Saturday, August 27, 2011

How I cured garter stitch border flip: another method for encouraging garter stitch borders to lay flat

7 illustrations, click any illustration to enlarge
Now the bands don't flip,
so jacket can be worn open
 Recently, I completed a lacy little jacket with garter stitch front bands. The pattern called for garter stitch bands knit "as you go."

Experience indicated that this design would end up with the bands flipping backwards as if on a lengthwise hinge, a situation I privately think of as a "flip hinge." Specifically, a "flip hinge" is always going to be created along the column where a garter band (border) meets a stockinette-type fabric.  Along this column, the garter stitch borders will fold back and flip so far under the stockinette fabric as to be invisible.  (This is not just true of front bands, as on this little jacket, but also true where ever a garter stitch border is called for--whether a sweater, scarf, shawl or afghan block.) 

In past posts, TECHknitting blog has offered two cures for this problem: zig-zag bands and facings. Both of these solutions really do cure flip. Yet, neither of these cures quite suited the style of the little lacy sweater.  There was significant shaping alongside the front bands, so the zig-zag method would not have worked, and a facing would have been too bulky for the style of the garment.  What to do?

Combining a couple of TECH-tricks resulted in a pretty good 2-part cure.  It's not perfect:  serious blocking was also required, and even now a very slight tendency to flip remains.  Yet the situation has been so substantially improved that the jacket can be worn open, as shown in the photo above. 

The first part of the cure involved advance planning.  As the garment was knit, the garter stitch border was lengthened to match the abutting stockinette fabric. The second part involved the finishing process--adding a column of stitches with a crochet hook all along the flip-hinge column, thus strengthening and neutralizing the fabric along this line. The blocking followed.

Why lengthen the garter stitch border? 
Do you wonder why lengthening a garter stitch band would combat flip?  Garter stitch is actually shorter, row for row, than stockinette.  In stockinette, the stitches lay smooth and long but in garter stitch the stitches are diverted into the thickness of the fabric. In other words, any one knitted stitch can either be thick or it can be long.  Because the stitches in a garter stitch fabric are busy being thicker, they end up shorter.

When a short fabric is knit row-for-row alongside a longer one, the shorter one (the garter stitch border)  pulls the longer one (the adjoining stockinette fabric) into a sort of a crescent.  This stress is one (but not the only!) cause of band flipping. By lengthening the garter stitch band of the little lacy jacket, this particular stress was removed, so there was less tension to cause flipping in the first place.

How to lengthen the garter stitch band: short rows
(Note that in all the below illustrations, the BLUE stitches are in the garter stitch band, while the RED stitches are in the abutting stockinette fabric.)

To lengthen, short rows were inserted on the jacket's garter stitch band after every 10th row, per the schematic below.  (This ratio has worked pretty well for me over the years.  Yet I have never actually taken the time to measure the length difference between stockinette and garter stitch fabrics.  Your experience may very well lead you to choose a different frequency at which to insert short rows into a garter band.)

Added short rows illustrated in white

For further information about short rows, here are two posts:  the first post covers the theory of short rows while the second post covers several different ways to make short rows.  The kind used on this project are called "wrap and lift," the third kind covered in the how-to post (scroll).The "wraps" were formed around the first stitch of the stockinette of the jacket front, NOT the last stitch of the garter fabric of the band.  In other words, the the band was always knitted full width.  

Sometimes, especially in a loosely knit work, merely lengthening the garter stitch band is so successful, that nothing more remains to be done to prevent flipping other than a serious blocking.  However, I was pretty sure that with this cotton jacket, more was required, so it was on to the second step--the stabilizing column of stitches. 

How to add the stabilizing column of stitches 
along the "mini tube" of the flip hinge
This step was done with a crochet hook and a length of running yarn.  It is essentially a trick of crocheting a column of slip stitches onto the column where the flipping wants to take place.

Specifically, the last column of the garter stitch front band where it meets the stockinette fabric of the garment is the column acting as the flip hinge.  If you poke at this column, you will discover this hinge column is actually a mini-tube.

