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Such an unassuming instruction, so innocent sounding! Slip one! 

It’s so simple— just move the stitch from the left to the right needle. But there’s more to it than might seem.

It gets a little sticky because there are a couple of considerations: how to put the needle into the stitch, and what to do about the yarn. And patterns aren’t always clear about what’s needed.

How to put the needle into the stitch

There are two ways to put the needle into the stitch. There’s knitwise: meaning that the needle goes into the stitch as if you’re going to knit it. And there’s purlwise: meaning that the needle goes in as if you’re going to purl it.

insert the needle knitwise
insert the needle purlwise

There is a difference: when you slip a stitch knitwise, you twist it by taking the right leg and moving it to the back. This matters because next time you work the stitch it will be set up the wrong way, and both the look and the lay of the stitch will be off. When you slip purlwise, the stitch stays properly positioned on the needle.

So which slip to use if your pattern doesn’t specify?

The Short Answer:

If it’s part of a decrease (e.g. SSK or SKP—a.k.a. “slip 1, knit 1, pass slipped stitch over”), then slip knitwise. Otherwise it’s always purlwise.  

What to do with the yarn

Meet two interesting new abbreviations: WYIB and WYIF! They stand for With Yarn in Back, and With Yarn in Front, and they are used to describe where you hold the yarn when slipping the stitch. 


It’s worth emphasizing a point here: when you knit or purl the stitch, the yarn position is set by that stitch. That is, when you’re knitting, the yarn needs to be in the back; when you’re purling, the yarn needs to be in the front. But if you’re just slipping the stitch; the yarn can be on either side—that is, you can do a purlwise slip with the yarn in the back (what would otherwise be knit position). 

So where to position the yarn if your pattern doesn’t specify?

The Short Answer:

Leave the yarn at the WS of the work. That is, if you’re working stockinette stitch, when you’re on the knit row, leave it at the back; and when you’re on the purl row, leave it in front. 

When and Why?

You encounter the instruction to slip a stitch in a few contexts, and it’s worth talking about them.


As previously mentioned, there are some decreases that use slipped stitches. In these cases, you’re slipping knitwise to set the stitch up to be lifted over or worked with its neighbor so that the resulting stitch is properly aligned. 


Sometimes a pattern might have you work slipped stitches at the start of a row. No matter how good a knitter you are, you’ll find the stitches at the start of the row a little untidy, especially in garter stitch: slipping the first stitch of the row makes them look much neater. For stockinette stitch, you slip purlwise with yarn held to the WS of the work …

Because stockinette edges tend to roll to the inside, I’ve taken this photo from the wrong side. At the bottom you see the tidy—but somewhat enlarged— slipped stitch; at the top you see the edge worked normally.

Note that the pictures above also answers an FAQ: no, slipping the first stitch of every row doesn’t stop the edges rolling. That’s what blocking is for. 

It’s a little different for garter stitch: since the fabric doesn’t really have a right or wrong side, always slip purlwise with the yarn held to the front, and then take it to the back to knit the first stitch.


An important note here: it’s only good and useful to slip the first stitch of your row if the edges are going to be left as they are—like on a scarf. You should never do this if the edges are going to be sewn up, or have stitches picked up, or get some other special treatment—slipped stitches make these things more difficult. 

Of course, there are ALWAYS a couple of exceptions to any rule. Here are two you might encounter in your knitting journey: Entrelac and on the heel flaps of certain sock structures. In both cases, a start-of-row slip is used to set a very particular and situation-specific ratio of picked-up stitches to rows worked. In other situations, doing this will have you end up with too few stitches. The pattern will tell you whether slipping is recommended or necessary, so it’s not something you need to remember.

In Summary, The Rules:

So, unless a pattern provides very specific instruction to do otherwise….

  • If it’s part of a decrease, slip knitwise. In all other cases, slip purlwise.
  • When slipping the stitch, leave the yarn at the WS of the work. 
  • And ONLY slip the first stitch of every row IF the edges are going to be otherwise left alone—like on a scarf. 

Save it for later. Here’s how to tuck this article into your MDK account with one click.

About The Author

Kate Atherley is a teacher, designer, author and technical editor. She’s also the publisher of Digits & Threads, a magazine all about Canadian fibre and textile arts.


  • Thanks Kate. This one always leaves me scratching my head.

  • Great article. I recently did a shawl pattern where the first stitch was slipped with no other instructions– I did this throughout the pattern but no matter how I treated that first stitch I ended up with an unyielding tight edge — I’ve decided to just knit the first stitch on my next shawl to avoid that. Do you have another suggestion in fixing that issue?

    • You did just what I would do: knit them! Slipping them is too darn tight. (Some people double-wrap the yarn for a slipped stitch at the edge, dropping the extra wrap on the following row, but I find that can introduce other issues, and make it too loose.)

