Picking and Grinning: How Your Knitting Style Affects Gauge and Fabric

January 2, 2019

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145 Comments
  • That is fascinating! I know each of my hands has its own tension, which makes color work difficult, but I am definitely going to try pulling from the inside/outside to help! Thanks!

    • I was thinking exactly what Maggie said. I always wondered why my dominant color in colorwork always looked a smidge looser than my background color (it only looks different to someone staring very critically at it – namely me, the difference is very subtle) but thought it was a weird optical illusion. Now I get it. I will also try the inside/outside trick.

      • Here on MDK there is a “How To” from A Year of Techniques with tips and a link to a video by Jen Arnall-Culliford that I found to be a great help.

        • In my understanding, that’s part of the intended effect of dominance, you want it a tad looser to pop out, that’s why you have it closer to your needle..

    • Oh. My. Gosh. Huge help! Thank you!!! I’m a picker. And a spinner. And I pull from the center. I just knit my first pieces from my handspun and wondered why my yarn was getting more twist than when I wound it.

  • Amazing and incredibly useful information. Thanks so much!

  • Absolutely fascinating, and great information to have. Thank you!

  • A very insightful article. I, too, am a spinner and had noticed a difference, but didn’t add it up.

  • Hooray for another excellent article. Thank you so much for the tape measure image! It will make describing this phenomena to other knitters make more sense. You’re the very best. Happy New Year xo

  • Thank you for this clear explanation. I’ve been knitting a long time and just love to learn something new. I’ve seen this explained in bits here and there but you’ve tied it all together.so well.

  • Thanks for the interesting and educational read!

  • This is so fascinating. I am a thrower. I used to pull from the outside of the cake and now have started to pull from the inside of the cake. I wonder if this has helped me with my gauge, as the number of needle sizes I go down typically has seemed to descrease.

  • This is a great piece. It clearly illustrates what I already knew, but have trouble explaining to others in a convincing way. Over the years i have become obsessive about twist and how to harness it to our advantage, so thank you.
    (I am a thrower who knits from round, hand wound balls that usually get to roll around on their own as I knit)

    • Most often, I throw but not in a totally typical way (elements of lever knitting are mixed in, I think) but like you, always I hand-wind skeins into balls. I’ve often wondered whether winding method (by hand vs a ball-winder vs neither for a commercial put-up Into yarn cakes) affects the yarn twist. Also, when I break the knot and start hand winding a skein, I’ve wondered, does it matter which direction I go, clockwise or counterclockwise? The author talked only about stitch gauge, but where I usually have trouble is matching row gauge of a pattern; would that be affected by yarn twist too? Perhaps I should pay more attention and do the experiments to find these things out!

      • That is a good question, when loading a skein onto the swift, does it matter which way it spins onto the ball winder? After reading this, I’m thinking, yes. Input anyone?

        • It doesn’t. Working side to side from the side of the skein to the side of the yarn cake doesn’t add twist. I’ll do a post about it!

      • When hand winding into a ball you do increase or decrease twist a little. When winding from a skein to a cake you don’t. It has to do with working side to side skein to yarn cake vs applying the yarn to a ball by hand. It sounds like I’ve got another post to do!

      • Hand winding tends to add or subtract twist with the motion of winding. Working side to side from a swift to a ball winder tends not to add twist because the yarn is moving laterally. It sounds like the topic of another post!

        • Ellen, you could start winding centre pull balls, there great YouTube videos on that topic…

  • Another genius bit of information – I love these articles.

  • Great article- especially timely for me since I am currently knitting in the round in stockinette and have been alternating rows of picking and throwing. It’s just something I do. My picking is definitely looser than my throwing and I almost always work from the center of a center pull cake. So much more to think about now.

    • My understanding was that picking gives a looser tension than throwing, but like a few other responders I think I am a combination of a thrower/lever action knitter – the looser tension thing with continental knitting is really putting me off colourwork [I am a loose knitter already].

      • I thought the same?! My English friends definitely knit tighter than my continental gauge…at one stage I was sharing knitting wrist warmers for a group with an English friend (we always did one each) and I had to give her .5 bigger needles to match my gauge…

      • I find my picking looser as well since my non-dominant left hand just doesn’t want to tension the yarn as well as my right. This is totally aside from the twisting/un-twisting issue affecting gauge.