This mini-tube in the fabric arises because the garter stitch is thick, but the stockinette is not.  Where a thick fabric meets a thinner one, the ladder from each row of yarn must be "drawn in" from the thicker to the thinner.  Because these ladders are being drawn in from the two opposite faces of the garter stitch fabric, one after another, they form this mini-tube.

The ladders of the mini-tube are illustrated in green below.

If you have a sample handy, you might like to poke a crochet hook into this tube and see for yourself.  Your set-up should look like the illustration below.

Mini-tube with crochet hook inserted

Once the crochet hook has been inserted into the ladders of mini-tube, the running yarn is drawn through the tube in a series of crocheted chain stitches, working down the tube, ladder by ladder.  If this makes no sense to you, no worries: step-by-step illustrated instructions follow.

The work is turned so that the INSIDE of the band is facing you, which means that the stockinette fabric facing you will be the PURLED face--the REVERSE stockinette on the inside of the garment.  As a result of turning, the blue garter fabric formerly illustrated on the right is now on the left. 

The crochet hook catches a loop in the running yarn, illustrated in gold in the picture below.

This loop is drawn downward THROUGH mini-tube, below the ladder in green marked "1."  Next, the crochet hook is pushed UP in the air on the OUTSIDE of the mini tube, so that it now passes in FRONT of ladder 1, with the golden loop remaining parked around its barrel.  In other words, the loop is parked around the hook barrel and therefore is forced to remain stuck in position below ladder 1, as shown, while the hook itself is free to rise up on the outside of the mini-tube, above ladder 1. Finally, the crochet hook again catches the running yarn.

The crochet hook is next pulled downward, taking the running yarn with it in a new loop.  The hook with its running yarn will pass in FRONT of ladder 1, and will pass through the first golden loop made, and will then be pulled BELOW the ladder marked "2."  

This second loop is again left parked around the barrel of the crochet hook just as the first loop was, while the hook is again pushed UP in the air on the OUTSIDE of the mini tube, so that it now passes in front of ladder 2. Again, the crochet hook catches the running yarn, as illustrated.

These steps are then repeated.  So, for example, for the next step, the crochet hook will form a new loop out of the running yarn--the third loop--and will again pull this loop down,  passing in front of ladder 2, through the second golden loop, and down below ladder 3, where it will again be left parked around the hook barrel, while the crochet hook again goes up the outside of the mini tube in search of the running yarn for loop 4.  

This action will be repeated over and over, each new loop drawn in FRONT of the preceding ladder and THROUGH the preceding loop--the new loop of running yarn therefore going through TWO loops each time--the old gold loop left parked around the hook-barrel and the next green ladder below.

At the end of this process, you will have two ends to work in, one at the top, and one at the bottom of each band.  However, these are easy to skim into the chain stitches you've made in the mini-tube. 

The added stitches
form a chain
All this crocheting eventually forms a continuous chain of stitches which runs lengthwise through the core and along the back face of the mini-tube.  In the photo to the left, the stitches of this chain has been picked out in gold highlighting, so that you can see what it looks like in the real world. 

By using your crochet hook to stuff these chain stitches behind and into the core of the mini-tube column, the flip hinge action of that column is pretty much disabled.  In other words, the golden stitches help prevent the flip action of the mini-tube column and therefore help prevent the bordering garter stitches from flipping back.

As mentioned above, this trick really isn't complete until you severely BLOCK the garment--without blocking, the golden stitches simply won't be sufficient to stop the flip.  However, with these stitches added, and with the blocking, the garter borders will lay, well... perhaps not perfectly flat, but a LOT flatter with a LOT LESS flipping than without the operation--flat enough to wear the garment open, at any rate, as shown by the opening photo.

One final note:  where the short rows are, the rhythm of the fabric is disturbed.  However, the mini-tube does continue through the disturbance.  This is because, as stated above, the band is to be knit full-width, with the wrap going around the first stockinette stitch, not around the last garter stitch.  If you poke around with your crochet hook, you will find where the tube continues, even through the disturbance.

