How to tell the right side from the wrong side of a knitting project the easy way for beginners!
Did you just start knitting? Maybe you successfully finished an easy beginner’s coaster in Garter stitch and now you want to begin a more complicated pattern. And suddenly there’s a distinction between knitting the right side vs the wrong side, and you have no clue how to tell them apart or what that actually means?
No need to worry! In this little tutorial, I will show you everything you ever need to know about the difference between the right side and the wrong side, and how to identify them with 5 different tricks – no matter the pattern. I’ll also try to expose some common misconceptions (and downright bad advice you’ll even find in popular knitting books).
For advanced patterns, it’s often very easy. Of course, you can tell the inside of your sock apart from the outside, right? And I guess that’s what makes this so confusing for beginners because the most simple beginner patterns often look very much alike from both sides – with only minor differences. But with a bit of help, they are easy to spot!
So, let’s dive right into it!
Note: Make sure to check out my free knitting school.
What does “Wrong Side” mean in knitting?
In knitting, the wrong side refers to the side of a project that won’t be visible to the naked eye when finished. Typically because this side of the fabric shows characteristics not in line with the intended look or fit. The distinction is even more important for round projects where you are only knitting from one side without ever turning your work around.
You see, most knitting stitches and patterns are not reversible. There is a good side and a side that often looks quite plain or even a bit wonky. And this good side, where the pattern looks at its best is called the right side, while the back is referred to as the wrong side. Typically the tails are hidden on the wrong side (from your cast on, or when you join in a new skein).
Tip: Read this tutorial about the difference between reverse stockinette stitch and garter stitch as an example.
The distinction is especially important for projects that are put together using several pieces (like a sweater or a lot of toys). Here you want all pieces to align perfectly once you’ve sewn them together, so they all show the same pattern. The right side is, so to speak, the face of your project. You arguably can’t wear your sweater inside out.
On top of that, most modern patterns will stagger increases or decreases only on one side, which is usually the right side, to get a very uniform look. Knitting charts will also only depict the right side of a pattern.
It is, however, very important to note that what actually IS the right side or the wrong side is entirely arbitrary. You (or the author of a pattern) defines which side of a project is declared as the right side because it shows the desired characteristics. And depending on your pattern these may vary.
ⓘ In knitting patterns & charts, right side is often abbreviated to RS, while WS stands for the wrong side (check out my ultimate list of knitting terms & abbreviations if you want to learn more).
Which side of my knitting is the right side? 5 Tips for beginners
Once you knit a couple of projects, finding the wrong side of your project will be very easy. But in the beginning, you might still have troubles. But fear not, it literally only takes one glance in most cases. Here’s what you should look out for:
1. Stockinette stitch and other non-reversible patterns
Stocking stitch is one of the most popular knitting stitch patterns. It has a very smooth side and a side that shows little wavey horizontal ridges. Typically, that smooth side, where you can see little “V”s stacked upon each other in columns, is called the right side.
For advanced knitters, it’s important to realize that some patterns may treat the other side as the “good” side. Often, this is referred to as “reverse stockinette stitch”. So, it entirely depends on your preferences. You simply have to define them at the start of your project.
The same applies to pretty much any other non-reversible knitting stitch pattern out there. The cable stitch is very popular (and quite easy to knit, in fact). The backside looks often rather plain. However, there are patterns that make great use of that backside as well, and there are even reversible cables on top of that.
Learn more about the difference between knit vs purl stitches here.
2. Watch your cast on tail
Luckily, a great many knitting stitch patterns are reversible: The moss stitch comes to mind, or the rib stitch. If you turn these around, you will see the exact same design. However, there is one asymmetrical thing remaining: Your cast-on the tail. Normally, you start knitting on the right side. So, if your cast on tail is dangling down on the right, you are on the right side (easy to remember, eh?) and if it’s on the left, you are on the wrong side
Still, why bother about the right and wrong side anyway if it looks the same on both sides? Bigger projects will require more than one skein, and you will want to make sure to join in the ball always in a way so the tails are hidden on the wrong side. You also will weave them in on the wrong side.
Also, sometimes you will have to decrease or increase stitches further into your project, and these advanced stitches are usually only done on one side. However, you can easily knit up to the position where those stitches start, and simply pick either side. You only have to be consistent – it won’t matter which one you pick.
Tip: Use a little pin or stitch markers and attach it to your wrong side so you can tell which side you are on at a glance.
3. Count your rows
Most patterns start on the right side. This means, that every odd-numbered row you knit is the right side, and every even-numbered row means knitting the wrong side. If you have a row-counter, it will be very easy to consult it and you’ll instantly have your answer. Some patterns are reversible but the pattern rows (the ones with the more difficult stitches) are only on the right side.
This can be particularly helpful for very large projects with mixed stitch patterns. Also, if you are converting a knitting stitch pattern for knitting the round then this is possibly your only way to keep track of the pattern. The cast-on tail won’t help you – it’s always in the same spot. Typically this affects lace patterns or twisted stitch designs. A quick glance at your row counter will tell you if you got a pattern row or you just need to knit across (like it was the wrong side).
4. Reversible Knitting pattern – look very closely
When it comes to reversible patterns there is, however, one more thing I do need to address. A 2×2 rib stitch is reversible, but the ribs will not be in the same position on the right and wrong side. And this can be particularly problematic if you cast on a number of stitches not-divisible by 4 for that kind of ribbing.
Then you will have one side, where you have knit stitch ridges on both edges, and another side, where you have those little “valleys” formed by the purl stitches. In this case, you have to look very closely and then check your pattern what is required. Often, these knit ridges are required for seaming (my fingerless gloves for beginners are one such example). So, typically the wrong side is the side where you have purl stitches on one or both sides.
The brioche stitch and other stitch patterns that create vertical columns have the same “problem” and thus require you to cast on an additional 2 stitches to form a symmetrical edge.
5. Colorwork techniques
Almost all advanced colorwork techniques in knitting share one common problem: They create a really beautiful side where you can see the various motifs and then you end up with one side that has a lot of tails, strands, joins, or so-called floats. In this case, it’s very easy to identify the sides. The wrong side of intarsia knitting will always have visible joins at the borders of two-color blocks.
And Fair Isle is even easier to identify because you are knitting with two strands at the same time and this creates floats on the backside. However, I have seen some patterns that use exactly these floats to great effect on the right side. So, again, it’s not always that easy and will still depend on the pattern (just in case: read about the difference between intarsia and fair isle here).
Even the most simple way of knitting with two-colors, meaning stripes, will have one side with a very distinct transition and one where the stitches in the different colors interlock. Garter stitch is a very good example of a reversible pattern that develops a wrong side when you are knitting stripes.
Wrong side knitting in the round
Not all projects are knit flat. You can also knit in the round. Here, you never turn your work around as you finish one row but continue in an upward spiral. When knitting in the round, the wrong side refers to the side you are not knitting and that will be hidden on the inside of your socks, hat, etc.
However, there are quite a few tubular patterns that have you actually knitting the wrong side. Once you are finished, you will have to invert your project. This is an excellent method to avoid undesired or complicated stitches.
A knit stitch will appear exactly like a purl stitch from the other side. The two stitches are mirrored pairs. Especially English knitters tend to avoid purl stitches at all costs. So, instead of knitting aggravating rounds of purl stitches in a pattern, they will knit the wrong side and then invert their project for the exact same result.
This is particularly helpful if there are even more complicated stitches involved like p2tog tbl or k3tog. You can simply exchange these for their knit/purl counterparts on the wrong side. Obviously, this will offset the decrease by one row, which will slightly change the shape of your fabric. You can counter that by starting the project on the wrong side.