When you’ve just started knitting, all of the new terminology can seem overwhelming. Even the simplest patterns can feel confusing.
Maybe you’ve finished your first project in garter stitch, and you want to progress to something more complicated. Suddenly, your patterns are differentiating between the right side and the wrong side of your knitting, and you have no idea how to tell which side is which.
Your pattern might include instructions like this:
“Turn the garment so the reverse stockinette side is on the wrong side.”
So how are you supposed to know which side of your knitting is the wrong side, and how do you know where to start?
Understanding the right vs wrong side of your knitting is a fundamental step in learning to read knitting patterns, and it’s also one of the most common beginner questions. Fortunately, it’s actually very easy to wrap your head around.
As with almost everything in knitting, recognizing the sides of your knitting will become second nature with experience. After one or two projects, you’ll be able to read your patterns without a second thought, as well as notice and correct mistakes quicker.
In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about the right and wrong sides of your knitting. We’ll explain the differences between the two sides and why it’s important, how to identify sides in different stitch patterns, and how to switch between right and wrong sides, too.
What’s In This Guide?
- Right Side vs Wrong Side: What’s the Difference?
- How to Identify the Right Side vs the Wrong Side
- Recognizing Sides in Different Stitch Patterns
- How to Switch From Right Side to Wrong Side Knitting
Right Side vs Wrong Side: What’s the Difference?
The right side is the front side of the knitted fabric. It’s the side that will face the outside of the garment or project. The wrong side is the back side of the fabric, which will be on the inside of a garment or project, where people can’t see it.
If you’re creating a piece of clothing that relies on a certain outward appearance, the right side of your knitting is the side you’ll want to showcase. With stranded techniques such as intarsia patterns, for example, the tails of your knitting are hidden across the wrong side of the fabric.
In knitting abbreviations & charts, right side is usually abbreviated to RS, while wrong side is abbreviated to WS.
When your pattern says to work a row on the right side (RS), it means that row will face the front or outside of your project. If it says to work a row on the wrong side (WS), that row will face the inside of the finished project.
Similarly, when the right side of the fabric is facing you, you’re working on a “right side row”. When the wrong side of the fabric is facing you, you’re working on a “wrong side row”.
Why Does It Make a Difference?
Most types of knitting stitch are not reversible. That means they create a fabric that looks different on each side, and usually one side looks better than the other. For this reason, knitting charts usually only depict the right side of a pattern.
The wrong side of many stitch patterns can look plain, messy, or uneven. The herringbone stitch, for example, creates a fabric made up of uniform stitches in a neat ‘V’ shape on the right side. The wrong side, on the other hand, is made up of bumpy ridges.
Usually, the tails from your cast on are also hidden on the wrong side, which most knitters don’t want to be seen. If you’re joining a new ball of yarn halfway through the project, you’ll want to make sure it’s joined so that the tail is hidden on the wrong side.
This is the most common and important reason for making a distinction between the right side and wrong side of your knitting. Put simply, you need to know which side of the fabric will face outwards to make sure it looks the way the pattern intended.
This is especially important for projects that are seamed together using multiple panels. Whether it’s a sweater, a cardigan, or a vest, you want the panels to align perfectly with each other once they’re sewn together, so they all look consistent.
The same goes for projects that are knitted in the round. When you’re knitting a tubular shape, you’re only ever knitting from one side, which means you can’t turn the work around to see how it looks. In this case, you’re always working the right side of the fabric.
When you’re reading an intermediate or advanced pattern, some of the techniques involved can also require you to know which side is which. For example, most modern knitting patterns only layer increases or decreases on the right side of the work to ensure the shaping looks consistent.
While making a distinction between the two sides of your knitting is important, it’s also worth noting that there is no right or wrong answer. The designer of a particular pattern can define which side of a project is the ‘right’ side because it has their desired appearance. If you’re knitting something without a pattern, you can decide for yourself based on your own preferences.
Right Side vs Wrong Side in Reversible Stitch Patterns
If a stitch pattern is ‘reversible’, it means that both sides of the fabric can be used as the right side. You can turn the fabric around or literally ‘reverse’ it and get similar aesthetic results.
