The Error of Our Ways: A Knitter's Guide to Fixing Mistakes
Part One: Minor Blunders
by Robin Melanson
If there is one thing a knitter can be certain of, it’s that mistakes will happen. No one is immune to the occasional dropped stich, wrong-slanting cable, or other error and you will never stop making mistakes like these as long as you knit. Why? Because knitters don't just sit there and stitch (not most of the time, anyhow). We knit while driving a forklift, while training our monkey butlers, or while operating the Tilt-a-Whirl at the circus. Or, you know, while watching television (but let's pretend we can do that without messing up the knitting). In other words, our attention is usually divided when we are knitting, we are not always looking at the instructions, and we pick up our WIP and put it down again a million times.
The biggest difference between the errors of an experienced knitter and those of a newbie is the ease with which they are fixed. This is not because a less experienced knitter's mistakes are worse; it’s because experience lends the confidence to manipulate your work without ripping it out.
This series will look at some of the most common errors knitters make and take you through ways to fix them without ripping back the work to the point before the mistake was made. It will also put an end to the practice of putting your work in the "naughty pile" and never to be finished, because you’re not sure what to do about a mistake, or it just seems like an insurmountable bother to even try.
Mistakes fall into three categories: Minor Blunders, Average Gaffes, and Grave Errors. We'll start with Minor Blunders as not to frighten you off by skipping straight to the Grave Errors. It's much too perilous.
Tools You will Need
The first thing to do when you think you have made a mistake is to spend a moment examining what you have done. Look at your knitting. Read the pattern. Read the pattern again. Look at your knitting again. If it is two o'clock in the morning, go to bed. Do nothing now. Never make decisions in the middle of the night.* There is a good reason for this: if you decide that what you have done cannot be fixed and you rip out twelve inches of knitting, and then you wake up the next day and realize the work was indeed correct, trust me, you will be upset and the piece may languish unfinished until it is eaten by moths.
*Please feel free to apply this advice to non-knitting decisions as well.
After a good night's sleep and a generous serving of coffee, look at the piece again and try to figure out where you went wrong. If it was within the last few rows, congratulations, you have made a Minor Blunder.
Avoidance and Early Detection
The easiest way to fix mistakes is to not make them in the first place, and the second-easiest way is to find them shortly after you made them.
Step back (figuratively) and look at how your work is progressing every few rows, or whenever you are about to begin shaping, or when you have finished some shaping. Examine whether the increase rows are mirrored (if the piece is to be symmetrical), whether the stitch count is correct, whether the fabric looks the way you are expecting. Measure your gauge—make sure it matches your swatch (you didn't make a swatch? Be gone infidel!) Hopefully, checking your work will catch most mistakes in the early stages.
I don't know whose gauge this is but it's not mine!
Pixies have obviously switched your needles to the wrong size, and now the knitting gauge is nowhere near the swatch gauge. If the piece must come out to a predetermined measurement in order to be useful or lovely, then you have no choice but to rip. This is only a minor blunder if you have discovered it early. It gets much worse the further you go, and the further you go only increases your denial of harsh reality. That is why this is the first thing I am encouraging you to check, early and often. Now you don't have a whole sweater knit three sizes too big—it's only two inches long! Crisis averted.
The stitch count is wrong!
If the stitch count has been changing (you were decreasing or increasing), check the number of increases or decreases on each side.
You missed an increase.
If you were increasing and you have missed a make-one increase on one side a few rows back (see Figure 1), you can use a crochet hook to pick up the horizontal thread from which you would have made the increase. Twist the strand so as to avoid a hole (see Figure 2). Be sure to twist it in the correct direction if you have been using make one left and make one right for directional increasing (look at your previous increases to see which side of the strand should lie on top). Use the crochet hook to latch the new stitch back up to the current row (see Figure 3).
This method works best if you find the mistake and correct it within two to four rows. Since you need to use the existing yarn to add a stitch, the stitches on either side are going to be tighter than usual because you are "stealing" yarn from them to add to your new stitch. If it is more than just a few rows ago, the piece may be quite noticeably tight. If you are not satisfied with the tightness, you can either rip out a few rows and rework them, or you can make the missed increase as soon as you notice (and live with the fact that the increase frequency is different on one side).
You made an extra increase.
Similarly, you can take out an accidental extra increase (see Figure 4). Instead of borrowing yarn from the adjacent stitches, you will be redistributing extra yarn among the adjacent stitches from a stitch that you undo. Drop the increased stitch off the needle and ravel it to the make-one (see Figure 5). You now have a loose ladder between two columns of stitches. Using a tapestry needle, gently pull the excess yarn into the two adjacent stitches, and along the row if necessary, so that the extra yarn is not as noticeable (see Figure 6). I find that it is easier to do this from the purl side of the work. If the piece is to be seamed, you can pull most of the excess yarn to the selvedge stitch (seam allowance stitch). When the piece is blocked and sewn up, you will not see that the selvedge is looser. Again, this works best if done two to four rows after you made the error, because of the extra looseness on these stitches. If the selvedge is loose for more than a few rows it will be noticeable, but just a few rows is easily masked.
