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  • This is SO interesting! I hand wind my yarn (yes it takes ages but I find it mindless and soothing…) The additional benefit of this is that my yarns are always evenly tensioned, and there is none of that centre-pull- cake-collapsing-in-a-hideous-knotty-tangle trauma! I admit to not swatching as often as I should… I ALWAYS swatch with hand dyed yarns though, as they represent a much bigger financial investment 🙂

    • I hand wind my yarn, too! But i grew up doing that. My dad was a truck driver and would bring home bags of mill ends. My brothers and I would untangle and wind it into balls while we watched tv. I’m a pretty fast winder. And i like the snugness of hand-wound balls…

      • Me too! It’s what I learned, decades ago, and I definitely prefer it. It only adds a couple of minutes to the time it takes to wind a ball, and I usually wind as I go, so those two minutes to unnoticed. I t is my belief that the round ball, rolling freely, better maintains the twist as it was spun, but I have not proven it so scientifically. I love these articles; the more the better. Thank you!

    • I wind by hand, too—I like spending time with the yarn, especially hand-dyed yarns where you see the subtle variegations unspool. Also: I forgot where that ball winder gizmo is.

  • I find this topic endlessly fascinating. More More. –However, at the end of the day here is where I get discouraged about swatching –that thing about tension and the Darcy effect. What’s the point of all the careful swatching if my tension is so mercurial depending on how exciting my TV viewing is?? I hope the answer is that Mr. Darcy doesn’t effect my tension much? I will just try not to make things that are too fitted!

    • When you swatch, especially when you’re in the habit of it, you develop a critical eye for your knitting. Yes, there are a lot of factors that affect your tension, but when you swatch you learn what those factors are and how they affect your knitting, which is the first step toward adjusting it.

      • I totally agree!

  • Thank you Jillian! I am going to try changing the style I use to change my gauge. Fun! I did find out when I tried giving up coffee my gauge got looser. BTW, I like your choice of shows.

  • Acorn TV has all seasons of Midsomer Murders too. But Shetland certainly makes BritBox bribe-worthy.

    • I cannot live or knit without both

  • I knit combination, but for some reason, it’s always a little loose so i go down a needle size. But once, when i knit my son-in-law a pair of gloves, I was watching the movie “Mama” on the 2nd glove and it came out smaller than the first!!!

  • I love to knit, but this article about twist blows my mind. I’m a thrower and I Hand wind so hopefully my swatch will be true, but I do like to binge while knitting. Oh well, can’t be perfect!

  • Yikes! I’m using two strands in a current project – one from the inside of the cake and one from the outside. I’m also mixing throwing and picking in a jumper being knit in the round in order to mix up the pain caused by too much repetitive movement in arthritic hands! Fingers crossed for the miracle of blocking!!!

  • Your comment about corporate knitting really resonated with me. Eliminate the stress, loosens the yarn!

  • Another variation here, I knit English but wrap from below and purl by wrapping from above. Maybe it balances things out. I was amazed to see you knit English wrapping from above in fact.

  • Great article! I have the opposite effect in that my tension loosens when I knit Continental. I knit a lovely sweater with a colorwork yolk that I don’t wear because the bust turned out so loose!

  • i’ve balked at pulling from the outside before because i just “didn’t wanna,” but i’m swatching with a stash linen i realize i detest, so outside of the cake, here i come. this linen is three strands loosely piled together to equal sport weight. i loved it ten years ago when i bought and started a shawl. then i hated the way the shawl pattern was written so frogged and put it away. now i hate the way the linen is plied. i think it goes to my love of my chiaagoo needles and back in the day, i was on stubby bamboo with the awful cord… and i don’t want to go back to the awful cord.

  • ALL of your little circles are going counter-clockwise whether they are right-side up or up-side down. You are always wrapping the yarn counter-clockwise except for your last one where you pick-the-purl, and that arrow should be clockwise. If you are seeing tension differences, it is in how you are holding the yarn, not the direction in which it is wrapped.

  • Oh my god, I could kiss you on the mouth for this post! It’s EVERYTHING I live by. The reason I think it’s so awesome to have (what I call) lots of tools in your knitter’s toolbox (pick, throw, Eastern, Western, Combo, Portuguese, knitting and purling backwards) is so you can take out the right tool for the right job. When I swatch to get a fabric I like I mix and match all the elements, tool (needle material, needle size, tip length etc), the ingredient (the yarn, the twist direction, how it’s wound), and the style or method.

    And I LOVE that you mention stress and mood. I always say in my gauge class you can skip swatching if . . .you use the same yarn and needle as the pattern, the same knitting style or method, you are the actual person who knit that original sample, in the same time of year, with the same level of heat and humidity in your house, with the same level of caffeine and / or alcohol in your system with the same level of stress . . . if all of those things are true – skip the swatch!

    • Wow!!!! Two of my favorite knitting gurus in one column!!!! Thank you both for your incredible insight and knowledge!!!!! It is very confirming to know that I am not the only person that ponders over my swatches while watching Midsomer Murders and enjoying a bowl of ice cream!!!!!

  • I’m always amazed at how much there is to learn about knitting, but you don’t need to know it all to create knitted items. I have a lot of those satisfying “aha” moments as I read and then put into practice what I learn. Thank you!

  • I love these articles. So interesting! My recent theory, too, is I get a tighter gauge with dpns than with a 9” circular for socks. I just canNOT get 8st/in with circulars even though I LOVE them! My next try is going to be keeping my stitches closer to the end of the right needle. Hopefully that will do it. Thanks for these articles!

