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After Kay and Ann hit go on my post about yarn twist and knitting style, the questions poured in.

You are into twist! Maybe you should learn to spin—I know someone who could teach you.

There were a bunch of questions, but they broke down into two main queries.

One is about working from a center pull ball and the direction in which the yarn is wound.

The other question was about every other knitting style that exists: “I knit this way, does it tighten or loosen twist?”

Yarn cake holder is from Hansen Crafts; it spins like butter.

Yarn twist is just one part of getting gauge and getting the fabric you like.

Whatever You Do, Swatch

Right here at the beginning I want to say, please swatch. Please learn to accept swatching (and re-swatching) as the best tool to get the knitted fabric and gauge that you want.

Bribe yourself if you have to, but swatch. My latest bribe was adding BritBox to my TV lineup. Please don’t ask me to leave the house, because all 200 seasons of Midsomer Murders are on there, plus Jimmy Perez doing his tortured detective thing on Shetland. I will be swatching forever.

Knitting from a Center Pull Ball

Readers asked: if I wind my yarn cakes the other way and knit from the center, will the yarn twist loosen instead of tighten as I knit?

Yep. However, it depends how you knit. For me, a picker, when I wind my cake turning the handle clockwise, and knit from the center, it tightens the twist in my yarn. When I wind my cake turning the handle counter-clockwise, and knit from the center, it loosens the twist in my yarn. Winding in a counter-clockwise direction also loosens the ball holder peg in the center of my ball winder, and peg and yarn cake go flying across the room.

You can see this effect in the top two swatches. The top left swatch is a clockwise wind and the top right swatch is a counter-clockwise wind. But the bottom swatch, the one that’s perfectly in the middle of the other two size-wise? It’s knit from the outside of the cake, which results in the least twist change while the yarn spools from the cake. It’s why I knit from the outside of a cake.

Does Your Style Tighten or Loosen the Twist?

The second question readers asked was some variation on this one: I knit in the X, Y, or Z style—does it tighten or loosen my yarn twist?

Here’s the scoop: it all depends on the direction you wrap the yarn around your needle.

A wrap over the top of the needle loosens twist.

A wrap under the needle tightens twist.

S and Z Twist

Let’s take a little twist side trip. Just a quickie—we’ll drive through Dairy Queen on the way back, I promise.

See this cute little piece of yarn?

Where strands are plied together there is a line that leans in one direction. That leaning line tells you the direction the yarn was plied. Most yarns, including the yarns I talk about in my posts, are plied this way.

The individual plies are spun clockwise; when they are plied they are spun counter clockwise.

The counter-clockwise twist makes a line that leans left. In spinning we call it S twist because of the direction of the line in the body of the letter S. The single yarns are spun with Z twist because of the direction of the line in the body of the letter Z. (Spinning fun fact.)

It doesn’t matter what direction the yarn is going when it’s knit. Even if the yarn is upside down (like in right photo), it is still S ply twist. (Someone always asks that question.)

Back to Twist and Knitting Style

When I throw (English style) both knitting and purling, the yarn goes over the needle. This twists the yarn in a clockwise direction, thus loosening the yarn’s twist.

When I pick (Continental style) in knitting, I scoop the yarn under the needle, twisting it counter-clockwise and tightening the yarn’s twist. When I pick, purling in the regular way, the yarn goes over the needle, loosening the twist. In the end it may balance out in my knitted fabric, but to me my knitted fabric looks rowed out, loose in the purl rows, and uneven.

I also combination knit, because for me it’s the speediest method. When I combo knit I pick, scooping both the knit stitch and the purl stitch. The motion I make to make the scooped purl stitch twists my yarn tighter and seats the new stitch twisted on the knit side. On the next row, I knit through the back loop to untwist the stitch.

You can see in these swatches that as I change my style the swatch gets tighter. Top to bottom: throwing (English), picking (Continental), and combination knitting.

If you want to know if you are adding or subtracting twist, study how you knit, more specifically how you wrap the yarn as you are making each stitch and how that twists the yarn. The more you study your own knitting the easier it is to make decisions about yarn.

That’s Not All, Folks

I hate to tell you, but I do like to be honest most of the time, adding or subtracting twist is just one thing that can affect your gauge.

There are a host of things I’ve learned to look into if my gauge is off, in addition to my twist. It’s why I’ve learned to love swatching. Maybe these factors affect your gauge, too.

Here’s my list:

I don’t tension all fibers the same.  I barely tension toothy wools, but I tension slippery or soft fiber much tighter.

The material of the needles I’m using is also a factor: wood or bamboo needles always give me a tighter gauge.

Stress is a big one. When I had a corporate job I knit so tightly that I learned to automatically go up 2-3 sizes from the recommended needle size. Since I’ve left the cubicle, I knit so loosely that I have to go down 2-3 needle sizes.

