Skip to content

Why can’t stockinette straighten out and fly right?

Hi Patty, 

When I knit in the round my fabric leans to the left. Why is this so? Is it because I knit mostly in cotton? 




Dear Patty,

When I knit stockinette in the round, my knitting has a distinct slant. Weirder still, when I knit flat the stitches go back and forth in a zigzag. I promise, I’m not twisting my stitches. 

I also have trouble with my yarn twisting around itself as I knit. I always wind my hanks into a center pull ball, and I’ve read that this can compress the yarn a lot, so now I wind it a second time (but to me it looks just as compressed). I used to work from the inside of the ball, but read that to avoid adding twist, I should work from the outside. That seems to help a bit, but as the ball gets smaller, it’s STILL getting twisty.

Help my slanty, twisty stitches.


Dear Gillian and Jenn,

I totally feel your pain. There are soooo many factors that go into creating the fabric we love. There’s the yarn itself, how we handle the yarn, and our knitting technique. It’s hard to know exactly what elements have gone slanty in your knitting without seeing you knit, but I’ll go through my top thrree suspects.

It’s the Yarn

Let’s take a second to talk about the bad-friend yarn. You know the type. The flighty friend who’s always late and lets you down EVERY time. Yet each time you make plans with them, you think to yourself, “This time it will be different.”

Maybe the key to a good relationship with your flighty friend (or your twisty yarn) is setting realistic expectations and loving them for who they are. 

I wrote about a highly energized single ply yarn that was meant to bias here. It didn’t work for my project, so I chose to rip out. Ann wrote about a single ply yarn that biased, and she embraced the beauty of it here. Jillian Moreno writes a column dedicated to fiber, twist, and ply—check them all out here. Know your yarn to get (or avoid) the effects you want (or don’t want).

It’s a Twister, Auntie Em

An overly twisted yarn can for sure result in a fabric biasing. Think of it this way: the fiber and construction of a yarn, how it’s wound, how you handle it, and your knitting technique determine whether you get a twister watch or twister warning.

If you have a highly twisted yarn, wound into a center pull cake, you have a twister WATCH. That means all the elements are in place for a twister, but it won’t necessarily be spotted.

What makes it shift over to a twister WARNING—twister spotted—is how these elements are combined.

The Second Winding: Soften Your Cake

Here we have a skein freshly wound into a cake. You can see it’s fairly tight.

3.5″ diameter after first winding

To “soften the cake,” wind the ball a second time pulling from the outside. (Don’t be tempted by that dangling center-pull strand above. If you wind from the center for the second winding, you’ll actually further twist the yarn.)

Pulling from the outside

As you can see, it’s now plump and as relaxed as I am after getting OUT of the city on a holiday weekend.

A relaxed and fluffy 4″ in diameter

Knit from the Outside In?

If you have a twisty yarn, and a knitting style that adds more twist as you knit, you might reduce the twist by pulling from the outside (see Jillian here). My camera strap on the left below shows how pulling from the center adds twist:

But as Jenn observed, and as you can see above in the center and right images, the smaller the ball gets, the more twist is added, even when pulling from the outside.

The only way to fully eliminate any added twist going into your yarn is by having the ball spin around its center axis.

Yarn caddy, ftw!

Whisper Words of Wisdom: Let It Go

The last why of twisting is on us knitters: our exit path. When working in the round, our knitting slants; when working flat, we have a zigzag. Both are caused by distorting one leg of our stitch when we exit.

Here’s a swatch knit in the round with one leg of my stitch distorted each time I exit.

And here’s a bit of stockinette where you can see the zigzag nature of the stitch. (This can also show itself in 1 x 1 rib.)

Distorting one leg of the stitch as we exit can happen both to pickers (Continental) and throwers (English). When we wrap our yarn around the needle and pull through the new stitch, making a diagonal exit can leave the trailing leg of the stitch we’ve entered hanging on our left-hand needle for dear life.

This effect can be made even worse when knitters are in the habit of the hold and yank (not be be confused with bend and snap*). When knitters hang onto that first stitch on the left-hand needle and tug at the working yarn after they form a new stitch on the right-hand needle, that’s a hold and yank:

throwers on the left and pickers on the right

Hold and yank causes the left leg of the row below to be longer than the right leg, making that stitch lean to the left.

Working in the round, every round ends up leaning to the left, causing your knitting to bias.