  • Thank you for going into how and why the knit fabric changes based on ply. Your photos are really helpful. I have been searching for a reference for how to select the yarn you want for the fabric you desire. In my dreams you have created a chart or app, crossreferencing yarn and stitch type to achieve fabric type.

  • OMG! This post is everything! A few years ago I changed from “throwing” to “picking”. While I love continental knitting, and now when I do color work, I am comfortable with picking and throwing – but I have noticed that on the back of a stockinette piece I looks like I am “row out”. I have talked to my knitting group and asked what they thought I was doing wrong – is it my purl side or my knitting side that I am off on the tension? I am so excited to experiment now and hopefully fix my problem!! This “combination knitting” might just be a game changer for me. Thanks for this post!!!!

    • Deena, combination knitting completely solved my rowing out problems. Plus, it’s fun!

    • You can figure out whether your purls are looser than your knits, or vice versa, by taking a close look at your swatch while you’re knitting it. Looking at the back of stockinette showing “rowing out”, you’ll see a regular pattern of wider channels. The top of a channel will be a row of purl bumps. The channel is created by the stitches that “dangle” from those purl bumps. That’s the row that was looser. If you’re mid-swatch, you can count back and figure out if that was a knit row or a purl row.

      And if that has your head spinning, try hanging removable (“safety-pin” type) markers of alternating colors around the neck (both strands!) of the second-to-last stitch in each row for a few rows. From the back, the marker color that show up in the channels is the type of row that was looser.

      But honestly, if you pick, odds are on your purls being looser. For many pickers, purling is a whole bunch of needle gymnastics, while knitting is a tiny, tidy little scoop. Incrementally more yarn get fed out while you do those needle gymnastics, hence looser purls. As in all things knitting, a little bit adds up.

      I think the question of twist is fascinating, but if you’re comparing overall magnitude of effects, I strongly suspect that the way that yarn gets fed out while forming a stitch swamps issues of yarn twist. It would be interesting to devise a test that could actually separate out these factors (the above swatches can’t, as Jillian points out).

    • One way to test “rowing out” is to knit two swatches: one in garter stitch made by knitting every row, and one in garter stitch made by purling every row. (I can’t remember where I read this but it is not my idea!)

  • I am 100% in favor of diving deep into the intricate details of knitting, so I love that this conversation exists! I’ve been trying to wrap my head around twist and knitting methods (pun intended lol), but I’m finding myself confused by some of the photos/descriptions above.

    Where I’m getting stuck is on the bit about how the yarn goes over the needle when “throwing” a knit stitch. When I form a knit stitch by “throwing”, I’m pretty sure my yarn goes *under* the right-hand needle tip, not over it (I totally just pulled out and checked ).

    This jibes with what I’ve read in the past in knitting reference books: that no matter how you hold your yarn and needles, if you’re knitting in a style where the right stitch leg (the one leading to the previous stitch) sits in front of the needle, you must wrap your yarn counter-clockwise around the right-hand needle to form an untwisted knit stitch. Maybe I’m misunderstanding what was meant above , but every way I’ve tried it, taking the yarn *over* the right hand needle from the back of the work results in a clockwise wrap, which produces a twisted knit stitch .

    My experiments are also leaving me very unsure about the overall geometric (?? ‍♀️) difference between throwing and picking, at least when it comes to knit stitches. Both methods have to accomplish the same wrap in order to make an untwisted stitch, so how different can they be?. And indeed, if I’m very careful, I can “freeze frame” my knitting in the middle of forming a knit stitch, at the step just before I pull the new loop through. I can then (carefully!) switch my hands around and find myself in the exact same place, regardless of whether I’m going from throw to pick or pick to throw. The yarn is always coming from behind the work and wrapping counter-clockwise around the right-hand needle. The earlier stages of stitch formation look different because the working yarn is held to the left or to the right, but at that moment just before the new stitch gets made, throwing and picking look remarkably similar, at least to me!

    But that’s just my fingers, with my needles and yarn. One thing I learned from Carson Demers is that there is an astonishing variety in how people move their fingers and make their stitches, so I’m worried we might all talk past each other about topics like this due to assuming that there’s a common way to “pick” or “throw” (and that it looks like what we personally do).

    Finally, I’m also wondering whether you’ve tried throwing while tensioning the yarn in your right hand — what some people call “flicking” — rather than holding it between thumb and forefinger? It seems to me like that might be a more direct analog to picking, if we’re trying to tease apart effects on twist from effects of yarn feed/tensioning.

    • Hmm, there were a bunch of emoji in that epic comment, but the blog system seems to have stripped them out except for one random “female symbol” (which I think was part of “woman_shrugging”?).

      Pretty much all of them were smiley grinning ones so that everyone would know that I’m being enthusiastically nerdy, not grumpy and argumentative, so this super awkward disclaimer comment will have to do instead! (imagine that “smiling while sweating” emoji here)

  • I am so glad I read this, Jillian! I usually like to knit my socks two at a time, alternating from one to the other, so that I don’t end up with solitary sock syndrome. I’ve been working on a pair of toe-up socks from a commercial center-pull ball, with the first sock coming from the center of the ball. When I started the second sock, from the outside of the ball, my gauge was looser by about half a stitch per inch! Sock diameter 7.5 inches, instead of 6.5 inches—-Wow! Now I know why……