Anatomy of a knit stitch

The very best way to minimize frustration when learning to knit is to understand exactly what it is that you are trying to accomplish. A piece of knitting is a collection of interconnected loops. The cast on process is how the first row of loops is placed on one needle. The next row of loops is created by pulling a loop of yarn through each loop on that needle, This is repeated, creating a piece with vertical columns of loops. I won’t go into detail on how the needles manipulate the yarn here. This post is about how to read the stitches that have already been made. ​


Looking at the picture above, the teardrop shapes (dark purple, pink and lavender) represent stitches (loops) that were made in the white knitted fabric. We can see that the dark purple stitch was made first because the pink loop was pulled through the center of it. Notice how part of the pink stitch covers the dark purple. It follows then that the pink stitch was made before the lavender one. Let me clarify what I mean when I say that the dark purple stitch was made first – the dark purple stitch was made in the row prior to the row in which the pink stitch was made. Knitting progresses in rows, you work across a row horizontally, adding a new loop to each column across the row. Notice in the white fabric that instead of seeing complete loops, you can only see “V” shapes (highlighted in yellow behind the purple stitch). That “V” shape is made by the “legs” of the loop and the curved portion that connects the legs at the top of the loop is hidden behind the stitch made in the next row. I have highlighted this curved portion in green behind the lavender stitch so that you can see where it would be if it were not hidden. So, where is this hidden portion of the loop? It is sticking out the back of the fabric. This is what you see on the “wrong” side of the piece. In fact, that is all you see on the back side of this type of knitted fabric – bumps, is what we knitters usually call them. Purl bumps, to be precise, because a purl stitch is simply a knit stitch facing the opposite direction.

The fabric shown above is called the Stockinette stitch pattern. Stockinette is made up solely of knit stitches. Knit stitches look like “V” shapes – they are made up of the legs of the loop. Flipping a knit stitch around one sees what a purl stitch looks like – the bump made by the top of the loop. So if one knits all in knit stitches, what does the back of the fabric look like? Purls. If a knitter intentionally works all purl stitches when working on the “right” side of the fabric, the resulting fabric is called Reverse Stockinette and the back of the work will look like Stockinette made from knit stitches. Hope that wasn’t too confusing.

The final point I wanted to make before wrapping this up, is that whenever you are knitting, whether in knit stitches or purl stitches, the right leg of the stitch should always be in front of the needle and the left leg should be behind the needle. When the stitches are not “mounted” this way, the stitch will be “twisted” and a different texture will be given to the work. Twisted stitches are frequently design features, but if they are not specifically mentioned in the pattern, your work will not follow the pattern as designed. There are several reasons why this information is important. To fix mistakes, you have to know what the stitches are supposed to look like. It also helps with the learning process if one can connect the movements of the yarn and needle with the resulting stitch. It is also very helpful in being able to count stitches and rows accurately. Being able to read your work is invaluable and I hope very much that this post can help you with that!

Learn about stitch anatomy further in my video Knitting Stitch Anatomy – what makes up a stitch? I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have! Leave me a comment below.

Leave a Reply