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April 18, 2007

Rowing Out

Thank you to all the creative commenters who participated in Sunday's Quiz.  Many of you sleuthful knitters correctly deduced that the textural difference observed in my Baby Bell Bottoms was due to knitting back and forth -- the legs -- verses knitting in the round -- the body.  Although it's possible -- as Ava suggests -- that "one too many of the aforementioned Starbucks beverages" might have played a marginal role.

nona's embarrassed that her rowing out is so clearly visible.

And the cause?  I knit using the "Western" method, which means I wrap my yarn counter-clockwise when both knitting and purling.  Although this sounds impressively consistent, it does mean that my purl stitch uses slightly more yarn than my knit stitch.  I first discovered the inadequacies of my enlarged purl stitch when solving my saggy ribbing problem.  Priscilla Gibson-Roberts calls this phenomenon rowing out and comments that "it is not a mark of excellence".  Ouch.  My rowing out is not always visible, but Calmer -- a cotton and microfiber yarn -- seems to accentuate the slightly bigger purl stitches.   

The solution?  I suppose I have 3 solutions -- 1) live with it, 2) add more tension to the yarn when purling, or 3) create my purl stitch using the same amount of yarn as the knit stitch by wrapping the yarn in the opposite direction -- clockwise.  I think this calls for some swatching!

April 18, 2007 in Knitting for the nona-nieces, Tips and Techniques | Permalink


A suggestion for a fourth solution: use two different needles. On the knit rows, use your regular needle; on the purl rows, use a couple of sizes smaller. (Each hand has a different needle size - when you turn your work around, you'll always have "correct" needle for your stitch, whether it's knit or purl.) I recently did a swatch with this while trying to mimimize the curling associated with stockinette stitch. It worked laterally but still tended to curl at the top/bottom edges. The stitches looked much more even, so I was pleased.

Looking forward to your swatches comparing various solutions! ;)

Posted by: jezz_jazz | Apr 18, 2007 10:01:04 AM

You say this comes from knitting "Western" -- would it be better if you knit Continental?

Posted by: AuntieAnn | Apr 18, 2007 10:03:31 AM

Heh. I used to do a version of this (by mistake) but never knew it had a name. Basically I would use a pure continental style on my knit rows... and a backward-wrapping-don't-know-what-I'm-doing-wrong on my purl rows... this was not a technique or a style but instead my inability to follow directions. I figured it out about 3/4 of the way through a sweater and now it has one arm way skinnier than the the rest of the sweater due to the tension difference. That sweater has never been worn and hides in the box of shame to this day.

Posted by: Kaela | Apr 18, 2007 10:06:13 AM

That looks like something that can be helped with a good wash&block. :)

Posted by: Kit | Apr 18, 2007 10:07:53 AM

I have that problem with ribbing, and the reason is of course the same, that purl stitches use more yarn. I was told that it would help to add tension to the purl stitches and when I tried it did help, but it requires a bit of practice to get used to it.

Posted by: Marie | Apr 18, 2007 10:27:13 AM

I don't know - it's very neat and even rowing out - I honestly think you could simply declare it a feature - it's not as though it *looks* dodgy - it's only because you think so IYSWIM.

Oh, but thank you for explaining why I always have to increase my tension on purl rows...

Posted by: Anne | Apr 18, 2007 10:31:14 AM

For others (you throw backwards on purpose, don't you Nona?): "Western," as far as I know, only alludes to the right-handed throwing method of wrapping the yarn. I discovered the same problem with my purl rows when I tried to switch from throwing to continental--it is completely the fault of the miswrapped purl. Instead of "throwing" those purls correctly as I had before, I was now wrapping the purls the wrong way in continental. This all solved itself when I learned the correct way to wrap purls in continental...see that YouTube on continental stitch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuRLFl36tDY. (She says: "The long way around is the wrong way around.") It took a few minutes of practice every day for a week, but I finally wrap correctly. (Hint: "It's all about" 40% the right needle, 40% tension, and 20% the wrap.)

Posted by: Linda | Apr 18, 2007 11:04:50 AM

Afterthought! Maybe I should add: if you are throwing BOTH the purls and the knits backwards (as it sounds like you do) it appears to have the same result--rowing out--as throwing the knits correctly and the purls incorrectly (as I was doing). I'll shut up now! :o)

Posted by: Linda | Apr 18, 2007 11:16:44 AM

You are very wise, Nona. Swatching your options will probably help you find what works best for you. I remember an illustration in EZ's Knitting Without Tears that shows something about wrapping direction with purling and correcting problems some knitters have. I am not sure if this applies to you, but maybe it will help.

Posted by: Sarah | Apr 18, 2007 11:31:32 AM

If you wrap the purls the other way, it will situate your knit stitches in the opposite direction, on your next row (so like you are about to work an SSK) Just keep that in mind. This is sometimes called "combined" knitting and I like it very much. It's great for ribbing as well, since it produces a nice even tension. I like to work combined continental so that I can bang out ribbing nearly as quickly as stockinette.
However, millions of knitters knit evenly working in standard knitting techniques. It's often a matter of tension on your yarn. I'm a firm believer in doing whatever works for you :) so while I'm a big fan of combined, I don't think it's for everyone.

