposal, the R refers to the fashion side, the W to the hidden side. Words, words!

  • Great info – I spend lots of time in class helping knitters to understand the process. This will help! thanks!

  • I like this idea! Even though I’ve knit every day for at least 15 years, occasionally a “front/back” instruction still confuses me, at least momentarily, while my brain sorts out the difference between the front side of my work and the right side! Just referring to “right side” or “wrong side” would certainly fix that.

  • I’m with you sister!
    I had similar issue when pattern for button placket on sweater says “pick up stitches starting right side bottom”. Right side when I look at it? Right side when wearing it??? Confusing

  • I appreciate your creative thought, but I feel like you are rallying around a non-problem.

  • It would be no good for me. I confuse RS and WS because they both start with an R sound. I know it’s ridiculous but I have to think about it every time they’re mentioned in a pattern. I’m also the sort of person who when reading a map turns it round to orientate it to the way I’m facing, so Front and Back make complete sense to me.

    • I’ve confused RS and WS too because of the sound. Brains operate in different ways.

    • Me too, I convert them to “outside” and “inside”, and clip a marker to the “outside” for insurance. If I were smarter, I would also clip a tag on it that says which thing I am knitting, so I remember I’m knitting the right front, not the left front, say. Or which is the front of the sweater if I’m knitting top down. Bristol, you Rock!

    • Would FS (front side) and BS (back side) be better? To me they sound more different.

  • Hm. For one thing, I always love when people are pointing out how a stitch situation is actually working/playing out. I mean, the way I have always summarized these instructions is to look at them them and say “oh, yeah, so you’re wrapping the working yarn around the stitch you’re leaving alone and putting it back in the shelf and then flip and *knit/purl/work your way back” Which, in the end, is totally a fine way to describe the RESULT but not the action. It doesn’t tell you how to get there.

    I’ve found my biggest steps up in knitting have been my “trust the designer” moments, when I did not understand WHAT ON EARTH was supposed to be gonna go on with this thing, but just finally…did as instructed and “oh! sure! ok! cool.”. One was learning to bobble, and the instructions said *k1,p1,k1,p1,k1 into the next stitch” and I was just looking at it screaming “you can’t! That doesn’t make sense! It doesn’t work! Where is the secret information that explains this nonsense instruction!!!!?!?!?” Except of course you can. You knit into the stitch, then…you find you actually can purl into it, too, and if you keep going, suddenly you see how to get 5 loops into one loop. And the easiest way to tell someone to do it is…

    I’m knitting a Martin Storey pattern right now, too and it’s also a maze of directions that I have deciphered into ideas like “19 stitches in pattern then cable two columns, skip a column, cable one, skip one, cable on the other way…” But the best, clearest way to write it is Martin’s, even though it’s a long string of K1, *(p1,k1) 4(5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12) times, p2, c4f,….. Etc.

    One does have to follow along and do as told and learn by doing. There are leaps of faith. I think it’s interesting that some might be confused by “yarn to front” if they working on the back side of the fabric. I suppose one could also add the phrase “to the front of the working side” or “bring yarn to the ws (facing you)” I’m just as likely to re-question instructions that only give “ws” or “rs” because I would wonder “RS” of the FABRIC or “RS” relative to where I am working? And I would question myself again about whether I was currently working the right side and if I had been keeping track of it all properly all along…. And then I would begin to nickname the sides “dubya” and “rong” And then there needs to be another coffee, should I even post this comment?

    • “There are leaps of faith” or in other words for us knitters there are stitched leaps of faith. . . . literally.

    • Yes, excellent comment!

  • You say you want a revolution, I say thanks for the terminology evolution, looks to me like a real solution, oh yeah. [My Sirius radio is stuck on the Beatles channel.]

  • There’s a case for using “public side” vs “right side” or “front” too, although that would be much more cumbersome in terms of directions. I do say “public side” when explaining things, though… And when I read the title of this, I immediately thought of the front and back pieces of a sweater or garment, rather than a single piece of flat knitting 😉 But hey, I’m in. Anything to make things easier for those of us who knit in less conventional manners. Thanks Bristol!

  • Having been a knitter for close to 40 years now, I’m more concerned that the abbreviations and instructions are consistent between patterns and designers.

  • Brilliant!

  • Does the stitch direction change, depending on your style of stitching: Continental or what I call American Standard?

    • No. For most knitters.

  • I read the proposal, and I’m loving it. Quite intuitive. Now I’m wondering why this hasn’t been put into practice more often.

  • Sounds great!

  • Your explanation and proposal just makes so much better sense. I have always preferred the very few patterns that refer to right and wrong side of the work.

  • I disagree. Front and back from my perspective are perfectly clear as I knit. The problem for me is that many patterns neglect to specify which side the yarn is on during these maneuvers.