For example, garter stitch and ribbing both look very similar on both sides of the fabric. Other stitch patterns have a clear and obvious wrong side, like most cable knitting patterns.
It’s much harder to tell which side is which when the pattern looks the same on both sides. However, you still need to make a distinction between the two, even when the stitch is reversible.
This is because many patterns contain instructions that only pertain to a particular side of the work. For example, you might be instructed to knit an increase on every alternating “right side” row, so you’ll need to know which is which.
In this case, simply choose which side will be the “right side” and keep this consistent throughout the pattern.
To remember which side is which when knitting a reversible pattern, you can use stitch markers, safety pins, or other accessories to remind yourself as you progress through the project. It doesn’t matter which side you choose – only that you remain consistent once you’ve made a decision.
Is the First Row of Knitting the Right Side or the Wrong Side?
Most knitting patterns begin on the right side, which means the first row of your knitting is the right side and the second is the wrong side.
You can use the tail of your cast-on row to figure this out: if it is falling to the right-hand side of your work, then you’re facing the right side of the fabric, and vice versa.
By beginning your knitting on the right side, you can also count your rows to identify the different sides. If row 1 is on the right side and row 2 is on the wrong side, then every row that corresponds with an odd number will face the right side, and every row that corresponds with an even number will face the wrong side.
How To Identify the Right Side vs the Wrong Side
For non-garment projects like toys or blankets, you can consider the fabric to be
reversible. That means either side can be the right side, you simply have to decide at the beginning of the pattern.
However, if you’re knitting a sweater, dress, cardigan, or almost any other garment, you’ll need to be able to determine the right side from the wrong side.
For advanced patterns, it’s often very easy, and will only take a quick glance in many cases. Unfortunately, many beginner patterns can look very similar on both sides, which can make it difficult to figure out.
Here are the easiest ways to tell the right side from the wrong side of your knitting on almost any pattern:
1. Look at the Stitches
The easiest way to differentiate sides is to look at a swatch of stockinette stitch. The right side will be flat, smooth, and made up of uniform knit stitches in a ‘V’ shape. The wrong side will be raised, bumpy, and made up of wavy purl stitches.
If your swatch is knitted in reverse stockinette stitch, it will be the opposite.
You’ll be able to recognize each side in other stitch patterns once you’ve worked a few rows. The right side will have your desired appearance and will be dominated by knit stitches. The wrong side of the work will be predominantly purl stitches, which are raised and wavy.
2. Count the Rows
Most knitting patterns begin on the right side. That means you can count your knitting rows to determine which side is which. If you have a row-counter, you can check it at any time to instantly find out which side you’re on.
If you begin with a right side row (row 1), every odd-numbered row (row 3, 5, 7, etc.) will also be on the right side. Every even-numbered row (row 2, 4, 6, etc.) will be knitted on the wrong side.
This can be particularly useful when knitting large or complicated patterns with multiple different stitch types.
3. Look At the Cast-On Tail
To find the right side of the fabric when both sides look identical, check where your cast-on tail is after knitting the first row. Whenever the cast-on tail is in that position as you progress through the project, you’re facing the right side of the fabric (or knitting a right side row).
When knitting in stockinette stitch, the tail will fall on the right-hand side of the fabric when you face the right side or knit a right side row. On a wrong-side row, the yarn tail will fall on the left-hand side.
If you’re knitting in a reversible stitch pattern, your cast-on tail is the easiest way to tell which side is which. If you started knitting on the right side, you know you’re on the right side when your cast-on tail hangs on the right-hand side. Easy, right?
4. Look for Gaps or Loose Yarn
If you’re knitting a pattern with several color changes, you can tell each side apart by simply looking at the fabric.
When knitting colorwork, the right side of the fabric is the side with the colored pattern on it. The wrong side will have loose strands of yarn and a less uniform stitch pattern.
You can also look closely at the color changes throughout the work. The wrong side of the work will show a slight gap between colors, while the right side won’t have any gaps between the rows.
You can use this method with colorwork in any stitch pattern, even those where each side of the work is identical.
