Monday, February 12, 2007

Adding a new ball of yarn in the same color

Today: "Joining yarn," or "What to do when you're at the tail end of the old ball of yarn, and you need to add in a new ball of the same color." (The trick of adding in balls of a different color for multi-color knitting will be covered in a future post).

An urban myth of knitting is that new yarn always ought to be added at the end of a row (side of the fabric) (scroll).

On the one hand, if you are knitting an item to be seamed, this advice can be good (see trick the third, below).

On the other hand, for items where the edge of the knitting is the edge of the garment (scarf, shawl, stole), or for items where you plan to add an edging, this advice is pretty bad. Adding yarn at the end of a row can leave a big loopy gap along one side of your knitting, and/or a lump where the ends are worked in. The side of your work is probably an inconvenient spot for that gap/lump.

Also, advice to put the yarn change in the seam is of little use to circular knitters.

Another myth is that yarn should be "tied in" with a knot. I've ranted elsewhere against knots in knitting--even slip knots, and won't repeat here. I will add, however, that even the tightest knot has the potential to come undone over time with the kind of wear a knitted garment will get.

Anyway--enough about what won't work. Here are three tricks for adding a new ball of yarn.

Trick the first--felting
(fair warning: if you're squeamish, skip straight to trick the second)

Evidently, the oldest kind of yarn-made fabric is nalbinding. It is made with a large-eyed flat bone-type needle, using short lengths of yarn--originally, the sort of primitive yarn spun by rubbing it between the palms.

Obviously, a major nalbinding issue is how to attach each short length to the next.

Nalbinders solved this problem long ago--maybe in the ice ages--by felting the ends of the yarn together with (this is the squeamy part) spit. Today, most choose to use water, but if you're lazily knitting in bed .... well, just resolve to thoroughly wash your knitting before wearing.

HOW-TO felt the ends

Overlap the ends of the yarn in your hand--by maybe a couple of inches. Add a small amount of the liquid of your choice, and rub the ends between your fingers and your palms or between both palms, until the ends felt. Yup, that's it.
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felting the ends of yarn togetherOf course, the more you practice, the less lumpy the join will be--you can fool with separating the plys in plied yarn before you felt, and fool with the correct amount of liquid, and fool with the rolling action of the felting and fool with the amount of the overlap. However, this isn't rocket science--if cave (wo)men could do it, so can you. A couple of quick experiments will show you the best technique to make the resulting join pretty much invisible in whatever wooly yarn you're using. And of course, by this method, there are no ends to work in.

BUT--felting works best on wool--preferably thickish wool. Felting is a poor choice for thin yarns, such as lace, because even the most careful felted join will show against the lacy fabric. And felting works not at all on non-wool yarns. Which brings us to...

Trick the second--overlapping

HOW-TO overlap

Overlap the new end and the old end. Knit THREE stitches with both yarns, then drop the old yarn.
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three stitches made with old ball and new ballBe sure there are several inches of EACH end hanging down.
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view of ends on back--overlap method of joining yarnThe overlap may look bulky, but this is temporary.
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overlapped stitches before tension is adjustedSeveral rows or rounds AFTER the joining, carefully adjust the tension by gently pulling on each end in turn. In heavy work, pull tight enough so that the stitch attached to that end will shrink behind the not-pulled stitch and disappear. In lace work, tug each end carefully only as hard as it takes to make all six overlapped stitches the same size--see photo of lace work below.
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overlapped join after tension has been adjustedThe central stitch, in which both yarns lay unpulled, will be slightly larger than the stitches on either side, but even in loose lacy knitting, where there is little tugging, this join hides.
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overlap join hides in loose lacy fabricIf you're working in heavy wool, you clip the ends after you've washed and blocked the garment. Leave a short end (1/2 inch) still sticking out--over time, it will shrink into (and felt onto) the fabric as the garment is pulled and twisted in everyday wear. After several further washings, when you're sure that little tail will shrink no further, you can clip it down as far as the fabric surface with a clear conscience. In woolen lace, where both sides of the fabric are designed to be seen, wash and block the item. When dry, stretch the area of the overlap several times to adjust the tension before clipping the excess very near to the fabric surface.

With non-wool yarns, three stitches MIGHT be enough to hold the ends for all times, and it might not, depends how slippery the stuff is. I find that superwash wool, for example, requires more, so I'll sometimes work 4 overlapping stitches. If you have doubts, then use the overlapping method of join PLUS, for insurance, work your ends in further using whatever method you generally use, before you clip the excess. (Working-in ends will be the subject of a future post...)

If there is a pattern to your knitted fabric, think about placing your overlapped stitches there, rather than out in a flat, smooth stockinette stitch area. The 3-stitch-overlapped join is nearly undetectable, but by placing it in a pattern--where the eye is already predisposed to accept a disturbance--you have additional insurance that no one will ever notice.

Trick the third--for items to be seamed

A reader of this blog, Noricum, gets the credit for this trick.