Posted by: Marnie | Apr 18, 2007 11:40:24 AM

I agree with one of the above comments, use 2 differently sized needles. Especially handy if you have an interchangeable needle set, like knitpicks or something :)

Posted by: Cynthia | Apr 18, 2007 12:02:01 PM

Does this mean you'll then have to knit through the back loop to prevent twisted stitches?

Posted by: Andrea | Apr 18, 2007 12:04:56 PM

I've also had a lot of success using 2 different sized needles. On a sweater where I switched from round to flat knitting, just substituting a smaller needle to purl on to made the change completely invisible.

Posted by: Liz | Apr 18, 2007 1:51:04 PM

I have been studying the various ways to knit, mostly because you keep writing about them. I'm not the most visual thinker, and I have twisted myself up in knots on this issue. Luckily, Rebecca the wonderful owner of my LYS came to my aid. I should have rowing out but usually I don't because I tension the yarn in a manner that is quite comfortable for me but is horrible for other knitters to watch. Rebecca kept asking me if I felt comfortable or had any pain. When I said "no" she shrugged and told me to "knit on!"

Posted by: Brenda | Apr 18, 2007 1:56:23 PM

Thank you for posting the link to your ribbing post! I've been having similar ribbing issues, and now I have a new technique to try.

Posted by: SpaceCase | Apr 18, 2007 2:18:21 PM

Knowing you, you'll go for solution 2 or 3 -- whichever you learn works best for you after swatching. I myself tried combination knitting when I first heard about it - just to understand it better. For me, it actually causes "rowing out". My purl stitches become tighter than my knits.

Posted by: Laura | Apr 18, 2007 3:17:13 PM

I'm a combined english wrapper and I knit "incorrectly." Or so I've been told. Funny because the stitches still make it off the needles.

Anyway, my admittedly wonky personal knitting style also causes me to row out with non-wools. I go with the others and use 2 different size needles.

But then, I'm too lazy to change my knitting habits.

Posted by: Ashley | Apr 18, 2007 5:39:49 PM

Nona .. I knit .. usually... Western and rowed out something fierce .. then I read about 'Combination Knitting' ... which is your solution #3 .. when I began purling that way ... clockwise-under ... my gauge remained consistent longer, and my purl stitches very even.
It took a bit to get used to purling that way ... but, now I don't even think about it ... my fingers know just what todo. Thank you for your blog and your swatches! Elizabeth, Lurker par excellence

Posted by: Elizabeth | Apr 18, 2007 6:10:24 PM

Or you could just wait. I can't remember which book it's in, but I always think of something Elizabeth Zimmermann wrote -- that when looking at old pieces of knitting she was amazed at how even all the stitches were. Piece after piece. After awhile it dawned on her that knitters back then didn't really knit that much more evenly, it was just that time, wear, and washing had evened everything out.

Posted by: LaurieG | Apr 18, 2007 6:13:43 PM

I easily switch between combination and the other way depending if I'm knitting in the round or flat, and it has kept my tension pretty darn even. I like it a lot.

Posted by: Jouf | Apr 18, 2007 6:55:18 PM

It's nice to hear so many knitters have this problem... I knit continental, and I mostly solved the problem by adding a little tug to each purl stitch... BUT, Linda, I just looked at that video, and discovered something. I have been, when purling, pushing the yarn down with my index finger. In the video, she pushes the yarn down with here THUMB. This seems to result in a much tighter purl stitch. It's awkward, for now, but I'm hopeful that this will help!

Posted by: quill | Apr 19, 2007 7:00:01 AM

Actually, I was using my middle finger, not my index finger...

Posted by: quill | Apr 19, 2007 7:03:29 AM

Nona! I thought I was just about to make a long rhapsody about how I had finally examined the real dynamic of Combination Knitting, inspired by your site. I've been SO PLEASED the last two weeks while knitting miters that my stockinette is so much more even now. I'm knitting Continental, but it doesn't matter which hand you throw with, I think, just the direction.

Throw the purl around clock-wise. Now, the knit stitch on the RS has the right leg in back of the needle. So, on the knit side, you knit into the backs of all the stitches.

I know you can find all this with google, but sometimes those quickie explanations get me jump-started.

Good luck!

Posted by: Amber | Apr 19, 2007 12:24:36 PM

The difference between Eastern and Western knitting is not the same as Continental vs English. It has to do with whether the leading part of the stitch comes from the front of the needle or the back of the needle. When you knit in the Combination style, the knits go one way and the purls go the other. Annie Modesit explains this very well in her Heretic book. Whether you are knitting or purling, if you always scoop up the stitch rather than wrapping it and it will come out this way. When you knit or purl a stitch you do it through the leading part of the stitch, not paying attention to its position on the front or back of the needle.

Posted by: sigrid | Apr 20, 2007 7:49:16 AM

Another potential solution that hasn't been mentioned, unless I missed it, is to knit back backwards. For some (undoubtedly not all) knitters, this gives more even tension. Nona, I think you know how to knit back backwards already, but for those readers who might not, this article from Knitty may help: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEsummer06/FEATreverse.html

Posted by: Sara | Apr 20, 2007 4:24:54 PM

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