      • I am a continental knitter and actually am a tight knitter.

        • Me too! – continental and tight knitter. I always have to go up in needle size to get gauge. However, I prefer to have a tighter tension anyway, just so the needles help make the stitch size and shape consistent. I’m quite OCD about my work looking even. 😀

  • I knit english lever with the right hand. Does it have the same effect as throwing with the right hand?

    • I’m wondering the same thing. I’m also a lever knitter. I’m thinking that there may be different considerations for straights vs. circs because those techniques are so different with this knitting style.

    • I don’t know, but I have a friend that’s a lever knitter. I’ll watch her knit and her twist and let you know!

      • What is a “Lever knitter?”

    • I have a lever knitting friend, I’m going to go stare at her while she knits and let you know!

      • Thank you!

    • I knit English Lever, also, and have a special yarn hold I have used many years. I find my knitting tension to be very consistent with this hold. Before, as a thrower without a good ‘hold’ on the yarn, my work looked amateurish and uneven by comparison. Now it looks like machine work.

      Picking is not as consistent, particularly with purl stitches, due to arthritis and thumb-purling, so any picking I do is only knit stitches, and I use the same (reversed) hold on the yarn.

      As for this enlightening article about winding yarn and/or pulling yarn… I have seen how hand-winding and/or center pull (OR BOTH, YIKES!!!) makes the yarn more tightly wound. Once in a while that’s a good thing, but mostly NOT.

      THANK YOU Jillian Moreno for this great information!!! I am passing the link on to my other knitting friends.

  • After reading this, I have learned I now need to commit to throwing or picking before I begin a project. On occasion I would mix the two to give my hands a break. But not anymore. Thank you for this insightful article.

    • Same – I knit throwing and purl picking to allow both hands to take the load. I’m not a perfectionist … but have knitted several very fine sweaters this way. I have only done a tiny bit of color work, so don’t know how this would work in that setting.

  • Fascinating. I will now look at my knitting in a very different way.

  • As ever, right on time, sorting my endlessly wonky fiber quandaries. Thank you!

  • This might be the most interesting and helpful article I’ve read. Thank you!

  • Hello! What are your thoughts about wrapping the yarn clockwise/counter clockwise to change the twist/untwisting of the yarn when picking/throwing.

    For example, would picking with a clockwise wrap help prevent the yarn from untwisting? Or some other the other pick/throw, clockwise/counterclockwise & center/outside pull combination that would help keep the yarn from untwisting?

    Thanks for your time!

  • Fascinating. We’ll do anything to justifying playing with fiber. I went as far as getting a small flock of sheep. I used to knit occasionally and now having beautiful softest yarn I knit 24/7. I also knit continental style. I was taught by my mom “in the old country”. Even made a quick video on how to knit continental style.
    You can search for it on you tube “continental knitting buffalogirlsdesign”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tk99zeQ71nQ&app=desktop
    Cheers and happy new year!

    • The video shows a recipe????

  • Thanks for the article, enjoyed it and definitely learned a few things. I’m a thrower. I never thought my fabric looked funky, but it does explain a few things. I recently knitted some socks using the same pattern, same needles but the second pair seemed to knit up bigger. Differnt yarns. I also always pull my yarn from the outside. I think I’ll start pulling from the inside.

  • Loved the visual with the tape measure. I’m going to share this with my knitting group tomorrow.

  • This is such useful information. Thank you. I am a picker and have such loose tension and large swatches compared to the pattern that I have to use needles two sizes smaller at minimum. Is there a way to drastically shrink gauge? Should I become a thrower?

    • If you are happy and comfortable with your knitting method, don’t change it. Just change the needle size to get the required gauge.

  • Incredible! Answers so many questions. Thank you.

  • The thrown swatch almost looks like it was knit on the bias — it’s a parallelogram. What’s the explanation for that?

