Put Your Best Yarn Forward

Yarn Forward Versus Yarn Over

woman is teaching man to knit.
Betsie Van der Meer / Getty Images

What does the term "yarn forward" mean in knitting patterns? A yarn forward is much more commonly described as a yarn over (YO). This does lead to a bit of confusion for knitters, particularly beginners who are just starting to break from the standard stockinette stitch and explore different patterns and stitches. A yarn forward is a technique that creates an opening or hole in your hand-knit piece. It is a useful technique for knitting lacy fabrics, buttonholes, or eyelets.

Yarn Forward Versus Yarn Over

A yarn forward is more commonly the British term, while a yarn over is the preferred American term. Pattern writers will shorthand a yarn forward in a variety of ways, some ways are more descriptive than others: "YF," "YFwd," "YFON (yarn forward over needle)," or "YFRN (yarn forward 'round needle)."

No matter which one of these terms you find in a pattern, they all mean the same thing. You want to bring the yarn to the front of the work.

There are other reasons why some patterns use the term "yarn forward" rather than "yarn over." Quite often, yarn forward is used to simplify, clarify, or further explain the yarn over in a more complex stitch pattern. 

For instance, if you are working a purl stitch, your yarn is naturally in the front of the work. If the next stitch requires a yarn over followed by a knit stitch, you might be confused about where to place your yarn. The pattern writer instructions may say, "P1, YF, K1." What this tells you is that after completing the purl stitch, you will keep your yarn in the front of the work before running it over the top of the needle to complete the knit stitch behind the work. When written out it can be confusing, but once you get your needles in hand, it is quite natural.

How to Do It

Yarn overs are really simple knit stitches to work. You are, essentially, making a loop on the needle rather than working that stretch of yarn into a stitch that is already on the needle.

  1. Wrap the yarn around the needle in the same direction you move the yarn to make a regular stitch.
  2. Bring the yarn to the back to knit the next stitch or all the way around to the front to purl the next stitch.

On the row after a yarn over, the pattern will often inform you how to work the yarn-over stitches into the pattern. You might see it say, "K1 in YO from the previous row." Also, this is a good way to know that you are working the correct stitches in your knitting pattern.

What It Is Used For

Yarn overs have two primary purposes in knitting. They are an easy way to increase the number of stitches on the needle and they make a hole.

The hole created by a yarn over is an integral part of creating decorative knit patterns like lace and eyelet stitch patterns. Yarn overs are also used to create complex weaving patterns with no holes such as the horseshoe lace or the vine lace.