Good knitting!  --TK

PS: (For a more in-depth view of the little lacy jacket, you can go to the Ravelry project page for the garment.) 


Rose Fox said...

Thank you so much for posting this! Your timing is perfect; I'm just finishing a baby sweater with a garter stitch front border. I hadn't even realized that the band would flip because it's still on the needles, but when I looked at it I could see the hinge clearly. It's too late for me to add the short rows but now I can attack the hinge with my crochet hook and then block the hell out of it.

grandmastatus said...

interesting. i love your unvention.

VirginiaKnits said...

You're brilliant! A knitting engineer, truly. Thank you for sharing your solution.

Darlene said...

Thank you for taking the time to share this with us! I appreciate it.

zippiknits said...

Outstanding! I also thank you for sharing this solution to a real headache of a problem for knitters.

C said...

This is too much for my brain to process at 12:36 am, but... wow! Just wow...

Joni said...

Thanks for the explanation. I didn't have time this morning to do the crochet method, so I just ran a piece of the yarn up the "channel," looped it over the top and then back down through the channel, and so far, at least on my cotton sweater, it seems to be keeping the button band from flipping at the top where I don't have it buttoned (Bella Cardigan, worn as a top with the first 2 buttons unbuttoned). I greatly appreciate knowing why it was flipping, it was driving me nuts

Anonymous said...

Lovely explanation, as usual. I recently used your 3-1 ribbing technique to great effect on a stockinette cape with a seed stitch border, but had been stymied how to get similar results with lacier items. This post gives me renewed hope and enthusiasm.

KnittingFits said...

Every time I read your incredibly insightful and ingenious posts I always have to wonder what would have happened if you and EZ would have spent a week together! OH the things you two could have come up with!!!!!!!!

VictoriaJackson said...

Have you ever considered comparing software programs for writing knitting patterns? There seem to be a few out there, including those designed for machine knitting (which may or may not be compatible with hand knitting). I know using these, rather than compiling the pattern by hand, could be considered cheating, but if they work....

TECHknitter said...

Hi Knitting Fits--I once wrote a letter to Elizabeth (back in the old snail mail days) and she wrote back. Wow. I have also met her daughter--the wonderful Meg Swansen.

It would be a dream to have knit with Elizabeth, and I freely acknowledge my immense debt to her--when I was learning to knit, the book "Knitting without tears" fell into my hands, and just like that--poof--the words flowed from her mind to my hands, and have resided there ever since.

Hi VictoriaJackson:
I have never considered comparing software or knit designing because, frankly, I was unaware until you wrote, that there was such a thing. My knitting is pretty old school--I cast on and see what happens! It WOULD make an interesting subject, though, if written by someone who knew about this.

Thanks to both for writing--TK

Anonymous said...

Does anything work when the offending border is on the bottom of the sweater? I haven't blocked it yet (haven't even finished it) but I see the 4-row garter-stitch hem curling up on my linen lace tunic. It is knitted in the round and has about a 3-inch slit on both sides where a button is called for. This will help it lie flat, I suppose...

TECHknitter said...

Hi Anon--at the bottom, a hem or a zig-zag border is your best bet to combat flipping of a garter stitch border. The details are here: (cut and paste the links into your browser window)

zig zag borders

hemming your knitwear--

knitted shut hem

sewn shut hem

Best, TK

EverEvolving said...

Thanks for interesting insight! I've had this "flipping" problems before and looked for ways to counteract them, too. For what it's worth, from my experience adding length to garter bands doesn't change the "flipping" force. Running a crochet chain does help quite a lot though! In fact, to answer one of the previous comments, I had once a garter hem on a child dress curling up mercilessly, blocking or not; I ran a crochet chain horizontally over the last stockinette row before the garter (just poking hook in each stitch and pulling a loop of yarn from behind, etc.). I did it from the right side, as it look like a decorative detail but did not stick out too much. But it can be done from the wrong side of fabric as well. The basic idea is, I guess, to add thickness at the very line where it wants to fold.

