This is a WIP – work in progress. 

By no means an exhaustive list, but I’ve tried to define (in a layman’s kind of way) at least the knitting terms I’ve used on my blog.


acronyms and abbreviations

FO – Finished Object

WIP – Work In Progress

KAL – Knit-ALong: a group of knitters working on a project concurrently

LYS – Local Yarn Shop

dpn(s) – double-pointed needle(s)

st st – stockinette stitch (see defintion under knitting terms)

RS – right side of fabric (the front of the stitches)

WS – wrong side of fabric  (the back of the stitches)

K1 (K2, K3…) – knit one stich (knit as many as specified)

P1 (P2, P3…) – purl one stich (purl as many as specified)

US 5 (US 10 ½, US 13…) – needle size, as labeled in the United States.  Sizes are converted from a millimeter-based circumference system used elsewhere; needles labeled in millimeters follow the metric system and are sized from 2.0mm to 25.0mm.  There is a US needle equivalent to nearly all metric sizes.  The lower the US needle size number, the thinner the needle.  The US sizes range from 0 to 10 in consecutive numbers, then 10½, then 11-19 (odd numbers only), and finally – the big ass needles – to US 35 and US 50.  In the UK and Canada, the convention is the opposite: the largest needle number correlates with the smallest size.  Needles are labeled from size 14 (= US 0) down to size 000 (= US 15).  Find a handy conversion chart here


other knitting terms

knit stitch – the basic stitch that forms the “v”-looking stitches that comprise fabrics called “knits”.

purl stitch – the opposite of the knit stitch; the back of a knit stitch is what a purl looks like.  The front of a purl is a straight bar: “-”

stockinette stitch (st st) –

  • When knitting back and forth, this means completing a row of knit stitches followed by a row of purl stitches (and repeating this pattern).  The result is that all rows appear as “v” stitches from the front (knit-stitch side, “right” side).
  • When knitting in the round (on a circular needle instead of the more traditional set of two needles – think hats), this means knitting only knit stitches around and around.  The result looks the same as above: all rows appear as “v” stitches from the front (right side). 

garter stitch

  • When knitting back and forth, this means completing a row of knit stitches followed by another row of knit stitches (and repeating this pattern).  The result is that every other row appears as a “v” stitch; alternating rows are purls that look like a bar, “-“.  Both sides of the fabric look the same with these two alternating rows.
  • When knitting in the round (on a circular needle, this means knitting one row knit, then the next round purl.  The result looks the same as above with alternating rows of “v”s and “-“s on both sides of the fabric. 

cast on – to place initial set-up stitches on one needle at the start of a project (from which base all rows will be knitted or purled); there are several techniques for doing this.

bind off – to complete the final row of stitches before removing a pattern piece (e.g., the front of a sweater) from the needles.  This finishes the stitches to form an edge stitch that not unravel.  Also called casting off (in Contiental knitting).

gauge – or tension (in Continental knitting); the critical measure of how many stitches of the chosen yarn on the chosen needles equal a set measure (e.g., one inch, four inches).  Each knitter must determine his or her own gauge, as somer knitters routinely pull stitches tighter than others, and therefore will end up with more stitches per inch than another.  A common way to state gauge in the US is how many stitches per 4 inches: e.g., 12 stitches per 4 inches, or 3 stitches per inch.  The gauge (as determined by the yarn manufacturer) will appear on the yarn label as “12 st”, along with the size needle with which this gauge was achieved (e.g., US 11).  Usually there is a number of rows specified as well, e.g., 15 rows (per 4 inches).  This doesn’t mean that every knitter will achieve this exact gauge on the specified needle, nor does it mean that the yarn should only be knit on the size needle listed.  A crucial but sometimes overlooked step prior to beginning a project is to establish gauge with a swatch.

swatch – piece of sample fabric that is knitted prior to the start of a project, or to see how the yarn “knits up”.  A swatch should be created using the size needle as specified in the pattern to be knit, and following the primary stitch used in the pattern (or the stitch indicated as the one the designer used to establish gauge), i.e., stockinette stitch, or st st.  I usually knit a swatch at least 4x the number of stitches in the gauge per inch (e.g., if the gauge is 5 st/in, I knit 20 stitches) and a few inches of rows.  If the swatch shows that the number of stitches in a row is significantly more than 4 inches, I start another swatch using a bigger needle to try to reach gauge with that needle.  Bigger needle = bigger stitches = equals fewer stitches able to fit into one inch.

yarn weight – measure of how heavy, or bulky a yarn is.  There are rough classes of yarn weight based on gauge, although these classes have some overlap and are open to interpretation.  From lightest-weight to bulkiest:  fingering weight (or sock weight, lace weight), sport weight (or baby weight), DK (double knitted), worsted, bulky (or chunky), super bulky.

