Knitting backwards (continental)

A step-by-step tutorial on how to knit backwards the continental way. Everything you need to know about reverse knitting to avoid purling & turning your work.

Do you want to learn how to knit in the opposite direction? Do you hate purling or turning your work around all the time? Then this tutorial is perfect for you because I’m going to show you everything you need to know about knitting backwards the continental way.

What is reverse knitting and when should you use it?

difference between normal and backwards knitting continental style
Illustrating the difference between the typical knitting direction and reverse knitting

Backwards or reverse knitting (sometimes also mirror knitting) is an ingenious method that allows you to knit from left to right. Instead of using the right needle as the working needle, one knits from left to right using the left needle to create stitches. By combining this technique with regular knitting, a knitter can avoid turning around the work or purling while still creating the exact same fabric. This can be a vital and time-saving skill when knitting entrelac, bobble stitch or short rows.

It should not be confused with reverse garter stitch or reverse stockinette stitch. While these knitting stitch patterns also make use of the fact that knit and purl stitches are mirror-inverted copies, they are NOT created by knitting in the opposite direction. Here’s a post that explores the differences between reverse garter stitch and stockinette stitch.

This tutorial is all about the continental way to knit backwards. I wasn’t all that satisfied with the methods I was taught years and years ago, so I kind of developed my own tweaks to make it much smoother (in my opinion).

Let’s dive right into it and show you how to do it!

Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.

How to knit backwards

someone showing how to knit backwards the continental way

When knitting backwards, you hold the needles and the yarn in the exact same way. You also enter the stitches in the same way. The only difference is that you work from the other side.

Active Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Instructions

  1. Hold the needles like you normally would. The yarn needs to be in the back.

    holding the yarn and needles as normal to beginn backwards knitting
  2. Insert your left needle into the back of the first stitch on the right needle from left to right.

    inserting the left needle from left to right into the first stitch on the right needle
  3. Use your right hand to wrap the working yarn around the left needle counter-clockwise.

    wrapping the yarna round the left needle counter-clockwise using the right hand
  4. Pass the stitch over the working yarn wrapped around the needle using the right needle, and drop the stitch off the left needle.

    lifting the stitch over the yarn and dropping it off the needle
  5. Slide the finished stitch to the middle of the needle making sure it's not too tight. You can also pull it out a bit if you are otherwise a loose knitter.

    sliding the stitch to the middle of the left needle to assure a loose enough gauge
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 to knit backwards.

    repeating the steps to knit backwards

Notes

Instead of wrapping the yarn around with your right hand, you can also flick the left needle towards the middle and then do the wrapping with the index finger. This will take quite a lot more practice but can be a viable option.

backwards knitting by flicking continental

Some tutorials will also show you how to knit backwards by wrapping the yarn around the needle clockwise.

alternative continental backward knitting by wrapping the yarn around clockwise

And then, you can simply pull the extra yarn through instead off passing the stitch over. This will result in a twisted stitch but it can be easier to pull the yarn through. You have to knit all the stitches through the back loop in the next row, though.

pulling the yarn through to finish the easier reverse knit stitch

How to purl backwards the continental way

You can also purl in the other direction. It’s actually almost as easy (and one could say even easier than the regular continental purl stitch). The only difference is the way you hold the yarn and the way you insert your needles into the stitch.

Step 1: Start with the yarn in front.

holding the yarn and needles as normal even though it's backward purling

Step 2: Insert your left needle into the first stitch on the right needle coming from behind.

inserting the left needle into first stitch on the right needle coming from behind

Step 3: Wrap the working yarn around the needle counter-clockwise using your right hand.

wrapping the yarn arond the needle counter-clockwise

Step 4: Pass the stitch over the yarn using the right needle (so towards the front), and drop it off the left needle.

passing the stitch over the needle and dropping it

It’s really just as simple. If you combine these two techniques, you could even knit a 2×2 rib stitch backwards.

I have a more detailed tutorial on reverse purling here.

Reverse knitting more complicated stitches

backwards knitting a decrease continental
Reverse knitting a k2tog decrease

Advanced crafters might also ask if you can increase or decrease while doing backwards knitting. Of course, you can! It’s a bit more difficult to handle as you will have to translate all stitches, though. So, if your pattern tells you to p2tog two stitches on the wrong side, you have to find the right-leaning knit equivalent for the right side. This would be a k2tog.

If you stick to the simple mantra: Just do everything with your left needle you would have done with your right needle, you should be able to reverse engineer most knitting increases as well.

Let’s show you k2tog for good measure.

Step 1: Insert your left needle into the first two stitches on the right needle from left to right with yarn held in back.

inserting the left needle into the back of two stitches at the same time

Step 2: Wrap the yarn around counter-clockwise.

wrapping the yarn around the needle counter-clockwise using the right hand

Step 3: Pass the two stitches over the yarn at the same time and drop them off the left needle.

passing the two stitches over the yarn to finish the backward k2tog

It’s a bit like double-knitting. Once you understand what you are actually doing there, it’s very easy to adapt the technique to knit more complicated things as well. The key to backwards knitting really is realizing that everything you usually do with your right needle, you now have to do with your left needle.

Anyway, that’s how to knit backwards. Comment below, if you still have any questions!

how to knit backwards the continental way

3 thoughts on “Knitting backwards (continental)”

  1. I have no idea why this blew my mind… there are people teaching this technique as “left-handed” knitting. I still maintain knitting is ambidextrous as you use both needles, but I digress. I never thought to use it to knit backwards, and had never heard the term! I’d heard of tinking, but that just undoes your work. Thank you for always offering such great tutorials, Norman.

    My grandmother, who taught me to knit when I was very small, had stopped knitting due to age and arthritis, and lived around 850 km away (before easy video chatting) by the time I decided to progress beyond basic stockinette or garter stitch potholders and scarves, so I never got to learn more from her. I’ve learned everything I know from either doing, or books, or some YouTube, but your content is like having a mentor there. You’ve created an outstanding resource for knitters of all abilities that is invaluable to people like me.

    Reply
  2. I love this. I have tried backwards knitting and made a big mess of it. Do you think this would work for colorwork if you don’t want to steek?

    Reply

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