Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Leftie Knitting

Met a new student last night - the lovely N., who is a natural left-handed knitter. By that, I mean that she learned to knit left handed. She knits as a precise mirror of what I do. It's fabulous elegant and somewhat weird to watch her.

She came to my class with a friend, J., who is also left-handed. J. knits as I do, in the traditional right-handed manner. This caused some laughter and puzzlement in the class. Mostly the laughing was at me, as I tried to demo the M1R and M1L in the left-handed manner. I'm pretty clumsy with my left hand, so although I got the job done, it was neither fast nor elegant.

There are a few options for teaching knitting to the left-handed.

There's the "damn the torpedoes" method: teach 'em to knit the "normal" way - right handed, English. This is how my left-handed Mum knits.

Continental - yarn in left hand,
but needles still right-hand dominant.
There's the "a nod in your general direction" method: the usual needle orientation, but Continental-style, with yarn in left hand.

And then there's the "doing what comes naturally" method: mirror-image knitting.

Each is equally good; of course, there are some pros and cons. The "damn the torpedoes" method works best for a knitter who is reasonably strong with both hands, as you're still requiring precision movements from the non-dominant hand. The "nod in your general direction" method is a good mid-point, as it relies less on the right hand, and more control is with the dominant left hand.

Image excerpted from Trauermei tutorial.
For some lefties, however, knitting right handed just feels wrong. It feels unnatural. For those knitters, learning "true" left handed knitting is the best option. It's less common, and there are fewer resources, but I do like these two tutorials created by Trauermei:
Part 1 - casting on.
Part 2 - the knit stitch.

There is a downside to this method, however, which is why it's less common (other than the absurdity of watching a rightie trying to teach it): the stitches are oriented the other way on the needle so that decreases lean the other way. A leftie's k2tog leans left rather than right; a leftie's ssk leans right rather than left. For many purposes, this isn't too much of a problem, but when it comes to lace it's a critical difference... So although there's a gain in ease of execution, there's a loss in terms of ease of chart reading... decreases have to be switched.

Each method has something to offer, and as with so many things in life, there isn't a single "right" answer. If you're left-handed, it's definitely worth trying all three.

Are you left-handed? What do you do?

Kristi has written more on this topic for Knitty, and she lists some other resources.


MichaelaKnits said...

I'm a mirror knitting leftie (as you know!) and agree with much of what you've said. Reversing decreases is only a problem when working from charts, especially as we'll read them from left to right, written instructions should be worked as written. The end result will be a mirror image of what was designed, but 99% of the time that isn't a problem. We lefties have to be careful with schematics though for assymmetric garments, such as Cucumber, as our end result will also be reflected if we follow written instructions to the letter.

I would strongly encourage left-handers to try to knit right handed, not only do you have to think carefully about your knitting, but as Kate says teaching & learning more advanced skills can be a real challenge. I've been wondering if there really is demand for left handed technique videos & phototutorials?

Liz aka Fibergeek said...

I am left handed and knit totally left handed.

For charts, I read them left to right. That seems to be an advantage to me.

I have learned to do the opposite of what the right handed people do.

For Example - k2tog becomes ssk for me. I just pay attention to which way the decrease leans and I know that a decrease that leans away from my dominant hand is an SSK and a decrease that leans toward my dominate hand is a k2tog.

For cable charts, I read the instruction that is opposite of what the right handed people read and do that. My cables match the right handed cables exactly when they are done.

The key is understanding what is happening, and then doing what it takes to achieve that.

I do have a strong preference for charts over written instructions because following those is tricky. In cases where it matters, I have to start at the end of the row And work backwards. I usually just make a chart as it makes everything clear.

As for teaching someone that is very left dominate to knit, have them watch, or sit opposite from you. Show them how you do it right handed - what is happening. Then let them figure out how they prefer to do it. Left handed people are used to doing things backwards, and most of us can turn actions around with relative ease.

There is help for left handed people now on Ravelry (where there are two groups devoted to us lefties), as well as YouTube.

Since I know the rules, I have no more problems knitting left handed than a right handed person knitting the "right" way.

ChristinaPurls said...

I'm a lefty who learned to knit right-handed. But then, as a lefty, I've learned to do a lot of things right-handed so it wasn't much of a leap. Now I'm starting to teach and am afraid I won't be able to teach left-handers who want to knit left-handed. The irony in that is not lost on me. Many thanks for the tips. Much appreciated. Now I'll just get back to practicing left-handed knitting ;)


Barbara S. said...

I'm a leftie and was taught by my Mom and Aunt, both of whom are right-handed. I knit continental and knit as a right-hander. I have not found it to be a problem as I am ambidextrous and think most lefties are the same because we live in a right-handed world and have had to learn to use both hands.

marlie said...

I'm a leftie and I learned to knit right-handed. I taught myself from a book, so the only example I had to go off of was a rightie.

At this point, I don't even think I'd try learning left-handed knitting. I learned English-style, and it's been torturous trying to learn Continental.

Cindy/KS said...

I am extremely right handed, but my mother, sister & oldest daughter were/are all lefties. I honestly can't remember how my mother knit, but since we took lessons together, I assume she knitted right handed. However I tried to teach my left-handed daughter to knit when she was younger & we both gave up with extreme frustration! I assume the problem might have been the fact that she could be as extremely left-handed as I am right-handed. Thank goodness, so far, all the grandchildren are righties, so I don't have that issue with them so far.

Unknown said...

This is a great post. I am a self-taught left handed knitter - I knit mirror image style and it works for me. For the most part most of knitting is symmetrical my knitting leftie makes no difference. I find when I have charts I read them left to right and it all works out in the end. Charts are great for me because I am able to see which way the decreases should lean and make my adjustments - way easier than trying to remember to switch while I knit following written directions. My other trick, which gets a few strange looks at knit night every now and again, is to print the chart as a mirror image!

Goalie Gurl said...

I never knew there were so many mirror knitters like me! This post is amazing, and I'm glad it's been addressed. I've learned a few thing reading these comments as well. There are some clever, clever folks here. :)
I've found that being a mirror knitter has actually made me a more thoughtful knitter. You have to look at what you've done, and figure out how to fix it. I've just recently realized that the decreases matter for lace knitting (after a whole shawl...) but now that I know I simply put more consideration and thought into the process of knitting an item which I have found makes the product more enjoyable. :)
Printing the chart as a mirror image is genius though! I'll definitely be doing that my next lace chart! :)

Diane M. Roth said...

I knit left-handed. sometimes I remember to change my cables an( sometimes I don't. It looks all right to me either way. I mostly knit socks, and I find that I don't have to change the ssk and k2t around. I just knit the pattern the way it is written. they do lean in the opposite direction but because I am knitting in the opposite direction, it comes out all right. I haven't worked on anything asymmetrical, which I suppose would be my biggest problem.

I haven't tried to read a chart, and that feels intimidating to me. (opposite of someone else above.)

To me my biggest problem is learning a new skill. Because I do it differently, it takes a lot of patience. i l have one right handed person who helps me, and I look at a lot of videos and try to figure it out.