  • I’m quite happy with the front and back terminology. What I appreciate in patterns is lots of pictures close up, so that I can work out what it should look like. This way, I learn to read the knitting and make fewer mistakes, or notice them early enough so that correcting is much less onerous!
    I find lots of pattern abbreviations differ anyway so I have to study the instructions in advance of each project so that I can orientate myself to the designer’s style.

  • I am cool with the way it is – never seemed confusing. Guess it depends on how you learned.

  • The substitution of RS” and “WS” for “F” and “B” in stitch formation is a brilliant idea and is something I could easily adapt (though most of my “pattern writing” is for self-consumption). We are already accustomed to “ending with a WS row” notations in pattern work.

    But I’d liked to have seen that early in the article. For some reason, I was fixated on the bird’s-eye view notion and wondering how one would write pattern instructions to “look at your work from the top and bring the yarn under/over” every time a “front” or “back” instruction appeared.

    • I never understand what ending with a wrong side row means. Ending having just finished a wrong side row or ending with a wrong side row facing you? If it’s not stockinette I often have to read ahead and try to imagine the next few steps and backtrack. If this is a convention I’ve never come across it in any glossary so how would I know? Yay for patterns that specify this with “end with the right side facing you” or whatever.

      • End with wrong side row means end your knitting by knitting a wrong side row. Maybe think of it as the side that is with you.

      • Another Karyn here with the same quandary. I too always read ahead to see if it means knit the wrong side now or be ready to begin knitting it with the next instructions

  • Brilliant!!! Hope Bristol is sharing this with her fellow designers.

  • Oh, thank you! I had a lot of trouble with this when I re-started knitting. My LYS teacher has us put a locking stitch marker on the RS immediately after casting on, regardless of what you are knitting. I’m now knitting the Wanderlust socks but the short-row section was confusing to me. I had to check a couple of reference books to correctly work the heel.

  • After reading this, whatever idea I had about finally learning to knit after 35 years of crochet…lost like a fart in the wind.

    • Oh, no! Just do it! For what it’s worth, based on the comments many of us have never been confused by this particular issue. Also crochet has to have terminolgy for this as well. I haven’t crocheted a garment in almost 50 years.

  • Totally for this, though I think “RS” and “WS” should also be renamed! There’s no wrong side!

    • And that another “ant hill” altogether.

  • I have often found front and back to confuse me! I frequently stop Nd differentiate front, RS, back and WS. This is the first thing I have learned to check when I find “misunderstandings” in my knitting I delighted that some folks require no clarification but those of us who do would certainly enjoy the specifcity!

  • My head just exploded from this concept! Brilliant!

  • Grinnellians are ever fascinated by revolution – in the classroom, in the world, or on the needles. Good on ya, Bristol!

  • That’s much more complicated to me. Instead of just following a simple instruction (front and back, which is as clear as it gets when knitting), you’d have to constantly be aware of what side you were on, and how to adjust the instructions to that row. Would drive me nuts.

  • Brilliant! I hope this catches on quickly.

  • Yea, been wishing for a better wording for years. Looking forward to other designers joining you in using this new wording.

  • I absolutely love this! Yes i am in. This will eventually save designers and moderators thousands of hours in replying to emails asking for clarifications! Thank you!!!

  • Also agree with comments about understanding the stitches. Self taught knitter, via YouTube, and I must say that when being told -This is how you do it…with no explanation. That does not do it for me in knitting, or any other set of instructions either. Once I understand a stitch pattern, I can better modify things to fit me and also fix mistakes, most often without having to frog entire sections, or call in the troops for help.

  • YES! Making it clearer is always good!

  • Good point in an essay, but that is not something that has ever confused me in a pattern. And I am easily confused.

  • I learned that front and back was in relation to the needle not the fabric. Yarn in front of the needle or yarn in back of the needle. For me changing it would be more confusing.

    • Good point. That’s how I think of it as well.

    • I agree. RS and WS refer to the fabric you are producing. Front and back refer to the position of the yarn relative to the needle and the stitch you are making. Clear as day to me. I’ve been knifing over 60 years and currently belong to two guilds with knitters – not only have I never had a problem with it, I’ve never encountered a knitter who has. Don’t over-think it. Don’t “fix” what isn’t broken.

    • I agree with you all – front and back is in relation to the needle. I’ve not had a problem with this. Public/right side would tend to complicate the instructions. This change seems more useful to the person designing than to the person following the instructions.

  • This makes so much sense!

  • Also, this makes converting patters from flat knitting to in-the-round much easier! No need to keep track of which are the odd vs. even numbered rows. Similarly,, recasting grafting instructions to “inside” and “outside” rather than “knitwise” and “purlwise” is ever so kuch easier for me to get my head around

  • There is value in drawing a distinction between relative and perfect position, especially with cabling. Maybe new knitters working on their first scarves see the extra jargon as unnecessary, but if someone is comfortable reading “k3, sl1wyif, ktbl” I’m pretty sure they know that purls are backwards knit stitches and that doing something backwards on WS stockinette will make it match the front. All you would accomplish with this revolution is to make it so people can’t understand historic patterns.

