Knitting 101: Identifying and Fixing Mistakes

Holy Swiss Cheese!

Holy Swiss Cheese!

 

It’s been a week since the last lesson. How is your knitting coming along?

You may be one of those awesome, natural knitters out there who turned out a perfect knit project. You’ll always have the right number of stitches, without unintentional holes. If you are, I’m jealous!

I was never that way. My first “scarf” looked horrible. I started out with 20 stitches, just like you. I knit it back and forth for several inches, never noticing that in some places I had holes and that my scarf was getting inexplicably wider. Then, near the end, I started losing my stitches. When I cast-off, I think I had around 9 stitches. How did it happen? I was furious and upset. I threw the needles and scarf into a box and didn’t touch them for years. I wish I had the scarf to show you. I think in that same frustration, I threw it in the garbage.

Mistakes happen; I should make that a mantra. They’re not the end of the world. I still make mistakes. I’d hardly call myself an expert knitter, but I know enough to realize when it’s happening. The first thing to do, particularly if you’re getting frustrated, is to walk away. Don’t look at your project for the rest of the evening. When I mess up, that’s usually my cue to just go to bed. I’m not going to do any good while I’m mad.

Deep breaths. Repeat the mantra: Mistakes happen.

Legs for Days

You may have read elsewhere that stitches have legs. I know that sounds a little silly, but it’s one of the best ways to explain how the stitches sit. A stitch is essentially a loop. There’s a left leg and a right leg to each loop. In general knitting, the right leg sits in the front and the left in the back. When you’re fixing mistakes, like the dropped stitch, it’s very important to make sure the right leg is in the proper position. Otherwise your stitches will get twisted.

 
 collage legs

Dropped Stitch

You’re going along just fine, nothing’s stopping you. Great! Then you move the needle wrong or you set your project down and notice that one or more stitches have slipped off. Curses! Never fear! This is one of the absolute easiest mistakes to fix, which is good because I think I drop at least one stitch at some point in every single project I work on.

The stitch that got away!

The stitch that got away!

First of all, understand that your stitch won’t go anywhere unless you start tugging on it. It’s not going to go racing down your project out of control. There are two ways to deal with this. One way uses a crochet hook. I’ll show you this method when we get to purling and stockinette, as it’s much easier to use then (at least for me). For garter, I prefer just using my needles.

1. Pinch just below the stitch and set it onto your left-hand needle with the right leg forward. Make sure that the ladder or length of yarn sitting where your stitch used to be is in the front.

2. Put your right-hand needle through the front of the stitch.

3. Put the ladder onto your right-hand needle, and use the needle to guide the yarn through the stitch.

3. Replace the stitch onto the left-hand needle with the right leg forward and continue knitting.

(PS: You just purled!)

The only time I do suggest starting over after a dropped stitch is if you’re just starting to knit your cast-on stitches. I haven’t figured out yet how to pick those back up (although I’m more than certain there’s a way and it’s probably the easiest thing in the world).

Split Yarn

You may notice that a lot of yarn comes in plies, or two or more strands wrapped together. If you slid your needle between the ply, you’ve split your yarn. You might have then knit in one half of the split and again in the other. This is something to be really careful about as you knit because split yarn can create a weak point in the fabric.

 
A little tough to see, but my needle has split the stitch's yarn in half.

A little tough to see, but my needle has split the stitch’s yarn in half.

 

Keep an eye out for these as you’re knitting. I notice this when the new stitch I’m making seems to be catching as I pull it through the other stitch. Other times, I notice this extra fuzz or loop hanging off my new stitch. The only thing to do is unknit that stitch and knit it again (See Tinking below for information on how to unknit).

Too Many Stitches

As I mentioned before, my first scarf seemed to be getting inexplicably wider the more I worked on it. I couldn’t figure it out. A couple of things were probably happening. 1) I was splitting my yarn. I then would pick up half the ply and knit it, and then I picked up the other and knit it too. 2) I did a yarnover, which increased my stitch count and possibly created a hole. 3) I didn’t have the yarn in the right place when I started a row and created an extra stitch there.

I’ll talk about the yarnovers in the next section. So, that pesky start to a new row. As a beginner, this is awkward. As someone a little more experienced, it’s still a pain in the butt. The extra stitch is often caused because the yarn was in the front when the work was turned. The right hand needle was inserted to knit and then the working yarn was moved to the back, wrapping the needle an extra time. There are a couple ways to avoid this happening.

When you’re about to start a new row, look at your hands. Is the yarn in the back of your needles?

Or, you can slip the first stitch on your left needle to the right needle. Don’t knit it, just slip it. This will help give you a nice clean edge to your knitting and will help minimize the risk of extra stitches when you’re starting a row.

If you suspect it’s already happened, unknit the row and start again (See Tinking below for information on how to unknit). While our sampler is just practice, it will be important in later projects to make sure you always have the right number of stitches each row or round for the garment’s contruction.

Holes in Knitting

I wasn’t kidding about a Swiss cheese scarf, either. I had holes like nobody’s business. Sometimes the culprit was dropped stitches that I hadn’t noticed and so just kept on working. Another culprit was the yarnover.

