Personally, I've always rowed out. Pretty badly. If you aren't familiar with the expression, 'rowing out' describes the tendency that a lot of knitters have to create different sized stitches on the knit and purl sides of the fabric when working back and forth in stockinette stitch. You can often see it most easily on the purl side of the knitting: there'll be little horizontal furrows where the stitches are looser on one row, and tighter on the next.
I've tried a lot of things to fix the problem, from using a smaller needle on the purl side – to adopting the Norwegian purling technique where the yarn stays at the back of the work all the time – to pure avoidance, disguising the problem with semi-solid yarns and lace or texture stitches. I'd been able to improve the issue somewhat, but it continued to be a problem.
Handily, knitting gives you a lot of time to think about, well, your knitting. It's right there in front of you, all the time. Lately I've been trying to carefully observe the way that I form stitches. In doing so I think I've discovered not just a solution to rowing out in my own knitting, but the reason why it happens in the first place.
EpiphanyAre you ready? Here it is: The angle of the working yarn – relative to the right hand needle as the new stitch is being transferred over – has to be the same, when knitting and purling, for the stitches to be of equal size.
I'm a continental knitter. When I make knit stitches, at the point where the new stitch is being taken up by the right hand needle, the working yarn is at pretty much 90 degrees to the needle, ensuring that the stitch will be snugged up as fully as my tension dictates, and gauged to the size of the needle.
When I purl in my usual way, because my needle is entering the stitch purlwise it's most natural for me to hold my needles at a wider angle, and as a consequence, the angle of the yarn relative to the right hand needle is always greater than 90 degrees. This provides slightly more resistance to the small force that I'm applying with my tension, et voila! a looser stitch is born.
For me, the answer is simple: Make sure that at the point of transfer, the angle of the working yarn is consistent. In my case, this means perpendicular to the right hand needle. That's it. All I have to do is to close the angle between my needles, and the purl stitch is able to snug up just like a knit stitch. So simple.
Here's what the wrong side of a recent swatch looks like:
Is my knitting perfect now? No, and I don't need it to be – but it's so much more even than it was. And if there's a looser row now, it's just as often a knit row.
Will this work for anyone else? I really don't know. There may be other differences in your knitting style that introduce changes in tension when knitting and purling. But I'd love to know if it does!