In which I talk about yarnovers

So, as we covered last time, I am in recovery from learning that I have been working my yarnovers (YO, also alternately indicated as “yarn forward” or “yf” – remember that, it’ll come in handy later) incorrectly, and dudes, it is a long damned time since I learned a knitted thing that changed my perception of what I was doing so distinctly. You can never have so much experience you can’t still occasionally feel like a beginner. Since my Yarnover Epiphany I have also since learned I am not the only one who has had this experience, something which eases my embarrassment like crazy.

Anyhoo, yarnovers. Let’s do this with some photos and you can figure out for yourself if a) you’ve been doing it right all along and can now sit a little bit taller in your chair knowing this, or b) you’ve been doing it wrong too and can come comiserate me with a stiff drink, or c) you have no idea what yarnovers are and are just here for some online procrastination. No matter.

Yarnovers are pretty much the cornerstone of lace in knitted form, I’d hazard to say. Heck, as Steph’s recent poll so soundly indicated, you make lace by putting holes in your knitting on purpose. Said holes generally get accomplished by combining YOs with decreases in various combinations. And it looks super pretty.


I’ll explain with the aid of some photos here, first by showing you how I have been doing it, and then by showing you the way it is actually meant to be done.

When you are creating a yarnover, you are wrapping the yarn around the needle to create a loop. When you work that loop on the next row, it leaves a nice little lacy hole behind. Let’s assume that we are about to work a “yo, k2tog” step on this little swatch, below. Let’s also assume that we are starting with the yarn in the position as if to knit – yarn held in back of work.


Next, what I have been doing is wrapping the yarn around the needle from the back, around the front of the needle…



And then working the K2tog right afterwards…



…and as a result you get a loop that looks like this from the front of the work (the worked YO is on the right-hand needle):


…and it looks like this from the back of the work (worked YO is now on the left-hand needle):


Turns out, this is actually a YO worked in the reverse direction from what you are supposed to do, which pulls at the knitted fabric and actually twists the YO in an unflattering fashion. It is the lace equivalent of knitting through the back loop when you are only supposed to knit a regular knit stitch. At the end of this post I’ll show you the results of this in a swatch that involves YO and patterning on every row. It’s huge.

In actual fact, the proper way to work a YO is, from that same starting position of the knit…


..bring your yarn forward to the front of the work. (Remember that this is also called “yarn forward”?)


That’s it. That’s a yarnover. For real.

Now, work the K2tog decrease that follows it, and the wrapped yarn will appear as you work that stitch:





And now you end up with a yarnover sitting just to the right of the K2tog decrease:


See how different/better it looks compared to its cousin worked in the previous step?

You can see from the reverse side how different they look, in particular. The correct version now appears to the right-hand side of the photo:


If all you are doing is purling-back on your WS rows, you might not even notice or care. If, however, you are called upon to work pattern on both RS and WS rows and suddenly have to manipulate the YO worked on the previous row, it makes an inordinate amount of difference.

I worked up a swatch (below) on fingering-weight yarn in a simple little netting stitch using both versions – the bottom half of the swatch is done with the ‘wrong’ way, and the top half is worked in the ‘right’ way. Can you tell the difference? It’s not an enormous difference, so don’t feel bummed if you can’t – in fact, with aggressive wet-blocking I dare say nobody would notice unless they went over it extremely closely. Since I am usually a pretty aggressive wet-blocker with lace, this also explains a bit why I never noticed anything amiss.


However, check out this class swatch with a knitted-on edging, in which the bottom inch of the swatch was my work done with my initial method, and the rest of it was worked correctly. This is a sample in which there is patterning and YO on each row. See the difference now? See how compressed and flat the bottom section is, compared to the rest? (This is when, during class, I showed my finished swatch to Jennifer and she looked at me with a sympathetic “DUDE.”)


This, my friends, is the power of working yarnovers in the right direction.

Since Wednesday night’s lace class I have been wracking my brain trying to remember how I learned to work yarnovers – did someone show me? Did I learn from written instructions? From a book? Or did I just do what I thought was a YO at the time, only to go 2 years before realizing there was a better way? Who knows. But I’m pleased to know the better/right way now, and I hope you are too. (Unless of course, you already knew. If so, kudos and cake to you.)

Go forth and yarnover fearlessly!



  1. Abi (Lavababy · ·

    Yep you can add me to the wall of shame I’ve been doing them wrong too.
    Saying that when working something like Pomatimus socks where I alter my YOs depending on whether I’m K2tog tbl or P2tog. So if I’m purling next I leave the wrap anticlockwise and vice versa. Not only does this leave the yarn in the right place the stitch is also slanted in the right way for when you come to work it.
    Thanks for the info.