Mood affects my gauge too—what happens to your knitting when Mr. Darcy stalks across that misty field or runs into Lizzie in his sodden shirt?



Next time you’re trying to get gauge, wouldn’t it be nice to have Jillian Moreno with you?
Here’s how to save this article in your MDK account with one click.

About The Author

Jillian Moreno spins, knits and weaves just so she can touch all of the fibers. She wrote the book Yarnitecture: A Knitter’s Guide to Spinning: Building Exactly the Yarn You Want so she could use all of the fiber words. Keep up with her exploits at


  • This is SO interesting! I hand wind my yarn (yes it takes ages but I find it mindless and soothing…) The additional benefit of this is that my yarns are always evenly tensioned, and there is none of that centre-pull- cake-collapsing-in-a-hideous-knotty-tangle trauma! I admit to not swatching as often as I should… I ALWAYS swatch with hand dyed yarns though, as they represent a much bigger financial investment 🙂

    • I wind by hand, too—I like spending time with the yarn, especially hand-dyed yarns where you see the subtle variegations unspool. Also: I forgot where that ball winder gizmo is.

    • I hand wind my yarn, too! But i grew up doing that. My dad was a truck driver and would bring home bags of mill ends. My brothers and I would untangle and wind it into balls while we watched tv. I’m a pretty fast winder. And i like the snugness of hand-wound balls…

      • Winding yarns by hand creates its own problems. Or haven’t you noticed? Most don’t. Take a close look and you will see!

      • Me too! It’s what I learned, decades ago, and I definitely prefer it. It only adds a couple of minutes to the time it takes to wind a ball, and I usually wind as I go, so those two minutes to unnoticed. I t is my belief that the round ball, rolling freely, better maintains the twist as it was spun, but I have not proven it so scientifically. I love these articles; the more the better. Thank you!

  • I find this topic endlessly fascinating. More More. –However, at the end of the day here is where I get discouraged about swatching –that thing about tension and the Darcy effect. What’s the point of all the careful swatching if my tension is so mercurial depending on how exciting my TV viewing is?? I hope the answer is that Mr. Darcy doesn’t effect my tension much? I will just try not to make things that are too fitted!

    • When you swatch, especially when you’re in the habit of it, you develop a critical eye for your knitting. Yes, there are a lot of factors that affect your tension, but when you swatch you learn what those factors are and how they affect your knitting, which is the first step toward adjusting it.

      • I totally agree!

        • Whatever you do, be consistent! Time of day, music you listen to, your mood… it all does matter! Be consistent, and your work will look very even. Right or wrong, it will be even — if you are even-tempered!

  • Thank you Jillian! I am going to try changing the style I use to change my gauge. Fun! I did find out when I tried giving up coffee my gauge got looser. BTW, I like your choice of shows.

  • Acorn TV has all seasons of Midsomer Murders too. But Shetland certainly makes BritBox bribe-worthy.

    • I cannot live or knit without both

  • I knit combination, but for some reason, it’s always a little loose so i go down a needle size. But once, when i knit my son-in-law a pair of gloves, I was watching the movie “Mama” on the 2nd glove and it came out smaller than the first!!!

  • I love to knit, but this article about twist blows my mind. I’m a thrower and I Hand wind so hopefully my swatch will be true, but I do like to binge while knitting. Oh well, can’t be perfect!

    • Perfection is a matter of practice. The more you do, the better you will get! Or should, if you pay attention. Some knitters (most) don’t really care…. they know all abou knittingt, and they never have a problem! They will never learn.

  • Yikes! I’m using two strands in a current project – one from the inside of the cake and one from the outside. I’m also mixing throwing and picking in a jumper being knit in the round in order to mix up the pain caused by too much repetitive movement in arthritic hands! Fingers crossed for the miracle of blocking!!!

  • Your comment about corporate knitting really resonated with me. Eliminate the stress, loosens the yarn!

  • Another variation here, I knit English but wrap from below and purl by wrapping from above. Maybe it balances things out. I was amazed to see you knit English wrapping from above in fact.

  • Great article! I have the opposite effect in that my tension loosens when I knit Continental. I knit a lovely sweater with a colorwork yolk that I don’t wear because the bust turned out so loose!

    • As a beginner, you usually get looser knitting Continental. That is alright…. just be consistent. Use the same style throughout a project. Never change lovers in the middle of the night — I was told — and that is so true! Whatever you do…. be consistent!

  • i’ve balked at pulling from the outside before because i just “didn’t wanna,” but i’m swatching with a stash linen i realize i detest, so outside of the cake, here i come. this linen is three strands loosely piled together to equal sport weight. i loved it ten years ago when i bought and started a shawl. then i hated the way the shawl pattern was written so frogged and put it away. now i hate the way the linen is plied. i think it goes to my love of my chiaagoo needles and back in the day, i was on stubby bamboo with the awful cord… and i don’t want to go back to the awful cord.

