I learned to knit way before I could speak English. Or read any knitting books, especially Western knitting books. No, I wasn’t a child prodigy knitting at the not yet verbal age of 2 – I was made the keeper of my family’s oral knitting tradition in the long year between my 4th and 5th birthday. This is when my Polish maternal grandmother started teaching me with eternal patience. From what I was told knitting was in the family for several generations.
Why it matters? My perception of knitting basics is entirely different than this of this existing in the English language zone. My very traditional Eastern European knitting roots probably place me closest to Annie Modesitt, the “Knitting Heretic”*. Funny how old tradition in one part of the world is a revolution in another.
Old school or revolutionary, for me one of the absolute basics of knitting is good understanding of stitch mount. Stitch mount is the modern Knitting Iron Curtain separating West from East, the English tradition “standard” from the “nonstandard”**. As far as I have experienced it is one of 2 main reasons knitters are told they knit wrong, funny or weird. It is why beginners battle with re-orienting stitches on the needles after catching some that fell off or after they had to transfer them onto a stitch holder.
So what is the stitch mount?
Stitch mount is the way stitches sit on the needle. As simple as that. Imagine each stitch as a little person sitting on your needle with legs dangling down on both sides.
When you knit you usually want your little stitches to be even, straight and comfortable, and don’t want them to suffer twisted legs. Like so:
While seated on the needle, each stitch is sitting slightly at an angle and has a front leg and a back leg. Now, the next bit is really important. Forget for a moment about everything you learned before. The front leg of the your little stitch person can be in front of the needle or behind the needle. Either way both mounts are perfectly fine and do not mean the stitch is twisted. You have a perfectly happy little stitch and don’t let anyone tell you any different.
This is how both mounts look in reality:
Picture on the top shows the 1st scenario, knitting with the front leg of the stitch in front of the needle. Picture on the bottom shows knitting with the front leg behind the needle.
Regardless how stitches sit on the needle, for open, untwisted work you always work the front leg of the stitch. The stitches aren’t too partial to having their legs twisted anyway, so they offer the front leg themselves when you knit. If you don’t strangle your needles with super tight tension, the knitting movement opens the correct space for your right needle naturally, so it doesn’t require any special effort, just awareness and a bit of practice.
Here is how knit stitches actually look on my needles at the moment as I’m working on my shawl:
I knit using both mounts as a matter of convenience and preference. At this moment mount 2 is just more comfortable because I’m purling a lot and I have a preference in how I like to purl, which in turn impacts the mount. And all of it is OK, no unwanted twist in sight.
…so why the heck stitch mount matters?
Going back to my knitting roots – I learned how to knit and purl both mounts as part of knitting 101, an essential, basic knitting skill and a stepping stone to more complex knitting. Ability to do so opens possibilities:
- you are in full control of your knitting basics, not half control, half panic “my stitches are twisted on the needle, I have to rip!”
- you won’t twist stitches by accident because you now know how to work them, regardless how you sit them on the needle
- you can work stitches right off the needle after fixes or transferring them from a stitch holder, calmly and with confidence, regardless in what mount you picked them up
- you’ll have a much wider choice of needle and hand movement during knitting itself (more about it later)
- you can make choices how to mount your stitches to make some patterns easier or faster to knit. This is especially beneficial in lace knitting. (Again, I’ll write about it another time)
So finally – is one mount better than the other? Absolutely not. There is nothing wrong with the picture on top of the page. Teachers and mentors – please stop slapping your students on the wrists for “twisting” stitches on the needle! It is not a political statement, a pledge of alliance to a different knitting gang or betrayal of sacred knitting rules. It’s a preference and working different mounts is a skill, like any other knitting skill. So I dare you – be brave, have a stiff drink or a cordial, re-mount the stitches on your needle and work several rows. It may feel funny at first but the skill will be useful in the future.***
*read more about Annie Modesitt, the “Knitting Heretic”, on her website: http://anniemodesitt.com/
**English language knitting tradition named the little stitch no. 1 “Western”, little stitch no. 2 – “Eastern” (or Eastern Uncrossed), assumed majority of people always should mount their stitches in the same way, regardless of the situation or need, and separated the knitting world into East vs West. This categorisation always made as much sense to me as splitting knitters into those who use circs (circular needles) vs those who use dpns (double pointed needles).
Update: Part two of the stitch mount discussion is available here.
***Those who need some help with working knit and purl stitches in both mounts, please come back soon – I’m putting together a little step by step photo tutorial.
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