  2. Whew, I have been doing them right. All my lace can be happy once again.

  3. OMG. When I saw the initial “correct” version I swear I almost threw up–I honestly thought I’d been doing it “differently” too. Turns out, I’m a continental knitter, so the execution looks slightly different. Yes, the ah ha! moments can be rather humbling. Thanks so much for this post. I’ll bet you’ve helped more knitters than you know.

  4. Hey, just goes to show that there’s always something to learn (or re-learn)! Apparently I’ve been working my YOs the “right” way, phew… Let’s not talk about fancy cast-ons though.

  5. kateohkatie · ·

    SO relieved to find out that I’ve been doing them right – whew!

    HOWEVER, it was one of those things where the movement is so automatic that I couldn’t even think about how I do mine, so I actually pulled out my knitting here at my desk at work and made one my normal way and then checked to see if it was correct.

    (pretty sure everyone *knows* I’m crazy now :-P)

  6. Whew! Have been doing it right all along. Drunken wallowing no longer required. 😉

  7. Thankfully, I’ve been doing it right all along. I say thankfully because I taught myself to knit, so it was most likely by accident that I did it right from the get-go. I’m also relieved to find I’m not the only one who uses a large portion of her brain to ponder such issues!! 🙂

  8. I have to admit it, I raced through the post to the punch line to find out if I’d been doing it correctly!

  9. oh thank god, i was doing it right. i think i have to go cuddle a lace shawl right now.

    i had been about to start a pair of lace socks when you wrote there was a wrong way to do YOs. now i can pick them up again without freaking out!

    thank you!

  10. Wow. It just goes to prove what I always say anyway: little things/details do count. Or ‘god is in the details’, depending on who I’m talking to.

    I can’t say that I’ve done much in the realm of yarn overs, simply because I’m still very new to this (and getting distracted by things like “my real job” and other forms of needle work for my “I can’t believe you’re paying me to stitch with people” job), but I would swear that I’ve seen the “wrong” way shown in knitting books. I’m currently trapped by the grumbly cat in my lap so I can’t go check, 😉 but I’m pretty sure.

    I’m going to need to mark this entry so I can refer to it when I start doing lace-like things! Thanks, Glenna!

  11. when you throw in all the combinations – yo after purl before knit, yo after knit before purl, yo between purls – the mind goes a little bonkers. the subtle things reveal the differences between the girls and the women. 🙂 (i’m a girl.)

  12. I’ve been knitting for a long, long time, and I learn something new with every item I make! Honestly! That’s the joy of creating. Thanks for your demo.

  13. I love this post! Thank you for writing it!

    I actually learned to knit last year and it took many You Tube videos before I really nailed down the correct way to yarn over. I think I did it wrong for a while or thought I was doing it wrong.

    According to your instructions, I am actually doing it correctly, I believe, although I knit with the yarn in my left hand, so it gets confusing.

    Thanks for the tips and your lovely blog. I read it all the time!

  14. woolandchocolate · ·

    I did it wrong for years! Then, a friend of mine was making something lacy that I had done before, and hers was so much lovelier! What a humbling moment. Glad to know I wasn’t the only one!

  15. Amazingly, I’ve been doing it correctly! Can I still come over for that stiff drink?

  16. Sigh of relief – I’ve been doing them right all along! I almost didn’t read this because I’m halfway through a lacy project and didn’t want to have to frog the whole thing. Now I don’t have to anyway 🙂

  17. Oh man, I totally do that too – but when I go along the wrong side, I usually untwist the YOs so that they hang straight.

  18. Oh, I have felt this pain. It was when working a pattern from a book that referred to them as yf that I realized there was a different way to do them (as in “where are the damn YOs in this lace?! and how am I supposed to knit the stitch with the yarn in front ?! that’s for purls!”). I think I had some hints to it previously when experimenting with different increase techniques & getting frustrated by directions & outcome, but being self-taught I brushed off with a Machiavellian ends-justify-the-means-do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-desired-result attitude. I mean really, it’s not like the Knitting Police are going to confiscate my socks if I worked my toe-up increases differently than the pattern, right? I had similar consternation trying to figure out what type of combination knitter I am-English vs continental, eastern vs western, etc, etc. None of it matters much unless you’re trying to follow a pattern. Oddly enough, I knit intuitively unless there is a pattern involved and then it’s a matter of MUST FOLLOW DIRECTIONS EXACTLY because I am rubbish at “reading” & visualizing said pattern. However, I also find pattern deviation irresistible, so there ends up being a fair amount of frogging and/or start-overs to get things how I want.

