How to Fix Common Knitting Mistakes

Eventually, knowing how to fix knitting mistakes becomes relevant to every knitter — here are some tips and tricks to help you handle common mistakes.

Fixing a cable

How to fix a mistake in a cable: 1. Second cable crossing below needle twists the wrong way. 2. Knit to the beginning of the cable. Unravel the cable stitches to mistake. 3. Use double-pointed needles to work back up to the top correctly.

Photo by John Polak

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The Knowledgeable Knitter (Storey Publishing, 2014) by Margaret Radcliffe offers an in-depth tour of a sweater-knitting project to show the choices and options open to every knitter at every step. Radcliffe demonstrates not only how to execute these techniques but why you might choose one over another, allowing you to make tailored, elegant items that are beautiful reflections of your personal style.

Dealing with Mistakes

Actual mistakes in the knitting are, of course, something you’ll have to cope with. This includes things like dropped stitches, extra stitches created by accident, mistakes in pattern stitches, and variations in gauge.

There are some you’ll absolutely need to address: Changes in gauge, for instance, will affect the ultimate utility of the garment — it may come out too big or too small to be comfortable. Losing or adding stitches inadvertently can also change the size of the garment, making it narrower or wider. Some mistakes impair the integrity of the fabric: Dropped stitches, if not secured, will continue to unravel, creating holes in the garment. A mistake that affects the stitch count will also make things more difficult for you when you get to future shaping in the garment, because you won’t be able to follow the instructions exactly; it may be possible to adjust for this, but it’s frustrating and will slow you down.

On the other hand, there are mistakes that are just aesthetic — they affect the way a garment looks, but don’t affect its fit or function. This would include things like accidentally working the same row of a pattern twice, substituting a knit for a purl in a textured pattern, or working the wrong color in stranded knitting. With these sorts of problems you have three choices: leave it as is, disguise it, or fix it. You’ll need to decide how much time you want to spend on these “nonessentials.” Unfortunately, these are sometimes the mistakes that are most visible and may drive you crazy. If you’re not sure, you can always leave the problem alone for now and plan to disguise or fix it later if it continues to bother you.

In the following sections I offer specific prescriptions for ways to cope with a wide variety of mistakes. Some fixes are easier and take less time than others. Before you jump in and start working on the more complex ones, take a little while to inspect your knitting carefully, diagnose and analyze what’s really wrong, then plan the best way to fix it. You may be very uncomfortable with some of the suggestions (like cutting or unraveling a section in the middle of the work and reknitting it). It can also be difficult to predict how long a specific solution will take; sometimes it’s actually quicker to just rip out and do it over than it is to spend hours correcting one small problem in the middle of the fabric.

In light of the annoyance that even aesthetic mistakes can cause, I have also provided some suggestions for detecting these mistakes as soon as possible, when they’re easier to fix.

If the mistake is of too great a magnitude or the suggested fix seems overwhelming to you, then the bottom line is that you can always unravel back to the point of the mistake and knit that section over. This can be a painful exercise if you’ve sweated over the section to be removed, but it’s really best to cut your losses and do it over if necessary in order to save the sweater. You may want to set it aside for a time, to contemplate whether this is really the only option and to consult with other knitters who may have found another way to cope with the same problem or who’ll offer moral and technical support during the process. It’s possible that letting the project age, like fine wine, will give your imagination time to come up with a novel solution.

What to Do about Dropped Stitches

If you notice a dropped stitch within a row or two, it’s easy to hook it back up with a crochet hook. If the dropped stitch occurred more than a few rows earlier, however, the knitting will become very tight when you try to do this, so it’s better to unravel the whole piece back to the mistake to fix the problem. This may not be practical if you discover the dropped stitch much later.

When You Discover You Have Extra Stitches

Unravel to the point where the stitch appeared. Work the extra yarn into the stitches on either side until the knitting looks even. If this will make a large loose area, it may be better to just decrease to get rid of the stitch when you discover it. Be sure to hide the decrease in an unobtrusive place. Usually there will be a hole where the stitch was created. Use a piece of yarn to close up the hole and weave in the ends on the back.

When You Made Incorrect Stitches in the Pattern

If the problem is limited to a few stitches, work the current row until you are above the mistake. To correct the previous row, unravel the one section that is a problem and rework it, then continue with the current row. For a mistake farther down in the knitting, unravel the stitches directly above it down to the problem. If there are just a few stitches to be corrected, use a crochet hook to work up the column of stitches correctly.

If there are more stitches, use short double-pointed needles the same size as those for your project to knit the unraveled area back up. These are especially convenient because they allow you to work from either end. In a complicated pattern, it may be least confusing to unravel and reknit one complete repeat of the pattern. Be sure to work each loose strand of yarn in order from bottom to top.

Try to keep the tension of the yarn consistent with the rest of the fabric, so that you don’t end up with a tight area at one side of the correction and a loose area at the other. If you do, simply slip the stitches one at a time to another needle, beginning at the loose end, tightening up the first stitches you come to and loosening up the later ones. When the correction has been completed, use the tip of a needle to tease the yarn from any loose areas into tighter ones.

When You Worked a Whole Row Incorrectly

If the problem is a whole row worked incorrectly, you can either rip your knitting back to that point and reknit it, or (if it’s a long way down) you can replace the row. Snip 1 stitch in the row with the mistake. Make your cut about 6 stitches from the end of the row to ensure that you have a long enough tail at the end of the row to weave in after your correction is complete.

Unravel the whole row and slip knitting needles into the active stitches you’ve created above and below the row to be corrected. If it’s difficult to insert the size needle you’ve been using, then use slimmer needles. Using a yarn needle and Kitchener stitch, replace the row correctly. You can use the unraveled yarn, but it won’t be quite long enough to complete the repair. It also may be difficult to work neatly if the yarn is kinky from having been knitted. You can wet it and lay it out flat to dry or steam it very lightly with a steam iron to straighten out the kinks. When there are only 4 to 6 inches of yarn left, start an additional piece of yarn to complete the join.

It can be very confusing to work Kitchener stitch in pattern. If there are any plain knit or purl rows in the pattern immediately above the mistake, snip and pick out the plain row, then unravel until the row with the mistake has been removed. Place the knitting on needles and rework the section you removed until you are ready to replace the plain row. Use Kitchener stitch to reinsert the plain row, which is much easier than trying to work Kitchener in pattern.

If there are no plain rows, you may want to practice Kitchener stitch in pattern on a swatch before you cut your knitting. Work the swatch in pattern, making one pattern row (the one you will need to duplicate later) in a contrasting color. Snip and remove the same pattern row from the swatch in a section above the contrasting row. While you are working Kitchener stitch, refer to the contrast-color row as a guide. If you find yourself making errors while doing this, practice the pattern row by working duplicate stitch along the contrasting row, following the path of the original yarn exactly.


Excerpted from The Knowledgeable Knitter © Margaret Radcliffe, photography by John Polak. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.