Anonymous said...

Thanks TECHknitting and EverEvolving,
Although the pattern is lace I think there is a row of plain knitting before that begins. I'll try the chain. I guess I can manage that much crocheting...

TECHknitter said...

Hi Ever--you're right that lengthening the garter doesn't usually stop the folding, that is, unless the garment is truly knitted very LOOSELY. However imho, the lengthening relieves some of the strain, making the problem easier to fix.

Evelyn said...

Dear TechKnitter,
Perhaps an English teacher somewhere along the line told you that you should not use the pronoun I in your writing. I am also an English teacher, and I would like to disabuse you of that notion. Your explanations of what you did would read much better if you said," I added a column of crochet" rather than "A column of crochet was added."

Love your illustrations, the way you think, and the clarity of your explanations. In fact, I am a major fan-girl! But the passive voice and the invisible knitter is wearing on my nerves. Thanks for listening!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Evelyn: thanks for the writing tip: "guest editors" are important contributors to the process here, and you've just promoted yourself into a spot as one!

I DO try to remove myself from the scene of the action: the blog ought to be about knitting, not about me. (There are PLENTY of "knitting" blogs which are primarily about their authors, rather than about knitting, but this isn't one of them.) However, you are so right that the passive voice can get old. So, I'll try to inject a little more "I" into the writing, a little more active participation, as it were. Keep an eye on the blog, and see if this improves, OK?

Write back again!

Best, TK

MJ said...

Thanks for this! I had a similar problem with a cable jacket I knit once, only it was a vertical rib border that was knit at the same time. The first 20 or 30 rows, I noticed that the rib was noticeably longer than the cable part, since I was using the same size needles on both sections. The pattern's solution was to switch needles when it came time to do the rib section, but instead I skipped 2 rows of rib every once in a while. Looking back, I would have knit two swatches and properly calculated row gauge for the two. But I was a new knitter at the time, and the resulting jacket, with my ad hoc tinkering, turned out lovely.

MaryW said...

Do you think making a column of purls before the garter stitch border and do the short rows also would accomplish the same thing? If you knit it in a bolder color instead of pastel maybe that would help avoid the bed jacket look. I had a bed jacket many years ago and it was pink.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Mary--I have tried several tricks, including a purl column, but the one that worked best for me was the one in the post--the "stuffing-the-hinge" trick with a crochet hook. Nevertheless, what didn't work for me, might work for you--different knitters might have different results, perhaps? Try it and see!

You are right about the bolder color. Too bad I didn't think of it when I picked out this pink-themed color! Ah well, live and learn.

Best, TK

MachelleH said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am in the middle of knitting my first sweater - a top down raglan with garter borders. I have already seen and been worrying about the flipping of the garter band.
I am SO appreciative of your blog. I agree with KnittingFits. Your teaching engages my brain the same way that EZ does.

Vanilla said...

I have not tried the anti-flip crochet-hook technique yet, but I wonder if it is suitable when the right side of the work is not stocking stitch but REVERSE stocking stitch, eg at the side of a cable panel. Perhaps it is just too obvious.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Vanilla--I think this would be a case of "try it and see." The thing is, being basically a crocheted chain, it is super-easy to take out if you don't like the look!
Best, TK

RitaLouise said...

I have discovered a great resource! As a long time knitter I would like to pass on a word of advice. When you buy a book for patterns in knitting, and decide on a project, do this first: find the website of the publisher and look for the 'corrections' tab. I have a current book that has 60 "quick knit" projects. There are 22 corrections listed for the projects in this book. I have found this true with books, magazines, etc. It would save frustration when you find a pattern to do to check this out. Good luck in your adventure in knitting!

Lynne Phelps said...

I am having this problem but along a row instead of a column. To be exact, the Spectra Scarf by Westknits which you can see on Ravelry. I am way too far into the scarf so I need an afterthought solution for where the first stockinet wedge joins the bottom border of several rows of garter stitch. Do you think the crochet chain would work behind the first row of stockinet? It is a lovely scarf and a fun to knit pattern but that flipped up hem is making me crazy!