  • This was a fascinating article. I knit eastern uncrossed ( like continental but you wrap yarn in the opposite direction and enter your stitches from the back, really natural if you are also a crochet practitioner) and alway find i need to drop the needle size to get the gage. I also find some yarns very splitty when my friends do not. I think this article finally solved the mystery for me. Will need to pay attention to the quality of the twist from now on.

  • Fascinating, thank you. I just recently moved from pulling from inside to pulling from outside so as not to get ‘yarn barf’ at some point in the cake. I guess I’ll just switch back.

    People have urged me to switch to picking for years to get faster, but I think (at 60) that throwing is most comfortable. However, I think I will switch to throwing two strands off one finger, as that will even my gauge out considerably.

    Thanks so much for these tips–things I would never have thought about!

    • Continental is not necessarily faster. Watch a YouTube video of Hazel Tindall.

  • I’ve been knitting for a very long time and I never knew this.
    Thanks!

  • I am a new spinner and value your expertise. I actually taught myself to knit and I throw with my right hand. I imagine since I am still throwing it will still loosen the twist. I wonder if I should spin counter clockwise and ply clockwise. What would you suggest. Those is some cases it is probably a good thing since some of my yarns are a bit over spun;) Working on that:)

    • I do know spinners who counteract their knitting twist issues, but spinning in the opposite direction. Try it an see if it works for you, but make sure to label your bobbins (ask me how I know) so you don’t get lost in the process and spin and ply in the same direction!

  • As a person who is constantly complaining about her rowing out problem, I can now prove to my friends that I am not crazy and that there is a reason this is happening! And to know that there is something I can do about it is positively mind blowing. I have been knitting, literally, forever and have never heard about this.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Thanks so much for the information. I’ve never gone from the ball band and I always go down a needle size to start finding my gauge. But I had no idea what the twist could do to my gauge. And I’m a total geek when it comes to gauge because it determines the size of the article. Can you tell that I was taught the EZ way ?
    Thanks for the information and Green Mountain Spinnery is having a sale !

    • Fascinating! I’m an English/Thrower, and evidently do it in the “lever” style, which is something I’d never heard of before, so I’ve just learned two new things. I usually pull from the middle of the cake, but for my current project I’m pulling from the outside because of how I wanted the color to flow in the finished piece… there’s very little twist in the yarn, and I think I would have re-wound it and pulled from the middle if I’d know about the effect on the twist.

      Thanks!

  • Great piece! So interesting.

  • I never knew! Thank you.

  • On a recent project I knit with handspun, one skein was badly under-plied compared to the other three (naughty spinner, no cookies). I *should* have gotten the wheel back out and fixed it properly. I *did* wind it into a ball, then wind it again pulling from the center, then pull from the center as I knitted, which got it close enough…

  • How about us lefties? I’m normally a thrower, and I’ve had all kinds of random issues with gauge and appearance/hand of my fabrics. But–I just started to knit on a project that my mom started 20 years ago and never finished, a baby blanket that’s now going to be a lap blanket for her. My left-handed mom, it turns out, knit righty, so I just figured out how to knit righty, too, only I pick when I knit in that direction. Now, I’m really confused! My gauge and the appearance of my knitting are all over the place! Can anyone help? Thanks!

  • Thank you for this! I experienced it when switching to Continental a few decades ago, after 25 years of throwing, learning at age five. There was no Internet then, only EZ, and I followed her guidance to learn to pick. I learned the hard way that my gauge became much looser, and just thought it was me. Being left handed, had heard that my whole life. I even had a couple of less-experienced knitters tell me to go back to throwing so I could ‘get gauge’. Ha! I decided I liked the speed, and just bought smaller needles. I have an over abundance of 3s and 4s. I really appreciate your taking the time to share this in such a coherent way

  • Thank you! Finally I understand why I have such tension problems with color work! I pick with one strand and throw with the other and the fabric is always lumpy – much too tight in some spots and too loose in others. Now I know what the problem is, I will be able to come up with a solution and restart a few abandoned projects.

  • So what happens when I put a store bought yarn, such as Red Heart, on my ball winder and turn it into a cake? Does starting with the inside vs outside of the original skein affect how twisted the yarn is in the cake? Does this then change the effect of your knitting method?

