couple of years ago, I gave my first knitting
lesson. A knitting friend and I had joined ranks
and formed a little Stitch-n-Bitch. As we sat
there nibbling our snacks and drinking our wine
waiting for our proselytes to arrive, it occurred
to us that we were both left-handed!
Were we going to teach righties
to knit left? Such sweet irony! Should we pull
out a mirror? Arrange chairs so that we would
sit knee-to-knee with the newbies so they could
more easily reverse our motions? Would we be doing
them a disservice by teaching them to knit "backwards"?
I knit English and she Continental; I had learned
from my lefty mom, she from a European friend...
However, after a little book consulting and figuring,
it turns out we both knit like right-handers.
I must confess that I was surprised
[and even a tad disappointed] to discover that
I knit right-handed. I have always seen myself
as profoundly left-handed and willingly accepted
the fates ascribed to the southpaw, the gauche,
the sinister. Creative. Smart. Awkward with can-openers,
scissors and the occasional dinner companion.
Statistics do suggest that we are more likely
to be incarcerated or die in industrial accidents,
but I'm generally proud to be a member of the
quirky, somewhat-exclusive club.
make up 10-15% of the population in North America
and Europe. The numbers on knitting lefties are
more obscure. A couple of people at yarn shops
told me that they saw a surprising number of lefties
in their stores -- one even watched people sign
their credit card receipts to see what hand they
used! Other yarn shop owners hadn't noticed a
high percentage of lefties in their shops. If
we can believe that lefties do have a greater
than normal proclivity to arts and crafts, then
we might expect to see a greater percentage in
our ranks. Given, however, that knitting, like
so many other things in our world, has a right-handed
bias, perhaps not.
What? Knitting has a right-handed
bias? But we use both hands! This is true, and
for many lefties, like me, the right-handed bias
has never been a problem. Or at least not a significant
one. Of the left-handed knitters I surveyed, roughly
half of them knit like right handers. Sarah Reilly,
a right-knitting lefty, writes, "Knitting
is really a two-handed process. As a lefty, I've
had to "cope" with living in a right-handed
world. I think that's caused me to be more flexible
and more used to using either hand for a task."
Left-handed knitters who knit right used a variety
of styles, some English, some Continental, some
hybrids of both.
Right-knitting lefties may face
some subtle problems. Because of the repeated
motions of the non-dominant right hand, these
lefties may suffer more problems with repetitive
stress injuries to the right hand. And while many
knitters knit right, most crochet left-handed.
This means that crocheted borders [and often picked
up stitches] are worked "backwards"
from the way intended by right-handed pattern
designers. Certainly not a huge barrier to productive
and happy knitting, but one to be aware of.
RIGHT is wrong.
lefties however, CANNOT knit right-handed, despite
the "two-handed skill" argument. For
this group of knitters, right-handed knitting
seems awkward or impossible. One knitter even
feels nauseous trying to learn something from
right-handed knitters as it seems so wrong. Another,
Kathy St. John, adds, "Believe me, I have
tried to knit in the opposite direction. It is
totally unnatural for me to do so, and frustrates
me to the point of becoming anxious."
For left-knitting lefties, the
knitting world is indeed biased. The biases don't
exist in the knitting itself, or in the tools
of knitting. Thankfully, we do not have to search
out left-handed needles or crochet hooks. Patterns,
however, can and do have a right-handed bias.
A truly left-handed knitter working from a written
pattern will make their decreases backward, will
cable backward and will end up with a left front
when working from the directions for the right
half of a cardigan.
Cables cause the biggest problems.
Some true lefties simply knit the pattern as written
and end up with "backwards" twisting
cables. Others automatically substitute "needle
in front" for "needle in back";
this corrects the twist direction of basic cables.
On very intricate cable and lace designs the work
of flipping the pattern is even more complicated.
Some make swatches from the right handed directions,
then write out charts based on the swatch. Clearly
this is a lot of work to put in before you can
even cast on for your sweater! One knitter, Joan
McAnulty, a vocal proponent of leftward knitting
for left-handers has tried to make things easier
for her fellow lefties. On her
website, she displays a chart of common knitting
abbreviations and their lefty counterparts.