    • I am guessing it was a triangle shape shawl that you were knitting, Yes, the edges of a triangle shawl do get tight, because if you keep adding the stitches along the “growth” edge and at the same time not work the edge stitch, in the long run you end up with a bit less fabric at that very edge. That long growing edge is much longer than if you just continue knitting vertically (i.e. without adding stitches to grow the triangle). Think the diagonal line across a rectangle – it is always longer than width or length sides of said rectangle.
      There are ways of avoiding this tightness. Some patterns suggest to actually work that edge stitch on every other row or to do a yarn over two stitches in from the edge and to drop it on the next row…

  • Thanks. Grateful for putting the why in my knitting.

  • Thanks, Kate! I love the clear explanations and the take-away bullet points. So helpful!

  • A huge pattern pet peeve of mine: not specifying knit wise or purlwise, or worse, whether it’s wyif or wyib! Why do pattern writers assume you can read their minds? The pattern I’m currently working on has the edge stitches slipped and doesn’t specify, so I held to the wrong side as you suggested, but turns out that wasn’t right. I laddered down my edge stitches and fixed it, but I wouldn’t have had to do that if just four itty-bitty letters had been included in the pattern! It’s not hard!

    • Agree, that info SHOULD be in the patterns. But the good news is that there’s a pretty simple rule: unless it’s part of a decrease, always slip the stitch purlwise. If it’s stockinette stitch, hold the yarn to WS; if it’s garter, always hold the yarn in front.

      • That was exactly my problem—it’s my first time doing a slip on a garter stitch edge, and I didn’t know the rule was different for garter!

  • Gah! Where has this article been all my knitting life?! So very happy to have this! Thank you, Kate!

  • Another great piece. When I started more complicated knitting, so many patterns weren’t specific as to how to slip. They should be!

    My other pet peeve is the current focus on ‘pretty/artsy’ photos of shawls where you can’t see the shape and the shape/dimensions aren’t given. Not helpful at all.
    Thanks for so much clarity!

    • Totally agree with you on the photos, Gail! I’m not going to choose your pattern to knit if I can’t tell what it looks like!

    • I’m with you there, Gail! Every pattern should have one photo of the item, laid flat, plain background, so a person can see it clearly. Then a bunch of pretty/artsy ones, which are so nice to look at….

  • Thank you so much for the article – although I pretty well knew it all it is so helpful to have it all written down, explained and bulleted. I am in the process of knitting a scarf in the round. To give the edges a nice neat look the pattern instructions are to knit or slip the edge stitch on alternate rows. I find that if I slip knitwise and twist the stitch then I see it more clearly on the next row and so I don’t have to use a row counter. I just knit into the back to straighten that stitch out again.

  • Thank you, Kate! I appreciate your clear photos and explanations. My socks are definitely better — easier to knit and more comfortable to wear — when I slip that stitch on the heel flap.

  • Kate, in reading your post, I found that I have generally been doing the correct actions, even when directions did not specify, just because they seemed the natural thing to do. Now you have given us the reasons behind the techniques. Thanks Kate!

  • The question I always have is not answered here. You state “It’s a little different for garter stitch: since the fabric doesn’t really have a right or wrong side, always slip purlwise with the yarn held to the front, and then take it to the back to knit the first stitch.” My question is this, when slipping purlwise with the yarn in front, do you wrap the yarn around the edge to get it to the back and knit, or do you move the yarn over the knitting between the needles to get it to the back to knit? I have done both, but am never sure which is correct.

  • Great article! It’s especially helpful to know that you should only slip the first stitch if the edge will be left alone. Yesterday a friend was asking me about doing a crocheted edge on a scarf. This morning I was thinking I should tell her to slip the first stitch, but now I know better!

  • Hi Kate! Excellent article, as always. You say that the first stitch of a row should only be slipped if it’s going to stay that way, but aren’t there times outside of sock heel construction that stitches are slipped to be picked back up again later? For example, I’m currently working on the Color Explosion throw which has the first stitch slipped every row, to later be picked back up to bind all of the blanket panels together. Will slipping the stitch not make picking the edge stitches back up later on easier? Is there some advantage to not slipping the first stitch in a situation like this?

  • Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

  • Thanks for this! It clears up my oft overthought conversation with myself on whether WYIF means the front of the piece or the side facing you.

  • Total rookie question! Does WS stand for working side or wrong side? I had an instructor who used WS for working side but I think your using it for wrong side. I’m confused!

  • As I heard Sally Melville once say, “knit now, purl later.” So, as you say, if it’s part of a decrease that you are doing immediately, slip knitwise; otherwise, purlwise.

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