  • I am a left handed knitter that gas had to teach myself how to knit my way (left)…. Nearly ALL books, patterns, etc are written for right handed people and I am so glad I’ve discovered your postings. A lot of the terminology goes over my head. Consequently, I stick with Afghans , blankets, scarves, etc so I am not concerned with focusing on the gauge of items. Your posts are very informative and I am learning much more from you. Thanks.

    • I am also left-handed and when my right-handed mother taught me when I was 12 – 57 years ago, I said “Don’t forget that I’m left-handed.” She said “it doesn’t matter if you’re left or right handed when knitting.” She taught me what was called “German” knitting back then – which is continental/picking. It works out great for me since my left hand controls the yarn. I would think picking is the ideal method for us lefties.

  • Excellent visuals. Confirms what this life-long “picker” & 1-handed strander suspected.

  • Whoa! This explains so much about why my knitting looks like it does. I also learned to knit throwing my yarn & switched to Continental many years ago. I’m going swatch using both styles & see where I fall out.

  • Great article. However…. the loosely plied and spun yarn is done that way to keep it as soft as possible. Coarser wool, with “teeth” as you put it, benefits by not spinning too tightly. This is learned from me, as a handspinner.

    • Yes that is one reason to spin and ply loosely! But commercial yarn mills do it to stretch yardage too.

  • I LOVE that you took the time to suss this all out and share!

  • I wonder how Portuguese style knitting works in all this. I know it is different. I switched to this style when the arthritis in my hands got too bad for me to knit comfortably (I always knit Continental before) and it really helped. But I found, at first at least, that one side of a knit “V” was longer than the other. I don’t know about the twist, though.

    • Wondering (and asking) the same question…

    • I was a thrower 30 years ago, gave up knitting, and took up Portuguese knitting about two years ago. I love knitting again! I also wonder what effects this style knitting means because the knit stitch has an extra twist. Maybe that’s why my purl stitch is much more loose.
      I’ve always pulled yarn from the inside.
      Great article though!

  • Hallelujah! I always noticed that my knitting looked extra twisted and I had my suspicious. Now I know! ImI a picker and center puller. Thanks for the enlightenment!

  • One of the most helpful articles I’ve read. I never understood why my knitting (picking) looked so different from all of my friends. I now know to pull from the outside of a ball, rather than the inside. THANK YOU!!!

  • Great article! I really love learning about the way yarn works lately. I wonder if as a flicker, I fall under the thrower category since I hold the yarn in my right hand and the yarn is still moved around the needle instead of picked??

  • Great article. Thank you.

  • Like everyone else here has already written, this is simply fascinating. I normally pull from the center of pull skeins, and I pick (Continental) but I still have to go down 1-2 needle sizes to get gauge. Right now, I am knitting two socks at a time, and I accidentally started one from the center of its ball, and the other from the outside. So I will be studying them to see if I can see a difference. With #1 needles, it may be tight enough to not show. I’ll find it very amusing if one sock is slightly longer than the other! But then, my left foot is slightly longer than my right, so I could have just discovered how to make ULTRA custom fit socks for myself. Thank you for this very informative post.

  • This was fascinating and enlightening. I never would have thought of this. I had some inkling about gauge difference between throwing and picking. I’m going to try picking in my next sock project. That would be a good comparison since I knit a lot of socks. Also stranded colorwork! No wonder it looks wonky. I use both hands to do the color work and the gauge is off. I just say to myself “No worries it’ll block out”. But it doesn’t really. I’m going to do colorwork picking style next time. This makes me so happy! Improving my technique is so rewarding.

  • This makes so much sense! It is frustrating to buy an $11 ball of yarn and have it separate. Makes the knitting look sloppy for sure. Thank you!

  • Thank you for the explanation as to why this continental knitter prefers to knit from the outside of the cake.

  • Did I misunderstand something? Your comparison swatches suggest that throwing results in a tighter gauge, but the text suggests the opposite. I’m confused, thanks.

    • No she says, throwing is looser (not my experience, though!)…

  • How interesting I’m flicker . Ie not continental, not English thriw. I believe its Peruvian style… What do you think happens to the Yarn please?