Recognizing Sides in Different Stitch Patterns
Now that we’ve gone through some general methods for determining the right and wrong sides of your knitting, it’s time to consider how each side looks in the most common knitting stitch patterns.
Different knitting techniques produce vastly different results, and these are reflected on both sides of your knitting. To identify which side is which, you’ll have to look for something different in your fabric depending on the pattern or technique you’re using.
Here are some examples of the right and wrong sides of knitted fabric in different stitch patterns:
Knit & Purl Stitches
The knit and purl stitches are the most fundamental stitches in knitting. As a result, it’s vital that you understand how they look and interact with the two sides of your fabric.
At a basic level, knit and purl stitches are simply mirrored versions of each other. A knit stitch looks like a purl stitch from the other side of the fabric, and vice versa.
If you want to avoid knitting rounds of purl stitches for a pattern, you can simply knit the wrong side of the fabric and then invert it for the same results.
Stockinette stitch is one of the most common stitch patterns in knitting, and it’s one of the easiest too.
This stitch pattern only relies on basic knits and purls. That means that each side works in exactly the same way as it does with knit and purl stitches.
The right side consists of smooth, uniform knit stitches in a ‘v’ shape. The wrong side consists of wavy, bumpy purl stitches.
If a pattern calls for ‘reverse’ stockinette stitch, the designer simply wants to treat the purl side of the fabric as the right side. It’s the same stitch pattern, but inverted.
Unlike stockinette stitch, garter stitch creates a reversible fabric made up entirely of knit stitches. There are no wavy purl stitches on one side or the other – both sides of the fabric look identical to each other.
Put simply, there is no right or wrong side when knitting garter stitch. Both sides are the same, which means it’s up to you to decide which side is the ‘right’ side.
If you’re having trouble identifying the right side of your knitting in garter stitch, count your rows. If you began knitting on the right side of the fabric, every odd-numbered row will be on the right side.
You can also use a stitch marker safety pin if you’re struggling to identify the right side in garter stitch. Every time you see the stitch marker, you’ll be reminded to knit a right side row.
Colorwork & Stranded Knitting
In colorwork techniques like stripes, Fair Isle, or intarsia knitting, the excess yarn is almost always stranded on the wrong side of the work. This creates a very distinctive wrong side that’s extremely easy to spot.
Almost all multicolored knitting creates one patterned side with shapes or motifs, and one hidden side with yarn tails, floats, and other forms of excess yarn. This makes it very easy to identify the different sides, regardless of the stitch pattern you’ve used.
In fact, colorwork will even create an obvious wrong side in stitch patterns that are usually reversible.
Ribbing is created using thin, alternating columns of knit and purl stitches, otherwise known as stockinette. The right side is worked in purl stitches, which naturally pull inwards to create “valleys” in the fabric.
The wrong side is worked in knit stitches, which push outwards to create the classic stretchy columns associated with ribbed patterns.
Many rib stitch patterns are reversible, so they look similar on both sides of the fabric. However, this isn’t always the case. In non-reversible ribbing patterns, the right side will typically have clearer, more prominent columns.
How to Switch From Right Side to Wrong Side Knitting
You’ll naturally switch between the right and wrong sides of your knitting as you progress through the pattern.
As you knit the first row, the right side of the fabric will usually be facing you. Here, you’re knitting a right side row.
When you finish knitting that row, your needles switch places to begin knitting the second row. When you do this, you’re facing the wrong side of your knitting and working a wrong side row. This process continues so you alternate between sides as you continue to knit new rows.
Simply follow the directions of your pattern and the natural flow of your knitting.
How Do You End With a Wrong Side Row?
If your pattern instructs you to end with a wrong side row, the last row of your knitting should be on the wrong side of the fabric. If you’re knitting in stockinette stitch, for example, the final row you knit will be a row of purl stitches.
If you’re knitting in garter stitch, every row is a row of knit stitches, which means both sides will look the same. To make sure you end with a wrong side row, you’ll need to decide which side is which at the beginning of the pattern, and mark one side with a stitch marker to remind yourself later on.
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