Fixing Knitting Mistakes

This is the first in a sometime series called Fixing Knitting Mistakes.

Read this carefully:

Stitches, and the mistakes made with stitches, are not set in stone.

That may seem obvious to some people, but trust me it isn’t obvious to everyone.

Needle EndsI once had a student (we’ll call her Irma, to protect the mostly innocent) who learned to knit one quiet afternoon.  Irma did well, but didn’t feel comfortable with learning to purl on the same day so we made plans to meet the next week for her foray into purling.

When I saw Irma the next week she had knit a piece about 6 inches wide by 4 inches tall, and it was very well done.  But when I looked at her ball of yarn it was about two thirds gone!  “Irma, what on earth happened to rest of the ball?” I asked her (worried, because that was a pricey ball of yarn, Irma was a quality person and wanted to learn on quality yarn!)

“Oh, when I made a mistake,” she told me,  “I just took it off the needle, cut it off the ball and threw it away.”

I nearly swallowed my tongue.  I was horrified!  What a terrible teacher I was not to have explained to her that mistakes can, and should be fixed.  I immediately explained and apologized profusely, but she just smiled serenely. “Yes, I know.  But I don’t like to do it that way.  If I make a mistake I prefer to just start again and throw out the piece that has the mistake.”

For those of you who are rolling around on the floor at this point, with either laughter or pain, I want to assure you that I am not making this up.

She was a sweet lady, but on my honor as a knitter, no matter how I tried to reason with her I could not stop her from feeling that if she made a single mistake she had tainted the whole thing, and needed to start again with “clean” yarn.  I labored with her for months on this issue, and then gave in.  I introduced her to the owner of the LYS and pretty much washed my hands of her.  I am sure that the yarn store owner still thinks of me in her prayers every night.  Irma probably put the owner’s children through college! I consider Irma one of my failures as a teacher.

But for the rest of us with less money, and to my mind more sense, knowing how to fix the mistakes that we inevitably make is an integral and entertaining part of knitting.

There are a lot of ways to make mistakes in knitting. Stitches can be dropped, or split, or twisted. You can create accidental yarn overs, decrease in the wrong direction (slant of decreased stitches goes in the wrong direction) and many, many other ways to make problems in your knitting.

However, none of these things is impossible to fix! For anything and everything that you can think of to do wrong when you knit, there is an equal and opposite skill available to fix it. It’s not a matter of “it’s broke!” It’s never completely broken – there is always something you can do to fix it or, as a last ditch effort, you can always unravel and start again.

Think about it this way. Imagine that you knitted a pair of lovely toe up socks.  Then when you try them on you find that the cuff is tight and they are hard to get on. What a tragedy! You just spent ten hours (or 20 or 50….) creating these lovely pieces of feet art. They are beautiful, a color you love, a pattern that made your heart go pitty-pat when you first saw it. So what are you going to do?

You have more than one choice.

Number 1: You can throw your hands up in disgust, throw the socks in the garbage and never knit again. (If this is you call me, I want your stash.)

Number 2: You can give them to your second cousin who has such skinny legs. (If this is you STOP, and think: skinny cousin Alice is only 18 and she will hound you for the rest of your life to knit her more socks. Is this really a wise course of action?)

Number 3: You could spend 15-20 minutes, hey maybe even an hour, to undo the last few rows, and cast off again, looser, so they will fit: and then wear them in good health for years.

Are you really willing to toss out 10 hours of knitting and YEARS of wearing those little beauties because you don’t want to spend TWENTY MINUTES fixing them? Really? I find that hard to believe.

Probably what is causing you to even think about the garbage can or the skinny cousin is that you have fix-itus.

Fix-itus (pronounced fix -eye-tuss) is a deadly but curable disease where an otherwise competent and sane person has an inordinate fear of, or inability to, fix knitting errors.

The cure? A hot cup of tea (or coffee, if you must) and a friend who knits. Or a few chocolate muffins as a bribe to your friendly local LYS owner. Or a great evening at a Knit Night… the list is endless. Don’t get frustrated, get a friend!

If all else fails, I will be your friend!  (Wait, that came out wrong…)

Pink Sweater

How to fix a split stitch

I would love to try to help, long distance and with still pictures.  Look here, this is how to fix a split stitch, and there are more coming, so stay with me and I will help you solve all your knitting problems.  Well, at least the stitch and skill related ones!

Or you can email them directly to me at Spinfoolish at Spinfoolish dot com.  I would love to hear what you find challenging! Let’s see if I can simplify it for you.  If you are having trouble with something the chances are that other people probably are too, so let me have a go at it! We might end up helping others at the same time!!

In the Pink

Yes, we are going to be deep In The Pink today,  as I show you how I was able to fix a hole in my new sweater.

I made this sweater for my LYS  last summer.  But, when I handed in the sweater, at the exact moment it left my hand, in fact, I saw with horror that I had made a mistake. Not a BIG mistake (like knitting three arms) but an UGLY mistake; I had split my yarn. That means that when I knit a stitch I didn’t get the whole strand of yarn on my needle.  I “split” the yarn and only knit with a portion of the yarn, in this case only one of four plies.

