Ask Patty: What the Flip
It has happened to all of us: the annoying hem flip. Above the border and below, no matter what yarn we’re using or which construction method, all knitters struggle with this annoying little feature of our sweaters.
Can you please suggest what to do to eliminate the problem of the hem flipping on my project? I am using sport weight superwash wool for a top-down project. I am currently working stockinette stitch but soon have to start the K1P1 rib.
Thanks soooooo much for all your insights and help!
And . . .
I have a problem that has me stumped. My K1P1 rib edgings have a tendency to flip up at the transition from stockinette to rib. Is there a way to prevent this and get that ribbing to behave obediently?
Dear Vicki and Deb,
This is a classic example of “it’s not you, it’s them.” That’s right, it’s the stitches’ fault. When I first started knitting sweaters, I could not understand why this issue seemed to rear its ugly head. I had knit hats, mittens, and socks, all with rib, and this never happened. I mentioned it in a knitting group, and there was just a collective eye roll and shrug, as if to say, “that’s just the way it is.” Well, I’m here to say, it doesn’t have to be!
So why do we see this problem in a hem but not in a sock, hat, glove, mitten, or even a sleeve? The lack of a smooth transition still exists, but it’s less visible when your fabric is stretched over a body part. This is also why that bump can become a flip with a looser hem or a cardigan.
I remember teaching “Patty’s Knitting Bag of Tricks” at a retreat, and I showed the lumpy transition in a sweater hem I had knit years earlier. A knitter raised her hand and said, “May I stand?” “Of course,” I said. She was wearing a cute little striped cardigan, unbuttoned. She stood, holding both of her hands out, palms up, and then dramatically swept both hands in to point to her hem. (Gasp.) It was fully flipped up. She said, “Why?”
Why indeed! Once we know why something is happening, we can figure out how to fix it.
The Flare and Flip
When you work a rib, you are moving your yarn back and forth between the two needles as you knit and purl, causing the yarn to take a longer path than it does when knitting all knit stitches, so you are actually using a bit more yarn than in stockinette.
So, to avoid your rib flaring and flipping, try using a smaller needle or working a fewer number of stitches, then increase before the stockinette.
I know you’re saying that some patterns specify that, but you still get the flip or the bump? Yep, there’s more to it.
The Lump and Bulge
When purls are stacked vertically, they recede (ribbing), but when they appear horizontally, they stick out (garter).
So, when you change from rib to stockinette, the purl bumps for the row below will end up sticking out because they don’t have another row of purls above them to make them recede. This causes the rib to “bow out” in the transition:
Two Fixes—When, Why, and How
Now that we know the issues, let’s look at three fixes. They all involve elongating the knit stitches to smooth that transition.
In the MDK Shop
Fix No. 1: The RS Row Fix (slip)
This fix works well on garments knit from the top down, but can also be used bottom up. It can be done in any rib. Note: If working flat, you will knit the first and last stitch of the row.
For top-down knitting (stockinette into rib):
- Slip the knit stitches in the rib as if to purl.
- Purl the purl stitches in the rib.
- Starting with the next row, knit the knits and purl the purls.
For bottom-up knitting (rib into stockinette):
- For the stitches on your needle that sit over a knit from the row below—slip those stitches as if to purl.
- For the stitches on your needle that sit over a purl from the row below—knit those stitches.
- (WS) Purl the next row.
Fix No. 2: WS Row Fix (slip)
This is my favorite. It works on both a K1P1 rib, but also a K2P2 or wider. Because it’s done on the last row of the rib on the WS row, you can work your increases on the RS row, as they are in most patterns.
For flat knitting, bottom up. Note: On your last row of rib, you will purl the first and last stitch of the row as usual. For the rest of the row:
- Slip the purls with yarn in front. Bring the yarn snugly across the front of the slipped stitches and move the yarn to the back.
- Knit the knits.
For knitting in the round:
- Slip the knits with yarn in back. Bring the yarn snugly across the back of the slipped stitches and move the yarn to the front.
- Purl the purls.
This fix will work well only if you bring the yarn fairly tightly across the back of the stitches you’ve slipped. The added bonus is that the float across the back works as a “girdle” that will prevent your rib from stretching out of shape when worked in a yarn that has no memory.
Wait, There’s More
I’ve demonstrated the fixes on stockinette-meets-ribbing. They also apply to other types of borders and hems, like seed stitch or garter. It’s all about the purl bump, so you can try a stitch count change or needle size change (increase for bottom up, decrease for top down).
To try the slip trick for seed stitch, work it the same as I showed for rib. For garter bottom up: on your last RS row, slip every other knit stitch with yarn in back, then work your first WS row of stockinette. If worked top down, slip every other knit stitch the row before going into the first row of purl (if knit in the round) or knit on WS (if knit flat).
So next time someone says a rib hem just has to have that fold in it, you say “no flippin’ way!”
The Memory of Stitches
This isn’t exactly a knitting question, but I guess it sort of is. I am trying to decide whether or not to frog a project that might have too many bad memories in the stitches. My mother was in the hospital with Covid in September. She was in the ICU for over a month and she has been released (thankfully), but she is still so weak. Day after day, I sat in the hospital and knit to keep my mind occupied. Since she’s been home, I haven’t touched that project. I’m afraid of knitting on it again and finding that there are just too many bad memories in those stitches. Does that make sense? Should I rip out, keep going, put it in time out?
It makes perfect sense. I truly believe our stitches hold our memories, but you might be surprised at what memories they’ll hold.
Years ago I was called to grand jury duty. We were required to serve for two weeks, and I was so relieved when I found out I could bring knitting. I decided to finally cast on for Clapotis since it was going to be a fairly mindless knit and I knew I’d be interrupted many times a day. I thought the knitting would just be something that kept me from getting bored, but it was so much more. Serving on a grand jury was one of the most difficult, painful things I’ve ever done. We heard terrible things day in and day out. My knitting became a comfort and the thing that kept me sane before going home each night and collapsing in tears.
After the two weeks was over, I had bound off and I was afraid that all that pain, violence, and trauma would be stored in those stitches, that I would never be able to wear it without remembering so many awful things. Much to my surprise, what was knit into the stitches was the feeling of the comfort, of the peace that my knitting gave me. That was the memory that was woven into each stitch.
So take your time. You’ll know when you know. But take comfort in knowing that your knitting will always be there for you when you need it.