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?
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!
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- Hold the needles like you normally would. The yarn needs to be in the back.
- Insert your left needle into the back of the first stitch on the right needle from left to right.
- Use your right hand to wrap the working yarn around the left needle counter-clockwise.
- Pass the stitch over the working yarn wrapped around the needle using the right needle, and drop the stitch off the left needle.
- 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.
- Repeat steps 2-5 to knit backwards.
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.
Some tutorials will also show you how to knit backwards by wrapping the yarn around the needle 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.
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.
Step 2: Insert your left needle into the first stitch on the right needle coming from behind.
Step 3: Wrap the working yarn around the needle counter-clockwise using your right hand.
Step 4: Pass the stitch over the yarn using the right needle (so towards the front), and drop it off the left needle.
It’s really just as simple. If you combine these two techniques, you could even knit a 2×2 rib stitch backwards.
Reverse knitting more complicated stitches
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.
Step 2: Wrap the yarn around counter-clockwise.
Step 3: Pass the two stitches over the yarn at the same time and drop them off the left needle.
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.