frogging – rapidly pulling out knitted stitches, backwards, tugging steadily on the yarn from the place where you’re currently working (removing stitches from left needle).  Apparently the term is so named from the sound “ribb-it, ribb-it” that comes with each rapid pull to unravel the stitches.  There’s always a bit of risk (and therefore frustration) with frogging – anytime the stitches come fully off the needles, it’s tough to get them all back on without twisting or dropping stitches.

tinking – backwards knitting (get it? get it?); this is done by back-tracking steps taken to knit each stitch by unknitting while all stitches remain on the needles, and is normally done if one notices a mistake but it is not so serious or extensive as to require frogging.

lurping – backwards purling (more backwards spelling fun); same as the back-tracking described above, except done with purl stitches instead – normally I would neither tink or lurp more than a row or two – any mistake deeper in might as well be frogged.

dropping a stitch – inadvertently skipping or dropping a stitch, either because a stitch slipped off during the feverishly fast pace of knitting or purling (yeah, that’s me), or, through incomplete execution of a stitch (OK, maybe that’s more like it).

circular needle – as opposed to a traditional set of needles that are contructed wholly of wood, metal, or platic, circular needles are comprised of two needle tips connected by a thin, flexible strand of plastic or wire.  Thus, all stitches can be placed on one circular needle.  The inflexble wood, metal, or plastic tip is a few inches long so that just-formed stitches will be created with the appropriate circumference of the needle; after this, the stitch will hold its circumference, but can be slid down to the thinner, bendable connector until the stitch comes up again to be knit or purled in the following row.  Circular needles can be used to knit in either of two ways:

  • in the round – continuous stitching round and round, increasing or decreasing stitches per pattern instructions (commonly used to knit hats)
  • back and forth – as an alternative to using a set of two traditional needles (with which one knits or purls all stitches from the left needle, one at a time, over to the right needle, and then swaps the full needle and empty needle between hands to repeat the process), a circular needle can be used to knit a flat piece of fabric.  Rather than needing to switch sides of between the left/right (full/empty) needles at the end of a row, one can simply flip the piece over, pick up each needle tip again, and starting knitting the next row.  This technique is especially useful for knitting items that will become heavier with bulk (big sweaters, afghans) as the weight of the fabric will be more evenly distributed on the connector between needle tips rather than on one needle or the other.  However, this is an increasingly popular method of knitting any project – I prefer it as I find it more compact and portable as the circular curls up and folds with the fabric, and, most importantly, the stitches are less likely to slip off of a needle while being stored or transported because the stitches can be pushed away from each needle tip to rest along the connector.

double-pointed needle – as named, a needle with two points, rather than just one point on the “business end” of a traditional needle (and a cube or ball shape on the opposite end to act as a stop to prevent stitches from slipping off the wrong end).  Double-pointed needles (dpns), a scary and seemingly unnecessary tool by my novice observation, are commonly used in making items with smaller circumferences, such as socks.  A circular needle would not provide enough space to maneuver around the tight turns of in this confined area.  Since items of this nature tend to be knit on lighter-weight yarns, these needles tend be be smaller and shorter than single-points.  Double-pointed needles usually come in a set of five.

cable needle – a tool for creating a cabled (or twisted, braided) look.  The needle is usually small in circumference (low-gauge) and a few inches long.  Cable needles do not need a needle size (e.g. US 3 or US 5) because it is used only to transfer a number of stitches to be held either behind or in front of other stitches to be knit after (out of the usual order) a number of stitches that would normally have followed the stitches on the cable.  Knitting these stitches out of order (i.e., K3 st to cable needle, hold in front, K3, then K3 st from the cable needle) creates a twist, or cable, effect.

ply – one strand of fiber; some yarns are created by twisting multiple plies together, while some are single-ply.  In addition to creating varying nuances in the way a fabric yielded from a particular yarn will look, multiple plies can create a fabric (especially in the case of wool fiber) that is more resistant to pilling. 

pilling – creation of little pills (you know the ones: the tiny fuzzy balls that dot fabrics that have been washed and dried many times) after wear and tear of a fabric. Some yarns are very sensitive to pilling through friction, even rubbing the yarn back and forth a few times.  Luxury yarns require special care to avoid this.  Generally speaking, the softer the yarn (e.g., brushed alpaca), the more likely to pill.  To some degree pilling can be decreased by the use of a good sweater shaver, but with use, the fabric will always begin to show age.

Continental knitting – the style of knitting in which one holds the yarn in the left hand.  This is the style that I use.  Also called European knitting, German knitting, or left-handed knitting.  What it is NOT is English knitting.  Read the interesting story behind the development of these terms here

English knitting – you guessed it – this is knitting with the yarn supply held in the right hand.  Also called right-handed knitting or throwing.

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