Basically, when I went to knit a stitch, I wrapped the yarn around too many times. Think of this as a learning experience for lace knitting. When you do a lace project, you use yarnovers to create the decorative holes, or eyelets. I just got a little bit of extra practice without knowing it.

 
yarnover
 

If you’ve been counting each row as you go, you’ll know roughly when this happened. You can unknit back to the point it happened or, when you get to the yarnover, you can push that extra wrap off your needle (not the stitch, the yarnover). Just let it drop. Then, knit the remaining stitch as usual. It’ll create a little looseness in that area, but that will be fixed when we block our project.

Another way that holes are created is when you set the knitting down in the middle of a row and pick it back up the wrong way. You’ve basically done a short row. How can you tell which way is the right way?

Knit until about halfway into your sampler swatch. Set the project down. Now pick it back up. What hand is holding the stitches you just knit? What hand is holding the stitches you’re about to knit?

Too Few Stitches

What if, like in my first scarf, you’re noticing you have too few stitches? You may have dropped a stitch here or there, OR you might have knit two or more stitches together.

 
k2tog

(Sorry for the blurriness.) It can be tough with some yarns to see where one stitch ends and another begins, making it very easy to pick up more than one at a time. Like with the yarnover, think of this as practice! Knitting two or more stitches together is a very common kind of decrease. The only way to fix this is to unknit back to where it happened (seeing a pattern?).

Frogging

If you haven’t been counting, sometimes the best you can do is frog back to a row you know has the correct number of stitches. Frogging is when you take out your needles and pull on the working yarn, undoing the knitting you’ve just done. Try to avoid undoing all your knitting and starting from scratch.

1. Slip your needle out of the stitches.

2. Pull on the working yarn to undo the stitches you’ve just knit. Stop when you reach a row you know you’ve done correctly.

3. To replace the stitches back onto your needle, slip them one at a time. Make sure the right leg is in front. Then, continue on!

Sorry the video ends abruptly. Amp decided to be cute and walk up and bite me. He’s going through an anti-knitting phase right now. Anyway, just keep putting the stitches back on one at a time with the right leg in the front, and you’re good to go!

Tinking

It’s so important to be counting as you go along when you start knitting. You’ll catch your mistake the row it happened. Then, you just have to tink, or unknit. (Side note, I only recently found out that tink is knitting spelled backwards! Yes, I’m a little slow.) It takes a lot less time than frogging several rows, picking the stitches up, and then getting back to work.

1. Slip the needle into the stitch below the one you’ve knit.

2. Push the right-hand stitch off the needle and pull the working yarn to undo the stitch.

3. Continue on until either you’ve reached the mistake or you’re at the end of the row. Once again, make sure the right leg is in front.

I know it’s no fun to have to stop your progress and count the stitches on each row. It’s a hassle sometimes, especially when you’re really in the groove, but it will help in the long-run. After you’ve been knitting for a little while, you’ll find there are times you don’t have to count. You’ll stop losing or gaining stitches. I remember when I realized that wasn’t a problem anymore for me. I was over the moon! That doesn’t mean you’ll never have to count again, but the whole process does get easier.

Mistakes are no big deal, whether you have to go back one stitch or undo rows. They can be a little disheartening starting out, but don’t worry too much. Even the most experienced knitter will make a mistake now and then. Think of your yarn overs, short rows, and knit two togethers (k2tog) as practice for socks, lace, and cables.

I’m not very experienced, but I can tell you I have messed up at some point or another in almost every thing I’ve knit. I’ve inadvertently pulled the needle out of my stitches when making socks. I’ve been purling backwards for the longest time and never knew it. I find I make most of my mistakes when I’m tired, but I always wait to admit I’m tired until I’ve made a real mess of things. The important thing is to take a deep breath and fix it. Or walk away and deal with it in the morning.

As we get further along in the lessons, I’ll show you other tricks and techniques to fix mistakes like knitting a cable the wrong direction, purling backwards (one that had me stuck for a long time), fixing dropped stitches in stockinette, and much more. Next week, though, we’ll move forward and learn to purl. Once you’ve got the knit and purl down, we’ll be ready to try out a pattern!

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18 thoughts on “Knitting 101: Identifying and Fixing Mistakes

  1. This is such a fantastic and generous explanation of the things most of us learned the hard way! Thank you (on behalf of my previous self 🙂 ).

  2. This was very informative and couldn’t have been posted at a better time!! I am attempting to learn how to knit right now and am not doing a very good job of it. ^.^’
    I think I’ve made every mistake in this post except for k2tog. lol
    Thanks so much and I look forward to the next lesson!

  3. Thanks for visiting my blog – theghostwhoshops – and good luck with your knitting journey, I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun. I have added you to my Google reader …

  4. Pingback: Welcome to the other side | the thing about joan…

  5. There are so many mistakes I’ve made and I’ve just had to unravel. Thanks so much for this! I bet I’ll refer to this post a lot!

  6. In my first scarf, I started out with 25. About 30 rows in I was at 100 stitches. It ended up being a cape rather than a scarf! lol

  7. I thought I was finally ready for a scarf after 3 weeks of practice but after restarting it 8 times I decided that I should learn how to fix my mistakes instead. Thanks to your wonderful post, I will be able to finish my project before the end of the decade!

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