Thursday, January 24, 2008

Length reassignment surgery: lengthening and shortening knitwear

includes 3 illustrations, click any illustration to enlarge
As a frequenter of Ravelry, I have discovered that Ravelry is the greatest timesuck ever invented, although it is also the best website for all knitters (and spinners and crocheters) and you should join now lots of knitters would like to know how to make too-short knitwear longer, and too-long knitwear shorter, or remove a cast on and redo it, or otherwise start or end their fabric in some other place than it is now.

Now, this isn't very difficult, but it is scary the first time you try it, and there are a few shoals in the water, so that's the subject of today's post.

* * *

Let us suppose that you have a sleeve or a hat which is TOO SHORT or TOO LONG, and that you have knit
  • from the top down
  • in the round or back and forth
  • in stockinette
Lucky you, that is the easiest case!

  1. Unravel and re-knit longer/shorter.
* * *
Let us suppose that you have a garment which is TOO SHORT or TOO LONG, and that you have knit
  • from the bottom up
  • in the round or back and forth
  • in stockinette

(An aside: the below trick also works for catching live stitches out of an alread-knit stockinette fabric for ANY purpose, not just for lengthening or shortening).
  1. If you knit back and forth, unravel the seam to above the area where you will snip. If you knit round and round, just start right in with step 2.
  2. Snip one stitch of the garment in the round ABOVE the ribbing (for too short) or just where you want the ribbing to begin (for too long).
  3. Using a needle to pick out the yarn along the row or round (purple in the diagrams), unravel all the way around/across the garment.
  4. As each live loop pops free, catch it on your needles--the same needle you used to knit the garment in the first place. Don't worry now which way your stitch is laying, just worry about catching it.
  5. When the ribbing pops loose, put it aside, you will not need it now.
  6. Once all the live loops are caught on your needles, slip your way around the work again, re-orienting and catching each loop RIGHT ARM FORWARD.
  7. Attach a new, unkinked yarn by any of these methods: Russian join, overcast join, overlap join, back join.
  8. If the garment was too short, you are now ready to reknit, downwards, in stockinette to lengthen the garment sufficiently until it is time to start the ribbing again. This works because stockinette has the wonderful property of lining up REGARDLESS of whether it is knit "up" or "down."
  9. If the garment was too long, you are now ready to knit the ribbing from where your stitches are all on the needle. If you have taken out so much fabric that you are several increases higher in the garment, and there are more stitches on your needle than there were when you first knit the cuff/band/edging, switch to smaller (or even to MUCH smaller) needles to re-knit the cuff. This way, the cuff/band/edging will still fit, even though it is being re-knit on more stitches than the old one.
  10. If the garment was too short, and your leftover yarn is insufficient to do all the further knitting, unravel the part of the sleeve you popped off, and process it according to these instructions so that it can be reused.
* * *

Your TOO SHORT or TOO LONG garment was not knit in stockinette. This means that the picked up stitches to be knit "downwards" will be a half-stitch off in the fabric pattern.

  1. You need to think outside the box. If the fabric is a ribbing, do the additional knitting for the cuffs/bands/edging in a different ribbing. So, for example, if the garment fabric is 2x2 ribbing, do the edging ribbing in 2x1 or 1x1 or whatever other ribbing you've always had a hankering to try.
  2. If the fabric pattern is garter stitch, edge with seed stitch; if it is seed stitch, try a ribbing or a garter stitch, etc.
* * *
Your garment is TOO SHORT and you do not have enough yarn to make it longer, no, not even if you recycle the popped-off bits.