You missed a decrease.
If you should have made a decrease at one side of the work a few rows ago, and you didn't, this is also an easy fix (see Figure 7). You will need to drop down the two affected stitches to the row where they should have been worked together. It is easiest to work this over stitches near the edge, not over stitches at the edge. This is a good reason why it is better to work your decreases a stitch or two in from the edge of the piece. The selvedge stitch is more difficult to latch back up because of the transition from right side to wrong side at that stitch.
The best way to fix this is to run a cable needle into the two stitches on the row at which they should have been decreased (see Figure 8). Now drop them from the working needle and ravel them to the cable needle. Making sure that the correct stitch is on top for the directional decrease that you wish to mimic (ssk or k2tog), work the stitches together from the cable needle (see Figure 9), and use the crochet hook to latch the new single stitch back up to the current row. Distribute the extra yarn with a tapestry needle (see Figure 6).
You made a decrease you shouldn't have.
If you decreased near the side of the piece a few rows ago, and you realize that you shouldn't have, you can remove it fairly easily. Place a cable needle through the two decreased stitches (see Figure 10) on the row before they were worked together. Drop the single decreased stitch back down to the point where it becomes two stitches. Put one of the stitches on a locking stitch marker, to be held for later. Using the crochet hook, latch up the other stitch to the current row (see Figure 11). Return to the stitch placed on the locking marker and latch it up to the current row as well (see Figure 12), pulling the adjacent stitches more tightly as you borrow yarn from them to make the extra stitch. The work will be tighter in this area, due to the fact that you made two stitches out of yarn that had been used for one stitch.
Sometimes the stitch count is off due to a minor knitting error, and not because you missed any pattern maneuvers.
You accidentally worked into the first stitch of the row twice.
If you are new to knitting or you have been working while looking at something else, check that you have not made an accidental increase at the beginning of a row. The first and/or last stitch of a row can be looser than the others, and sometimes twists around so that the two legs of the stitch below it are closer to the needle. If you are not used to reading your knitting or if you have been knitting by touch, you may have worked into the legs of the stitch below the first stitch as it twisted around the needle (see figure 13). If it is on an edge that will be sewn into a seam later, you can just decrease it again as soon as you notice. Place a waste yarn marker where you had the extra stitch, and when you are sewing up the garment, take the extra stitch in the seam allowance at this point. If it bothers you to leave it there, you can drop the second stitch off the needle and unravel it to the point where the unintentional increase was made. Redistribute the extra yarn into the adjacent stitches (see Figure 6). The selvedge stitch will likely be looser here. If neither of those options pleases you, you could rip out the work to the point when the error was made.
You dropped a stitch.
The stitch count is off, you are looking for your error—oh there it is! Way down there…. Don't worry, it’s not a big deal. Place the dropped stitch on a locking stitch marker as soon as you see it (see Figure 14), so that it cannot ravel down any further. Put it on the crochet hook, and latch it back up to the current row, using the strands of yarn between the stitches still on the needle. If the stitch ran down, the strands will be loose enough to maintain the same tension when you latch it back up, but if you dropped it some time ago and continued knitting only over the stitches still on the needle, you will have to borrow some yarn from adjacent stitches, making this section a little bit tighter (See Figure 3).
If you have not made any of the previous errors, but your stitch count is still wrong, look at your patterning. Is the piece worked in a pattern with yarn overs and decreases? Perhaps you missed one or the other. Mistakes in lace are usually easy to catch within a couple of rows because as you work subsequent rows the patterning doesn't line up. (For more lace tips click here.) As long as you take the time to look at your work, you will notice that there is something wrong. Compare the last row to the chart or the stitch pattern; go through all the stitches and match them to the pattern. At this point you will probably find that you have made or missed a yarn over or a pattern decrease where you shouldn't have.
You made an extra or missed a pattern decrease.
This type of mistake can be fixed as for the shaping decreases described above. Be sure that the adjacent stitches are not affected by. your taking out (or putting in) the mistaken decrease
For example, say that you have worked a single decrease and then knit the next stitch, where you were supposed to work a double decrease. You now have one too many stitches (see Figure 15). If you catch this type of mistake early it is very easy to fix. The more rows that have been worked since the mistake occurred, the more difficult it may be to fix, depending on the stitch pattern. If it is a stitch pattern where the decreases shift so that decreases coming from a different direction cross over the current decreases, a greater number of stitches have to be undone for each successive row since the error occurred. If it is a pattern where everything happens in static columns, you could pull out more rows over these few stitches without affecting the surrounding bits, and therefore fix mistakes that are further down.