  19. Ruth Martin · ·

    Actually, my dears, there is no “right” or “wrong” way. The “right” way takes less effort, which is why I’ve always done it that way (cake for me!) but if you are wedded to doing it the other way then all you have to do when you get to that stitch on the purl-back row is to purl it through back loop (again, more effort involved) – assuming you don’t have to pattern on the purl row, of course, plain wrong-side rows constituting my entire lace-knitting experience thus far! So I think everyone qualifies for cake on this one…But I definitely see the point if there is lace work to be done on every row.

  20. Me too. I learned I was wrong at a workshop, too.
    Oh well, it’s only knitting – not a life or death matter.

  21. Awww man. I’ve totally been doing YOs wrong. That makes me so sad!
    Grrrr… the perfectionist part of me is angry. 😦

  22. I’ve not had to do yarn overs yet, so I’m glad you were here to teach me. 🙂

  23. marianne · ·

    Sitting up straight while having a huge sigh of relief at the same time and still, I’d love to join you in that stiff drink, a nice strong martini (as if they come differently :^) well… properly made that is.)

  24. Looks like you’re not alone, and that lots of other folks had confusion over how to do a YO the right way. I must breathe a sigh of relief myself – I do them the right way.

    Question, though: What about YOs before PURL stitches? I have noticed that there are two ways to do them, and sometimes the hole comes out smaller or larger than YOs-before-knit stitches.

  25. I knit continental and I honestly can’t work out whether I’m doing them right or wrong! They *look* all right! Obviously Friday after a G&T is not the time for me to tackle deep and profound knitting questions!

  26. lolol I’ve known how to do them right for a long time, but this reminds me of when a friend came to me unable to work a lace pattern (it just didn’t look right). I watched her do a YO then realization hit! She was doing the YO just like you. Her relief and joy similar as well. lolol

  27. Whew, that was nerve-wracking to scroll through the post; the suspense was killing me! But I’m doing them right. Sitting taller, and happy to take you for a lemon drop some time! (You’ll come to Sock Summit, right?)

  28. I’m right next to you with the wrong way. I think I did it like that because it is called a yarn OVER, so naturally, I wrapped it over the needle. It was not until later that I heard it called a yarn FORWARD that I began to think I might be doing it wrong, so I went to the handy dandy youtube and watches some people do it how it is supposed to be done. Yet still, I remained in denial. My way was working, i thought. I guess I just didn’t want to admit I was wrong. I didn’t do what you did and try both ways next to each other and see the humongous difference it makes. Now that you have shown me the error of my ways….I will endeavor to change. Unfortunately I am deeply into a lace scarf using the wrong method and the lazy me is saying just finish it the wrong way, but the perfectionist in me is saying frog it and start it over the right way (as punishment for my denial)…I think the perfectionist may win. Thanks for the tutorial. As always I am edified by your blog and my knitting world is broadened. I will remember this as I frog away 😉

  29. Marjorie · ·

    Glenna – you are my favourite teacher – thanks!!! The clearest instructions and the bestest pics!! 🙂

  30. Sometimes, I don’t do the yfwds on the knit row, especially if they are before purls and knits, I pick up the bar between stitches when purling back and then all my yfdws are the same size: like the Waving Lace Socks!!

  31. Or, if you are a continental knitter and you are knitting to the back of the loop, you could just keep doing YO the way you always have and it would come out about the same. Sometimes you just have to change the way you knit to accomplish a pattern–gull stitch, for example, will never be knit by me again because I have to knit in the American style and the February Sweater almost killed me; but I got through it. Thanks for the step-by-step photos!!

  32. I am ok with Yarn Over’s while knitting its the yarn over & Purl that still makes me stop & think

  33. oh, i like cake! i’ll take a chocolate piece! my YOs are safe! ‘->

    happy birthday to your grandpa! =]

  34. Isn’t it wonderful how knitting teaches us new things all the time!? I’m sure knitting is great brain-exercise.

    After I read your last post, I was a bit worried I’d been doing mine wrong. Thankfully, I’m okay, but I know the feeling when you find out that there’s a better way to do something only too well!

    Great post!

  35. This is such a great tutorial. You are a natural teacher!

  36. My YOs on the knit side were fine, and after completing a Traveling Woman I’m fairly confident about doing them in all combinations. However, I am hesitant to try Multnomah because I can’t pick up a dropped garter stitch without it looking like stockinette. I’m sure if I can get my brain around it I’ll have one of those forehead-smacking moments.

    Great tutorial. I love how knitters are so willing to share their knowledge. Thanks!

  37. Sarah JS · ·

    Whew. My method I just picked up (“always wrap the yarn counterclockwise for a yarnover”) jives with the “correct” way. Happy lace knitting to you!

