Bonus Knitting Lesson: Backward Loop Increase Explained

As I may have mentioned, I am working on a pair of the Simplicity Socks from Melissa Morgan-Oakes’ Toe-Up 2-at-a-Time Socks. This is my first attempt to do a) toe-up socks b) on a circular needle c) two-at-a-time. I did the Beer Gloves and the Hermione Gloves using the Magic Loop technique, but I’ve only done socks on DPNs, and only cuff-down. The only problem I’m really having with any of these techniques is my tendency to pull the first stitch on each needle too tight in an attempt to avoid laddering (thereby tightening the stitch on the cable to the point it doesn’t want to go back on the needle), but it’s something that tends to improve as I get more of each object knit.

What I was actually struggling with – to the point I had to rip them back and re-cast on – is the backward loop increase.

Now, the backward loop increase is not the same as the “make 1” increase, despite the fact that they’re noted the same way (M1L/M1R). The backward loop increase seems to have been innovated, or at least explained, by the late great Elizabeth Zimmerman. I have yet to have the good fortune to read any of her books, but from what I’m given to understand, the woman stands to be nominated for knitting sainthood. Perhaps this is why no one has stopped to expound on or add pictures to her explanation of the backward loop increase. Perhaps this increase is blindingly obvious to everyone but me.

In the glossary for my sock book, Melissa Morgan-Oakes explains the (left-leaning) backward loop increase as follows:

For a left-leaning backward loop increase (M1L), make a backward loop onto the right needle so that the working yarn points toward you.

As far as I can tell, she’s pretty much quoting Elizabeth Zimmerman verbatim.

There’s also a handy picture. (If you haven’t seen the picture, just google “backward loop increase.” The same picture is used everywhere.)

I looked at the picture. I looked at the instructions. I looked at my yarn, and my needle, and the picture again. And I said, “How the hell do you do that, really?” Couldn’t figure it out. Now understand that I taught myself to knit almost entirely out of books. Occasionally I would dive into YouTube to find a video, but usually just looking at the diagrams was enough. I’m good with diagrams, particularly with diagrams accompanied by written instructions. But I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to make the yarn on my needle look like the yarn in the picture. In the diagram, the end of the working yarn is on the inside, between the already-knit stitches and the loop, and I could not figure out how to wrap the yarn around the needle so it did that – at least, not in a way that left the yarn in place to knit, rather than purl, the next stitch.

YouTube it was, then. It took two different videos for me to figure it out. (This one was the more useful one.)

When I figured out what I was missing, I felt… really dumb, actually. It was blindingly obvious, but there was no way that, reading the written instructions, I could have ever worked out how I was supposed to do it.

Okay, Elizabeth. I know you’re a brilliant woman, and an amazing knitter, and your writing shook the world. But I’m going to take a moment to elaborate on your incredible description of the backward loop increase, for those of us who need a little bit more help. I realize you’re all about thinking about knitting, rather than just blindingly reading a pattern, but this is not a pattern, honey. This is a technique. And knowing how to do a technique correctly is important.

Here’s the backward loop increase.

Make a loop on the right needle. If you’re making a left-leaning increase, bring the loop over the top and around, so the end of the yarn is pointed away from you. Now, slide the loop off the needle. If you’re an awesomely amazing knitter like the gal in the video, you can shove it up against your fingertip and hold it there; if you’re more like me, you can pinch the bottom of the loop to hold it into place. Now, either with your fingers holding the pinched loop, or with the tip of the needle if you’ve got the loop against your fingertip, turn the loop around and slide it back onto the right needle. (ETA: Fellow knitter Becca suggests wrapping the loop around your finger, rather than your needle. Another excellent suggestion.) Now, you should have a loop in place where the yarn is pointing toward you.

If you’re making a right-leaning backward loop, do the same thing, only backwards – bring the yarn under and over the top, so it’s pointing toward you before you turn it around, so the loop you end up with is pointing away.

I know, right? It’s so simple, once I figured out what (vitally important!) step I was missing. I don’t know if any of you will ever need to use the backward loop increase, but there it is, for the edification of future internets. Also, because I figured if I stopped knitting and made a post about how to do it, I’d remember it better, because explaining something always increases your understanding of it. Of course, if I do happen to forget, I have it written down right here.

Happy knitting, kids.

~ by Amber on January 28, 2011.

10 Responses to “Bonus Knitting Lesson: Backward Loop Increase Explained”

  1. I wrap the increases around my index finger in whichever direction and slide them onto my right-hand needle.

    I do love that sock book, though. I knit the Soft Waves socks out of it, and now I backtracked to Kid Stuff. Didn’t want a pattern to get lost in my Zauberball. 😀

    Yay, socks! -cheers-

  2. Thank you Thank you !! I had a pile of ” how to” books and none of them helped. I’m knitting the toe up knitting two at a time socks. Shame on them for not making this clear. Thank you for making it clear !!!! Good Job !!!

  3. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! She, the author of the book, Ms. Morgan-Oakes, sure did leave out the most vital bit! An as you say, so easy once you figure it out. Make the loop, THEN slip it onto the needle! I, too amdworking on the Simplicity socks. Gonna got right back to it and make the correct increases!

    Thanks again,


  4. Thank you, very helpful!

  5. Thank you. I was having the same problem. I am also a self-taught knitter and was also having the same problem with laddering. Your explanation was very helpful! Thanks for posting.

  6. Soo I googled this increase. Thank you for this post!!!! Never would’ve gotten it otherwise !

  7. And now I get it. So butt simple I can’t believe I didn’t before.

  8. Best video I found on it after spending the last two days almost non stop trying to understand it.

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