For garments which will be seamed (sweaters made in pieces, for example) the idea is to change balls at the side (seam edge) and leave a long tail from the new ball AND the old ball. When the time comes to seam the garment, use the long tails for the sewing yarn--remember to cross the yarns, one going up, and one going down, in such a way as to draw closed the gap where the new ball comes in. Thanks Noricum!

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PS:  Here is a link to a post with 10 (!)  different methods of working in ends in knitting, eight of which are "as you go."
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noricum said...

I like to put the joins at the seams, then use the tails for seaming. Any tails not used for seaming I run along the seam. Garments with no seams are another matter, of course.

A russian join works well for some yarns.

Bells said...

I have no problem at all with using my own spit! It's such a small amount and, I have to say, feels kind of personal.

is it it yukky to say that it reminds me a bit of what happens when a strand of my hair gets worked into the item (not so good with light coloured yarn since I have dark brown hair). It kind of feels like part of me has gone into the item I'm making. Same with the spit.

That said, I know embroiderers get funny about using spit on the end of cotton before inserting it into the needle. Some think spit is too acidic and will break down the fibre.

I'm really not sure about that. Might warrant some research.

Anonymous said...

If my yarn is thick, I do a single stitch with both yarns, then stranded work until I run out of the old yarn and one more double stitch. I've never had the nerve to do only three stitches. I also tend to weave ends as duplicate stitch from the back. Better too much than not enough.

--TECHknitter said...

I just got back from a guild meeting where I sat near a lady who felted her ends. She called it a "spit splice."

sarah said...

Reassure the embroiderers: normal saliva is not acid, it's very near neutral. If not, you'll have bad teeth.

I haven't done much spit splicing because I like cotton/silk which doesn't felt, or worsted silk/wool, and the fuzziness shows. I am *very* reassured by your description of overlapping, though! I used knots at the side of the work to join yarn for my first shawl: I managed to ensure they were invisible by making them very, very tight, but then I could feel them when I ran my hand down the knitted fabric.

christine said...

Two of my favorite tricks - spitting on yarn and rubbing it together until it's hot, and overlapping........

Jean said...

I've just found your blog for the first time today. It's wonderful! I've added it to my RSS feed.

I have a question about knots in knitting. I know they're frowned upon for their tendency to pop through to the front of the work. I wouldn't want *that*, but there are times when it seems to me that a knot is the only thing that's really going to hold the work together. (Keep the hole at the top of a hat really tight, for instance.) Should I simply have more confidence that weaving in my tails is enough to hold my knitting together? Or is there something else I can do for both my knitting and me to feel secure?

Jean (

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Jean--thanks for your question. Knots give a sense of reassurance, it's true, but it is a false sense. Over time, most knots come undone. Weaving in the ends works stunningly in wool, less stunningly in slipperier yarns--end weaving will be the subject of a future post. As far as the tops of hats popping open, that is the subject of my very next post...stay tuned!

Anonymous said...

Hey Techknitter! This is such good info - I'll never knot again! But I do have a question - when you're making a lacy shawl, for instance, and you find you need to start a new ball in the middle of a patterned row, how do you work the overlapping part into it? Does it work the same way?
Your "kinky" friend

--TECHknitter said...

Dear Kinky:

I'm guessing your question assumes that lace shawls may be a special case because they are to be seen from both sides--they do not have a "back." You are correct, lace shawls are a special case, and I have changed the text of my post to be more accurate about that subject.

The problem is not the method--the overlap method works well with items designed to be seen from both sides.

The problem comes with the "tug" step. With lace, you must adjust the tension carefully--you don't want to overtighten the stitches, as any stitch pulled too small will distort the open, lacy fabric--so the "tug" step is reduced to simply making the stitches all the same size--there is no "shrinking" of one stitch behind another.

As with any garment, be sure to wash and block a lace scarf before clipping the ends--and before clipping the excess, stretch the part where the overlap lies a few times to be sure that the tension is adjusted properly.

Thanks for your question--this post will be more accurate because of it...

Kathy said...

Thanks for this one. I recently started doing spit splicing in the woolen sweater I was knitting, and it seemed to work great. My 17-yo son, however, was grossed out every time I did it. Too bad, I say, get over it.

elle said...

I love using this method but if you are knitting something for a gift and you don't want to leave the final cutting/trimming of the yarn to someone else, how do you deal with the tails?

jill73 said...

I would really love some of your advice on how to do different types of knots please!

Anonymous said...

This is great! I always made knots and it was not a big deal until I knitted 100% alpaca. I could not belive how slippery this stuff was, no knots (marine included) stayed knoted! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this. I'm a scarfaholic and will one day work myself up to doing something more difficult....

I used to always knot my yarn at the end of a row to the new yarn to continue, but never again! Thanks again for such easy to understand instructions on the correct way(s) of joining yarn!!

Anonymous said...

I there a certain amount of animal fibers needed to felt the ends together? I am us yarn with 40% silk, 30% lambswool, 20% cashmere and 10% nylon. Thanks.