Most truly left-handed knitters
wish that designers of knitting patterns would
be more mindful of lefties in their publications.
Some wish for alternative, left-handed, written
instructions, particularly for more complicated
stitch patterns. It is unlikely though, that many
patterns will be written this way, since perhaps
only 5% of knitters might use them. While written
abbreviations are clearly "handed",
a chart speaks a more universal language. For
more complex stitch and color work, charts do
not assume handedness.
It's not all doom and adversity
in the world of left-handed knitting, however.
Generally, lefties feel that they are better able
to visualize patterns and stitches. Since knitting
from a pattern requires them to decipher whether
a decrease leans right or left or a cable crosses
right or left from the the alphabet soup of ssks,
CB4s and k2togs, left-handed knitters are more
familiar with the architecture of knitting than
many of their right-knitting kin. Left-handed
knitters seem more likely to do their own design
work, too, rather than bother with translation.
finding your STYLE.
like right-handers, lefties knit in a variety
of styles. Sure, there are those that "throw"
and those that "pick", but there are
also variations in the way those actions are done.
How far do you choke up on your needles? Do you
wrap your stitches clockwise or counter-clockwise?
How much does each hand and finger move during
your pick or throw? How do you hold your yarn
to provide the right tension?
"Knitters are like snowflakes!
No two are exactly alike!"
Among those surveyed, many,
regardless of which way they knit themselves,
believed that continental style would be easier
for left-handers. Others suggested the combined
method of knitting, championed by Annie Modesitt
Knit. Since these methods of knitting involve
smaller motions than the English "throw",
they may result in less strain due to repetitive
motion, particularly in the non-dominant hand.
Many on both sides [right and
left] saw benefits to knitting the other way.
Few who knit right wished they knit left, but
some thought it might be easier or faster if they
did. Others who knit leftward despaired because
they had difficulty reading patterns. Most, however,
were happy with the way they knit. Switching the
handedness of one's knitting is rare, but several
knitters have switched or experimented with switching
delving in to the larger world of left-handed
knitting, I was curious. Could I be a switch-knitter?
Though I see myself as a proficient knitter, I
had never gotten the swing of Continental knitting.
It dawned on me that maybe it was because I was
trying to do it right-handed. What would happen
if I did it to the left? After casting on and
working a few rows with my normal, right-handed
throw, I was ready to try. I realized that though
I had just finished a right-side row, to knit
leftward Continentally, I didn't need to turn
my work. In fact, I didn't need to re-arrange
things much at all. I kept the yarn in my right
hand and began to pick back across with my left.
It felt a little funny, but I soon got the hang
of it. At the end of the row, I didn't feel ready
to purl Continentally, so I went back to English
right... I found that I had to knit through the
back loops to avoid twisting my stitches, but
using this hybrid method, I was able to always
knit on the right side. Fun! Great when there
are lots of short rows to knit, or for entrelac.
Some call this bit of knitting sleight-of-hand
There are various combined methods
of knitting, which I urge left AND right-handers
to try. Different styles use slightly different
muscles and postures which can help lessen strain,
and you may find that wrapping or holding the
yarn differently than you were originally taught
has benefits in tension or speed. When combining
styles or trying out a new one, be mindful about
sticking the needle into the correct part of the
stitch. Each stitch has two legs of the loop [as
in "knit through back of loop"] and
whichever one is leading, whether it is in front
or behind the needle, is the right one to manipulate
to avoid twisting your stitch. This little tidbit
of information is also very useful when picking
up stitches [especially the sort of picking up
stitches that happens when your needle has been
unceremoniously removed from your knitting].
Though lefties make up a relatively
small percentage of the knitting population, they
should have the help they need in getting started
and in improving their skills. If you know a left-hander
who is learning to knit, encourage her to try
a variety of styles until she finds one that is
right correct for her. Looking at the mirror
image of a right hander knitting really does work
or you might take knitting diagrams available
on the web and flip them with your photo manipulation
software. There are publications out there that
have good instructions for left-handed knitting.
Here are some to look for: