Yesterday morning Twitter turned into a major knitting geek fest as a discussion about yarn overs erupted. We were discussing the terminology used to explain the technique that makes an increase by wrapping the yarn around the knitting needle to form a new loop, which later becomes a hole in the knitting. (Creating holes in your knitting on purpose is how you knit lace, in case you might be wondering why you want to do this.) The designers, writers, and editors involved in this discussion were from the USA, Canada, the UK, and other places, making for a very interesting discussion and comparison of how patterns are written in different locations and even in different languages.
Here’s a summary of our conclusions about terminology in English-language patterns:
Yarn Over (YO)
All yarn overs are essentially the same: you are wrapping the yarn around the needle to create a hole and add a new stitch. The yarn goes from the bottom to the top in front of the needles. This creates a hole in the knitting which is made into a new stitch when you knit or purl into it on the following row.
Continental Yarn Overs
When knitting Continental style, carrying the yarn in the left hand, this is accomplished by simply scooping up the yarn with the right needle, creating a strand of yarn that goes over the top of the needle from front to back. When you knit continental, it doesn’t really matter if the stitches before and after the yarn over or knits and purls, because the scooping motion is the same in all cases, and the yarn almost magically goes to the back or front of the work as needed for the following knit or purl stitch.
English Yarn Overs
English knitters must pay more attention to the position of the yarn, particularly when the yarn over falls before or after a purl stitch. In the UK, different terms and abbreviations are used to indicate these nuances.
Remember, the key to making a yarn over is bringing the yarn from the bottom to the top in front of the needle, as shown in the picture above. This is the part that wraps the “yarn over” the needle and forms the loop that will be come a new stitch when you knit or purl into it on the following row.
When you are knitting English style, with the yarn held in your right hand, you have to manually move the yarn to the correct position, in back or in front, to work knits and purls. This makes the yarn over process slightly more complicated. Most American and Canadian books and patterns assume that you will know how to do this, and they use the term “yarn over” for all instances of making a new stitch and forming a hole in the knitting. English (UK) and Australian books and patterns use different terms for a yarn over depending on whether the stitches before and after the yarn over itself are knits or purls.
- Stitch before is knit, stitch after is knit (yfwd – yarn forward): Bring yarn from back of knitting to front between needles, then, in order to knit the next stitch bring the yarn over the top of the right needle to the back again.
- Stitch before is purl, stitch after is knit (yon – yarn over needle). Bring yarn from front to back over the right needle.
- Stitch before is knit, stitch after is purl (yrn – yarn ’round needle). Bring yarn to front of work between needles, then wrap yarn completely around the right needle to the front of work again.
- Stitch before is purl, stitch after is purl (yrn – yarn ’round needle). Bring yarn from front to back over right needle, then wrap yarn under the right needle to the front again.
If these alternate abbreviations confuse you, feel free to substitute “YO” for “yarn over” in your head as you read patterns. Just remember that you have to get the yarn into the correct position for knitting or purling, which should be somewhat automatic to you once you get beyond the beginner stages of knitting.
In this video, I show a basic demonstration of working a yarn over.
Want to learn more about the nuances of lace knitting terminology, techniques, and charts? Check out my books Arctic Lace and Successful Lace Knitting. As a bonus, you’ll get fabulous stories about Native Alaskan knitters who make lace from musk ox wool and one of America’s lesser known knitting pioneers, Dorothy Reade.