That’s ugly, but it’s not the worse part.  This mis-stitch was placed exactly, precisely in the middle of the front. Yes, I know you can’t see it in this picture, that’s because as soon as I saw it I whipped it back out of her hand and put a piece of yarn in there (not sown in tight, just loosely woven in on the inside) to cover the hole.  And so it sat, mocking me, for six long months on a manikin in the shop.  Every time I saw it, every time someone mentioned it, I cringed inside, knowing it was IMPERFECT.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I am far too well acquainted with imperfection to really fear or loath it. I just don’t like it sitting out there in the middle of my chest, for all the world to see.  If I take the time to knit something as large as a sweater (and my sweaters are LARGE) I would prefer to have the faults be less obvious.  WAY less obvious. While it sat on the manikin and didn’t move, everything was fine, but I knew that as soon as I tried to wear it the hole would be very visible, and very annoying, so something would have to be done.

It needed to be fixed.  So, since I had to do it anyway, I decided to use this opportunity to share how I did it.  I have been doing things like this for so long, sometimes I forget that it isn’t always obvious to other people.    I took tons of pictures as I did it, so I could go through it step by step.

 I want to say right now, that these pictures were taken by the same person, with the same camera, in the same room, with the same light so I can’t explain the variations on the color.  I sincerely apologize for not having a staff of ten minions to deal with issues like this. I did the best I could, but as my buddy Stacey would say: It is what it is. I have every confidence that it won’t damage your psyche too much! 

Fixing a Hole

When you fix any problem, the first thing you need to understand is exactly what the problem is.  Did you drop a stitch? Did you split the yarn (as I did here)?  Did you put a purl in where you wanted to put in a knit?  Some mistakes, maybe even most, are not bad enough to fix.  I am forever saying “Only Allah is perfect.” This is an allusion to the carpet makers of the far east who consistently included an error in every rug, on purpose, in order to show their respect for their god.  As only Allah was perfect it was seen as being disrespectful to attempt to be perfect yourself, and to avoid even the pretense of it happening they made good and darn sure it didn’t by adding an intentional mistake.  I think that’s lovely, and it takes so much pressure off the impossible search for perfection in our knitting.  It isn’t possible, so relax, and enjoy the jouney.

BUT if you find you have made a mistake, as I did, that simply has to be fixed because it shows so obnoxiously, then one possible way to fix it might be to cut the yarn, undo some stitches, then take another piece of yarn and remake the stitches.  If you drop a stitch, you don’t really need to cut the yarn, you can just take a piece of yarn and pick up the stitch and sew the ends in.  With a split stitch, like I had, you could add in a piece to cover the thinness of the split. I tried that with the Pink Sweater, but you could still see the hole too easily.  So in this case, the only choice I had was to cut the yarn.

Here are some images to show what I did:

I needed to fix  a hole. Here is the hole, as seen from the “right” side, and the “wrong” side of the fabric. You can clearly see the split yarn.


pink02I had to make two cuts, one to the tiny little sliver of yarn that was only one ply, and then to find the other three plies, and cut them in approximately the same place. This meant I had to do a bit of pulling and tweaking of the fabric of the knitting.  You don’t have to be crazy rough, but you don’t have to be too gently either.

pink03Cutting the yarn in the middle of a huge swath of fabric is always a little scary. If you have never done this before, I advise you get another knitter to sit through it with you the first time, just in case.  Not because it’s really all that hard, but more for moral support, as this can be pretty intimidating.  You CAN do this, you just might not completely believe that if you haven’t done it before.  Of course, you could always knit a swatch and then cut a strand in the middle to practice. (Just saying!)

After I had cut through the yarn I gently un-threaded it from the row.  It’s easy to pull the yarn out, just be sure that you “catch” the stitches the you leave behind.  Remember that each row of knitting is just a layer of interlocking loops that ties the row above to the row below, so when you undo a row in the middle of a piece of fabric like this you get TWO rows of stitches, one from the row above where you have undone the yarn, and one from the row below.


You need to keep all those stitches, you need them to fix the hole you are making.  Don’t let them get away.  I made a fairly substantial hole even though there was only ONE stitch that was wrong.  In order to ensure that I had enough yarn to sew in (from the yarn that I cut) I had to undo about 7 stitches (so fourteen little loops were flying around in the breeze) and placed the stitches on small needles to hold them.
I always use small needles (size 1 or 2 US) to do this no matter what size the yarn. There are two reasons for this, first i don’t want to have to fight to get the needle through the loops to save the stitches, so smaller needles are good.   Secondly, because when you re-create the stitches YOU are going to control the size of the stitch, not the needle (as in regular knitting).  When you are working in a finite area, like the whole you just made a larger needle would just get in the way.


