knitted swatches of 1x1 ribbing with and without twisted stitches

Knitting twisted stitches – knit & purl through the back of the loop

It’s possible to twist your knit and/or your purl stitches, producing a similar, yet slightly different and quite pretty result. The V of the knit side of the stitch is twisted at the base. I sometimes come upon knitters who are twisting their knit stitches without even realizing it. It’s not a big problem. However, if you are a twister it’s nice to know so that going forward, you can choose what stitches you are knitting, and what fabric you are producing. And then do whatever you like!

Stockinette & Twisted Stockinette

Here’s what twisted stockinette and regular stockinette looks like:

Stockinette with and without twisted knit stitches
On the left, a swatch in twisted stockinette where all knit stitches are twisted, but with regular purl stitches (RS: ktbl all stitches, WS: p all stitches). On the right, a swatch in regular stockinette (RS: k all stitches, WS: p all stitches). Both swatches have a garter stitch border (k all stitches).

Twisted stockinette is one possible use for twisted stitches, but the most common use is perhaps twisted ribbing. I will get back to that, but first, here’s how you knit twisted stitches.

Through the back loop

You make twisted stitches by knitting and/or purling through the back of the loop. The abbreviations are

knitting abbreviations ktbl and ptbl

Let’s take a look at the anatomy of a stitch to better understand what that means. Here’s a stitch on the needle as seen from the front. The loop that makes up the stitch has two legs – one leg that is on your near side called the front of the loop, and one leg that is on the far side of the needle called the back of the loop.

A stitch seen from the front
A stitch has two legs. One of the near side (the front of the loop) and one on the far side (the back of the loop).

You can insert the needle into a stitch 4 different ways

You can insert your working needle (the right-hand needle) into the stitch on the left-hand needle in four different ways: From right to left, or left to right, and through the front loop or through the back loop.

Here are illustrations and photos of the four options that will produce the four different stitches: knit, purl, knit tbl and purl tbl. Please note that the position of the working yarn is not correct in the photos, so only pay attention to how the needle is inserted.

Illustration of the four ways to insert the needle in a stitch
When you make a new stitch, you can insert the right-hand needle four different ways into the stitch mounted on the left-hand needle, left to right or right to left, using either the front of the loop (the near side leg) or the back of the loop (the far side leg). Keep in mind that for the knit stitches, k and ktbl, you need to keep the working yarn to the back, behind the needles, and for the purl stitches, p and ptbl, you need to keep the working yarn to the front, in front of the needles (This is not shown correctly in the photos).

TIP: Working yarn in the back for k and ktbl. Working yarn in front for p and ptbl.

Video tutorials of how to knit and purl through the back loop

There really is no substitute for watching a video of a new stitch – over and over again if necessary. My favorite video demonstrating how you knit and purl through the back loop is from Suzanne Bryan. She highlights the location of the working yarn, and she shows the technique for both continental end English knitting. Take a look, and feel free to slow it down, pause and repeat.

Another favorite is Very Pink Knits. Here are her videos for both ktbl and ptbl.

Alright, now that you know how to twist your stitches, it’s time to tell you, why you want to!

Twisted ribbing

Ribbing is created by alternating columns of knit stitches and purl stitches. It can be 1×1 ribbing (*k1, p1), 2×2 ribbing (*k2, p2), or 3×3 ribbing (*k3, p3), etc.. The primary use for ribbing is for the bottom and the cuffs of sweaters, sock cuffs, and hat brims. Ribbed edges tend to give a closer fit because they are elastic. They will expand when you put the garment on, and then contract to fit snugly.

When it comes to the most simple type of ribbing, the 1×1 rib, knitters face a challenge. The stitches tend to be lopsided! The reason for this is that knit stitches and purl stitches are supposed to be inverse versions of each other, but if your tension is not completely even for your knit and purl stitches, then your ribbing will be uneven as well. I know of knitters who have managed to overcome this challenge, but for us mere mortals, we can either accept our imperfect ribbing, or we can introduce twisted stitches to tighten things up.

Here’s a swatch of regular ribbing, with no twisted stitches:

knitting sample of 1 by 1 ribbing
This is how 1×1 ribbing typically looks.

It’s not exactly perfect. The columns of knit stitches that you see are made by a knit on the front side of one row, then a purl on the backside of the next row, then a knit on the front again, and so forth. It’s clear that the tension is not consistent for the knits and the purls. It’s worth noting that you will not have this same problem when you knit in the round because then you are always working on the right side of the work.