  • Facinating! I’d been told about the tendency of loose vs tight in the different styles but never knew why. Once I also was told not to do the inside and ouside of the skein, but again never knew why. So now you’ve increased my dilemmna as a new-to-stranding knitter if I should continue with 2 hands because it’s supposed to be good for my addled brain, or do as you and the original fair islers do and pick all off one hand. Thank you!

    One query, I’m a picker and as you say have been told that’s a faster way to knit, yet I thought I’d read that Lily Chin wins fastest knitter as a thrower?

    • Hazel Tindall is the World’s Fastest Knitter. I recommend the YouTube video that includes slow-motion so you can actually see what’s happening. She’s amazing!

  • Jillian, Thanks for the in depth information. I’m a picker, usually from inside the cake, and I do sometimes contend with over twist.
    Another thing I noticed looking at your swatches- the picked swatch looks like your purl rows are slightly looser- but not on the throwing swatch. I wonder what’s going on there? I had that problem a lot until I started using Ysolda Teague’s method of scooping the purl instead of wrapping it, then knitting into the back on the other side. (Basically it’s just taking the yarn around the needle the other way). I also got quicker on purl rows and ended some tendon pain I was having.
    I’m always curious about the way people hold their yarn when they knit, and I’ve definitely learned a lot from it.
    Your articles always teach me so much and foster my curiosity. Thank you.

  • This is the most concise, practical explanation of this that I have ever read. The tape measure photo is truly worth 1000 words! Very well done!

  • I think we all want to learn even more about twist: all the why and how!

  • Fantastic article! I’m a thrower, and have always taken from the inside, however also being left handed i lose a lot of time trying to unwid/relax the yarn, would I notice any difference if i took from the outside, or will my kakky handed knitting always be my undoing?

  • I’m a thrower but trying to convert to portuguese style. These old hands need a break sometimesl so I’m trying to hedge my bets. I also wonder what if your yarn isn’t in a cake and/or you don’t wind it into one? Sometimes I hand wind into a ball but I don’t use my winder any more and rarely wind my yarn at all. If it comes in a cake, great. If not, oh well.

  • I see 2 other people have commented wondering about Portuguese knitting, as am I. I am a crocheter turned knitter but I could not knit continental for the life of me! Possibly because I run the yarn to far down my finger. Or maybe it was hard because I started as a tight knitter. (I was a tight crocheter too in the beginning). Maybe a combination of the two…. Regardless, now I’m going to have to take a closer look at some of my knitting. LOL

  • Fascinating. I’m wondering, how would this relate to a Portuguese knitter (with the yarn held around the neck/on a knitting pin)? The yarn gets wraped around the right needle to form the new stitch by using the left thumb. Would that be the equivalent of picking or throwing?

  • Thank you! Very informative….There’s something else different in your throwing and picking swatches: you have horizontal “lines” in your continental swatch, obviously your tension in knitting iand purling is different. Maybe because you learned later? You might want to try different purling methods to even this out…

  • Thank you! Love reading about structure.

  • Thank you!! I learned to spin because I wanted to understand why yarn did certain things when I knit it. I love that you demonstrate and can teach about yarn like this(reminds me of Alton Brown. I love Alton Brown so please take it as a complement). I always thought it was a yarn thing. Who knew it was also a my knitting style. Thanks I will definitely keep it in mind when I want nonwonky fabric.

  • Oooh! Very interesting! And comforting to know that I have been unknowingly compensating for throwing by pulling from the center of a cake/ball. Thanks!

  • This is an interesting article about how your knitting style can add or subtract twist, especially with color work.

    The example with the tape measure, likewise for a yarn ball, however is incorrect. If you continue to pull the tape measure from the outside it will begin to twist also. There is a smaller diameter when pulling from the center which shows the twist more quickly. It will twist in a different direction depending on whether pulling from the center or outside. The only way to prevent adding or subtracting twist is to turn the tape measure, or yarn ball, or cone on it’s side and pulling off. A skein holder which twists will also work, if you pull to the side, not straight up, and allow it to turn.

    I believe, if you were to “turn over” a skein it would unwind in the opposite direction. But, I haven’t tested that yet.