But keep in mind that the smaller needles will fall out very easily, so it does mean that you have to sit quietly and get it done. This is one of those times when you want to set yourself up so you won’t get interrupted in the middle.  It took me about 20 minutes from first snip to final tweak, so it’s not a huge amount of time to put aside, but I made sure that I had the 20 UNINTERRUPTED minutes to do it in. To fix your hole you need to make it larger (scary I know!), save your stitches, and calm your nerves.  You also need a piece of yarn to work with.
HINT: you should definitely make sure that you have extra yarn in hand before you make that first fatal cut.  Once you cut the yarn there’s no going back! For this project I cut a piece about 18 inches long. I didn’t need that much, but it made me feel good to know I had LOTS to play with.
I would definitely recommend that you use a blunt needle to do this because the last thing you want, after all this work, is to end up with another split thread.  It’s much easier to avoid that if you use a blunt needle.  Take the yarn you cut and weave it in like the row you took out, each loop (stitch) needs to be worked twice, once through each side.
pink07Look at this simplified illustration of knitted fabric.  (BTW: I borrowed this fabulous image from a fabulous blog about design graphics.  She has some super thing to say about how people use graphics in design and why. Very Cool Stuff.)  The red line in the picture is the piece of yarn you have just cut and pulled out. So now you have to take your new piece of yarn and put it back in there…up through the bottom loop, down through the top loop then then over the loop next to it and up through it, then down the other side of the bottom loop you just used…does that make sense?  I recommend you give it a try. I wasn’t kidding about knitting a swatch and practicing, better to practice on a swatch than on something that MATTERS!!
Hints for this stage:
  • Make sure you don’t twist your stitches.
  • Don’t worry about tension (for right now)
  • Turn your fabric over and look at it every few stitches to be sure it looks right (loose, but right)

When you have completed sewing in replacement yarn it will be loose and will still look a bit scary!  Don’t worry, you can fix it, and I don’t recommend you try to pull the stitches tight make it look perfect as you put in the replacement yarn.  Leave it loose and floppy, it’s so much easier to take out if you go wrong when it’s still loose.  When you are finished putting the new yarn in place, and you know it’s right, then you need to slowly, and patiently work the stitches in so that they look the same as the others.

I prefer to do this from the back, but you could do it from the front if you wanted.  I like working from the back because the purl bumps are so easy to grab a hold of. Of course, I also flip it over often so I can see what it will look like on the “right” side.  I also do it with a small knitting needle, not a sewing needle, or my fingers.  Some people use a crochet hook.  I find I have better control and can grab JUST the piece I want easier with a small knitting needle, but you do it any way that works for you! You will know when you are done because it will be all but invisible on the “right” side.  Keep tweaking until the only way you know it was done is the thread sticking out on the wrong side! (Now, don’t get crazy and spend three hours on this, remember: Only Allah is perfect!)

Here are some pictures from both the “right” and the “wrong” sides of the fabric.  Remember that these were taken moments after I finished and has (obviously) not been washed or anything.  You can still see it a bit from the front, but once it is washed, if you did it right, you really won’t see it! Promise!

Now you have to start sewing in the ends.  Because this mistake just happened to be in the middle of the front I decided to try to minimize the bulk added by the ends and so I split each end that need to be sewn in into two.  The good news is that splitting the ends will make less bulk and they will be harder to see.  The bad news is that you now have EIGHT ends to weave in, not four.  Ah, the things we do for our art!

pink11Here you can see one side of the hole, and you can see I split the two ends into four, and I will weave them in carefully, checking the other side as I go, like I always do, in a clover leaf shape.

If you aren’t sure how to weave in ends you can learn more here: Adele’s Legacy: Finishing School – Yarn Ends.  Weaving in ends is easy.  As they say on Adele’s Legacy (and say it, and say it, and say it…) There are no knots in knitting.  You can’t just tie your ends together, it won’t last and it looks awful.  And why would you when there is such an elegant solution?

pink13So, once you have woven in all your ends, making sure from the right side of your work that it looks good still it should look like this on the wrong side.  Not so bad right?

pink14Now, to show you the real nitty gritty of it, I held the front of the sweater up to a light so you could see through it.  Obviously you will never see your garment like this (unless you glow from the inside).  I think this is useful because you can clearly see where the ends have been woven in (the darker areas), but you can’t see it when you wear it.  You can easily see in this image how I sew in the ends in different directions, which minimizes the “bump” left by the added fiber in the area.

 pink15And here it is on me.  You really can’t tell that I made a huge hole in the front of the sweater, and then fixed it with nothing more than a needle, some yarn, and a smidgen of gumption.

That being said, this was an easy one to show you because  it’s stockinette!  If you have a pattern of some kind it could be a bit trickier.  On the flip side, if you have a pattern it’s much easier to HIDE the imperfections while with stockinette if you aren’t super patient and very careful you WILL be able to see that something is a bit awry.

If this had been a fisherman’s knit, with lots of cables and patterns, it would have been a bit more tricky to DO, but it would also be much less likely to show the mistake after you fixed it.  Patterns, and multi-colors hide a multitude of sins.  Make sure that you really NEED to fix the mistake before you venture into this.  If you are the only one who sees it, you need to decide if it’s worth the effort.

I am glad I fixed this.  It will make it more likely that I will wear the sweater.  And trust me, getting me into the color pink is hard enough, I didn’t need any sort of an excuse to leave this lovely sweater sitting in my closet!