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Sometimes the answer to a knitting problem is so simple that I’m amazed I hadn’t seen it earlier. One reason a simple fix can so easily elude us is that we can’t bring ourselves to trust that it can be that easy. In addition, as knitters (and humans) we can easily get sucked into the trap of  “the way it’s always done.”

I say, who cares how it’s always been done? Time to go in a different direction! That’s right—it’s all about the direction we wrap our yarn!

The Mystery of the Mismatched Yarnover

Dear Patty,

I was wondering about the yarnover holes on either side of the spine of a top-down triangular shawl. The yarnover on the right side of the spine (following a knit stitch) is smaller than the yarnover on the left side. I noticed it as I was knitting the shawl, and blocking didn’t seem to help. I haven’t seen this with other shawls of this style that I knitted in the past. Any clues as to what I am doing or not doing to cause this? I know that when the shawl is worn it won’t be obvious, but it bugs me. 

Thank you,


Ricki’s shawl. Can you see the issue?

Dear Ricki,

This is so easily fixed that I kicked myself for not realizing the issue sooner. The problem is not the yarnover, it’s what comes after it.

The reason you might not have noticed it in the past is that your other shawls might not have had a purl before one yarnover and after the other. It looks like the majority of your shawl is moss stitch. If you take a careful look at the shawl, you’ll notice the yarnovers in the garter section are much more symmetrical. I cast on a bit of a top-down shawl using moss stitch and traditional yarnovers. You’ll notice I did not fare any better than you did. Here it is with the purl side up, just as your shawl is shown.

Notice when I flip it around to the other side—the side where I made the yarnover—the smaller one comes first.

Here’s why. (You know me, I love the why!) Once we know why it happens, the fix becomes clear.

When you do a yarnover, your yarn travels over the top of your needle by moving it to the front and then to the back. Next step is to move your yarn into position for the next stitch. If that next stitch is a knit, it’s already there.

If your next stitch is a purl, however, you have to move the yarn back to the front.

What this means: when you work a yarnover followed by a knit, your yarn travels 3/4 of the way around the needle, but when you do a yarnover followed by a purl, it travels all the way around the needle. Hence the two different size yarnovers.

You can match those yarnovers by using the same amount of yarn for each yarnover. You control the size by choosing if you’re going to take the shorter path (3/4 of the way around the needle) or the longer path (all the way around the needle), for both yarnovers.

For the shorter path you would work a traditional yarnover before the knit, but for the second yarnover, since it’s followed by a purl, you would do a backwards yarnover by moving the yarn from back to front to make your purl.

When you move your yarn from the back to the front, and then purl, your yarn travels the same distance as a regular yarnover followed by a knit stitch. You can see how symmetrical they are, with both yarnovers leaning in toward center.

If you are a continental knitter, when you work the purl, just hang onto the yarnover with your right index finger. If you are a thrower, just leave the yarn in the back and enter the stitch to work the purl, moving the yarn over the needle to make your yarnover.

If you want a larger yarnover, reverse that so you’re taking the longer path on both sides of the central knit stitch. Work a backwards yarnover before a knit and a traditional yarnover before a purl.

To have a yarnover and not a make one, on the next row, don’t forget the universal truths of knitting that were mentioned in the short row mail bag:

1. The direction we wrap our yarn is what seats our stitch on the needle.

2. To work a stitch open and untwisted, we must put the needle in the hole. That means working the stitch through its leading leg, the leg that’s closest to the tip of the needle.

So . . . on the next row, you will simply work that backwards yarnover through the back loop.

And ta-da, perfectly matched yarnovers:

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The Case of the Too-Tight Garter Ridge

Dear Patty,

I love to knit lace shawls. Many triangular shawls have a border of two or three stitches of garter stitch on the outside edge. Garter stitch isn’t as elastic as lace, so when I block the shawl the garter stitch edge never stretches enough. I either get a shawl that is more crescent than triangle or lace that is not fully opened up. Is there any way to get more give in my garter stitch border? 

Thank you!

Puzzled Lace Knitter

Dear Puzzled Lace Knitter,

The solution to this issue is weirdly connected to the mismatched yarnovers, in that it’s all about the direction we wrap our yarn.

First the why: Garter stitch is created by knitting every row. The knit stitch, for most western knitters (those that wrap the yarn under for the knit and over for the purl) is tighter than the purl stitch. That means the garter edge has a shorter row gauge than the fabric of the shawl, causing the edge to pull in.