    Thank you for listening to a retired analytical chemist knitter. 🙂

  • Brilliant as always!!

  • As a thrower, I’ve often been really upset with myself when yarn untwists. It’s a relief to know that it’s not necessarily all my fault!

  • Great explanation and demo. Thank you for pointing this out and giving suggestions on how to accommodate the throwing/picking style and what might happen to our gauge.

  • Wow! Thank you so much, always thought my squares were wonky because I’m left handed. Given up on trying to improve my tension and decided last year that I’d stick to developing new techniques and trying patterns that I might previously of filed away. This year I’m now going to have a go at ‘picking’.

  • Interessant article! I myself am a picker, finding it much quicker and more comfortable than throwing.
    The question I have is what the influence of knitting RS and purling WS does. In my case the purl stitch is tighter than my knit stitch, getting a result what seems to be the same as your swatch on the right side. I solved the problem using a size up needle for the knit stitches.
    What is your opinion about that?

  • Amazing that someone figured this out. Last year I started picking my knit row and throwing my purl row. some of the legs on my stitches look really wonky. I don’t know what causes this. Maybe the wine.LOL It makes me wonder if I should go back to throwing.

  • Great article! I love tech stuff. Here’s a question: I’m a picker, but I throw left-handed when I knit back backwards. What happens to the twist then? My sense is that it doesn’t change.

  • I’ve been knitting for almost 57 years continental ie picking. I also noticed that my purl rows where a little looser than the knit rows. Now I fix that by knitting backwards in an odd way; by keeping the yarn on my left index finger and using my right index finger I flick the yarn between the needles but the shorter way ie from underneath. This allows me to knit backwards a little faster than straight throwing. It’s also a way of doing the eastern uncrossed way of knitting. It does look a little odd but gives a bit more speed when purling. I’ve told that I knit and purl rather fast but straight throwing is painfully slow for me. The pattern I’m knitting has me knitting stocking stitch generally 11 sts and 6 stitches either end. Turning the work for this short bit is ludicrous. That’s why I decided to throw backwards- the flick with my right finger came naturally and just speeded this whole thing up. By the way, the pattern is the Summit shawl from Knitty.com

  • Thank you, I always wondered if yarn had a nap. I wondered if it mattered if you used it inside to outside on one skein and then mixed it up on another and now I know it affects the twist.

  • When I knit continental, my gauge gets even looser! I usually pull from the inside which theoretically would be extra tight. Not sure how that works!

  • Um, life changing. Thank you for explaining one of the great life mysteries of all time (well, at least one of the great knitting mysteries). Thank you!

  • I am currently struggling with tension on a 2 color project. I realized holding the colors one in each hand was giving me erratic tension. I can’t quite master continental with both colors in my left hand. Any advice?

    • I like to hold both yarns in my right hand with different strands over different fingers and throw.

  • how did you approach learning to pick? I am a slooow thrower — but have not found a good source to learn to pick. (I’m sure it’s the source right :)) it can’t be my impatience…..

  • I’m an English knitter. I almost always get gauge. I have come to dislike pulling from inside the ball because you so often start with a tangle and end with a tangle as it ccollapses into itself. My stitches are usually pretty even. I’m not as skilled at Continental knitting but will use it for color work, which I don’t do very often. Then I use one color for each hand and use a tricky style of wrapping the yarn so I don’t have to stop to twist the yarns. The knitting does look a bit uneven, but that usually resolves when it’s blocked. As a spinner I tend to under-twist the singles and overtwist the ply.

  • Check this out! Two knitters one swatch. I was reintroducing a friend to knitting. She’d learned as a child. we both knit Continental style. I cast on with a size 8 needle and knitted a few rows, then I gave it to her to keep going. Her portion is so much looser than mine.

    I just had to post this. https://www.ravelry.com/projects/NinaK/swatch

  • Thank you Thank you Thank you!!! I was always wondering why my knitting did not make gauge, what was going wrong. I am new to continental but going to try picking more.!!!

  • Well, that explains a lot. Now I know why I get two wildly different socks when knitting 2 at a time. I’m a picker too and knit both from the same ball of yarn. Good to know.

