Friday, February 16, 2018

Revisiting Ribbing

It has been a busy couple of weeks getting the Summer Cast On lined up.  Selecting the designs, contacting the yarn companies, getting contracts out, contacting yarn companies again, is quite a bit of work.  Since I'm doing a couple of garments, I'm also trying to fit in some knitting.

I managed to finish up the revisions to the Basics class.  I did not make major changes but I added a few things to make it line up more closely with what is covered in the Master Program.  I have included links to this blog for related topics which can save time for those putting together their references for Level 1.  I've included working a preliminary swatch and a couple of extra credit items.  I am HAPPY to send any former student the updated materials.  Also, since I do not enforce time limits, if it has been a couple of years and you would like to continue or have any questions, just send me an email at

This topic was inspired by a thread in the TKGA Ravelry group on ribbing.  A question that comes up frequently is if knitters can use smaller needles for the ribbing in Level 1.  The answer is no.  The reason for this is that most knitters' ribbing is very loose so dropping down a needle size or two can improve its appearance.  In the Masters Program we focus on figuring out why something happens and then finding a better solution. Yes, using smaller needles will help with ribbing but the reason the ribbing looks bad also makes any knit/purl combination stitch pattern (like seed stitch) or cables look bad and going down a needle size doesn't help there.

One knitter wanted to know the "rules" for going down a size.  Well, there aren't any.  You have to look at each project and examine the ribbing.  If it looks bad then you need to fix it.

The problem occurs when you transition from a knit to a purl stitch.  If you do not bring the yarn completely forward the excess creates a ladder.  Sometimes it can work back into the previous stitch.  The photo below shows an exaggerated example.  The white pin marks a column of stitches which do not match the column to the right.  The red pin shows ladders.   The easiest fix is to make sure that you bring the yarn forward completely.  This does NOT mean to yank the yarn forward and to pull it so tightly that you pull yarn from the stitches just knit.  That makes it look even worse.  It can take a bit of practice but it soon becomes a habit.  Next time you rib, look closely when you work the first purl and you will see what I mean.

This photo shows the same ribbing where I have taken care to bring the yarn completely forward.  Would using smaller needles help? Yes, but it really doesn't solve the underlying problem which is the excess yarn.  There would just be less of it.  Here is a videos showing this: Fixing your ribbing Actually the real reason I hardly ever use smaller needles for ribbing is it is pretty much a sure thing that I will forget to do so on the fronts or sleeve cuffs or somewhere else.  I do sometimes put it into my patterns to use smaller needles when I remember, particularly if the yarn is inelastic like cotton or linen.

The other thing I see in Lesson 1 of the Basics class is this:

So what is the problem?  The ribbing is fairly even but compare the size of the knit stitches in the ribbing to the stitches above.  The cause for this is the same...excess yarn between the stitches.  In the example below I've made an effort to fix it.  Is it perfect, no, but this is hand knitting.  This is one situation, IF IT BOTHERED ME (which it does not) that I might go down a needle size.

One time you may want to go down a needle size is when picking up stitches for a band or neckline, particularly if the yarn is inelastic.  There might be a gap between the edge and the band if the pick up stitches are loose which they frequently are.  Smaller needles can help this.  How do you know if you need to do this?  I am about to get on my Soap Box again.  If you save your gauge swatch you can use it to test out the band.  Work a few rows, then stand back and see if there is a gap.  It is a lot easier to test this out on a swatch rather than the front of a sweater.  

To sum up, there really aren't rules for this sort of thing.  Use your own judgment as a knitter (except for the swatches in the Masters Program).  Yes, you could use smaller needles.  The reviewers aren't watching you knit but the only person you are cheater is yourself.

Salon will be on Sunday from 1:30 to 3:20.

Guess what this is?  Stay tuned.  It will all be made clear as I get further along.


  1. I have to say, it really bugs me if my ribbing stitches are noticeably bigger than the stocking stitch ones that follow! Of course, going down in needle size can make your ribbing draw in more than is ideal. For example, it might make the lower band on a jumper cling to your derriere. In that case I do the ribbing on more stitches and decrease unobtrusively in the first or second row of the body.

  2. Thank you for making this post back in 2018. I recently got back into knitting as a 33-year-old after a casual ~25-year hiatus & everything came back so easily... except ribbing. I thought I was tightening my stitches appropriately, but the "ladders" in all of my knit/purl-alternating projects prove differently. At least now I know why & will hopefully improve moving forward!