Twisted rib is neater than the regular rib

So, what to do if you are knitting flat (i.e. back and forth, usually on straight knitting needles), and you want your 1×1 ribbing to look sharp? A neat trick is to knit a twisted rib instead. For the twisted rib, you produce columns of twisted stitches by knitting all your knit stitches through the back of the loop on the right side of the work and purling all your purl stitches through the back of the loop on the wrong side of the work. Purling tbl is a little awkward, but it’s worth it: The result is super sharp ribbing on the right side of the work, and a flatter, but still pretty ribbing on the wrong side of the work.

Knitting sample of twisted rib
Twisted ribbing is crisp and gorgeous! This is how twisted ribbing looks on the right side, and double twisted ribbing looks this way on both sides of the fabric. The red swatch in the top photo of this article shows the wrong side of the twisted rib.

The flat backside of the twisted rib feels really nice against the skin, so the two-sided nature of the twisted rib is very useful for clothing. For circular knitting, you can produce the twisted rib without having to purl through the back of the loop at all.

You can also make a twisted rib that is reversible – the double twisted rib. Then you knit and purl all stitches through the back of the loop, on both sides of the work.

Please note that people do not use the names for twisted ribbing consistently. What I call twisted rib, I’ve also seen by the name of half-twisted and double twisted, and what I call double twisted, I’ve seen by the name of twisted. I’m sorry, I know it sucks. Always double-check that you are knitting the stitch pattern you think you are knitting. There’s also a version that I like to call half-twisted (just to complete the confusion) where you twist both the knits and the purls on one side, and none of the stitches on the other side. This gives a similar result to the twisted rib, but the ribbing is more spaced out.

A fun & easy twist on the twisted rib – the lazy twisted

I call this particular variant of the twisted rib the lazy twisted rib because I “discovered” it one day I was too lazy to make purls through the back of the loop. I’m a continental knitter, and for me, that means I find it really easy to do regular purl AND to knit tbl. For both stitches, the right-hand needle is inserted from right to left, and with the working yarn in the left hand, it’s right there ready to be picked up by the needle tip. So the lazy twisted rib is just that – All knit stitches of the ribbing are twisted and all the purls are not with both sides the same. For me, this is easier and prettier than regular 1×1 ribbing, and much faster than twisted ribbing. I love the grid-like structure of the fabric that it produces. Let me know in the comments what you think of it – have you seen this stitch by another name, and what would you use it for?

knitting sample of an alternative to twisted rib
This is one of my favorite simple stitches. It’s particularly fast for continental knitters.

A pattern for practicing the twisted rib stitch

My friend Beryl, from Knit So Easy, has designed a wonderful knitted dish- or washcloth pattern that is perfect for practicing the twisted rib stitch – The Elk Creek Dishcloth. You will become familiar with both knitting and purling through the back loop, and you end up with a piece of gorgeous plush fabric. This one’s a keeper! Knit So Easy specializes in quick and easy patterns, designed with the new knitter in mind, so take the opportunity to have a look around the site.

The Elk Creek Dishcloth from Knit So Easy
The Elk Creek Dishcloth by Knit So Easy. Click the image to buy the pattern, only 2.95 $.
(I do not get paid to recommend this pattern)

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12 thoughts on “Knitting twisted stitches – knit & purl through the back of the loop”

  1. Thank you for the very clear explanations and samples. I was trying to search whether or not one would want to twist stitches every row or every other row.

    I’m afraid, though, that the words “front” and “back” are reversed in this tip right after the four ways to insert a needle into a stitch:
    “TIP: Working yarn in front for k and ktbl. Working yarn in back for p and ptbl.”

    Working yarn should be in the BACK for k and ktbl, and working yarn should be in the FRONT for p and ptbl.

    Hoping this helps clear up any confusion.

    1. Oh wow, thank you for this. I am fixing the mistake right away. I went through this text so many times to make sure it was all correct, and I missed the mistake in big bold letters…. typical. THANKS

    1. Hi Susan, the pattern as written is for an even number of stitches, and it is correct. If you have an odd number then you begin row 2 with a purl. I see now that I have written “even number of rows” instead of stitches in the description. That is a mistake – I will fix it. Thank you for the question 😃

  2. Thank you for this. I had searched video tutorials for ‘twisted rib’ and couldn’t figure out why some twisted through the back of both knit and purl (in the round) and others only twisted through the back on the knit. Ta da! Twisted(or half-twist) versus Double twisted. Your explanation that people call different stitches by the same name clarified it for me. And your explanation of the finished appearance on the right and wrong side helped me know what I want to do. Thank you.

  3. Just found this article, it is very helpful.
    One question: will those technics applicable to circular knitting ( or magic loop needle)?

    1. You can absolutely work twisted stitches on circular knitting, but it will be a little different because you are only working the outside of the garment, not the inside. This makes twisted ribbing much easier than when you work it on a flat piece.

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