  • Holy MOLY that is just fascinating! Isn’t knitting the most marvellous thing! I throw, and I pull from the center of the cake (or ball, yay nostepinne). I almost always match the gauge on the pattern, too, so there’s that. It’s been ages since I did the two handed stranded, but now I will watch for the magic.

  • Thank you for this marvelous information! I’ll try not to obsess too much.

  • Really interesting and informative! I am actually a flicker, so I wonder where I fall in this equation??

  • Hi. I am a Brazilian knitter and I am part of a knitter Group. I loved your article! It’s só helpful for all knitter! And I want to translate to portuguese and publish (Wish all crédits for you, of course) in our Page on facebook. If you allow my solicitariam, please, let me know. Thanks. Ann Elyse Santos, membro of Tricota Curitiba Group of Knitters.

  • A friend shared this on Facebook, and I’m really glad he did. That’s extremely helpful!
    Except for the clockwise / counterclockwise part – I’m now used to thinking of it in terms of S/Z twist. 🙂 (Which is, in my opinion, far more descriptive because with the clock direction it kind of depends on which direction you’re looking at the yarn along the length, whereas the shape of the twist remains the same from all directions…)
    I’m in continental Europe and therefore obviously a picker, and this explains a lot to me concerning the two different styles, and also possibly concerning a historical pair of socks that I’d been staring at a photo of, trying to determine why it looks so different from a decade newer pair from the same area… maybe, for some reason, the 1870s knitter was a thrower and the 1880s knitter was a picker!

  • As a crocheter become spinner become knitter, there’s a bit more to it – yarn itself can be twisted either clockwise or anticlockwise. This is known as S-twist or Z-twist, and you tell which it is by looking at whether the individual strands match the diagonal direction of an S or a Z!

    As you pointed out – most commercial yarns are clockwise, and as a right-handed crocheter, that tightens the yarn, so I learned to spin to make my own, and keep an eye out for anti-clockwise yarns for softer fabric.

    However, to add another spanner into the works, if you use a ball winder to convert a hank/skein into a ball, it depends on *both* which way you turn the crank *and* whether you pull the middle end of the yarn out the top or bottom as to whether it adds extra clockwise or anticlockwise twist! (Pulling off the outside, esoespecia using a yarn bowl, is negligible as it rolls around and counters most extra twist.)

    Using full on nerdery, or at least comprehensive notes, means you can figure out what combination of yarn twist, ball winding, and side of the ball (relative to the direction it’s wound) will impact extra twist least. Or to exaggerate it for a specific style you want!

    • As a longtime spinner, I agree regarding which end of the ball you pull from. If you look down on a ball and see that it’s wound clockwise, you’ll notice that it’s wound counter-clockwise if you flip it over. If you want to subtract a bit of twist from most commercial plied yarns, pull from the end that has the clockwise wind as you look down on it. Pulling off the ouside of a stationary ball is no different from pulling from the center — it just doesn’t look so dramatically twisted because the circle is bigger.

  • This is great! I learned so much and your writing is quirky and fun! Thanks for the tips.

  • I found this article fascinating and very helpful. Thanks so much for a wonderfully written piece.
    One thought. It seems to me the if you continue to pull the tape measure from the outside, it’ll twist just as the tape pulled from the inside. It’s not as tightly wound on the outside but the ultimate result will be the same.
    See this article just before the Conclusion.
    http://techknitting.blogspot.com/2011/01/ball-winders-part-2-avoiding-yarn-twist.html

  • Excellent writing and photos!

  • This is super helpful, and explains the my “V”s (I’m a thrower) have always looked lopsided, regardless of my needle size. I suspected it had something to do with throwing, but would never have guessed it was also the yarn. Thank you!

  • I have been knitting with an alpaca yarn recently that has been giving me fits! I am a picker, the yarn is loosely plied and it is plied Z! It is falling apart, splitty and pain to knit with. From my own alpaca! I just found out this is typically how mini-mills spin: spin S, ply Z. Good to know. I think I will run it through my wheel and add more twist.

  • Wauw! Thanks for sharing

  • Great article! And perhaps motivation for me to not switch from throwing to picking! Though sometimes I use both hands when stranding and am very cognizant of dominance so throwing versus picking might have an effect on color dominance too if some stitches are tighter (and recede).

