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Knitting Yin & Yang

In all things there are opposites. Those things that are diametrically opposed.

There is the yin & yang, right & wrong, black & white, up & down, in & out, male & female, you get the idea.

I recently learned of an interesting drink that I must try, also called Yin & Yang, which mixes the diametrically opposed, at least in my world, coffee & tea. Seems that this is an accepted drink in some Chinese cultures, where hot coffee is poured over a black tea bag, and the tea then steeps into the coffee. I have yet to try this, as I am not really a coffee lover, but my curiosity I know will get the best of me soon.

In knitting the opposites are knit & purl. It is the endless variety of combinations that these two basic principles offer which forms what we call knitting, & it is the endless combo of these two opposites that constantly enthralls me.

Recently while working on two very simple rib combination patterns for scarves I was making for charity, I noticed that my knit stitches (the females for the sake of this example) were not “behaving” up next to the purl stitches (the males). Now I formulated this knitting genderness (is that even a word?) as the knit stitch on the right side of stockinette forms a V, and the right side of the purl stitch forms a little bump like an Ω. Don’t ask me why I think the V shape would be female, and the Ω shape would be the male, I am trying to keep this a family rated post.

So, on my kiwi colored scarf with a 6 stitch box repeat, (K6, P6), the last knit stitch in every repeat would be all loose & misshapen. Like it went all goofy up next to the next set of 6 purl stitches.  Sort of like a girl out in the school yard, she couldn’t hold it together next to a boy, or in this case, next to a group of 6 boys!

I tried really paying attention to my tension, and especially when changing from the last knit stitch in the repeat, to the first purl stitch in the next. But this wasn’t really solving my problem completely. I was still having to go back to the last loosey goosey knit stitch & with the tip of my needle or a crochet hook, pull that bit of extra yarn back across the previous 5 knit stitches, so all 6 knit stitches were of a more even size. It is kind of hard to see in this picture, but if you look closely you can see the last knit stitch of the 6 stitch repeat is a little larger than the others. Now wouldn’t you think this would fall into that group of things that your mother always told you a galloping horse wouldn’t notice, so why sweat the small stuff and all that?

By this point, somewhere well into this 60″ plus long scarf I thought to myself, why am I going so nuts over something that I am going to give away?

Then I realized that most of what I make, I give away as gifts, so why would this knitting be any different, and why would I settle by making anything I was not happy with, all obsessive compulsiveness aside. I was on a mission to learn from this experience.

So I could tell my problem was in moving from the last knit stitch to the first purl stitch in each repeat. Now to take a closer look at how I move the yarn to go from a knit to a purl.  I knit with my yarn in my left hand, continental style.  So when finishing a knit stitch my yarn is behind the needles. To then purl the next stitch I have to bring the yarn forward, to in front of the needles, and then purl the next stitch.  It is here where I seem to be leaving too much slack.

In watching others knit at gatherings, very spy like, I caught myself craning my neck and asking, “Let me see what you are  working on”, and “How do you do that?” to several of my knitting friends. I found out that no matter how many people you know who knit, each and every one of us has our own unique methods of getting the same two essentials, knit & purl done. Some of us hold our yarn in the right hand, some of us in the left, while others throw & pick, still others wrap the yarn around their necks.

I also learned that you either are a front of the stitch worker or a back of the stitch worker. I knit & purl into the front of every stitch (unless I am purposely trying to twist the stitch). I wrap my yarn under my needle to knit & over my needle to purl.

Using my stealth like observances, I saw others wrapping the yarn over the needle to knit, and under the needle to purl, and still getting the same results. How can this be???   My quest for knitting knowledge turned into a sort of a grade school science class experiment at this point.  I came up with the hypothesis (science word) that there is more than one way to get the same knitting end result.  From there I went on to observe (science word) that changing the action of the over and under, front and back, were where my research would be.

After doing several swatch experiments, the following is my interpretation of the data (more science words):

Knit into the front of a stitch makes the “V” lie flat, that is to say with both of the sides of the stitch next to each other, neither of them twisting or lying on top of the other, and on the returning row this stitch will face you  & it can easily be knitted or purled into again from the front.

Knit into the back of a stitch makes the “V” twist, that is to say the front side of the stitch will twist to the left & will lie on top of the back side, and on the returning row this stitch will turn it’s back to you, making it harder to knit into the front, but easier to knit into the back. It can easily be purled into either the front or the back.

Purl into the front of a stitch makes the “Ω” lie flat, that is to say flowing from right to left without any twist, and on the returning row this stitch will face you & it can easily be knitted or purled into again from the front.

Purl into the back of a stitch makes the “Ω” twist, that is to say the front of the stitch will twist to the right & will lie on top of the back side, and on the returning row this stitch will face you & it can easily be knitted or purled into again from the front.

In conclusion (last science word – I promise)

To achieve flat stockinette,  knit into the front on your right side row, and purl into the front on your wrong side row.

Flat  stockinette can also be achieved by knitting into the back of the stitch on your right side row, & then by purling into the front of the stitch on the wrong side row by pulling the yarn through the stitch under the needle instead of over it.

Anyone thoroughly confused yet? So how does all this experimenting resolve my loose stitch issue? I found that I could tighten the last stitch of my 6 stitch knit group by knitting into the back of it on the right side, then purling under on the wrong side. How or why does this seems to work for me? Knitting into the back twists the stitch, perhaps making it tighter & then purling under instead of over shortens the distance the yarn has to travel to go from a knit to a purl.

It worked for me – still not sure the coffee/tea thingy will work for me though………

Here are the finished scarf experiments.

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