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The yarnover: another one of those deceptively simple instructions that causes a distressing amount of confusion.

The good news? I’m here to explain it!

One problem is the name. “Yarnover” is an odd term. It means four different things, four different moves. And when you’re just starting out, the most obvious interpretation of the instruction describes precisely none of them.

The four different version of the yarnover are:

  • Between knit stitches.
  • Between purl stitches.
  • After a knit stitch, before a purl.
  • After a purl stitch, before a knit.

To make it even more fun—and by “fun,” I mean confusing—how you do them depends on whether you hold the yarn in your left hand, or your right. I’ll keep things straight in the photos and micro-videos (they’re silent and super short) that follow.

Yarnover Between Knits—Yarn Held in Right Hand

If you work with yarn in right hand, to create a yarnover, just bring it to the front between the tips of the needles. That’s it.

Let’s go to the videotape:

When you work the next stitch, the yarn drapes over the needle to create the yarnover.

Yarnover Between Knits—Yarn Held in Left Hand

If you work with yarn in left hand, there’s more of a movement, but it makes more sense, I think. You bring the yarn to the front between the tips of the needles and let it drape over the right needle, in position to work the next stitch.

Important note: the following stitch isn’t part of the yarnover. The yarnover is just that placement of yarn. This in itself can be a point of confusion—it doesn’t seem like it’s enough of a thing to qualify as a stitch.

Yarnover Between Purls—Yarn in Right Hand

Yeah, so this is entirely different from the previous variant: the yarn is already at the front, so if you were to just work the next stitch (a purl) like that, there would be no extra yarn added. To make the yarnover from this position, you have to take the yarn over the needle—over the top of the needle, away from you—and bring it all the way back around to the front again.

Whether you work with yarn in right or left hand, you’re making an actual wrap of yarn around the right-hand needle.

Yarnover Between Purls—Yarn in Left Hand

Yarnover After a Knit, Before a Purl—Yarn in Right Hand

From this position also, a yarnover requires an actual wrap around the right-hand needle. Bring the yarn to the front between the tips of the needles, and then wrap it all the way back around. As in the previous example, the movement is effectively the same for both ways of carrying the yarn.


Yarnover After a Knit, Before a Purl—Yarn in Left Hand

Yarnover After a Purl, Before a Knit—Yarn in Right Hand

This one is the easiest. If you work with yarn in right hand, just leave the yarn where it was after the purl, at the front, and let it drape over the right-hand needle when you knit the next stitch. And if you work with yarn in left hand, just drape it over the needle as you do for the between knits version.

Yarnover After a Purl, Before a Knit—Yarn in Left Hand

Important note: In all cases, the yarnover should end up oriented as a standard stitch—with the right leg at the front.

All Yarnovers Are Not Equal

Now that we know four ways to make a yarnover, let’s talk about why these versions aren’t the same: the result is different, because the length of yarn draped over the needle varies, which results in different size holes. The yarn travels different distances, depending on which type of stitch comes before and after.

The longest one is the after-knit-before-purl version, the shortest, the after-purl-before-knit.

To demonstrate, I’ve created some world-class diagrams to represent a cross-section of the needle.

If the yarn starts in knit position and ends up in knit position, it’s making a full trip all the way around the needle.

And it’s precisely the same for the between-purls version—the yarnover makes that full trip around the needle.

If the yarn starts in knit position, and travels to the front and around again to purl position, the yarn is traveling further.


And if the yarn starts in purl position and travels over the needle to knit position, the yarn is traveling a shorter distance.

If you’re working a pattern that has different types of yarnovers, you might find that they look inconsistent in the finished project.

To make them all consistent, you want the after-knit-before-purl yarnover a little shorter, and the after-purl-before-knit version a little longer. You want them all to be the same length.

In particular, you want them all to be a full wrap around the needle, nothing more, nothing less.

To lengthen the after-purl-before-knit, work it in reverse: take the yarn to back between the tips of the needles, and then bring the yarn over the needle from back to the front.


Yarn in the right hand.
Yarn in the left hand.

The resulting wrap is seated the wrong way, with its left leg forward, so you’ll need to remember to work it through the other side, the back/right leg, on the following row/round.

To shorten the after-knit-before-purl, work the yarnover wrap as usual, but work the following purl stitch the short way: wrapping the yarn under the tip of the right needle, rather than over.

This significantly shortens not the yarnover, but the following purl stitch. When you block the project, the too-small purl stitch borrows yarn from the neighboring too-big yarnover, and they average out to be the right size.

Note that wrapping the purl stitch the other way results in it being seated the wrong way— left leg forward—so make sure to work it through the back/right leg, on the following row/round.

Or You Could Always Yank It

All that having been said,  experimentation has also demonstrated two additional solutions, ideally suited for the more pragmatic knitter: to make a too-large yarnover smaller give the following stitch a good old yank; to make a too-small yarnover bigger, keep the following stitch loose.

Go with your gut.


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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.


  • Outstanding….as always! Thank you!

  • Thank you!!! This is so clear and very helpful!

  • These instructions are just wonderful but the last paragraph gave me a good laugh! Nice way to start the day. Thanks so much.

  • Very helpful. I knit a sweater last year that had a nice pattern on the back which required a lot of yarnovers. I was unable to get them even so I had to leave the pattern out. Bookmarking this one! 🙂

  • Okay! Thank you! Now I know what I did wrong on my pattern for first row. I solved it by knitting the yarn over between the knit stitches together with the knit stitch! But I was wrapping it the wrong way. Ending up with 7 stitches in my “ring stitch” instead of the 4 I was supposed to have! Took it out 3 times and couldn’t figure out why I had 140 extra stitches! When I did the k2 together it gave me the right number of stitches!

    I just need to wrap in the clock wise direction when I was going counter clockwise!


  • Thank you so much for this! A great resource.

  • Brilliant, you cover all the bases – many thanks!

  • I often have thought that I might be doing yo’s wrong because they never seem to look like the pictures. But now, once and for all, after having seen Kate’s video, I know I am doing them right! (My problem may be gauge. It wouldn’t surprise me:-).

  • Another way to deal with some YO’s that are larger than others is to work the YO ‘through the back loop’ on the following row. This twists and tightens the stitch … actually ‘gives it a yank’ just like your summary! Thanks for explaining this geometrically and logically.

    • Kathy: Your solution is very logical, but there can be a little bit of an issue with it, in some circumstances. If you twist the yarnover, it won’t look the same as a “standard” one. If it’s in an inconspicuous place, or you’re not needing to match it with the other types of yarnovers, or there aren’t a lot of them, then it’s perfect. But if it’s mixed in with others, or very visible, it might not be the look you’re aiming for.

  • Thank you so much! I’m in the process of knitting a shawl and was making those darn yarnovers way too difficult for myself.

  • So, so helpful! I’ve often disliked the look of a YO, but didn’t know why. Thank you!

  • Absolutely WONDERFUL! Thank you for the systematic and logical explanation with great videos and drawings. I have always known there was a difference, but could not remember what it was. This absolutely clicked with me.

  • Thank you, this is the first clear and detailed explanation I’ve found of how different all the yarn over moves are – and thank you also for using chunky yarns and big needles, so one can *see* what’s being done.

  • Thank you Kate. This was a very clear explanation.

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