Along with the Tour de Fleece spin along, I’ve spent the last week knitting Damask. It’s a lovely shawlette, little bit of lace, little bit of nupps and lots of texture. Unlike a lot of basic lace shawls, the shawl has a knit pattern on a purl background which has resulted in some musings on yarn overs.

A yarn over, aka YO, is an increase stitch where the yarn is looped over the needle and then, on the next row, knit into again. It’s usually done by bringing the yarn to the front (like when purling), and the knitting the next stitch. This brings the yarn over the top of the needle, oriented like a regular stitch (front leg to the right).

knit, yarn over, knit stitches sitting on the needle

Well, that’s the simple version. There are lots of ways of doing them and lots of reasons why one might.

Reason the first: Just increasing

One simple increase is to make a yarn over, and on the next row, purl (or knit if you’re working in the round) the yarn over through the back loop, twisting the loop of yarn and leaving you with one extra stitch. I like this when I have to increase in alternate rows as I can tell whether to increase or not based on whether I have any yarn overs on the needle. This is pretty much the same as the increase where you lift up the bar of yarn between two stitches to create a stitch, but a little looser and less fiddley.

If you knit into the front loop of the yarn over as you would a normal stitch, you’ll create a hole where you increase. This can be nice for a decorative increase in a pattern where the solidness of the fabric isn’t important, such as a shawl.

The second reason: Lace!

I love lace. I love to knit lace. I love the magic that happens when you block lace. I’m a jeans and tshirt girl who now owns several delicate lace shawls. So, yeah, lace.

Lace, generally, consists of holes and decreases arranged in a visually pleasing pattern. Generally. This definition doesn’t cover lots of aspects of lace, so I’ll have to write a proper post on just that, but let’s go with it as a working definition.

I’ve already mentioned how knitting into the front of a yarn over will leave a hole in your knitting. In lace, this is a good thing. But it’s also an increase, so if that’s all you do, you’ll end up increasing your stitches every time you make a hole. To counter this, lace is also full of decreases, arranged in different ways around the holes for different effects. So a typical line of lace knitting could include k2tog, yo,k, yo, ssk, or a right leaning decrease, a hole, a stitch, a hole and a left leaning decrease. You start with five stitches, and because of the pairings of decreases with yarn overs, you end with another five stitches, but instead of plain knitting you now have two symmetrically placed holes in the fabric.

The zigzag lace scarf is just one example of the kind of pattern that just YO and some well placed decreases can get you. If that looks a little tame, check out Cold Mountain. It’s just the same, yarn overs and decreases (and a little bit of knitting through the back loop), but the effect is quite striking.

So is that all there is to yarn overs? Not by far. But it’s enough to get started on a basic lace project. I think my next post will be about how to handle yarn overs mixed in with purls as well as knits, an issue that I needed to address for my Damask.