    • It could be that you also changed the twist in your yarn by the frogging and re-winding.
      Take a long knitting needle and push it through the sides of a shoe box (or similar) put Pass the needle through the ball of yarn, and then let the ball rotate as you take the yarn off the ball. No added twist!
      Linen can be miserable to knit with, but produces the nicest of fabrics when washed! Don’t give up.

  • ALL of your little circles are going counter-clockwise whether they are right-side up or up-side down. You are always wrapping the yarn counter-clockwise except for your last one where you pick-the-purl, and that arrow should be clockwise. If you are seeing tension differences, it is in how you are holding the yarn, not the direction in which it is wrapped.

  • Oh my god, I could kiss you on the mouth for this post! It’s EVERYTHING I live by. The reason I think it’s so awesome to have (what I call) lots of tools in your knitter’s toolbox (pick, throw, Eastern, Western, Combo, Portuguese, knitting and purling backwards) is so you can take out the right tool for the right job. When I swatch to get a fabric I like I mix and match all the elements, tool (needle material, needle size, tip length etc), the ingredient (the yarn, the twist direction, how it’s wound), and the style or method.

    And I LOVE that you mention stress and mood. I always say in my gauge class you can skip swatching if . . .you use the same yarn and needle as the pattern, the same knitting style or method, you are the actual person who knit that original sample, in the same time of year, with the same level of heat and humidity in your house, with the same level of caffeine and / or alcohol in your system with the same level of stress . . . if all of those things are true – skip the swatch!

    • Wow!!!! Two of my favorite knitting gurus in one column!!!! Thank you both for your incredible insight and knowledge!!!!! It is very confirming to know that I am not the only person that ponders over my swatches while watching Midsomer Murders and enjoying a bowl of ice cream!!!!!

  • I’m always amazed at how much there is to learn about knitting, but you don’t need to know it all to create knitted items. I have a lot of those satisfying “aha” moments as I read and then put into practice what I learn. Thank you!

    • Sadly, most knitters will go through their entire life, pretending they know about knitting, and really know so little. Godo for you for grabbing on to all this…. it is very important! Be a better knitter… not like all the rest!

  • I love these articles. So interesting! My recent theory, too, is I get a tighter gauge with dpns than with a 9” circular for socks. I just canNOT get 8st/in with circulars even though I LOVE them! My next try is going to be keeping my stitches closer to the end of the right needle. Hopefully that will do it. Thanks for these articles!

  • Thank you for going into how and why the knit fabric changes based on ply. Your photos are really helpful. I have been searching for a reference for how to select the yarn you want for the fabric you desire. In my dreams you have created a chart or app, crossreferencing yarn and stitch type to achieve fabric type.

  • OMG! This post is everything! A few years ago I changed from “throwing” to “picking”. While I love continental knitting, and now when I do color work, I am comfortable with picking and throwing – but I have noticed that on the back of a stockinette piece I looks like I am “row out”. I have talked to my knitting group and asked what they thought I was doing wrong – is it my purl side or my knitting side that I am off on the tension? I am so excited to experiment now and hopefully fix my problem!! This “combination knitting” might just be a game changer for me. Thanks for this post!!!!

    • One way to test “rowing out” is to knit two swatches: one in garter stitch made by knitting every row, and one in garter stitch made by purling every row. (I can’t remember where I read this but it is not my idea!)

    • You can figure out whether your purls are looser than your knits, or vice versa, by taking a close look at your swatch while you’re knitting it. Looking at the back of stockinette showing “rowing out”, you’ll see a regular pattern of wider channels. The top of a channel will be a row of purl bumps. The channel is created by the stitches that “dangle” from those purl bumps. That’s the row that was looser. If you’re mid-swatch, you can count back and figure out if that was a knit row or a purl row.

      And if that has your head spinning, try hanging removable (“safety-pin” type) markers of alternating colors around the neck (both strands!) of the second-to-last stitch in each row for a few rows. From the back, the marker color that show up in the channels is the type of row that was looser.

      But honestly, if you pick, odds are on your purls being looser. For many pickers, purling is a whole bunch of needle gymnastics, while knitting is a tiny, tidy little scoop. Incrementally more yarn get fed out while you do those needle gymnastics, hence looser purls. As in all things knitting, a little bit adds up.

      I think the question of twist is fascinating, but if you’re comparing overall magnitude of effects, I strongly suspect that the way that yarn gets fed out while forming a stitch swamps issues of yarn twist. It would be interesting to devise a test that could actually separate out these factors (the above swatches can’t, as Jillian points out).

    • Deena, combination knitting completely solved my rowing out problems. Plus, it’s fun!

