First Stitch Syndrome

Have your heard of First Stitch Syndrome?

It’s a dreadful affliction that sometimes affects new knitters!

Symptoms include: fear of being an inferior knitter, disliking what you have knit, sighing and feeling inept, and very often ripping out perfectly good pieces of knitting.

And all because the edge of their knitting looks sloppy

The good news is that there is a VERY SIMPLE CURE!

I am going to share it with you today, and hopefully you can help me spread it and we can end the terrible affliction of First Stitch Syndrome.

The Symptom

The problem is that when you knit flat (not in the round) you have an edge to your knitting, and therefore, an edge stitch.

This edge stitch often ends up being larger than it’s next door neighbor. This results in a whole line of big, sloppy stitches.  Sloppy edge stitches make sewing up a chore because you have big holes and it just looks MESSY.

The really frustrating thing for some new knitters is that they can see the problem – and they have a solution!

At the next edge they knit the first stitch and they pull, and pull and pull so the stitch is SOOOO tight there is no WAY it can end up sloppy, but four or five stitches in they look back and there it is – sloppy again!

But knowing that they DID pull it tight they do it again on the next edge, and on the next and end up frustrated and depressed and exclaiming things like “I just can’t get it right” or ” I will never learn to knit correctly!”  There is often gnashing of teeth  and can sometimes even be wailing!

The Problem

First Stitch Syndrome is a devilishly annoying.  Let’s break the problem down.

You want the first stitch you knit in the row to be the same size as the others, so you pull really tight on that stitch to “tame” it, and FORCE it to be tight.  In effect you are asking the stitch to be SMALLER than it wants to be, smaller in fact that the needle size you are using.

But unfortunately as soon as you go onto the second stitch the first stitch relaxes and before you know it you have a stitch that is slouching in the corner like a angst filled teenager.

It doesn’t matter how hard you pull on that yarn as you make the stitch, it always relaxes as you move on.

This doesn’t happen very often with other stitches, it’s only edge one that causes so much trouble.

The problem is that the edge stitches are only supported on ONE SIDE.  All the other stitches in your row have stitches on BOTH sides, so they are supported and sustained and keep their shape.

But it’s the very nature of an edge stitch to be ON THE EDGE. So what’s a poor knitter to do?

The Solution

There is a cure to First Stitch Syndrome. Think about these things first.


Pulling, yanking, forcing or otherwise getting violent with your yarn will do nothing to solve the problem and much to raise your blood pressure. So the first step to a cure is to relax. Let go of your frustration, it is only adding to the problem.

Think TAUT

When you knit the size of your stitches is determined by your needle. Not by you, not by your muscle strength, but by the needle.  Every stitch should be the same size because the NEEDLE makes that decision.  A good knitter develops a habit of not knitting too loosely or too tightly, but so that each stitch fits snug and taut (not sloppy or tight) around the needle.

Hopefully you have already developed this habit with the “inner” stitches, so now let’s make sure your edge stitches work the same way.


This is important: Your edge stitches are not alone. They DO have stitches on either side of them.  They have the second stitch, obviously. But they also have the last stitch of the last row. It’s sitting below the edge stitch, you just finished it! And you know what? You thought you were done with it and have cavalierly just abandoned it to it’s fate and moved onto the next row. Big mistake.

You need to have both the last stitch of the last row, and the first stitch of this row in alignment. Then they are both supported on both sides, and they won’t go all loosey-goosey on you.

  1. Knit the fist stitch in the row as usual – do not go crazy trying to pull it tight, let the needle with do the work. Relax.
  2. Put your needle into the next stitch (the second stitch in the row), wind your yarn around the needle AS IF to make the stitch, but pause.
  3. Pull the yarn TAUT (don’t make the stitch yet), not tight.
  4. Watch your yarn as you slowly pull it taut, make sure that it is pulling from the LAST stitch of the last row, THROUGH the first stitch so that they are BOTH the right size.
  5. Let that size be determined by your needle, not by your frustration.
  6. When the previous two stitches are in ALIGNMENT, complete the second stitch.

Now go on about your business, worry free.

The second stitch will hold the tautness of the first stitch (which is holding the tautness of the last stitch) and you can move on with confidence.


Now, doesn’t that feel better?

Practice that a few times, and then make it a part of your knitting repertoire so that you never have to worry about sloppy first stitches again…ever!


Don’t forget that even though the Tour de Fleece doesn’t start until July we are starting to warm up NOW! If you are a spinner,  consider joining us (it’s free!) and learn about how much FUN we have!!

