February 18, 2014

A yarn over by any other name…

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.

Yarn Over Continental

Yarn Over Continental

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.


Over 100 knitting free how to videos by Donna Druchunas can be found here.

Knitting, Old Blogs
  1. As a woman for whom proper terminology is an essential component of professional life but who has also knitted for sixty years, I have used patterns that were well written, others that were horrible, some that were cluttered and others that were overly minimalistic and I still wonder, as you do, what would make a pattern perfect. Therefore, the comments below are just a reflection on that search.
    All the abbreviations listed above mean yo. If you can substitute in your head, there is no need to change the abbreviation. The way a yarn over is worked depending on the stitches between which it is made, is part of the basics of knitting and has no place inside a pattern, since a knitter who is deemed good enough to read a pattern is also deemed good enough to knit the requisite stitches. The different ways to wrap the yarn might be explained somewhere in the pattern notes, just as you might explain that the yarn has to be brought forward for a purl stitch, unless, of course, you do a Norwegian purl, which would require more explanations, but all that only creates unnecessary noise if included in the pattern itself.
    I have seen the different abbreviations in patterns before and found them less than useful, but I have yet to find a chart where more than one symbol is used to designate the newly created stitch. (Not being a really dedicated lace knitter, I may have missed the authors who use multiple symbols.)
    Now, the abbreviations, one by one. Yon, is totally pointless, since the only place over which the yarn can go is the needle. As for yrn, it is also a common abbreviation for yarn — not that a word with only four letters needs shortening. Polysemy, says the terminologist in me. Yfwd is all nice and good, but I remember my first reading of that abbreviation as a teenager whose first language was not English and wondering what the person wanted me to do with the yarn once I had brought it forward. Fifty years later and armed with a much better knowledge of the language, I still wonder.

    So must yo be part of a family of abbreviations or must it stand for itself as proud as knit and purl?

  2. I agree with you but there’s a tradition of using the other abbreviations in the UK and Australia and many knitters there actually see and feel these motions to be different techniques so the different names make sense to them. It’s really interesting to me how that works. To me though, they are all the same technique and the same result. I try to explain it so knitters with different backgrounds and different experiences can figure out what to do.

  3. Thanks so much for this Donna. I am just wondering – and have been wondering this for a long time – if people who knit continental combined as I do have to worry about how they do their yarnovers before purls or knits? I knit a lot of lace and sometimes find it really confusing when I’m going back on the resting row because the orientation of the YO can change depending on the stitch before and after but I’ve tried going front to back or back to front and it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Have you ever heard from anyone who knits combined about how they handle these sorts of stitches? I’ve sort of learned over time to either pull the stitch forward or back to accomodate the orientation, but it worries me… I know – I MUST get out more! LOL

  4. The orientation of a yarn over should never change, regardless of whether it has a knit or purl on either side. If your yarn overs are in the “wrong” orientation on the next row, it means you’ve wrapped them in the opposite direction that a yarn over should be wrapped in the standard way of knitting. Now that’s OK, as long as you are aware of this and you don’t twist the stitch when you knit into it because that would defeat the purpose of making a yarn over and cinch up the hole it makes, and it would be too small compared to the other eyelets in your lace. I find a lot of students in my classes are doing something like this without realizing it and wondering why some of their yarn overs are too small. You always bring the yarn up from bottom to top in front of the needle for a yarn over. If it’s in the back for a knit before, you bring it to the front between the needles and then make the yarn over. If it needs to go to the front for a purl after the yarn over, you bring it to the front between the needles after making the yarn over. But the yarn over itself is ALWAYS from bottom to top in front of the right needle. When you are knitting continental, you should be able to just dip your right needle under the yarn to catch it and make the yarn over. Then put the yarn where it needs to go to make the next knit or purl stitch.

  5. P.S. I knit continental combined (or Eastern Uncrossed or Močiutės Mezgimas / Grandma’s Knitting, whatever you want to call it) too. So I understand about the stitch mounts changing but I still always make the yarn overs the same way. I don’t worry about what I am going to do to the yarn over till I get to that next row. Then I change the stitch mount if needed.

    Do you do it differently?

  6. I use ‘yo’ in all my patterns. However I would understand and feel a sense of gratitude to any UK designers who wanted to use the traditional UK terms for the sake of tradition. I feel it is important to honour and preserve the knowledge and skills of the knitters in these isles who hamded this gift on to us.

  7. That’s precisely what we were talking about, Ann, how sad it was for traditional ways to write and explain things were getting generalized and becoming generic.

  8. Interestingly, a lot of my early knitting was from Weldon’s Encyclopaedia of Needlework, which used ‘make 1’ for yarn overs.

  9. Oh those old books! I teach a class on Victorian knitting and the terminology was so different.

  10. Thanks for responding so quickly! I do all of my yarnovers from front to back (the only exception is when I am doing the surprisingly stretchy bindoff) but when I do lace, many times the yarnover has slipped to the back on the needle (I don’t know how else to describe it?) so I need to hold it forward with my thumb so I can get my needles into it and sometimes, it looks really confusing like it’s not even sitting on the needle at all. I am careful not to twist, but I was hoping you had these problems too. Uh oh 🙂

    As for knitting continental combined, I am convinced that knitting is genetic.My mother and grandmother were both incredibly good knitters – I am told that my mother used to knit argyle socks in the movie theatres and never even needed to look at her work. I have lots of lovely things that both of them knit but I can’t recall ever seeing either of them knitting. My mom started working when I was about 4 and I think she just didn’t have time.

    I taught myself to knit from a Reader’s Digest knitting encyclopedia in my mid-20s and just knit this way. We are of Estonian and Polish descent so…it’s genetic LOL

    I love your work – you taught me how to knit socks (via Craftsy)
    for which I shall be forever grateful.

  11. Stretch Cunningham February 19, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Well, as you probably note in your lace class, there’s at least one exception to any rule. I’m speaking of the practice by some knitters who actually DO bring a YO bottom-to-top behind the needle…and over. They use this to allow just a bit more hole. Whether it does or not I can’t say.

    Also, some of tbe OLD patterns use ‘2op’, ‘2YOP’ or ‘OOP’. This is written is “Two Yarn Overs, Purl.” If your stitch count changes, it’s because they counted the set-up (back-to-front) as one of the yarnovers. …Then around the needle again.

    I’m quite a fan of your website…AND Dorothy Reade! Hope this is helpful.

  12. Thanks for this post. I have always knit holding the yarn in my left hand. When I’ve seen reference books go into great detail about how to make a yarn over, I was always baffled at why they’d make such a simple thing so complex. Now I get it.

  13. Glad it helped!

  14. Mexxa, yes, if you wrap the yarn around the back on purpose and you know how to knit or purl into it on the next row without twisting the stitch accidentally, then you are good! There are no hard and fast rules in knitting except to get the result you want.

    I think there is something to the genetics in knitting, too!

  15. Looking for yo strawberry motif, beaded way motif and honeycomb motif

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