  1. Matching or contrasting color: If the garment body or sleeves (or hat or other garment) is/are too short, unravel the bands and recycle that yarn to lengthen the garment. Then use a matching or contrasting color in the same weight and kind of yarn to re-knit the bands. A blue sweater with green or gray bands would look smashing, and no one but you would know you never meant to have it that way all along.
  2. Different dyelot of the same color: It often happens, however, that the same color is available, but in a different dyelot. In that case, do the same thing: recycle the yarn of the same dyelot out of the bands to lengthen the garment, and use the different dyelot for the bands. Bands are most often made in a different fabric stitch (ribbing, for example) than the main body of the garment (which might be made in stockinette). The change of fabric pattern on the bands hides the change of dyelot better than simply adding the new dyelot on in the stockinette portion.
  3. Add a stripe of a different color: I don't normally advocate Kitchener stitching (grafting) the snipped off bits back on--the Kitchener stitch is a very slow one, and progress is glacial. Also, there is often a noticeable tension difference between the garment fabric and the Kitchener-stitched row. However, every guideline is made to be broken, and in the case of a too-short sweater for a person of athletic build, a very good effect can be had by snipping and separating the body just below the underarm, or just above the bottom ribbing, and knitting in a stripe of a different color to go around the body. The other part of the sweater is then grafted back on. This can be a successful strategy for too-short sleeves on an athletic person's sweater, also. (Why only an "athletic person?" because a person with a fuller figure, male or female, is unlikely to be much complemented by a stripe just below the bust/chest, or worse yet, a stripe around the belly.) Oh, oh wait, this works on baby sweaters too, for you procrastinators whose target baby has lengthened while the project lay becalmed on the needles for several months. For babies, the stripe looks best just above the bottom ribbing. (Easy Kitchener stitching instruction here.)

Good luck--and if your problem is not solved here, try posting on the "technique" board on Ravelry, or send me an e-mail at

* * *
Addendum, Jan. 2013:  I've done a you-tube on a trick to quickly separate knitted fabric into two pieces--here ya go...

You have been reading TECHknitting on: "lengthen knitting and shorten knitting."


ashpags said...

Brilliant!!! Thank you so much! =)

mintdee said...

You could not have chosen a better time to post this. I need to lengthen my husbands sweater and had no clue how to go about it.

Jocelyn said...

I was advising a friend about this very issue (too short in the body) today. I was concerned that if she took out the ribbing and knit down, the stockinette "v" would be in the wrong direction. Am I wrong? Ultimately, I suggested that she pick up and knit down with a 3x3 rib that was the opposite in orientation of what she has now (i.e., p3, k3 instead of k3,p3). Luckily, she has plenty of yarn left.

Totally agree about Ravelry as a timesuck, btw. Can't imagine life without it, though.

Tana said...

Well said. Now what about measuring and swatching and knitting it right in the first place? People seem to just want to follow patterns with no regard as to whether the dimensions of the finished garment - other than the chest measurement, of course - in any way correspond to the dimensions of the dear soul who will be wearing the garment. I did not realize this was such a universal problem until I got my invite to Ravelry. Oh my! But literature out there for getting things to fit is very, shall I say, inadequate? I have mastered the art only by using alteration books written for sewing garments (not knitting them). There's a whole world of posts for you on this topic.

knitstarnat said...

I really must comment on the crossed out portion of your post. Although I totally agree that Ravelry is an enormous time sucker for me, I never would have found you if it were not for Ravelry. So I will have to count you as my next biggest time sucker because I am now reading (and re-reading) all your posts. I then proceed to trying out many of your techniques. I now check out your blog before I log on to Ravelry. You are the best!

JoLene Treace said...

You have a really well done blog, and I don't mind saying I had fun looking up a number of things on it.

Robin said...

Coming out of lurking to say, THANK YOU for this!! I have a too-long-sleeved sweater sitting in a bag in my closet that I've been afraid to cut into to fix and now I feel confident enough to tackle it.

Robin said...

As to the comment before on measuring/swatching - I always do this, but it can be difficult to predict finished sizing on patterns that have weird construction (i.e. Klaralund.) This is why my sleeves were too long on this one.

sheepish one said...

Hey! Just fyi, I nominated you for a You Make My Day award -- more on my blog!

SueS said...

Great explanation.
Yes Ravelry is a timesuck. I belong there but stay away for that very reason.

Andy's Crafts said...

Thank you for showing us to not be afraid to cut a garment and repair it.

dawn said...

I have actually done this to replace bands of fair isle coloring that I didn't like. Another thing I've done to replace just one color in fair isle (if it's just a row or two) is to duplicate stitch in the new color then carefully remove the old color.

Glad I found your blog (via Knitty)....looks like a ton of great info!

