Ask Patty: Taking a Ribbing
Sometimes I feel a bit like the little Dutch Boy sticking his finger in the dyke . . . solve one knitting problem, and another one springs a leak. After addressing how our ribbing is sometimes NOT for our pleasure in my article What the Flip, I received a whole raft of “What is wrong with my ribbing?” emails.
It’s all about the path that yarn travels!
It’s a Twister, Auntie Em!
It’s me again with another—WHY DOES IT DO THAT—question. My 2 x 2 rib looks totally fine, I know I am not twisting my stitches (really, I took your class), but I swear my 1 x 1 rib looks like the stitches are twisted. Not totally, but it looks like it kind of leans back and forth (if that makes sense).
I can’t always switch everything to 2 x 2 rib, so how can I fix this???
Annoyed by Rib
Dear Annoyed by Rib,
I totally know what you mean. For me, when it comes to 1 x 1 rib, I never worry about changing my knitting, I just have a little trick that makes all those pesky little knit stitches straighten up and fly right.
That less than lovely look of unblocked 1×1 rib has to do with the difference between the yarn traveling from the back to the front (knit to purl) versus the front to the back (purl to knit). Based on how you knit, the working yarn will kind of “tug” one leg of the stitch a bit more than the other, giving you that rick rack look.
Here’s the secret: Before you block, or even after you hit it with a bit of steam or water, give your ribbing a little horizontal stretch, then a diagonal stretch in each direction:
Horizontal stretch and diagonal stretch
and finally, a firm tug straight down, and voilà, you’ll get a perfect 1 x 1 rib.
Le tug, le voilà
Now a wider rib, well that’s another story, but as they would say on those Ronco commercials . . . but wait, there’s more!
Why is the last knit st before a purl always loose and sloppy looking? And I find that the heavier the yarn I’m using, the worse the situation becomes. The appearance is not remedied with blocking.
My only solution has been to knit that final st tbl on RS and p tbl on the WS. Any thoughts?
I would love if you would take a quick look at the swatch in the pic attached here. I can’t for the life of me figure out why my stockinette pulls out on the last stitch before transitioning to reverse stockinette or how to fix it.
Thank you for your time. You have taught me so much.
Oh woe is Claire
Dear DGW and Claire,
Let’s get this out of the way from the start. Once again, say it loud, say it proud: It’s not you, it’s them. It’s the stitches’ fault, or to be more specific, it’s the PURL stitches’ fault.
I wouldn’t work the last knit stitch through the back loop, as that will twist the stitch, so you trade one weird look (the last knit stitch being large) for another weird look (the last knit stitch being twisted). Instead, we need to attack the real culprit, the fly in the ointment, the reason we can’t have nice things: the purl stitch.
When we knit, the act of knitting the next stitch, naturally tightens up the one that comes before it, since each stitch is connected to the stitches around it. Connection also means the slack from a stitch flows backwards into the stitch that came before it.
The reason our k2tog looks so neat and tidy is because stitch number 2 is on top of stitch number 1, so when we knit the next stitch, stitch number 3, it tightens up the stitch that comes before it, which is the one on top. However, in an ssk, because stitch number 1 is on top of stitch number 2, all that knitting the next stitch does is tighten up the stitch of our decrease that is covered up, leaving a big loose sloppy stitch showing on top of our ssk.
Here’s a fix for that, in the one move ssk:
Ummm, super interesting you all are thinking, what the heck does that have to do with the rib??
The reason the last knit stitch of your ribbing can look larger is that the purl uses up a tiny bit more yarn when making that long trip from the back of your work to the front and then up and over your needle. This makes the slack of that purl feed backwards into the last knit stitch and it ends up looking a bit like my backside after I’ve spent 11 months in quarantine sitting on the couch eating a steady diet of corn chips and ice cream.
This is particularly visible in a wider rib like the k6, p2 you mentioned.
Take a look at the difference between the running thread that goes from the knit into the purl, versus the running thread that goes from the purl to the knit. One is long and shows a visible gap, while the other is neat and tidy.
When we knit, our yarn is in the back and we wrap our yarn under to over the needle. This means the yarn doesn’t have to go anywhere to start its journey.
Sure, it has to travel around the needle, but it doesn’t have to take a long trip before it even starts. It’s like flying across country out of Kennedy Airport if you already live in Queens. You have to make the journey across the country, but it’s just a short trip to the airport. But to go from the knit to the purl, well that’s a bit more like having to take an hour-long shuttle to Newark before you even get on the plane (that’s for you Kay xxoo). And seriously, NOBODY wants to fly out of Newark.
Now, not only does that yarn have to travel from the back to the front, but it also has to take the longer path up and over the top of the needle.
This is the path that the Western purl stitch takes to create a stitch whose leading leg sits at the front of the needle for both the knit and the purl. But do we have to? Why not steal from Combination and Eastern knitting and take the shorter path!
When I am working a wide rib, or anytime I have a cable against a background of reverse stockinette, I always do the “lazy purl” (the Eastern purl) on the first purl stitch following the knits. Instead of the yarn traveling over the needle to under, it travels under the needle to over.
This creates a small neat running thread, and no slack feeds backwards into the last knit. However, since the direction we wrap our yarn seats our stitch on the needle, this means you have to work that stitch through the back loop (the leading leg) on the next row. That is a fancy way of saying, put the needle in the hole!
No big deal—it’s just like when you fly out of Kennedy but into LaGuardia. You just have to pay attention and remember where you are . . . and how you didn’t park your car at Kennedy! It’s totally worth it when you see that neat and lovely rib.
Okay, well nothing REALLY makes flying into LaGuardia worth it, but you know what I mean.