--TECHknitter said...

Hi anonymous:You can try spit-splicing, but I would think that you'd have a hard time felting together the ends on 40% silk, 30% lambswool, 20% cashmere and 10% nylon, and it will be the silk which will cause the problem. Silk is notoriously difficult to splice, felt or otherwise join smoothly together. With 40% silk, I think you'll have a problem, and especially because there is an additional 10% non-animal fiber (nylon). So, if you try felting the ends together and it does not seem to be working, perhaps you should try the overlap method!


Anonymous said...

For the Russian Join I was taught, you would split the end of a yarn in half (two-ply yarn, for instance into two pieces) and cut off the extra one on the ends you wanted to join. Then do the join with those thinner pieces and you wouldn't have much added bulk at all.

Thank you for your articles and pictures to explain it all!

Anonymous said...

i've heard you can do a felted join too with needle felting for materials that won't wet felt. i haven't tried it yet (but am dying to) and was interested if you've worked with it before.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Anon--I never tied needle-felting ends together. If you do try it, please write back and say whether it worked for you. Thanks. TK

Kookaburra said...


I've always done the overlap technique in my crocheting, but when I learned how to knit, I was informed that doing it was just "not done." I'm going back to it, so much easier and fewer ends to weave in! :D

Sanhita said...

I love reading your blog and learning new ways of doing old things!!
I do a cave-womanish joining. I separate the plies for about three inches at the end of the ball as well as the beginning of the new ball. Cut off half the plies, eg. cut off two plies in a four ply yarn in both. Then overlap the two plies at the end of the ball and the the beginning of the new ball making it four plies again, rub/twist them some to merge with each other and knit on. No bulky stitches.
I extend the overlap beyond the ends (like done in your first method described here) and let the excess two ply yarn hang at both ends which can be weaved in or chopped off leaving no trace of having joined anything!

sue said...

Finally, permission to go on as I always have. I HATE knots as was told that when knitting you must ALWAYS change balls at the end of the row. Hubby heard that and we were in the shop when a woman brought in an object that had not been ended at the end of the row. Washing made a hole where the join was and it scared me enough that I started being sure to end at the end of the row.

CeeCee said...

Hi there! I am soooo happy to have found this site, and specifically the overlapping technique for joining another ball of yarn. I am in no way a prolific knitter and I have never seen or heard of this technique before but I LOVE IT!! No more knots for me....ever!!

thingsforboys said...

Great article thanks! I'm making a reversible cowl in the round so am after invisible joins. Awesome suggestions!

Creative Grammie said...

Aloha Techknitter,
This is the first time visiting your blog, I just wanted to let you know how grateful I am to have found your blog. I use your method of adding a new ball of yarn to my work by using the old tail and new yarn tail for several stitches then dropping the old and continuing on. But I always love learning new ways to add on, you know, keeping my options open. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us all. I didn't see a follow button on your blog, so I did bookmark you.

Rochelle said...

I love this series on the 10 join techniques, and I keep returning to it. I learned the skimming technique here.

You might mention in the spit-splice section that it won't work for superwash wool. Luckily it's easy to hide ends in socks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this description of joining. I have always done knots and I knot a lot of sweaters. Always hated the way the knots stand out and I could never hide the ends well enough. Now I know a better way. At the end , when one does the casting off, how do you stop the ends from popping out?

Anonymous said...

Vey helpful discussion. I've seen and used all three joins, but never thought of step two for the overlap technique, pulling to minimize the bulge. Now I'm wondering why not do the same thing with the Russian join? I like it because it feels very secure, but it has that bulkiness problem. I think it could respond to careful tugging a few rows later. Then we'd have the best of all worlds!

Rochelle said...

My cat has sucked on a few inches of an end, so it's ready to spit-splice.

Oubli said...

I've never had a problem with my knots slipping even after years of wear and tear, washing and wearing. The difference here I suppose is the type of knots being used, I was taught knotting from my dad who was in the Navy, added to that I got an extra course in knotting by being a rigging stage hand. As long as you do some variation of a surgeons knot (which is a reef knot w an extra twist) they won't slip EVER. Want to give it extra staying power? (not that's it's needed) spit on it and then pull it tight.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Am a big fan of felting the ends together and find that it is even better to break the yarn at the end instead of having a cut end when joining.

jeanbess said...

How do you add a ball of yarn when it is sper bulky

TECHknitter said...

Hi Jeanbess--super bulky yarn is always a problem. To tell the truth, I actually sew the ends together, using a matching color single strand of polyester sewing thread and a sharp, small hand-sewing needle. This is also how I handle the ends of ribbon yarn. Specifically, I overlap the two yarns somewhat, and the sewing itself reduces the bulk of the two overlapped yarns to the diameter of one single bulky yarn. It does leave a hard spot you can FEEL, but you can't SEE it. Tip: make both ends a little ragged by tugging and pulling on them--a sort of "chewing" with your fingers, if you know what I mean--before you sew them together. This thins each end down somewhat to further reduce bulk.