Knitting Methods: comparing Western, Eastern Uncrossed and Combination knitting

eastern uncrossed knitting (stockinette stitch)

western knitting (stockinette stitch)

The three factors that will be explained in this article (stitch mount, direction of yarn wrap, and needle direction) constitute the major differences in knitting methods. Other considerations, such as which hand the working yarn is held in (in the right for “English” or “throwing,” or in the left for “picking” or “Continental” style) are really just differences in style/technique, and while they are worth considering, they do not really affect how the actual stitch is manipulated.

Although Western (or “normal”) knitting and Eastern Uncrossed methods are primarily going to be considered here, there are other methods as well … notably “Combined” or “Combination” knitting. As you might expect, Combined knitting is a combination of both Western and Eastern methods (and although there is a lot of misinformation floating around that seems to indicate otherwise, Combination knitting and Eastern Uncrossed are not the same thing).

The pictures above show two swatches of stockinette – one knit using the Eastern Uncrossed method, and the other knit using the “normal” Western method. (As a side note, the naming for these is incredibly stupid, but it seems to be how people are describing it, so it’s what we’ll have to go with). As you probably noticed, the swatches look pretty much the same … and they are. One difference is that the yarn itself appears more tightly spun on the Western swatch, whereas it seems looser on the Eastern Uncrossed swatch. This has to do with two factors – the direction the yarn itself was spun (yarn can be spun with either an “S” or “Z” twist), and the direction that the yarn is wrapped in each method (more on that later).

Western knitting and Eastern Uncrossed are more or less opposites of each other, and both methods produce the same result. The “uncrossed” in Eastern Uncrossed is meant to indicate that, like normal Western knitting, the stitches are not twisted or “crossed,” (standard “Eastern” knitting purportedly produces a twisted stitch … though as another side note, this whole “East,” “West” business as it relates to actual geographic locations and people is vague at best). More on twisted stitches later …

Since most patterns are written assuming that all knitters use Western methods, Eastern Uncrossed and Combination knitters will need to modify patterns in order to knit them properly. This can be challenging at times, but I am hoping this information will help out ^_^

In order to understand the differences in knitting methods, we have to look at 3 factors …

1. Stitch Mount

TOP: Eastern Uncrossed stitch mount
BOTTOM: Western stitch mount

This refers to how the loops sit or are “seated” on the needle. One side (or “leg”) of the loop will rest slightly more forward (towards the tip of the needle) … this is the “leading leg.” Sometimes it can be hard to see which leg is more forward, but if you pull slightly on the working yarn, the leading leg will move forward and be more obvious. The stitch mount is determined by the direction the yarn was wrapped when that stitch was made on the previous row (see #2 below).

EASTERN UNCROSSED: stitches are mounted with the leading leg in back
WESTERN: stitches are mounted with the leading leg in front

2. Direction of Yarn Wrap

This is closely related to stitch mount, as the direction you wrap the yarn will determine the stitch mount. If you wrap the yarn counter-clockwise, the resulting loop will be mounted with the leading leg in front (Western mount), and if you wrap it clockwise the loop will have the leading leg in back (Eastern Uncrossed mount). Note: when I refer to “clockwise” and “counter-clockwise,” I mean the direction the yarn is wrapped around the needle when looking straight at the tip.

EASTERN UNCROSSED: yarn is always wrapped clockwise
WESTERN: yarn is always wrapped counter-clockwise

3. Needle Direction

The final consideration is the direction the needle enters the loop … whether it enters through the front or back of the loop, and whether you approach the loop from the left or the right. In general, Western stitches are worked into the front of the loop, and Eastern Uncrossed stitches are worked into the back of the loop. The direction the needle is inserted (from the right or from the left) will vary depending on what kind of stitch you are making (knit stitch vs. purl, etc).

TOP: Eastern Uncrossed knit stitch
BOTTOM: Western knit stitch

For a knit stitch, you will insert the needle on whichever side the loop “opens up” towards (determined by the stitch mount). For Western knitting, the leading leg is the front one, which means the loop sits angled with the left side more open (facing towards you) … so you will insert the needle on that side. For Eastern Uncrossed, it is the opposite – the right side of the loop is angled towards you, so that is the side you knit into.
Purl stitches are the reverse of knit stitches, so for Western you would insert the needle from the right, and Eastern Uncrossed would go in from the left (still keeping in mind that Western stitches are worked into the front, and Eastern Uncrossed will be worked from behind).

EASTERN UNCROSSED: stitches are worked into the back loop, and the needle inserted from the right for knit stitches, and from the left for purl stitches

WESTERN: stitches are worked into the front loop, and the needle inserted from the left for knit stitches, and from the right for purl stitches

Twisted Stitches

A variation in any of the preceding factors (within a given method) will usually result in a twisted stitch. For example, if in Western knitting you knit into the back loop instead of the front (keeping other factors for that method the same), then the result would be a twisted stitch.

LEFT: normal untwisted stitches
RIGHT: twisted stitches

You can also produce a twisted stitch by changing the direction that you wrap the yarn. This changes the direction of the stitch mount, and if (when you come to that loop again), you work the stitch as you normally would for a given method, then the result will be twisted. The exception to this is Combined knitting, which manages to avoid twisted stitches by knitting into the back leg with a counter-clockwise wrap, while purling into the front leg with a clockwise wrap.
However, twisted stitches are not really “bad”… sometimes they are used intentionally to create an interesting design. Although a stitch can become twisted by reversing the direction you wrap the yarn, the effect is not immediate, and changing your normal yarn-wrapping direction is pretty much never called for. Instead, a twisted stitch is worked by reversing the way you insert the needle … so for Western knitting, you will be instructed to Ktbl (knit through the back loop … much like a normal Eastern Uncrossed knit stitch). Eastern Uncrossed knitters who are modifying a pattern written for Western knitters can replace “Ktbl” with “Ktfl” (knit through the front loop … like a normal Western knit stitch). Likewise “Ptbl” (purl through the back loop) can be replaced with “Ptfl” (purl through the front loop).