I am a new subscriber, what a gem this blog is for the curious knitter!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Lynne: I guess you can but try and see if stuffing up the row with a chain of crochet works or not. If it does, good. If not, you can e-mail me with a photo (e-mail address under the "contact me" tab, upper right corner) and we can try to brainstorm some other cures. --TK

The Old Wolf said...

Sweetness. I just finished a scarf with stockinette field and garter edges, which fold over _so_ nicely. Thanks for these great tips!

Anonymous said...

I have used 2 solutions to the garter rows border problem of flipping up.
1. Knit the border rows as reverse stocking stitch, not garter stitch.
2. As garter stitch is wider than stocking stitch - cast on less stitches, knit the garter rows, but on the last row before commencing the stocking stitch, kfb into equally spaced stitches to bring the stitch count up to what is required.
An example - garter stitch tension is 6sts/inch; tension is 7sts/inch. Pattern calls for 42 sts to be cast on. Instead, cast on 36 sts and work the garter rows. On the last row of garter st, increase 6 sts evenly across the row, using kfb.
3. I guess using smaller needles on the garter rows could achieve the same - haven't tried that.

Jill knitter said...

Question for you: Have you found that this 'edge flip' also occurs in a garter stitch button band for a cardigan, that's knit separately to length of the edge, then sewn on? In such a case I would assume I'd also want to use a slightly smaller needle for a bit firmer fabric, to give more structure to the cardi. Thanks in advance!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Jill Knitter. I'm assuming the sweater is knit in stockinette, not garter, right?

Whether a sewn-on band flips depends on various factors: on the way it is sewn on, how narrow it is, how long it is compared to the adjoining fabric. Another problem is whether you have a 1:1 match of rows when sewing up.

If your band is in garter, and you try to sew 1:1, you have the problem that the garter stitch is shorter than the stockinette, so you have to account for that by either knitting the garter much LOOSER (on bigger needles) than you knit the stockinette so their row guages will match. Alternatively, you have to sew the garter onto the stockinette at some match other than 1:1, for example, 4 rows of stockinette to 5 rows of garter or 3 rows of stockinette to 4 rows of garter.

Now we come to the issue of sewing up. You can use any sewing stitch, or you can try slip stitching (crocheting) the strip onto the garment--crocheting is easier because if you get the row match wrong, it is very simple to pull it out and do it again, which is not the case with any kind of sewing. Here is a post on the crocheted slip stitch--scroll down to see it used in seaming...

(Cut and past URL into your browser window)

If you still get flipping despite controlling as many factors as possible, try running a line or crocheted slip stitch up the seam line. If flipping INWARDS, run the line of crocheting up the inside, if flipping OUTWARDS, run the line of crocheted slip stitch on the outside fo the garment where the seam of the band meets the garment.

Good luck, and if none of this is working, I highly suggest posting your question with photos of what is not working, to the TECHNIQUES forum on RAVELRY where you will get a lot of eyes looking at the issue and lots of advice on what, specifically, you might be doing differently.

Best regards, TK

Linda Laborde said...

Maybe this isn't the same as the flip, but I'll ask anyway. Knitting my first sweater, Stockinette stitch. Pattern calls for a border addition along front and around neckline, using the pick up and 4 sts for each 5 rows. I did this and the sweater front drew up, should I pick up and knit every row or perhaps add sts?
Thanks from a beginner

TECHknitter said...

Hi Linda--If the sweater front drew up, then, clearly, you do not have enough stitches. May I suggest you read the followiing posts about picking up stitches? Then, if you still have questions, write me again.

Best, TK

kushami said...

Thank you, TK! I am just crocheting down the garter/stockinette intersection at the border of a lace shawl, and after only 10cm or so I can already see the "flip" abating. I will post photos on my Ravelry page soon and put another comment with a link in case anyone is interested in seeing another example.