Left-handed knitting

My life in New Zealand has so far been pretty much of a solitaire on the knitting front. Besides the few occasions when I visited yarn shops, I haven’t met any real-life knitters or made any knitter friends. However, last Sunday may be the day to be remembered as an important turning point in the state of things. After a nice morning run in the Belmont hills, in the afternoon, we gathered for our first knitting session with two friends keen to learn how to wield the needles.

Now, I have only ever taught one person how to knit – with success! – so I wouldn’t consider myself well-versed in explaining how to cast on and knit a first row. But, eventually, it call comes down to some demonstration and gentle encouragement – and occasional rescue of dropped stitches. So, imagine my shock when one of the two friends said she was a lefty.

I sort of had a vague notion of having seen a paragraph or two speaking about left-handed knitting, but then again, these are the paragraphs most of us (the right-handed majority) just tend to skip.


Lefties face difficulties on a daily basis trying to use tools designed for the right-handed majority (Image from: http://blog.ted.com/why-two-right-handers-were-compelled-to-create-a-ted-ed-lesson-for-the-left-handed/)

So how is a left-handed person supposed to knit? Well, left-handed people do things I would normally do with my right hand with their left hands. So it is only logical to think that the most comfortable way to knit for a lefty is to do just that. Cast on on the left needle, instead of the right, and knit accordingly. My friend, luckily – and probably due to plenty experience -, seemed to be very skilled in turning my right-handed knitting motion into her left-handed version. All set and problem solved – one might think. But far from that.

As she had completed her first rows and I was helping her to sort out a few dropped stitches, it dawned on me that something was just not right. She was knitting from left to right, instead of right to left. Which is fine if all you ever want to knit is a stockinette scarf with some ribbing, but suddenly it came to me that, with any more complex stitch pattern, she would end up having a mirror-image of the original. Let alone shaping. When, according to a pattern a right-handed knitter would be doing decreases for the right shoulder, she would be working on the left.

I was hoping that, as it often happens, a bit of research would enlighten me in some unexpected ways regarding this problem. However, what I found was no different from my own conclusion. In fact most knitting references (see example)  seem to encourage left-handed knitters to learn to knit in the same way as their right-handed peers, preferably using the Continental method. It is argued that since both hands are used for knitting anyway, this shouldn’t be overtly complicated. I would be curious about real lefty input on this matter.

It is also suggested that some people might still find the true left-handed method (described above) more comfortable. A useful piece of advice is to use a mirror in order to teach/learn this. So a left-handed learner can mimic the mirror image of right-handed knitting motion. The fact that patterns will have to be modified holds in this case though. Most (all?) knitting patterns are written for right-handed knitters, which is a situation similar to the way every day tools, such as scissors, can openers, mouses, etc. are designed for righty users. While colourwork can be easily reversed using a mirror, again, shaping, decreases, increases and cables require a more thorough revision of the pattern. Looks a bit tedious to me but some seem to think it’s not so complicated.

And through all this reflection on the difficulties of left-handed knitters, I came across this interesting short video exploring why most of us are righties and some of us are lefties in the first place.


3 thoughts on “Left-handed knitting

  1. I’ve taught a lot of beginning knitting, and I always give lefties the same basic method as right-handed knitters, on the theory that it’s crazy to expect them to reverse all the directions they read for learning on their own, especially when they’re starting out. The biggest challenge for anyone learning to knit (unless they already do crochet or other fine hand work) seems to be just gaining enough fine motor control to make the stitches smoothly, and I haven’t seen a lot of difference there between right and left-handed people. I do think it’s easier for lefties to learn the continental style, which is harder for people who are strongly right-hand dominant.


    • Thanks for your insights Tasha! I think you are right, in fact, last evening I met up with my friend again, and this time we tried good old normal continental style knitting. My lefty friend, actually claimed that she found it easier, than reversing hands. Maybe this is because one of the most difficult things to learn is to hold the yarn with the left hand, which for her is the dominant hand. After the initial scare, eventually there seems to be a happy ending 🙂


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