If you’re working flat and yank the same innocent leg on the WS, you see a row underneath your needles that leans to the right when you’re back on the RS row.

Then the whole cycle begins again. It’s like always wearing a backpack only over one shoulder: it throws your whole body out of alignment.

It’s all about the exit path! In Let the Tool Do the Work, I mentioned there are other elements to the perfect stitch, like the grocery store conveyor belt and the exit path.

When we pull (knit) or push (purl) a new loop through, we want to make an X with our needles. Now our stitch is perfectly sized:

Letting the tool do the work: Throwers on the left and pickers on the right

We also want this brand-new baby stitch to exit its parent stitch without stretching it out of shape. Your left needle tip points you in the direction you want to exit.

By exiting in a straight line, the parent stitch isn’t distorted and your next stitch on the left-hand needle will move forward like items on a grocery store conveyor belt.

Slants and zigzags happen. When you have an overly twisted yarn, either find a project that suits that yarn, or love it for who it is. When you’re winding a skein, handle it to avoid adding twist and be aware of how your knitting style affects twist. And if you’re holding and yanking—just stop.


Got all that? Save it for future reference with one click! We love bringing you knitting know how from the experts. Your MDK Shop purchases and Field Guide Subscriptions make it all possible. Thanks for browsing here and here in our ever-changing Sale aisle!

About The Author

Patty Lyons is a nationally recognized knitting teacher and technique expert. In her pursuit of training the mindful knitter, Patty is known for teaching the “why” in addition to the “how.” She specializes in sweater design and sharing her love of the much-maligned subjects of gauge and blocking.

You can find Patty at her website and on Ravelry.

Do you have a problem you’d like Patty to tackle? Write to her at



  • Thank you for this! I knit a linen top and the fabric was so biased. I even washed the yarn before knitting. Are there special techniques (beyond your article) for knitting with linen?… that was the only time I produced a biased fabric.

    • Try adding a faux seam to break up the tension of your fabric. It certainly helps with linen.. our knit flat

  • Patty does it again! Another explanation that’s clear, understandable, and nonjudgmental. She is my favorite teacher. Oh — and she is compassionate and fun!

  • Bend and snap :):):)

  • So glad to hear that my less than perfect fabric is not necessarily my fault! It seems to me (not certain, since I sometimes do things mindlessly), that occasionally I will notice something amiss along these lines and will go hmm… and turn my cake/ball so that the yarn is flowing from the opposite direction. Don’t know if that does anything at all but it psychologically satisfies me. My one big fat (super-bulky) singles project was a cat bed and twist was the farthest thing from my mind, thus following Ann’s philosophy. And true to Ann’s thinking Smoky never, ever complained. But for almost everything else I will try that easy-to-follow exit strategy. (My one linen project improved a lot with a good wet-blocking. Yay for linen!)

  • Thank you! This is quite a handful of good advice. I will try rewinding my yarns pulling from the outside. And I always thought yarn stands fall in the category: “gifts for knitters who have everything”. Now I know better and I’m going to try one too.

    The last two days in the begin of a new project I struggled with my mantra (you tought me!) “Let the needle do the work” and yanked a lot. This morning I asked myself whether I should unravel and start it over. Now I know the answer. Thank you again!

  • As soon as I read “bend and snap” I knew what you were referring to;-D lol thx for morning chuckle!

  • Great lesson

  • Elizabeth Zimmerman added faux seams to many of her garment patterns. They help with shaping and structure, plus they break the bias that so frequently happens with linen and cotton fabrics. They are quite easy: drop a stitch at the “side seam” and using a crochet hook, crochet 2 bars together, then 1 all the way up the seam.

  • Thank you for the explanation. Winding my yarn is not my favorite, but looks like I may be doing it twice 😉

    Funny how things are connected, I never expected to see“Bend and Snap” referenced with knitting. My sister-in-law’s niece is Broadway choreographer Kelly Devine, who choreographed the Bend and Snap. (her choreography in “Come From Away” is amazing!)

    • Small world! I LOVE Kelly Devine. I worked with her back in my theatre days. We used to call her the Devine Ms Devine!

  • Queen of Why!!!

    I really love this title, and Ms. Lyons really has earned it!

  • I love all of your subtle references here. The Beatles, Legally Blonde, birth …
    A fun read!

  • I’ve tried to figure out these left leaning and right leaning stitches for myself but this really helps. Now if I could only figure out how to save these tips.
    Much love,

Come Shop With Us

My Cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping