The Twisting of Stitches

Filed in Skill Building by on June 25, 2015 1 Comment

As we continue to answer the questions you have asked, a late entry wonders about twisted stitches often referred to as knitting through the back loop. Although the question seems innocent enough, there is actually quite a bit of technical information that goes along with the topic!

The specific question from Patricia is: “I’m currently knitting a pattern with lots of knitting and purling through the back loop.  While I understand this twists the stitch, would you be able to provide some insight into the role of these stitches in a design and how stacking these stitches differs visually from stacks of regular knits and purls?”

How a Twist Happens

A twist happens in your knitting any time you work through the trailing leg of a stitch. Historically this is called knitting through the back loop, but it assumes that your stitches are mounted with the leading leg in front. Below is an excerpt from EduKnit on how to knit through the back loop and create a twist.

The reason the twist happens is the trailing leg (the one further away from the tip of the needle) is pulled and worked before the leading leg (the one closer to the tip of the needle).

You can also create a twist when the trailing leg is on the front of the needle. The only difference is you work through the leg on the front, but it is still the second half of the stitch. When this happens, the twist  crosses in the opposite direction as shown below. The twist on the right was with the leading in front, the twist on the left is with the leading leg in back.


This twisting one way or the other is how a Make 1 Left and a Make 1 Right are created. In both cases the bar between stitches is picked up onto the left hand needle and is then worked through the trailing leg. The difference is whether the bar sits on the needle with the leading leg in front or in back. Below is an excerpt on the two versions of Make 1.

Why Twisted Stitches Are Used

Twisted stitches are often used in a pattern to create a subtle visual effect. However, because of the twist at the base of the stitches, two other results also occur. First, the fabric and associated stitch gauge is tighter than what would occur with untwisted stitches in the same yarn and needles. This can be a functional choice, particularly for fabric requiring warmth and density. The second result is the fabric has more resiliency or spring. Because the legs cross at the base of the stitch, there is more friction than with a traditional stitch. This element of friction makes the fabric less likely to stretch out of shape as well as spring back once it is stretched.

In the swatch below every other stitch is twisted and then alternated on the following row (like seed stitch but with twists instead of purls). Because linen has a tendency to droop when knit too loosely, I created the pattern as a “preventative” measure — but it probably wasn’t actually necessary in this case.


In this second swatch I was working with a very slippery ribbon and needed the ribbing to hold its shape. I also was interested in how the twisted knit stitches would cause the knit ridge to pop to the front and emphasize even more the vertical nature of the fabric. This garment is well over 10 years old, has been worn and washed many times and the fabric still retains much of its original appearance. In this case, the twisted stitches were both decorative and structurally necessary.


In the end twisted stitches might not make that much of a visual difference in the fabric, particularly to an untrained (read: non-knitter’s) eye. But they definitely can add a visual interest. However, in most cases they are a lot of “extra” work if they are not being also included for structural reasons.

If you have ever used twisted stitches in your knitting, we would love to hear your experiences with the process in the comments below!

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