How Big is That Stitch?

This is part of a sometime series called Anatomy of a Knitted Stitch. This part is How Big Is That Stitch. 

When someone talks about the size of a stitch they are generally talking about what size the stitch is in relation to the size of the needles you use.  Are you casting on with a 10.5 US or  a 00 US?  If you are making a sweater it’s more likely to be the 10.5 cause a big sweater usually demands a big stitch.  If you are making an advent ornament then a size 00 US makes the most sense.

But what I want to talk about right now is not needle size but actual stitch size…how big is your knit in relation to your purl? This can be one of the most annoying and contradictory and annoyingly contradictory thing about knitting once you stop being a complete beginner and try doing some knitting without (gasp!!) a pattern. Don’t be scared! You can do it, but there are TWO things you will need to know/consider/learn about stitch size in order to avoid really screwing up your knitting.

Number One: Your stitches may not be even.

You know I teach people to knit.   Not long ago I was working with a new knitter (not really a student of mine, just a friend) and she was having trouble with some pattern stitches. She coudln’t get them to look the way they did in the picture.  We talked about blocking (to open the stitches) but no, that wasn’t the issue.  I asked her about her tension.  She wasn’t sure what I meant by “tension” in knitting, so we talked about how you could ensure an even tension while you knit so all your stitches are even – and no she felt like she was on top of that, her knitted stitches were all the same size as her other knitted stitches, and her purls were all about the size size as her other purls.  I was flummoxed, cause there was definitely an unevenness to her knitting – so I went to my last ditch troubleshooting trick and I asked her to knit a swatch for me, while I watched.

This opened a whole can of worms cause she said “Oh, pfft, I don’t knit swatches!  Those are so old fashioned.”  (That’s a quote, though it may make her blush to read it!

We will pause for a moment now, while I count to ten and say in a calm reasonable tone of voice that is not abusive, condescending or in any other way demeaning: “No, swatches are not old fashioned, any more than using knitting needles to knit things is old fashioned.  Perhaps you aren’t fully informed on the purpose and value of a swatch”

Let’s just breeze over the next few minutes (that’s a whole ‘nother topic right there!!) and jump ahead to the part where she, albeit a bit grudgingly, agreed to knit a small swatch for me.  She knit 15 stitches, then purled back – stockinette stitch for about 10 rows.  I knew what her problem was by the end of the second row, but I listened to her grumble, and I am glad I did – it was very educational.

This is what I learned.  She has been knitting for about two years.  She has made cowls, hats, mittens, and an infinity scarf.  She can read a pattern, and she is very comfortable with a circular needle, both for circular knitting and for magic loop.  She really is a competent knitter.  But it was the first minute of her flat knitting that told me what her problem was.

This is the problem:

Every time she has knit something she has used a circular needle.  She is a modern young lady, and a modern knitter – so she has never knit on straight needles (I am assuming because she considers that to be old fashioned as well).  Because everything she had done was circular, she has never had to do the simple thing I did when I first learned to knit: knit a row, then purl back.  She had worked in stockinette stitch, but it was circular, so every stitch of the stockinette was knitted.  She had even done a bit of reverse stockinette stitch, but again, only from one side (because it was circular) – so every row was purled.

What I realized as soon as she started to purl back was that her purls were much much looser than her knits.  In most of the simple patterns she had been using the difference between the size of her knits and purls didn’t matter much , they had been jumbled together, and any size difference just blended into the pattern when it was blocked.  But when she started making this shawl, it was flat, so she had to knit across and purl back, rather than around and around.  It was the first time that she had worked stockinette stitch by actually knitting one row, then purling the next – and boy did it ever show!! Her knits where fine, and so were her purls on their own, but her purls were about 1/3 bigger than they should be, when compared to the knits!!  So when you looked at her stockinette it was lumpy and uneven.

Moral of the story is this: If you look at your knitting and sometimes you like the way it looks and other times it seems uneven or lumpy-bumpy to you just knit your self an old fashioned swatch on old fashioned straight needles and see what you get.  If you don’t like the way it looks, you might have a problem.