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog and I am delighted!! I am going to spend time reading past posts. I did look through them and didn't see somthing that is a real problem for me. Do you take sugestions?? How about a course on blocking. I am soooo confused about the "correct" way to block.

Angeluna said...

How did you know exactly what I needed right now??? You confirmed my idea of how to shorten a finished but slightly too long cabled hat. Grazia!

Anonymous said...

Thank-you so much. My jacket sleeves were too long, I had a vague idea of what to do but you have given me the confidence to proceed. Like Robin, I always test the gauge and tension, and measured and remeasured the sleeve length, however I hadn't used the pattern before and the drop from the shoulder was unpredictable, hence the too-long sleeves, fixed up now!

seashoreknits said...

dear dear techknitter - you have saved me once again. just found this post via ravelry and i, too, now feel confident enough to tackle the too long sleeves on the jacket i just finished for my husband. it is a wonderful fit everywhere but the sleeves. i was so careful with swatching and measuring while knitting the sweater (rowan's man's zip up jacket) but i did not understand how much the drop shoulder would indeed drop and therefore measured the sleeve length incorrectly. it kills me to undo my cuffs, since i used the tubular cast on (for the first time) and i am SO proud of it, but i am willing to give it up in order for my husband not to be bothered by rolling up his sleeves. thank you so much for this post and for all the other great help you give your fellow knitters.

TusaRebecca said...

I just found your blog and it's a gift from heaven! I knit a sweater this summer and haven't worn it because it's too short. My sister-in-law suggested getting my belly button pierced and wearing the sweater anyway! I can't wait to fix my sweater. I worked so hard on it and have nearly cried because I can't wear it! I think only a 10 year old could wear it right now! Thanks a million!

Damelza said...

Thank you! I knitted a hat last night from a pattern I made up myself, and although I planned it really well, I ignored my own instructions and its too short to stay on my head!

Anonymous said...

I just found your site - it is wonderful! Your explanations and diagrams are superb!! Thank you !!
I have a dilema that I spend most of yesterday trying to solve. I am knitting a shrug from cuff to cuff. I ran out of yarn (didn't check the yardage)so I have a different yarn that I'm using for the last few inches of cuff ribbing. The body of the shrug is 2x3 rib and the cuff is 1x1 rib. I cut a row a few row back of the cast on cuff and laboriously ripped it back to the body. I couldn't understand why it was all one half stitch off. I ripped it back so many times I just decided to keep knitting and then just do the cuff ribbing. After reading your site today, I'm wondering if there is any way I can correct my 1/2 stitch off problem. Do you have any suggestions?
My brain is still overloaded about it from yesterday.
Thanks so much,

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Avis. The sad fact is that when you knit "down" you are always half a stitch off from knitting "up." For the reason this is so, go to the TECHknitting post of December 7, 2008, or cut and paste the below into your browser window:

The half-stitch offset won't show (or at least, won't show much) if the pattern stitch changes, such as from a 2x3 rib to a 1x1 rib, but it shows a LOT if you try to work a column-constructed (ribbed) fabric the other way from a row of live stitches. Therefore, the main trick is to rip back only to a pattern change (take out the cuff). However, if you need more yarn than that, you will have to think outside the box, such as changing the pattern stitch to some intermediate stitch between your 2x3 and your cuff, AND doing that on both sleeves. In this way, you get a band of some other pattern (garter? a different rib? moss stitch) on both sleeves in the same location, and it looks like you meant to have it that way.

Thanks for writing. TK said...

TECHknitter, I was wondering if you have a solution for me.

I am knitting my first project- a Harry Potter inspired scarf in my daughter's school colors. The Harry Potter scarves are very long and knit in the round. It is supposed to be 9" wide but I have found that mine is 11" wide. I am nearly to the end- I have to knit 14 sections of 39 rows each- but I'm not sure if I can fix it.

Should I try to shrink the scarf? I used acrylic yarn.

Should I turn it inside out (before closing the ends and adding tassels) and sew a new seam? Is that even possible?

Or is there a knit solution.

Please help! I can't find info to solve this anywhere.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Weilemom:

Acrylic yarn will not shrink, so that would not be a solution.