Getting back to our example, you should insert a dpn into the three affected stitches on the row before the erroneous decrease was made (see Figure 16). Now drop the two stitches (the knit and the decreased stitch) back down to that point. Using your other dpn and the unpicked strand as the working yarn (be sure to use the strand from the next row up—if you have unpicked multiple rows you will have multiple strands), work these stitches as they should have been worked originally (see Figure 17). You can turn the piece and work the wrong side of these stitches as well, using the next unpicked strand. It is easy to redistribute the extra yarn from the additional stitch when you are working in a yarn-over pattern—the hole at the yarn over can absorb the extra yarn and once it has been blocked, it is doubtful that you would notice at all.
The success of this method depends on your ability to read your knitting. As long as you understand how the stitches stack on top of one another it is a fairly easy maneuver. This understanding comes with experience, so if you aren't at that point yet, just keep knitting and practicing different patterns and it will click in your mind.
You made an extra yarn over or missed making a yarn over.
These are the easiest lace mistakes to fix. If you have caught it within the last few rows it is not likely that it will have caused any compounding error. If you made an extra yarn over, drop the extra stitch above it (see Figure 18). Let it run down; it will stop running when it reaches the original yarn over. Now, redistribute the excess yarn into the adjacent stitches (see Figure 6). If it was more than two rows ago, you might need to fix an adjacent stitch if the extra one caused you to mess up your pattern. If it was more than four rows ago, and you weren't paying attention to how the pattern stacks, you may have skewed the pattern across an entire row. If this is the case, you will probably need to rip the work back to the row on which you made the error.
If you missed a yarn over, use the tip of your left needle to pick up the horizontal strand between the two stitches where the yarn over should have been made, on the correct row (see Figure 19). Place it on the crochet hook (do not twist it), and latch it up to the current row. Remember that depending on the pattern and how many rows previously you should have worked this yarn over, you may need to make additional maneuvers to work it into pattern. If it was only two rows ago, it is not a problem, all you will need to have done is to make the yarn over and then purl into it on the following row, so you will only be latching it up one row. This stitch will be a bit tight as you are borrowing yarn from the adjacent stitches to form the new stitch. The yarn over will be a little smaller than the others in the pattern.
If you need practice reading your stitches and learning how pattern repeats stack, work the following chart (see Figure 20). Notice how the pattern ceases over the center stitches. Now insert a dpn through the seven marked stitches of Row 24, just below the first stockinette row (see Figure 21). Let the stitches above the dpn (between the markers) drop down (see Figure 22). Now, reknit the section you have raveled according to the highlighted stitch repeat, using each successive strand of raveled yarn and the dpns, turning the work so that you can work on the wrong side when appropriate (see Figure 23)
I messed up my textured stitch pattern!
Looking down, you realize that something is not quite right with your fabric. It's a bit askew. You knit when you should have purled. Did you make a single misstep? For example, you were working a bird's-eye pattern and one of the purls is in the wrong position? Did you make several wrong purls, separated by a fabric that is mostly right?
Reworking a textured stitch.
Look at the swatch below (see Figure 24). See how a few of the purled stitches (indicated by the arrow) are not lining up with the others? Place locking stitch marker in the stitch in the row below the erroneous purl (see Figure 25). Let the stitch unravel to the locking marker. Using two crochet hooks (hold one at the wrong side and one at the right side), latch the stitch back up from the right side if that stitch is to be knit (see Figure 26), and latch it from the wrong side if that stitch is to be purled (see Figure 27). You can transfer the stitch between the two hooks. You can use only one crochet hook, but you will have to drop the stitch for a moment while you move the hook to and from the right and wrong sides of the work.
Did you mix up a pattern mid-repeat so that half the row is skewed? For instance, you were working in a two by two rib, and once, you knitted one instead of two, and now you have what looks like half a row of moss stitch in the middle of your ribbing? Did you continue on in that fashion, working one part correctly and one part according to a mad split-level knitting scheme (see Figure 28)? Unfortunately, these errors must be pulled out, as it would be more time consuming to drop down and rework each stitch across the row than it would be to simply pull it out and do it again.
Hopefully, if you didn't have the confidence to tackle fixing your mistakes before, you will now. Join us for the Fall issue where we will tackle Average Gaffes and Grave Errors.
Robin Melanson is a freelance knitwear designer and technical editor living in Montreal, Quebec. She is the author of Knitting New Mittens & Gloves (STC Craft, 2008), and is a production assistant for Twist Collective. Visit her at www.robinmelanson.com.