    • I think dominance has to do with the position of the strands. The yarn carried below will be dominant.

  • This was fascinating!!! Thank you so much for writing this 🙂

  • Wow….food for thought! And so much of it makes sense! I learned to knit with my right hand (throwing) however, as a lefty it was not very comfortable. I kept it up though because I really wanted to knit. Then one day on my way to work I observed a woman on the bus knitting differently from the standard, (picking). Immediately I went and sat next to her and she told me it was Continental knitting. Ran to the library after work, (no YuoTube back then) and took out ‘how to books’. I noticed right away that the stitches were slightly different. Still, I was so happy to be more relaxed and comfortable while I knitted. Thanks for the article, very interesting and informative.

  • So true! I just knit some mittens double stranding the yarn (one end from the outside and one end from the inside of the ball) and it really looked wonky. I was wondering the whole time what was wrong… now I know!

  • The measuring tape in the picture shows a Z twist as it is pulled from the center. Wouldn’t that unply? PS I have your Yarnitecture book, and refer to it often.

  • I am so happy I just read this blog post. I’m just starting to teach myself how to knit with two colors, stranded knitting. And I’ve been practicing with two colors using throwing, my usual method, with my right hand and picking with my left hand. Not easy, but I just started so I know I’ll get better.
    I think I’ll also work on holding two colors in my right throwing hand, this makes so much sense. The visual of the two swatches says it all.
    Thanks for the great information and fascinating conversation.

  • Earlier I commented that the depiction of pulling the measuring tape from the center shows a Z twist, which would remove ply, but looking at my ballwinder cake, pulling the yarn up from the center through the “top” of the cake does indeed result in an S twist, which would tighten the ply. If you’re a picker (as I am), which already tightens the ply, the solution is to pull the center end through the ball and out the bottom. This will result in pulling it out with a Z twist, which will, in some measure, counteract the added ply from continental knitting.

    Not going to switch mid-project, as that would change the appearance, but will try swatching both ways and see how it changes gauge and appearance.

  • Great article

  • I commented below that I am a stranded color work beginner and I’m practicing now before beginning a project. I am having a devil of a time working with two strands on my right hand, the yarn keeps twisting and also feel spastic working with one strand in each hand. My picking is so slow and loose; I know it takes time and practice….but…does anyone just use the method of knitting in their usual way and dropping and picking up the strand being worked? Obviously, it’s slower, but is it unheard of?

  • I tried this with a tape measure and my twist direction was different. The picture shown of the tape measure is Z twist. If you flip the tape measure upside down, so that the free end drops off the left side, the pull gives you an S twist. I wonder if your outside “pull” maybe unraveled some, because mine was more twisted. In theory, I think the added twist to the entire length of the tape measure will be the same overall no matter which end of the tape you pull from (outside or inside). Maybe it would be distributed differently throughout a yarn ball, but really I’m just guessing on that one. The extra twisting from pulling the yarn from the center of a ball was grossly obvious in a bulky headband project I recently started (cdq2 on Ravelry). I had to keep untwisting my project. To have no added twist, I had to unravel the yarn off the outside of the ball (like rolling the ball). For the socks I’m working on now, I’m currently unraveling from the outside, and I if need more twist I pull it off the side of the ball for a couple rounds instead of unraveling (making sure to pull off the side of the ball that gives me more of the twist I need – Z or S). And wow, mind blown!

  • I am not a spinner so I am especially grateful for this thought provoking article. Seems I am forever holding up a sock and letting it spin to take out the extra twist. Will try experimenting with how I pull the yarn from the ball, something which I usually don’t give a lot of thought to. Many thanks!

  • just found this website and article. very happy I did! thx

  • before interchangeables? you aren’t that old—- i bought my Boye interchangeable needles 49 years ago —and they had been around for a while before i learned to knit. (and i still have them, although the new interchangeables are smoother in the joins and easier to use)

  • Explains a lot. I’m a thrower, and I am in the habit of adding twist to the yarn every time I readjust my right hand. Now I know why I need to do that!

    • Love This!