Solutions to the problem:

IF you know your purls are looser than your knits there are a few things you can do to solve that problem.  You can work on your tension, see how other people hold their yarn to tension it and find a way that works for you.  This seems to be a problem for both continental and English knitters,  it’s not about what style you use, it’s about what style of tension you employ.  Awareness of the problem and intentionality while knit should solve the problem pretty quickly.  If you find that when you do a stitch pattern (like moss, or ribbing, or lace) you can’t really see the problem but if you do stockinette in the flat it looks awful (and you can’t or won’t lick the issue with practice) consider using two different sized needles.  If you know you purl bigger than you knit then arrange you needles so that when you knit you are using the size you are supposed to, and when you purl you use a size smaller  (to compensate for your loose knitting).  Obviously this only works on pieces that are all stockinette.

FYI: Learning how to lick the problem is really the best way to go.

Now that I have said that: that your knits and purls should be the same size – hang onto your hats for other thing you should know/consider/learn about stitch size.

Number Two: Your stitches will never be even.

That sounds like fightin’ words doesn’t it?  Let me go a step further: Your purl is is not the same size as your knit.  You know that a knit and a purl are two sides of the same thing, right? The purl is the back of the knit, and the knit is the back of the purl.  Well, just like the Tardis (it’s inside is bigger that it’s outside) knits are purls are not the same size.  Well, maybe it’s more accurate to say they are not the same shape.  Let’s take the two stitches one at a time.

Knit stitches are wider than purl stitches.  

It doesn’t matter if you have been knitting for ten minutes or ten years – if you cast on 30 stitches and knit in stockinette stitch for about 12 inches the fabric of your knitting is going to curl, with the knit stitches on the outside, into a 12 inch long tube of knitting (except near the needle, which keeps it stretched out straight).  It’s annoying, but it’s inherent in the fabric – when you put all the knits on one side they will take up more room SIDEWAYS and so will roll in from the sides.

That’s why when you knit dish clothes, or afghan squares, or shawls: at the edge we do a seed stitch, or a rib, or a garter, even if it’s just for a few stitches, to keep the edge straight.  By mixing knits and purls we create a fabric that is the width on both sides, so no curling.  Knit stitches will always be wider than purls, it’s the way they are built.

Purl stitches and longer than knit stitches.

It doesn’t matter if you are knitting with that 10.5 US needle or the 00 US needle – it’s not your knitting,  its’not the type of yarn.  It’s not because you didn’t slip the first stitch – purl side of a stitch takes up more room vertically than the knit side.  This is why when you start knitting in stockinette stitch (all the purls on one side) the bottom will curl out with the purls on the outside.  This used to be a bit of a no-no, but fashion got a hold of knitting a few years ago and decided it was cool to have sweater necks that curled out, or cuffs that curled up at the bottom of your sleeves.  I was brought up to use ribbing or seed stitch to stop the curl – but as I believe we have already discussed, I tend to be a bit old fashioned.

Bottom line: not matter how much you work at making your knitting EVEN the actual stitches are working against you to a certain extent.  I understand this intellectually, but emotionally I just don’t get it.  If knits and purls are like a coin, two sides of the same thing, then how can they be so differently shaped?  Well, I promise that it’s completely explainable how one side can be wider and the other side can be longer and they can still be the same stitch…but that’s when it gets really technical and I am frankly not nearly as interested in WHY it happens as I am in knowing that it does.

techknitterSo at this point you might be saying “wait, hold on! I really, really want to understand the detailed explanation of how a knit is wider and a purl is longer!  Well, first, I am sorry for you.  All the time you are going to take to learn, figure out, and inwardly digest this piece of technical knitting trivia could be better spent knitting, in my opinion.  But that being said, I recommend that you visit TECHknitter’s explanation.  This is just one of a huge number of very clear explanations for all things techy and knitty… also strongly recommend her index of past posts.

Knowing what will happen to edges of fabric that doesn’t have a relatively even number of knits and purls – and knowing how to use it or avoid it as I see fit, arms me with that knowledge I to to move forward and create lovely knitted creations…

As long as my tension doesn’t mess me up!!

Knitting Contradictions

Know any other knitting contradictions that bug, annoy, or titillate you? Tell me about them, I am ready to sympathize and make you feel heard.  We old fashioned knitters have to stick together!

Click here to learn more about the Anatomy of Knitted Stitches!

Twisted Stitches

This is part of a sometime series called Anatomy of a Knitted Stitch. This part is Twisted Stitches. 

Twisted Stitches

If you knit a stitch through the second leg, rather than the first leg, when you work a stitch (knit, purl, yarn over, or lifted, any stitch!) the stitch will become what is called a twisted stitch.

NOTE: you can twist purls, too!  There is however very little purpose to that since it doesn’t show up on the purl side.  IN fact, the only reason I can think of to twist a purl is if it’s on a cuff that might be turned up and you want the stitches to look the same on the inside and the outside, or you want to create a stiffer piece of knitted fabric for some reason.

