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Last month we faced that little devil the purl and its effect on our fabric when we work garter and stockinette. This month we have another purl question. Prepare to nerd out over rib.

Keep It Boxy

Dear Patty,

Is there a way to stop a ribbed hem (or cuff) from pulling in and remain true to a boxy sweater’s boxy silhouette—without aggressive blocking? On one garment, I tried using the same needle size as the body and adding a few increases to the ribbing, but I wonder if there are other, better solutions. I recently heard someone suggest, for example, that a broken rib won’t pull in, although I haven’t tried that myself.


Dear Jo,

When I was a new knitter, it seemed so counterintuitive to me to increase after knitting ribbing to transition to stockinette—even for a boxy sweater. After all, the ribbing pulled in, so it seemed like if I wanted boxiness, I would have to decrease after the rib in bottom up (or increase in the rib in top down). But decreasing did not work—I got a weird fluted edge. “But why?” you might ask. (Okay, maybe you didn’t, but I’m gonna answer anyway.)

When we move our yarn back and forth between the knits and the purls, we use more yarn than we do when we work in stockinette. Let’s look at swatchzilla. Here’s bird’s eye view of ribbing:

These six stitches used quite a bit more yarn than the six stitches in stockinette.

Since the ribbing uses more yarn than stockinette, if I went right into the stockinette without any increases, the transition row would be a mess.

Decreases—But Not Where You Think

When it comes to a tunic-length garment, to avoid “bubble butt,” you can put in your increases after the rib, and then gently shape the entire garment by decreasing a stitch at each side, as you would for waist shaping. This is what I did in the Highrise Vest.

But what about your boxy pullover? Here you would not want to shape the garment—you want that straight side look—so we come back to the question: How do I get the look of rib without the behavior of rib?

It’s time to do a little swatching!

This One Is Too Tight

Here I have a plain old 1 x 1 rib. You can see that it pulls in quite a bit. I measured across 26 stitches at 3½” (9 cm).

This One Is Too Bumpy

Next up on our swatch parade, I tried a bit of broken rib. Here you work the same row over and over: *k2, p2; rep from *, end k2, p1. The result was a slightly less pully-in (yeah, that’s a word) rib. 26 st measured 3¾” (9.5 cm).

But it doesn’t look like 1 x 1 rib, so if that’s what I want it to look like, it’s a fail.

There had to be a way to get the look of 1 x 1 rib and have it not act like 1 x 1 rib. Then of course, I remembered: I pulled out a trick I used for Harbor Springs—FAKE 1 x 1 rib.

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Here we have a lovely 1 x 1 looking rib that is not flat and lifeless, does not pull in so it looks like stockinette, but lies flat and does not pull in.

Here our 26 stitches measured 4″ (10 cm). That means if I cast on 114 stitches in this rib, my sweater hem would measure (unstretched) 17½” (44.5 cm), while the same 114 stitches in a regular 1 x 1 would measure (unstretched) 15¼” (39 cm). QUITE a difference. Look how lovely.

What’s the trick? How did we get a 1 x 1 ribbing that didn’t pull in? Simple, knit a 1 x 2 ribbing! That’s right, this is actually a k1, p2 rib. If you flip it over and look at the wrong side, you’ll see why this works.

When we are looking at the WS, we see a K2, p1 rib. You can see that single purl pulls in the two knits so much it almost looks like stockinette.

Once again, behold the power of the purl! On the RS, the two purls pull in those single columns of knits so it ends up looking like a perfect 1 x 1 rib.

As with so many things in life, the answer is, FAKE IT!!

Patty in your Pocket

Here’s how to save this article in your MDK account with one click.

About The Author

Patty Lyons is a nationally recognized knitting teacher and technique expert. In her pursuit of training the mindful knitter, Patty is known for teaching the “why” in addition to the “how.” She specializes in sweater design and sharing her love of the much-maligned subjects of gauge and blocking.

You can find Patty at her website and on Ravelry.

Do you have a problem you’d like Patty to tackle? Write to her at



  • Wow! This is awesome and I will be using your Fake Rib on my next project. Thanks so much. And, I have never been first in comments before.

  • This is brilliant !