The first and most obvious thing would be to enjoy the scarf at 11 inches wide. Remember the old saying "it's not a mistake, it's a design feature."

The second possibility is to turn the item inside out and serge it. Much commercially-made knitwear is serged out of flat sheets of knitting. If you do not know how to serge, consider getting a friend who is good on the serger to do this--and bring along a swatch knit at the same gauge to experiment on before you touch your precious hand-knit. If you have no friend with a serger, consider going to a fabric store which sells them--many times the salespeople there give lessons, and are experts at using the machines they sell. Another alternative is an ad on Craigslist to get in touch with an expert serger.

It IS possible to sew up the inside instead of serging, and this would best be done with a stretch stitch on a good sewing machine using a walker foot. The excess would then be trimmed and zig-zagged to prevent unraveling. This is a poor second-best to serging, however.

Good luck!

Gina J said...

I'm BAAACK! I'm working on the making Andoa sweater I made my DH smaller by about 3" in length and 4" in width. (I used Alpaca and it GREW!) Can I graft the ribbing back onto the sweater or do I have to re-knit it?
Thanks for your site!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Gina--5 comments mysteriously were delivered late, and among them was yours. Please pardon the very late response.

As far as grafting a ribbing back on after removing it to shorten a sweater: It is possible to graft, yes. However, it might actually be faster and more satisfactory to simply knit a whole new ribbing (I personally, would opt for this approach),

Again, please excuse the delay--and next time, if you find that a comment is not being answered, please try e-mail, I believe that is more reliable.


Carolyn said...

Thank you so much !!! I am ready to rip !!!


uniquegeek said...

I have the same problem and thought of this as well - thanks for confirming it works, and providing some great diagrams and reassurance!

Hope said...

Great information. You're the bomb! The sweater I'm knitting is a simple cable with lots of stockinette between cables. knit bottom up. Any ideas about what kind of pattern I could add on that would look good? Would increasing the ribbing from three inches to five inches plus trying to stretch the garment a bit during blocking work? Thanks for your help.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Hope. The problem with a lot of ribbing/cables combos is that the cables often grow directly out of the welts of the ribbing This is a lovely look, but complicates lengthening a sweater via the method shown in this post because the 1/2 stitch offset you'd get by snipping, then re-knitting is going to really show. (Of ourse, if you sweater does not feature this problem, then you can rest easy and just go ahead, snip, pick out and re-knit.)

So anyway, about that ribbing/cable problem: You might wish to consider knitting a non-ribbing bottom to your garment. Best is a stitch which won't curl, such as seed stitch or garter stitch. Alternatively, if you really like the look of ribbing, you might wish to consider ribbing at a different frequency than the cables, which will hide the stitch offset. Different frequency means that if the cables arms are knit on 3 sts each, a 4/4 or 2/2 or a 3/2 ribbing will disguise the offset because the knits and purls won't line up anyway.

It is theoretically possible to avoid the offset problem by snipping, removing the band, re-knitting a new band from the bottom up, and then grafting. However, grating so many stitches would probably make you crazy. (At least, it would make ME crazy, especially since there would need to be at least some grafting in pattern, and reknitting would be a LOT faster.)

Best regards, TK

Hope said...

Happy New Year TK and thanks for your answer yesterday about lengthening a sweater that's knit bottom up. I'm so clueless about this so here's another question. If I remove the ribbing at the bottom of the sweater,is it then possible to add length top down down in the cable pattern I'm using and have the cables and stockinette between the cables look about the same, top down and bottom up? Or will there be such a difference between the bottom up work and the top down work that it will be uglier than ugly?
Thanks again for your knowledge and advice.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Hope--I'm not quite sure what you're asking. I think that at this point, the better way to ask is to go on Ravelry and post a photo of the problem in the techniques forum. You are sure to get a lot of helpful answers, and seeing what the issue is with a photo will get you a lot more accurate response. Best regards, TK

PS: Cut and paste this link into your browser window to get to Ravelry

Karen said...

I knitted a cardigan for my grandaughter, but it's too short in the body.
I have read the comments about snipping and re-knitting but the garment I've knitted has a peplum (a kind of frill ) rib in DK then a body in Sirdar fun fur.

