Yarn every which way! The direction of yarn overs in crochet (with some comparisons to knitting).

Just when I think I’m getting a handle on things, something comes along and shakes me up. In this case, it’s a good thing, if seemingly simple. (Though sometimes things that seem simple, aren’t.) I’m talking about yarn overs.

Here is as craft-neutral an illustration of the subject as I can manage:


A just-worked stitch on the needle/hook with a yarn over following it. The one above is the one that is “correct” for knitting, according to most instruction given in the US and Western Europe. (If the scare quotes give you the idea that I don’t agree that there is a single correct yarn over for knitting, you’d be right. But that’s a subject for another post.) The one below is the one that is “correct” for crochet, and it might in fact be the correct thing in many circumstances. I have yet to do any experimentation with basic crochet stitches, but I already know that it is not always correct in all circumstances.

PlanetJune has a discussion of yarn overs and unders which talks about correctness and shows a swatch in single crochet that shows a huge difference in results (though as June points out, the fabric has its own desirable characteristics). I’m going to have to play around with this myself.

So how did I become aware of the difference between the two?

As some of you know, I’ve been very sporadically working my way through some Tunisian crochet stitches from a Victorian era needlework book by S.F.A. Caulfeild. I wanted to publish another such post recently, but found myself baffled by a simple yarn over.

I was following the directions for this crochet stitch faithfully, or so I thought, and yet I couldn’t make it look like the picture. I looked at it more closely, and then I realized that the yarn over in the picture was wrapped in the opposite direction from what I was used to in crochet. Could that be the problem? It was. (I have yet to finish writing up this stitch pattern, but you’ll see it soon.)

Serendipitously, at around the same time I started muddling through this problem, I started reading Tuni C. Weaver’s posts on the topic of yarn overs, starting with this one.

This sent me looking for standardized terminology for the two wraps in crochet–why I thought there would be such, when there isn’t standard phrasing in knitting, I don’t know. However, I did end up finding phrasing that I’m happy to use for crochet, if not for knitting. The terminology that’s been presented that seems most descriptive is yarn under for the top one and yarn over for the bottom. In the former case, the yarn is brought under the hook before going over it, you see, and in the latter, the yarn is just brought over the hook and never goes under.

Some people refer to one yarn over as clockwise and the other yarn over as counterclockwise, but those terms can be confusing to people, because you have to remember which end of the tool you’re using to look along to define what’s clockwise.

Some knitters who’ve read a lot of geographical comparisons of knitting compare Eastern and Western knitting. I’ve used those terms in the past, but I think I’m inclined to give them up as being unhelpful, especially since East and West are such relative terms, and there’s plenty of US and European knitters who knit with “Eastern” stitch mount for at least half their stitches. I’m still looking for useful terminology for knitting purposes, for two reasons: first, the yarn under is far more common in knitting than it is in crochet, and everyone calls it a yarn over; many knitters have never had need for the crochet style yarn over. Secondly, I don’t think the yarn goes so obviously under anything when it comes to knitting.

I don’t have much more to say on the topic for now. What do you think?