The fix is stupid simple.

Here’s a bit of knitting news that BLEW MY MIND when I first learned it. Are you ready? Are you sitting down?

[drum roll]

Garter stitch can be made by knitting every row OR purling every row.

The purl stitch is looser for most knitters, both because the yarn takes a slightly longer trip round the needle, and because it’s easier to keep a firm tension when we are pulling the yarn through a loop (the knit) than pushing the yarn through a loop (the purl).

Notice how much taller the rows are when I purl every row to create the garter stitch edge.

And notice how the rows are shorter and the center of this mini shawl is pulling in on the left side where I knitted every row to create a traditional garter stitch edge.

It’s remarkable.

This one goes down in the record books as the world’s simplest fix: When you need a more elastic garter edge, purl every row.


Patty in your Pocket

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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



  • I understand the explanation with the purl stitch after the yarn over, but for me it happens even with a knit AFTER the yarn over. The one after the decrease is always too big and sloppy… ant fixes for that?

    • Same fix. If your tension varies you can control the size of your YO by the path your yarn takes.

  • Garter purl! Brilliant, thank you!

  • Thanks Paty, so interesting your class. Great section

  • What yarn are you knitting with (coral colored) in your demo? It’s lovely.

    • No idea. Just a scrap from my teaching bin.

  • So easily explained. Thank you.

  • Fun and informative read. I’ll pay more attention to my yarn overs now – thanks!

  • brilliant, thank you so much.

  • Mind = blown. Thanks, Patty, these tips are amazing!!

  • Yarn over fix is slightly brilliant. Oddly enough I am knitting a sweater right now where this is happening. Too far along to worry as it is now a detail on the sleeve (the hole you can see) but next time I have it down. Thanks.

  • Purl garter! So simple but mind blowing! Love the way you explain. Just found your site but huge fan already!

  • Purled garter stitch? You could knock me over with a feather. Thank you Patty for once again BRINGIN THE TRUTHS.

  • Purled garter! I wish I had read this before I just finished a shawl with a tight garter edge. 🙂 Next time!! Great fix.

  • Super genius! Thanks so much for this. I always try to do exactly what the “rule is.”

  • The bit about purled garter stitch will be life-changing when a shawl calls for a garter tab start!!! I always have trouble finding where to pick up my stitches bc the tab is so tightly packed. Thank you.

  • Great stuff. Once I worked through all of what I thought were odd YO instructions in a really old Patons booklet, from Australia. Four sorts of YO’s. The variety of them to deal with exactly the situation found in today’s problem shawl YO’s and comparable discrepancies. Never have I seen this attention to what actually happens and a technical response in American instructions. Wonderful there are good minds out there to sort things out!

  • Mind Blown! Thanks 😀

  • Thank you!

  • What about moss/seed stitch as an alternative to garter???

  • This is so obvious! Why oh why has it taken so long to get the answer? I know, you told us in the article. I find it obvious when you look at the picture where you drew little lines showing the slant direction of the yarn overs. Mirror image! My next triangular shawl will utilize both of the tips in this article. Thank you

  • I have a related but different problem… When knitting shawls from the center out with a 2- or 3- stitch garter selvedge, ONE side of the selvedge (from the center) is consistently tighter than the other to varying degrees. I just bound off a lace shawl, and one side is 12” shorter—and much tighter—than the other. I was alternating 2 skeins of hand dyed yarn on the tight side but tried to be very careful to keep that loose. I consciously try to knit all selvedge stitches very loosely but it just never seems to work out. I spent nearly two months knitting this and may swear off shawls until I can find a solution to my problem… I apologize if I should be posting this in another comment section.

    • Great question for a future column. Don’t forget if you have a question, email:

  • Mind. Blown.

    (As I sit here with a moss stitch shawl over my shoulders that has this exact issue.)

    Thank you!

  • Thank you, Patty, for the yarnover explanation. I’m working on the Lille Dahlia pattern and was so dissatisfied with the symmetry of my yarnovers. Traditional directions for making a yarnover before a purl stitch seemed to produce even sloppier results. Having now worked the charted section of this pattern with your yarnover directions, in fatter yarn and with bigger needles to really understand the pattern, I’m ready to pick up the real project again. Thank you again!

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