Also the fronts have the same peplum as well as seperate ribbed button/buttonhole band and the first 12 stitches on each front use the DK and a slip stitch pattern :o(

It's a beautiful cardigan and took alot of hours and money to make, I was gutted when I found it was too short ( my own fault )

Could you see a way that I could adjust the length easily enough? (the sleeves are fine)

I suppose I could unravel down to the armhole shaping and knit more length, ?!?

Or should I pull the whole lot out and start again?

Arrrrghhh I could kick myself :o(((


TECHknitter said...

Hi Karen--There might be a solution, but I can't tell from the description. Would you consider posting on Ravelry? The details are in my response to the previous post. I think that having a photo on Ravelry would get you a lot of answers, and I will try to be looking for your post, too! Best, TK

E. Foley said...

Dear TechKnitter,

I am currently afflicted with a man-sized sweaterdress. Since I plan to give it to a man, I need to shorten it.

It's bottom-up and wayyyy too long.

I snipped like you said but it seems to be taking FOREVER to pick the yarn out to catch each loop.

Can I possibly put in a lifeline and then go all crazy scissors and just cut the sweater a little below the lifeline? Or will that just make everything worse?

Frustratedly yours,


TECHknitter said...

Hi e--as long as you have SECURED the stitches from which you intend to work "down" to make the new ribbing, AND, as long as you do not need to recycle the yarn below these secured stitches, you can do whatever you like to get rid of the excess fabric--cut it off if you like. HOWEVER, I'm not quite sure WHY you want to do this? If you unpick the sts of the round/row below the row you want to turn into live sts, the excess fabric will come off all in one piece.

write again if this isn't making sense, OK?

E. Foley said...

Thanks for replying so quickly. :) I don't know what I did, but it seems like it's unraveling DOWN rather than across...

Am I doing it wrong? Did I snip the wrong place?

It just seems like I unravel for like 3 rows down just to free one stitch up top.

My link goes to my Rav project page where I just took a picture of what I'm talking about... :-/

DGW said...

How about lengthening (ca. 6") a patterned cardigan with a sewn-on button band? I have plenty of yarn. Here's a picture (hope this works but if it doesn't, I'm on Ravelry as dgw and it's in my projects):

/Users/dgw/Pictures/iPhoto Library/Previews/2009/Jun 20, 2009/P6200007.JPG

TECHknitter said...

Hi DGW: I went you your ravelry page, but didn;t know which project? Contact me thru Ravelry PM, and drop a link, and we'll take it from there, OK? Best, TK

AlleySam said...

Thank you so much! I just finished a sweater that I LOVE but when I washed and blocked it, the perfectly fitting sleeves ended up growing about 3"! And I am very, very careful not to ever allow the wet garment to stretch while moving it (in fact I read your description of blocking a garment and I could have written that myself - it's exactly what I do). So now I can re-do my seed stitch too long sweater sleeves and love my sweater even more!

Leslie said...

I am near the end of a tunic that is knit in one piece - bottom up to the shoulders then top down - in an openwork pattern (yo, p2tog). I did not foresee how much it would stretch on hanging and it's now 50% too long. Do you think your technique will work on this kind of pattern? (BTW I did swatch & block, but my row count was off so I had to go with stitch gauge and measuring length...)

recapitulation said...

This is a terrific post! Of course, my brain immediately went to gender reassignment surgery. Between the length modifications and neckline, if you added in waist shaping and/or bust shaping, maybe it would be possible to transform that old sweater stolen from a boyfriend in the past? Maybe that's asking too much. Thanks for all the tips over the years!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Recap--you could remove the bottom part of the sweater, pull out and reknit the center portion, then graft the bottom back on for waist shaping, but I think if you're going to do all that, you're really probably going to be better off to knit a whole new sweater. In other words, I think all those mods (waist/bust shaping) amount more to re-knitting rather than re-styling.

Best, TK

Jean Sweezie said...

Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!!
Granny Jean

About Emma.... said...

Thank you so much- knitted a jumper that was far too long- tried youtube etc but this explained so much more clearly!!

Hayley Dalton said...