  • I’m in. Understanding how & why you’re doing something is always a good thing.

  • I like it! Intuitive and orienting! As a knit teacher of some years, I agree this could relieve teachers of that particular introductory vocabulary lesson and begin the process of understanding st construction.

    What happens when a new knitter is working a reversible stitch pattern; in knit (or purl ) garter, and begins the second – WS – row? Can you imagine a brand new knitter trying to figure out where to put the working yarn to make that first stitch?

    Hmmm. But I like the idea.

  • Yes!!! Having spent hours wondering “which front?” this would clear things up!!

  • Have fun rewriting patterns . The muscle memory remains the same. Knit ,Knit Knit, Knit oh what a relief it is.

  • I often knit ambidextrously (not turning my work) when doing simple knit/purl. I might do that for harder work if the instructions were written in the way you suggest! It takes too much work for me to translate new stitches into mirror image AND front/back…so for now, it’s just knit and purl.

  • Oh Bristol, I love you! This makes so much sense to me. I have always hated wrap-&-turn short rows. It is confusing to me, and my knitting never looks right. Thus, I avoid them like the plague whenever possible or head to my LYS for help.

    I needed to know why. I love your patterns now more than ever. Thank you.

    • PS I’ve done a lot of knitting, all different stitches and stitch patterns. This has been my nemesis.

    • I have abandoned the wrap and turn forever…German short rows from now on!

  • Great idea; makes it much clearer. I always like to understand exactly what needs to be done and this makes it clear.
    But, the language I would love to have changed is the use of “right” side and “wrong” side. I use “right” as the opposite of “left.” I much prefer the phrases “public” side and “private” side. I rarely use the term “wrong” when teaching or discussing knitting. Just because someone does something different from how I would do it doesn’t mean it is “wrong.” It is only “wrong” if the knitter is not happy with the results.

    Happy designing and knitting. Keep up the great discussions.

  • This makes perfect sense to me. I always place a marker on the front to enable me to work in this way

  • Love the idea would make short rows for this beginner to them much easier. Hope it catches on. You did a very smart thing here.

  • This article cleared up slot for me, excellent ideas. Thanks

    • Just as an add, I have recently been considering quiting knitting because my last few projects have been almost done and then kinda taken on a life of their own and the feeling of failure sets in. I will try your new techniques on next one.

  • YES! I started knitting as a self taught combination knitter and almost gave up knitting because my stuff never came out right. Understanding what your stitches are supposed to look like is key.

  • Understanding what is needed to be constructed is important! Pictures always help, words are then unnecessary!

  • Thank you! I had never really thought about this until I was knitting the Beloved Hat by Tin Can Knits. A lovely, straightforward pattern. But slipping two stitches purlwise with yarn in front was an automatic move for me…and then I realized that one edge looked different…not bad, just different. Commenters in the pattern mentioned this and suggested moving the yarn differently than instructed. Yes, please continue to share this with the designer community.

  • One term for one thing. Makes sense to me!

  • I could go either way here – never had a problem with this as the pattern usually reminds me if I am on a WS or RS to begin the following instructions. The instruction that kills me is “end with/on a RS/WS row. I always fret about whether “end with” means end having just finished, or end about to begin. It would be so much more clear to say, “stop at the end of a WS row”.

  • I always thought that in front and back was relative to the needles not the side of the work. I think this because when you first learn to purl you are told to bring the yarn in front. In front of what? The needles. So I guess it matters what the intended point of relativity is. I never assumed it was the work, but that could just be me.

  • I’ve never found “front” and “back” to be confusing. I am looking at my knitting from the same place–all the time–and front will always be front, from where I am, and back will always be back. I think the suggested terminology will introduce confusion whenever it isn’t clear what the public/right side of the knitting is and what the non-public/wrong side is.

  • June Hemmons Hiatt discusses similar terminology in her book, The Principles of Knitting. She makes the point that right is the opposite of wrong and right is the opposite of left.

  • It sounds like you’ve already started the revolt! They’re your designs so go for it! Personally the traditional pattern writing makes sense to me. Better yet are patterns that are charted.

  • Why not go all the way and just knit in the round, keeping the RS facing the knitter? If you want seams, do EZ’s Phoney Seams, which give beautiful definition without bulk.

  • Yes!!!! This makes so much more sense to me!!!

  • I would greatly appreciate this. I hope you have a way to promote it. I knit Russian style and frequently have to convert patterns to fit the way I knit. Patterns are written the way the author knits, not the various ways the world knits. I also have trouble dealing with back and front loops. I need to know legs, as one is always a little more forward than the other and I always use the front leg. I also need to know if an increase/decrease is left or right leaning in order to convert. Right and wrong sides, front and back legs and left and right leaning are universal terms with many ways to get the same result. Thank you and keep spreading the word.

  • This would make life so much easier as some designers refer to RS as the side facing you at the time. AAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!