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A 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.

Lefties 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.

Some 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.

Just 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 of Mode 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 hands.

After 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 "knitting backward".


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:

Learn to Knit, Booklet #17360 from Leisure Arts/Susan Bates. [Currently appears to be out of print, but various sources on the web have copies for under $5.]

I Can KNIT. With "easy step-by-step instructions for 11 Cool Knit Projects for Preteen Girls" from Annie's Attic.

The Gnittink-for-Lefties mailing list: A list devoted to discussing the trials and triumphs of lefties who knit. To subscribe:

Joan McAnulty's website which contains translations of right-handed knitting instructions for lefties and more.



Kristi eats Knitty for breakfast. When she's not scrutinizing patterns, she likes to knit.

She makes her home in sunny Southern California with her husband and two daughters.