Just did this, it worked perfectly. For extra safety I inserted the needle through the stitches BEFORE I snipped the yarn. Thanks so much.

vervlogen dagen said...

This was very helpfull, thanks! I'm glad I did it.

Karen said...

Thanks so much! This technique has salvaged my first fair isle poncho :) I had a length mistake in the yoke and thought I'd have to unravel all my fair isle (oh the tears) but now I just have to snip and pull out the offending section :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you :)

kushami said...

"It is theoretically possible to avoid the offset problem by snipping, removing the band, knitting a new band from the bottom up, and then grafting."

I am about to attempt this - I have knitted a rather traditional man's vest with ribbing bands, only to find it is an inch shorter than the recipient needs. I don't mind grafting, although this will be more than I've done before. I can just add an inch to the band once I've detatched it, so at least that part is easy.

I will report back with a Ravelry link to photos.

Thank you, Techknitter, for your wise advice.

Anonymous said...

Just finished a top down cardigan and the neckline in a 1x1 rib is too loose...can I rip it out and reknit it? So scary!

TECHknitter said...

Hello Kushami--yes, what you propose is theoretically possible. However, if the ribbing is attatched to a patterned fabric (which I assume is the case, since if the ribbing were attached to stockinette, there would be no offset problem)--if, as I say, the ribbing is attached to patterned fabric, you will have to graft in pattern to make it come out. Grafting in pattern can be done, but it is requires concentration. Here is a post about it...

Hi Anon--yes, you can remove the ribbing, (snipping a single stitch, then raveling out that row while catching the live stitches is easier than simply unraveling) and then you can re-knit going the "other way" on the neck band. You will get a half stitch offset with this trick. Note that in the future, for a top-down garment, you can choose to start with a provisional cast on, working the neck ribbing LAST on the picked up stitches of the provisional cast on--this allows for precise garment tailoring, because you can try on the garment before, while and after you've knit the neckband, and can easily re-do it if it does not suit the first time.


alicia userpater said...


Annie Wilson said...

I am so glad I found this post! Thank you for saving my sanity. I knit my beautiful mother a beautiful sweater. It had bottom-up set in sleeves that turned out way too long. I was getting a pity party organized in preparation for ripping a lot of seaming and stitching out, when I found this post. While the special border stitches will be upside down, I'm pretty sure no one will ever notice.


TECHknitter said...

Well Annie, thank goodness you didn't rip out the whole sleeves! Glad you found the post, instead! (and yeah--no one is ever going to notice the border stitches...)

Allison said...

Thanks for the helpful post! I found it just this morning when looking for guidance about how to shorten a too-long Rodeo Drive Poncho (pattern by Staci Perry, shown on Ravelry). It's basically just a lot of stockinette with one row of cable in the middle of the front of the poncho, and it is knit top-down. When I finished knitting, I blocked it, but I did not weave in the ends near the bottom, because I suspected it might become too long after blocking. It's 100% Merino wool, and though I knit and blocked a swatch before beginning the project and had the correct pattern gauge, the swatch can lie! Of course, the swatch is a light, small thing, and the finished poncho is long and heavy, and try as I might not to let the finished poncho strectch or hang while transferring it from the wool wash to the drying towels and blocking it, there is going to be some unavoidable stretching.

I've undone the bindoff and ripped back to the point where I'm ready to redo the 6-row garter stitch bottom border, having removed a couple of inches of stockinette above that. The yarn is still attached, but quite kinky. Do I (a) cut the kinky yarn and attached a new ball of yarn (I have plenty of extra unused yarn in the same dye lot) and reblock after finishing so that the new yarn also relaxes to match the already-blocked yarn, or (b) leave the kinky yarn attached and soak and dry it (without getting the poncho wet again), and reknit the border using that same yarn, or (c) just go ahead and knit with the still-attached kinky yarn, and hope everything evens out when I reblock the poncho again after finishing everything? Thanks for any advice you can give!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Allison, I highly recommend steaming the kinks out before you proceed to re-knit. There is more info in this post:

(cut and paste URL into browser window).

Best, TK

Anonymous said...

Thank you TECHknitter! Very clear and useful as usual. In my opinion your page is the best knitters help on the net! Keep it up!