Being a left-handed “mirror” knitter is a little more challenging than knitting the conventional, right-handed way, but I think most of us lefties don’t mind trading in a little confusion for the comfort of doing something that feels more natural. After all, we’re accustomed to dealing with lots of tiny, mildly annoying little thing like the perpetual ink on your pinky, having to look around your scissors to actually see what you’re cutting, or carving up one wonky bread slice after the next, and let’s not forget, being called sinister (though let’s be honest, maybe some of us think being spoopy is kind of cool).
As I’m starting to write out some patterns that hopefully will be intelligible to other knitters besides me, I find myself doing the mirror switcharoo backwards, swapping my lefty instructions to the righty way. An overview of exactly what it is that that needs switching and what just stays the same seemed like a good idea, so for my own reference as well as for any fellow lefties out there, I decided to put together this list of what to do when following a regular knitting pattern as a mirror knitter.
Obviously, the “left-hand needle” becomes the “right-hand needle” and vice versa. Needles 1, 2, 3 or 4 don’t change when working with DPNs and the front and back needles in magic loop also stay the same, but keep in mind you’re going in a counter-clockwise spiral rather than clockwise when you’re knitting in the round.
I think we need to start a campaign for “working needle” and “holding needle,” by the way! This one is one of my biggest bugbears even though it doesn’t even come up that often.
Directional decreases – k2tog and ssk: do them as pattern call for them. If the designer specifies which way the decreases lean in the abbreviation list, “left-leaning” will mean “right-leaning” and vice versa.
Central double decreases: just do what the pattern says. Yes to central double decreases!
Directional increases – m1r and m1l: do them when the pattern says, and follow the instructions in the abbreviations. Now, a lefty make 1 right – if you follow the exact instructions for that stitch (pick up the bar between the stitches from back to front, knit it through the front loop) – technically leans left and vice versa, but it will look right because the entire piece is flipped around too. With these two, I tell myself the R in m1r means “rear” as in, enter the bar from the back.
Other directional increases: in the abbreviations, swap out all instructions about the “left” leg of things on the “left” needle for “right” and vice versa. Just, as above, keep the name of the increases intact to make sure you’re doing the correct increase when the pattern calls for it.
There will be some cognitive dissonance when you read patterns that use stitches with the directions right there in the name, but I still find that easier to change things in the abbreviations and accept that “R” usually means “L” to me, than going through a whole pattern to modify things.
Yarn overs, kfb: go ahead, no changes necessary.
First, you’ll be reading charts from left to right because that’s the direction you’re knitting in. You can completely ignore the legend and solely go by what the chart looks like. This works fine for colourwork charts, knit and purl only charts, or simple lace charts with only decreases and yarn-overs, for example.
If you also want to make sense of the key, a good idea for complicated charts and cables, there are two options – swapping words or flipping images:
- Swap the words. Leave the chart itself as it is but in the key:
- swap the descriptions of k2tog stitches for ssk stitches, m1rs for m1ls, etc;
- swap out “hold to back” for “hold to front” and vice versa in the written description of cables. Change the names of cables if they indicate the location of the cable needle: a C4B read from left to right will actually be a C4F. Just don’t change the names of cables if they indicate direction: a 2/2 LC will still cross to the left for us, although we must slip 2 to cable needle and hold it to the back instead of the front. This method won’t give you a mirrored garment so if you want to be undercover about your leftyness, this is a good method to use.
- Flip the images. Flip the chart, and the diagrams of stitches and cables in the key, but leave the written descriptions as they are. For decreases and increases, this will give you the same end result as swapping k2togs for ssks, etc. It will make that 2/2 LC cross to the right, though.
This is a bit more involved as it will require flipping a bunch of images, but it’s good if the chart has one specific stitch you don’t want to swap out because its mirrored version is more annoying/fiddly/slow to do. This will make your final charted piece a mirror image of the original pattern, which can be a problem if you’re doing, say, a chart of writing, but it can be good if the charted area flows into another design element that isn’t charted.
When it comes to constructing garments, the “left” front of a cardigan, the “left” shoulder of a sweater and the “left” sleeve will all be the “right,” and vice versa, and the same goes for gloves and mittens. On clothing, you could also just think of the left or right side of things as you hold them in front of you, rather than worn on the body.
When picking up stitches for the front bands of a cardigan, you can start on the opposite edge than you’re instructed to and go ahead from there, but if you have buttonholes they’ll end up on the opposite side of your garment. If this bothers you, you can fudge the pattern a little by still picking up from the opposite edge but starting the buttonholes a row too early or too late (so they’re on the WS rather than the RS, for example). You can also do a little math and work out how many stitches wide each buttonhole is, how many of them there are and how many stitches apart they are from each other. Add these up and you have how wide your buttonhole section is. Add to that how many stitches away from the bottom edge your lowermost buttonhole should be to get your total number. If your pattern has you doing buttonholes at the beginning of the row of one of the front bands, mark your total number of stitches from the opposite edge of your other front band, and start your buttonholes there. If you should be doing your buttonholes at the beginning of a row instead, just start off with those bottom edge stitches and begin your buttonholes.
Extra tools for learning
It can be hard to mirror a (moving) picture in your mind without external help, but looking at or watching someone do a new stitch or cast-on is so useful! For this, I have two tools:
- A mirror. Very lo-fi, very accessible, works when held next to computer screens, books and friends!
- A Chrome extension called “Flip this”. I love this one. You can set it to flip only on the x-axis, and you can flip a whole page (good for videos) or specific images when right-clicking on them (good for pages, when you actually want to read the text too).
If you’re a mirror knitter, let me know what tricks you’ve got up your sleeve!