Directional Decreases: SSK vs. K2TOG

In Western Knitting, a SSK (slip-slip-knit)* produces a left leaning decrease (\), and K2TOG (knit 2 together) produces a right leaning decrease (/) [when viewed from the right side of the fabric]. In Eastern Uncrossed, this is exactly the opposite – SSK leans right, and K2TOG leans left. The reason this is, is because Western SSK is basically the same thing as an Eastern Uncrossed K2TOG … the only difference is the direction you wrap the yarn (still always counter-clockwise for Western, and clockwise for Eastern Uncrossed). What you are actually doing when you slip the two loops is reversing the stitch mount … so in Western, the stitch mount now looks like it normally does in Eastern Uncrossed, and vice versa. Then the “knit” part of the SSK (and this has always bugged me) is always done the opposite of what would usually be done for either method.** So in Western, the last part of SSK is done by “knitting” the two loops together by going into the back loops from the right***, and into the front loops from the left for Eastern Uncrossed. So that is why the decreases for Western and Eastern Uncrossed slant opposite directions … what you are doing when you do a Western SSK is basically the same thing as an Eastern Uncrossed K2TOG, and a Western K2TOG is the same as an Eastern Uncrossed SSK.

*Note 1: In Western knitting you “slip” a stitch knit-wise (from the left, insert your needle as if to knit, but just slip it off onto the right needle). This flips the loop around, reversing the stitch mount. To do the same thing in Eastern Uncrossed, you need to “slip” your stitches purl-wise (insert your needle as if to purl, from the back-left, and slip it off onto the right needle)
**Note 2: The word “knit” is used both as a noun (as in a piece of material, or the physical stitch), and as a verb (to knit a stitch) … however, as a verb, it can get confusing. I have found it best not to think of it as an ironclad set of actions. As we have seen with slip-slip-“knit,” the “knit” is not actually performed the same way as your method’s normal “knit” stitch … however, the resulting stitch is “knit” in the sense that when you look at it, the loops that were on the left needle have flipped towards the back of the fabric (creating a horizontal bump on the backside). So try instead to think of “knit” as meaning “the thing you do to get the loop to flip towards the back,” and “purl” as “that thing you do to get the loop to flip towards the front” … and as you’ve already figured out, there is more than one way to get that job done.
***Note 3: Western knitters often take a shortcut when doing SSK … instead of moving the slipped stitches back onto the left needle, they move the left needle into the loops on the right. However, it’s essentially the same thing.

TIP: If you have a tendency to forget which direction SSK and K2TOG lean, just remember that for either method (Western or Eastern Uncrossed), the slant will lean the same direction as your right hand needle when you are making the stitch. Eastern Uncrossed K2TOG has the needle coming from the right and angling up towards the left, so this is the same angle that the slant will have (so long as you’re looking at the right side of the fabric). Western knitters will K2TOG by entering the loops from the left and have the needle angling up towards the right (when you’re coming from the left side you’ll probably have to exaggerate the direction you are holding needle in order to see this clearly), so a Western K2TOG will lean towards the right. As I mentioned before, the “knit” of SSK is always worked from the opposite direction from your “normal knit,” so the slant of SSK will lean the opposite direction.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the direction of the decrease does not always make a difference. In lace patterns, it will usually be necessary for Eastern Uncrossed knitters to swap SSK and K2TOG … however, sometimes you are decreasing just for the sake of making 2 stitches into 1 (and not to create a design) … and because K2TOG is generally faster and easier than SSK, it is generally preferred when the direction of the slant is not an issue.

Summary

Below is a table summarizing the basic differences between methods – Western (“normal”) knitting, Eastern Uncrossed, and Combined (or Combination) knitting.

stitch Western Eastern Uncrossed Combination/Combined
KNIT leading leg in front; knit into front leg from left to right, wrapping yarn counter-clockwise leading leg in back; knit into back leg from right to left, wrapping yarn clockwise leading leg in back; knit into back leg from right to left, wrapping yarn counter-clockwise
PURL leading leg in front; purl into front leg from right to left, wrapping yarn counter-clockwise leading leg in back; purl into back leg from left to right, wrapping yarn clockwise leading leg in front; purl into front leg from right to left, wrapping yarn clockwise
LEFT SLANT DEC (\) SSK: slip 2 stitches knit-wise (reversing the stitch mount) and transfer back to the left needle, knit the stitches together through the back loops from right to left, wrapping yarn counter-clockwise K2TOG: knit 2 together (through the back loops from right to left, wrapping yarn clockwise) K2TOG: knit 2 together (through the back loops from right to left, wrapping yarn counter-clockwise)
RIGHT SLANT DEC (/) K2TOG: knit 2 together (through the front loops from left to right), wrapping yarn counter-clockwise SSK: slip 2 stitches purl-wise (reversing the stitch mount) and transfer back to the left needle, knit the stitches together through the front loops from left to right, wrapping yarn clockwise SSK: slip 2 stitches (reverse the stitch mount), transfer back to the left needle, knit stitches together through front from left to right, wrapping yarn counter-clockwise