  • Thank you, Patty. I’ll try it! — Jo

  • What a great stitch for a non rolling scarf!
    Looks like stockinette on one side, and interesting on the other.

  • Would twisted rib work?

    • Twisted rib will have a different appearance. It pulls in more than this trick, but every knitter’s tension is different, so give it a try and see if you like it.

      • A lot of the modern boxy patterns use half twisted rib. That one works for me and you’re right – it does look different, but less old fashioned. I’d love to see an article about how to make a modern split hem with nice edges.

  • Thank you, Patty. I always enjoy your posts for their insight, their wit, and their relevance. Another winning post!

  • Brilliant!

  • I wonder if this works for hats… [thinking emoji]

  • For years, I have used k1, P2 rib on everything. Its far more forgiving, and both sides look nice.

  • Whoa. Mind blown!

  • LOVE this idea! Hope I can remember it on the next sweater I do!!

  • As always a fantastic solution from you!

  • Splendid!

  • What about twisted ribbing? I’ve noticed that that doesn’t pull in as much…

    • Twisted rib will have a different appearance. It pulls in more than this trick, but every knitter’s tension is different, so give it a try and see if you like it.

  • I am working on a sweater the pattern for which was worked in wool, but I am using Euroflax linen at 8 stitches per inch. The pattern calls for tubular ribbing, which I have done around the bottom (260 or so stitches), but it is being rolled up in the stockinette. I used garter stitch to edge one of the sleeves, but because the pattern features another something else that resembles stockinette but isn’t, i feel that garter is not as good a choice. i will be testing this rib on the other sleeve, and think that i will probably be taking out the other two ribs to match this one. Just in time for me. Thanks, Patty!

  • Thank you for all the great tips.

  • Thank you for another insightful tip. You sometimes (often/nearly always) answer questions I do not even think to ask.

    I also want to thank you for inspiring me to reknit a sweater. It had a lot of “mistakes” which your posts made me realize I could fix. (Mainly it was too big because I did not pay attention to size/gage/ease. But there were other issues, like noticeable holes for a lot of the shaping stiches.) I am in week one of recovery from hip replacement surgery. Reknitting this sweater is my recovery project.

  • That’s a good one, Patty!

  • I love the look but am confused. Does this mean to keep it boxy I should CO 1.5 X the number of sts for the body, k1 p2, and then at the top of the ribbing dec back to 1.0X to keep the width of the piece the same? Or will this rib somehow not draw in from the stockinette gauge at all, so I just k1 p2 on the same number of sts as the body?

    • This rib does not pull in as much, so as the article says:

      “Here our 26 stitches measured 4″ (10 cm). That means if I cast on 114 stitches in this rib, my sweater hem would measure (unstretched) 17 ½” (44.5 cm), while the same 114 stitches in a regular 1 x 1 would measure (unstretched) 15 ¼” (39 cm).”

      So by casting on the same number of stitches that the pattern calls for, your ribbing will not pull in nearly as much. You might have to change the cast on only to make sure you have a multiple of 3 instead of a multiple of 2. Here in my example, 114 st is both a multiple of 2 and 3 so it works for a 1×1 rib or a 1×2 rib.

      • Thanks for the explanation. I should have read more carefully! And now I understand why my favorite fingerless gloves at k3p2 are so much more comfy and look better than ordinary k1p1.

  • Surprising and brilliant!

  • Thank you for what you do! Your articles are ALWAYS the ones I read.

  • Thanks Patty! Very interesting and informative. I saved this article, too.

  • Thank you, this is great! I hate sweaters that pull in at the bottom and the solves that problem..

  • My zoom knitting group discussed this very subject last week. Thanks for the great info! (Already forwarded the link.) Wondering if something similar would work as a substitute for 2×2 rib? Hmmm, I’m seeing some ribbing swatching in my future.

  • I love your columns, but a glitch I find is in truth g to search for them because if I’m looking for this I won’t search for “fake it”. Yes, I bookmark in MDK, but I have a lot bookmarked.

  • I always love your articles! Thank you Patty! This one is saved…a lovely fix that is simple.

  • Brilliant and beautiful!! I can’t wait to try it!

  • Do you still use a smaller needle for the ribbing than for the body?

    • I have this same question!

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