Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Backward Loop Increase: Underrated and Underused

My first encounter with this type of increase came in the summer of 1980, when I first read Elizabeth Zimmermann's "Knitting Without Tears". It was the month between the end of my M.Mus. and heading off to law school, and we were staying at our summer cottage on the Gatineau River, north of Ottawa. I actually stayed up almost all night assimilating the contents of that book, so inspirational it seemed to me. I suspect it may be difficult for today's younger knitters to fully comprehend how such a book transformed the knitting world, how it liberated a generation of knitters from being "blind followers" and gave them the confidence to be thinking, creative people. I digress. In her book, EZ explained that her favourite increase was the simple backward loop. In cases where increases were to be done in pairs, she showed how to make them lean toward each other.
Before I discuss the uses of this increase, let me illustrate how it is done.
Make 1 left (backward loop): M1L (bl)

Make 1 right (backward loop): M1R(bl)

You can see that I employ EZ's suggestion, which she illustrates in her video, "Knitting Glossary", to wrap the left-leaning increase around my first finger and the right-leaning increase around my thumb. Don't get caught up in the mechanics of winding the wool. Focus on the direction of the crossed over yarn and make it happen by whatever means works for you. ALWAYS WORK INTO THE BACK OF THE M1R(BL) ON THE NEXT ROW. Otherwise, the whole thing will unwind itself.
When I first read about this method, I thought, "What? That's going to leave a great gaping hole!" It's true that this increase is in some circumstances more visible than the type of M1 that is worked into the horizontal strand between two stitches. But, there are situations where, believe it or not, this increase is the most invisible.

1. In garter stitch, you can work paired increases almost invisibly with the backward loop increase. I used this method in the lower body of my just-completed Harriet jacket (not yet published).

The problem with the more commonly used M1 is that when you work into the horizontal strand between 2 stitches, you disrupt the flow of the garter stitch ridges. The lines become distorted. Knitting into the front and back of the stitch (kfb) is a better choice in general for garter stitch, but in cases where you want the cloak of invisibility, the backward loop method is best. See?

This is the side of the peplum-like lower portion of Harriet. There are paired increases going on here, but it's really hard to pick them out.

2. If you are working with a woollen-spun yarn, such as Peace Fleece, or BT's Shelter, you can use the backward loop method for increasing in a sleeve worked in the round. The fuzzier nature of woollen-spun yarn helps the increases to blend in, and the backward loops are simple to work. Remember, EZ's knitting was all about simplicity.

3. I like to use the backward loop method when increasing for insets as in Brookline. Because this type of increase does not create any tension on neighbouring stitches, it allows for a smooth, uninterrupted line along the edge of the inset.

This is a view of the WRONG ISIDE of the gores in Brookline. Because it is less well known, the Twist Collective editors decided not to include the backward loop increase, so when you read the published version of this pattern you will notice that there is no reference to it. Nevertheless, if you're knitting Brookline, give it a try. You'll like it.


  1. I like the backward loop increases myself - I use them to make the gusset on either side of my heel flap when I'm knitting top-down socks! Since I can't see to pick up stitches along the flap anymore, I knit the gussets as I go. The backward loop increase doesn't leave a hole like the lifted bar or a knot like the knit into the back & front of the next stitch & the line of increase is nice & smooth. I never realized it had a name . . .

    1. I'm not sure it has any official name. I just call it that to distinguish it from the M1 that's made into the horizontal strand between 2 stitches.

  2. This design is gorgeous. I love it.
    It is a shame that the backward loop is not as often used as it could be. It does work really well. I guess it might distinguish between EZ followers and those who haven't discovered her yet.

  3. This is the traditional increase here in Bulgaria and I had a lot of difficulty finding out what to call it in English. Thank you for illustrating it! :)