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


  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


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

14 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.

  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?

  3. I’m knitting a blanket for the local charity and as I’ve been doing the edge trim I’ve hd to turn the work – and the blankets are big. So turning the work has been an effort and time consuming.

    I was so excited to read this blog, since it means I no longer have to turn the blankets to change direction. Thank-you so much. I can hardly wait until this evening (my knit time) to try it out!!

  4. I’m just learning to knit with needles. I usually loom knit.
    I thought this was the normal way to knit because this is how it’s done on looms. I didn’t understand why people would turn their work.

  5. Hello: I knit backwards when making Christmas stockings. I can’t figure out the best way to slip a stitch at the beginning of a knit backward row. Can you please help? TIA! Marci

    • I am not quite sure where the problem is? you enter the needle and lift it over without knitting. That being said, if you are knitting flat and then you are seaming, I would actually recommend not using a selvage. The seam will look better, in my experience, without a selvage.

  6. I’m using a pattern that calls for ‘Inverted Purl Stitch”, that I’m to do across the row, is this also called backwards or reverse knitting……

    Confused, Dot

    • Well, it probably revers to knitting backwards. Look that up. You can knit in the other direction instead of purling. This might be easier and definitely means you don’t have to turn the work around. I typically don’t do that but some people enjoy it.

  7. Salley
    December 1, 2023 at 9:07 pm

    Hey, Norman. thanks for your tutorials! I am left handed and consequently when learning to knit, it seemed natural to simply do a mirror image of what the instructor was doing as that is what I have had to do all my life in every endeavor. I wanted to do continental, so I do reverse continental, but not the type of “mirror knitting” that reverses direction every row.
    Consequently, I really can’t usually follow patterns. This has caused me to have to create my own, which is fine as I’m something of an “artist” knitter and like being creative, but
    sometimes I really would like to re-create a pattern. Years ago I saw an article by a woman who had translated all the conventional knitting stitches into their reverse– like
    K2tog becomes SSK (or whatever). Unfortunately, I didn’t make a copy of this list and have never found it again. Have you ever heard of such a thing or know where to find it?
    I appreciate your help! Salley in Atlanta

  8. When learning to knit, as a very young child with ADHD, I missed the part of my Grandma’s instructions that involved turning the work. As a result I taught myself to knit in this style, backwards and forwards, with the needles remaining in the same hand.

    Unfortunately I WAS following Grandma’s instructions for stockinette stitch: knit for one row, purl for the next. This led to great confusion when I later asked how to tell the difference between the “right side” and the “wrong side”. (My solution was to write an ‘R’ and an ‘L’ on the right and left needles, respectively, which did solve the problem.) My poor Grandma did not understand how I could possibly be following her instructions properly since my knitting resulted in garter stitch! 🤣

    Eventually I realised the issue (at least 10 years after Grandma first taught me!!) while watching a tutorial online! Whilst this ‘mistake’ of mine did come in hand when trying to teach a stubborn left handed 8 year old to Knit Left Handed (which my Grandma thought was a ridiculous request as, to her mind, knitting is ambidextrous), I since spent the last 10 years thinking that I was in the wrong!

    Now I learn that it IS a Thing! Hooray!! I will have to choose a planned project to re-teach myself backwards knitting!! 🎉


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