  38. christine m. east of toronto · ·

    thank you so much for sharing that! those of us who struggle with issues of “perfection” and all its inherent self-recriminations need to see that “real” people who are “real good” at knitting still make mistakes, learn better and move on!

  39. Maureen · ·

    can show us how you then purl the yo that was done properly
    it seems like the leg of the yarn in not in the right place to do the purl stitch on it

  40. Huh…interesting. I’m a fairly new knitter and somehow I was doing them right. Perhaps because I knit Continental the yarn over in the correct fashion just seems intuitive. If/when I ever get to knitting lace and need to do yarnovers with purling, though, I might have a problem. I purl Norwegian so my yarn is in the same position as for knitting…hmmm…have to think that through.

  41. I too, am self-taught and was luckily doing it correctly. Based on your photos, I would guess that you use your index finger to “throw” the yarn – which that in itself is a tricky manuever that I’m jealous of although I knit Continental – and so it was “natural” for you to throw it that way. Don’t be so hard on yourself! I’m with Ruth – there really are no wrong ways as long as you are happy with your results!

  42. I did my YO’s the wrong way for a long time too, then when I switched to knitting continental style and started watching tutorial videos I fixed it.

  43. […] if you’re at all worried, please check out her post on the correct way to do a yarn over.  I am eternally grateful to her for it, and it is well-documented and […]

  44. What I find challenging is a YO followed by a purl. How about that?

  45. Way to be humble and share your learning! I am certain that there are many other techniques that many of us do differently since many of us are self taught. As long as you are happy with your end results, should it really matter?

  46. boadiccea · ·

    I just wanted to say thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for posting this and admitting something embarrassing for the benefit of us all. Turns out I’ve been doing it wrong, too!!! Your photography on this tutorial is excellent – I can actually follow it! (Something I’m not very good at is diagrams, etc., so your photos are quite helpful.) 🙂

  47. I think knitting from UK English patterns helps, yarn forward before knits and yarn round needle before purls makes more sense than calling them all a yarn over and is far more self explanatory. Your knitting is gorgeous anyway, I would worry too much!

  48. I love yarn overs! I remember being scared the first time but after I did it once I was in love. They are so easy but can change things so quickly.

  49. I read the headline of this post and thought OH jeez I hope this isn’t another thing I get wrong! It’s not though. Very cool that you can still learn something new at this stage of the game.

  50. Glenna, thank you for your fantastic explanation. By accident, I think that I’ve been doing yarn-overs correctly. Gita

  51. Isabel S./Lisbon-Portugal · ·

    By reading yr post I must say :My hall life has been a terrible lie!!! – just joking!!! Well, I’ve been doing it WRONG, I confess. Don’t even remember when or who or even if it was my instinct that told me to do it like that, but it was the same feeling as you when you look at it: there is something wrong, the final result is not like that… and through the years… so I want to THANK YOU so much for teaching the right way of YO. And it’s so easy… and the final result completely different.
    So, THANK YOU very, very much.

  52. Whew! Thanks for that. I learned it correctly the first time. I was so worried that I’d never be able to change if I was wrong.

  53. Can I have a beer even if I have been doing them right?

  54. My heart was pounding in my chest and my mouth was dry. Murphy’s Law says I’ve been doing it wrong. But, no, Thank God, today is my lucky day. Whew, I need to sit down!

  55. Holy crap! I think I always just figured ‘yarn over’ meant wrap the yarn over the needle. This is a real ‘Doh!’ moment for me. Now I want to knit some lace. Pronto!

  56. Excuse me…………..I need to go find some yarn and needles and figure out which way I’ve been doing the yo’s up to this point!! (Excellent pictures by the way) I really want to try and knit lace, just have to get my courage up!

  57. thank you so much your explaination saved me i could’nt find yarn fwd anywhere and thought i’d never finish my project. and you told it so well i know i’ll be able to do it. i only started knitting a month ago and am still learning. your a life saver or at least a project saver.

  58. Just started following your blog, and I am really enjoying it. If I never read another post again though, your blog is worth its weight in gold as I too have been doing yarnovers wrong. But from henceforth, I will think of it merely as the yf. Now to go look at your post one more time and make sure I got that right. This is kind of a shocker to me. I mean, I definitely make all kinds of mistakes all the time, but I kinda thought I had the yo down! 🙂

  59. wortwitch · ·

    My God. I’ve been doing it wrong for XX years. Thank you for the tutorial! So, my question now is, what about a yo followed by a pearl st? Is it as Laura (above) describes the British pattern, yarn around the needle?

%d bloggers like this: