Rethinking knitting instructions
By teaching my beginning knitting students how to knit and purl in the same class, they grasp the similarities between these techniques. One stitch informs how the other will be made, and that reinforces the understanding that a purl stitch is simply the inverse of a knit stitch.
I teach both the Western and Combination purl stitches to my beginning students, and have yet to have one too confused to fully comprehend the difference and how they relate to each other. We are generally more intuitive than we imagine.
There are only two main differences to consider when working a traditional knitting pattern in Combination style: decreases and twisted stitches.
One of the main benefits of Combination knitting is that the knitter is very aware of how the knit and purl stitches are seated on the needle. For this reason, the concept of left and right slanting decreases seems to be easier to understand and visualise.
Knitting decreases fall into three categories:
- left slanting
- right slanting
With the exception of vertical decreases (which must contain an odd number of stitches), a decrease can contain any number of stitches.
In traditional knitting patterns the term K2tog (knit 2 together) means “knit 2 stitches together so they slant to the right” and SSK (slip, slip, knit) means “rearrange the stitches so they can be knit together to slant to the left.”
For this reason I prefer to use the terms K2tog-R and K2tog-L to describe these two outcomes, and leave it up to the knitter to choose the best technique to accomplish it. I believe using terms that describe the end result democratises knitting and allows everyone to fully participate.
Since Combination knits are seated differently than Western knits, they must be reseated when forming a K2tog-R, as they cannot be knitted through the back of the loop (pictured at the start of this post).
The stitches must be turned around so they face away from the tip of the needle. To do this, slip the two stitches by lifting them off the left hand needle through the back of the loop.
Your stitches will now be seated correctly on the right-hand needle.
Then slip them back to the left-hand needle, and knit them together through the front of the loop.
However, when forming a left-slanting decrease Combination knits are perfectly aligned for a K2tog-L (aka SSK) so no rearranging is necessary.
A VDD (vertical double decrease) reduces three stitches down to one, leaving the centre stitch as the final stitch remaining. This gives a strong vertical line.
The easiest way to work this is to slip two stitches as if to work a K2tog-R, knit the next stitch (as shown above), then pass the slipped stitches over the knit stitch.
When patterns call for a knitter to K1 tbl (knit 1 through the back loop) it is asking the knitter to twist the stitch. A better way to think of this technique would be, “knit 1 through the trailing edge” – or simply twist the stitch. Each stitch has a leading and a trailing edge. The leading edge is the side of the stitch which ‘wants’ the needle to enter it – it is more welcoming. When the working needle enters a stitch through the leading edge, the stitch opens up and embraces the tip of the needle.
The trailing edge is the side of the stitch where the yarn is wrapped around the needle tip to make a stitch. If the stitch is a doorway, the trailing edge would be the ‘exit’. When a working needle enters a stitch through the trailing edge, not only is it a tighter fit (it just doesn’t feel right), the two legs of the stitch can be seen to be crossed at the bottom of the stitch.
When switching between Western to Combination knitting, or when first learning one technique after mastering the other, it’s important to pay close attention to the base of the stitch to be sure you are not inadvertently twisting it.
Annie Modesitt is a knitwear designer, teacher, and author of several books including Confessions of a Knitting Heretic, which discusses combination knitting.