  • I am 100% in favor of diving deep into the intricate details of knitting, so I love that this conversation exists! I’ve been trying to wrap my head around twist and knitting methods (pun intended lol), but I’m finding myself confused by some of the photos/descriptions above.

    Where I’m getting stuck is on the bit about how the yarn goes over the needle when “throwing” a knit stitch. When I form a knit stitch by “throwing”, I’m pretty sure my yarn goes *under* the right-hand needle tip, not over it (I totally just pulled out and checked ).

    This jibes with what I’ve read in the past in knitting reference books: that no matter how you hold your yarn and needles, if you’re knitting in a style where the right stitch leg (the one leading to the previous stitch) sits in front of the needle, you must wrap your yarn counter-clockwise around the right-hand needle to form an untwisted knit stitch. Maybe I’m misunderstanding what was meant above , but every way I’ve tried it, taking the yarn *over* the right hand needle from the back of the work results in a clockwise wrap, which produces a twisted knit stitch .

    My experiments are also leaving me very unsure about the overall geometric (?? ‍♀️) difference between throwing and picking, at least when it comes to knit stitches. Both methods have to accomplish the same wrap in order to make an untwisted stitch, so how different can they be?. And indeed, if I’m very careful, I can “freeze frame” my knitting in the middle of forming a knit stitch, at the step just before I pull the new loop through. I can then (carefully!) switch my hands around and find myself in the exact same place, regardless of whether I’m going from throw to pick or pick to throw. The yarn is always coming from behind the work and wrapping counter-clockwise around the right-hand needle. The earlier stages of stitch formation look different because the working yarn is held to the left or to the right, but at that moment just before the new stitch gets made, throwing and picking look remarkably similar, at least to me!

    But that’s just my fingers, with my needles and yarn. One thing I learned from Carson Demers is that there is an astonishing variety in how people move their fingers and make their stitches, so I’m worried we might all talk past each other about topics like this due to assuming that there’s a common way to “pick” or “throw” (and that it looks like what we personally do).

    Finally, I’m also wondering whether you’ve tried throwing while tensioning the yarn in your right hand — what some people call “flicking” — rather than holding it between thumb and forefinger? It seems to me like that might be a more direct analog to picking, if we’re trying to tease apart effects on twist from effects of yarn feed/tensioning.

    • Hmm, there were a bunch of emoji in that epic comment, but the blog system seems to have stripped them out except for one random “female symbol” (which I think was part of “woman_shrugging”?).

      Pretty much all of them were smiley grinning ones so that everyone would know that I’m being enthusiastically nerdy, not grumpy and argumentative, so this super awkward disclaimer comment will have to do instead! (imagine that “smiling while sweating” emoji here)

  • I am so glad I read this, Jillian! I usually like to knit my socks two at a time, alternating from one to the other, so that I don’t end up with solitary sock syndrome. I’ve been working on a pair of toe-up socks from a commercial center-pull ball, with the first sock coming from the center of the ball. When I started the second sock, from the outside of the ball, my gauge was looser by about half a stitch per inch! Sock diameter 7.5 inches, instead of 6.5 inches—-Wow! Now I know why……

  • I have been learning to throw yarn so I can knit fair isle without constantly untangling one strand of yarn from the other. I used to hold both stands in one hand and keep one color on the left most finger and the second color on the next finger. However, now, the background color gets picked, the “color popping color” thrown. I guess this explains why one yarn color “dominates” the other? Would love to know more about color/yarn dominance. This is totally bringing back my fibers and textiles class in college and I LOVED that class.

    Also, I have this aversion to mixing yarns in fair isle… I can never bring myself to use two different fibers (like one mohair wool blend next to an angora wool blend) or even different brands of the same yarn fibers mixed into one fair isle project, even if the color and gauges appear compatible. I always buy the same yarn brand and fiber content in different colors. Tell me my fears are well founded? Or am I just limiting myself needlessly?

  • I love these articles. Keep em coming. I have been knitting since I was eight (40 years or so), and I’m learning so much. The practice is more complex and wonderful than I ever imagined. I changed to continental style knitting on a whim when I was 15, but now I want try combination…and Portuguese. And I am convinced anew of the necessity of swatching…

  • Great information. Thank you very much

  • I am so happy to see this post! I am a spinner, and i have been telling knitters this same thing for years, and no one believes me. They all think I am a lunatic, because they have been knitting since dinosaurs ruled the earth, and have never known such a thing! But now I feel vindicated! Someone else is telling the same story!

    Did you look at all your knitting yarns? Did you notice they are all twisted in the same direction? Know why? and crochet yarn is twisted differently — why?

    Yes, I also like to use the yarn from the outside — as was intended from the beginning — and i do like my Yarn Buddy. We need to inform these hapless knitters… they need help!

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