Put Your Best Yarn Forward

woman is teaching man to knit.
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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.

What is a yarn forward?

A yarn forward is another way to tell you to work a yarn over. Pattern writers will note a yarn forward in a variety of ways, some of which can be quite mysterious:

  • YF
  • YFwd
  • YFON (yarn forward over needle)
  • YFRN (yarn forward 'round needle)

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

Yarn Forward vs. Yarn Over

The reasons why some patterns include yarn forward rather than yarn over are numerous. 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're 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 may include something to the effect of: 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's quite natural.

How to Work a Yarn Forward

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's 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 something like: (K1 in YO from the previous row). This is also a fantastic way to know that you're working the correct stitches in your knitting pattern.

The Effect of Yarn Overs in Patterns

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. They are often used for lace and eyelet stitch patterns. Yarn overs are also used to create complex weaving patterns with no holes such as the Hourglass Eyelet or the  Cloverleaf Eyelet.