Knitting through the second leg is not wrong, If it is a choice, and not an accident. 

Sometimes a pattern will tell you to twist a stitch.  This is often used to make knit stitches stand out in a pattern stitch.  And sometimes we accidentally twist stitches.

It’s when stitches get twisted accidentally that we consider them wrong.  Look at the picture below. Can you see the twisted stitches?

Part 3

It’s these ones right here:

Twisted Stitches

What Happens?

What happens when you have twisted a stitch?  The yarn that comes in on the right makes the SECOND leg, and the yarn that goes out on the left makes the FIRST leg. We know this is wrong becasue we know that Stitches Have Legs.  This change (knitting through the second leg) causes the stitch to look different from the others. Sometimes people say a twisted stitch is knit through the “back of the stitch” because the second leg is usually the one on the back of the needle.

If you took away all the rows before and after a row knitting – had just the ONE row of knitting, but in the same shape as if the other rows were there, this is what the yarn would look like.  On the left is the yarn in regular stitches, on the right is the yarn in twisted stitches.

Twisted Stitches

So what’s up with twisted stitches?

Twisted stitches are good for some things, and bad for others.  Here is a list.

Part 3d

Twisting a stitch makes that stitch really stand out.  That can be great (see sock picture below) if it’s part of the pattern,  I twist almost all the knitted stitches in this sock pattern I wrote a few years ago.  I wanted them to really stand out.  Twisted stitches stand out because they are different and additionally they also “stand out” literally.  A twisted stitch is a bit more raised up than regular knitted stitches, consequently they are more prominent in a field of knits.  A twisted stitch will also stand higher than a regular knit stitch in a field of purls. They are  also little more compact when they are twisted which creates a stiffer fabric.

Twisted StitchesThis can be good if you want it, like I did in these socks, but it can be bad in a field of stitches that you want to all look the same…

Some people think too many twisted stitches make the piece too fussy.  This is a personal choice, or a designers choice in a pattern.



To Twist or Not To Twist

That is the question.  If you decide NOT  to twist stitches in a pattern then you certainly don’t have too, but keep in mind two things:

1. The pattern will not look the same if you don’t knit it the way the pattern tell you.  It might change a lot or it might change a little. I recommend a pattern swatch to make sure you like it without the twists.

2. You must be consistent!  You can’t change your mind halfway through to suddenly start adding twisted stitches.  The difference is almost always REALLY obvious.

Embarrassing Admission: I had a student once who did not understand the anatomy of a stitch.   I explained to her about twisted stitches.  She twisted ALL her stitch and didn’t see any difference between her knitting and the others in the class.  Against my gentle recommendation she decided not to change.

Mea Culpa.  I didn’t try very hard to convince her.  I know it’s hard work to change a habit!  (Ask me sometime why I don’t knit continental.) I didn’t want to push her, I wanted everyone to have a good time. Well, everyone else in the class had plenty of yarn to complete a pair of socks.  Unfortunately, she ran out about half way through the second sock. Guess who’s fault that was?

I learned a big lesson from her socks! I am much firmer with students now and try harder to convince them to break the habit of twisting continuously.

Like anything in life, twisted stitches are great in moderation, however they can cause trouble when used to excess.

What happens if I twist a stitch by accident?

Twisting a stitch is not an emergency!  When you see a mistake within a few rows you can drop back and untwist it.  It’s not a hard mistake to fix usually.  If the error is many rows back you need to make a decision.  If it’s part of an intricate cable or lace pattern it might not be worth the effort to fix.  If you drop a stitch you have to fix it.   One twisted stitch is a pretty minor mistake;  the chances are that most people won’t even notice.

It’s a judgement call.  We all make mistakes.  If I accidentally twist a stitch in my knitting I employ my Mum’s secret method.  Here it is, released to the public for the first time!

When You Need to Correct A Twisting Error

(Mummy’s Top Secret Method)

Step 1: Place your knitting, error side up, on one side of the room.

Step 2: Walk to the other side of the room.

Step 3: In your opinion, will any random horse galloping by be able to see the error?

If YES: Fix error

If NO: Leave it and get back to your knitting

I have to tell you, I think this is a brilliant method for deciding, and strongly recommend it to you for twisted stitches and all other minor knitting errors.

Remember, you are suppose to be having FUN!

Click here to learn more about the Anatomy of Knitted Stitches!

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