Sunday, September 15, 2013

A new trick for fixing errors in color knitting--"controlled drop"

Here's an "unvention" called "controlled drop" which can be used for correcting errors in color knitting.

The problem
Suppose you're working stranded two-color knitting,* and notice a mistake somewhere several rows down.  Theoretically, you could drop (run out) the column of stitches in which the mistake lies, fix the error, then latch the column back up.

However, when you try this trick with color knitting, suddenly, there's a problem. The stitches you've dropped form a ladder, yes, but the strands of the other color running behind also form a ladder.  Trying to re-latch the correct strands in the correct order is like playing cat's cradle.

Today's post offers a way to drop columns in stranded knitting with confidence, easily keeping track of which strand goes where.  I call this new trick "controlled drop." It is a variant on the ordinary drop-column method of fixing fabric. In fact, the two methods are so close, it makes to start with a review of column-dropping in ordinary knitted fabric.

Background: the drop column method
on regular (one color) knitted fabric
 As the illustration shows, any one knitted stitch (red) lays along a column (dark purple).

Columns in knitting
In fact, if you've ever had a ladder in a nylon stocking, you already know about columns in knitting.  When one stitch comes undone, the stitches below it are released from their interlocked state, and return to being simple lengths of yarn, the "rungs" of the ladder, we might say.  These rungs are shown in red below. You can fix errors made several rows earlier by purposely running out a ladder and fixing the error. You then re-latch the ladder, using a crochet hook, as shown.

Latching up ladder rungs (red) to re-form knit stitches
There's more stuff you can do with the drop column method** but this little review is all that's needed to set the stage for the color knitting trick.

Fixing mistakes in color (stranded) knitting
Below is an illustration of an error--a (red) inadvertent purl--in color knitting.

An error in color knitting, several rows down--
more complicated to fix than in plain knitting
because of the more complicated nature of the fabric

As you see, if you were to freely drop a ladder, you'd have two sets of strands going.

When the stitches are freely released, it's easy to get confused
between the back strands and the strands formed by
the newly released stitches

Which the heck strand should you pick up?  Sometimes the back strands are above the stitch strands, sometimes below.  This illustration is bad enough, but in real life, the strands are far more bunched together, often behind one another, making them invisible unless you flip the fabric. So, what's the cure?

The way I think about it, the confusion in picking up happens because, when you freely run out a column, what you're really losing is information. Before the drop, the column contained important information: the stitch-stack order--that is to say the color and position of each stitch in the column. Behind the column lay an ordered set of strands. Once the stitches are freely dropped, not only is the stitch-order information lost, but so is info about the relationship between the stitch yarn and the strand yarn.

Recapturing that information means you have to remember/look up the order of the original stitch-stack.  However, simply knowing which stitch ought to come next isn't enough--you'll also need to grab the correct length of yarn from the tangle of released stitches and back strands. X-ray vision would also be handy, so you could see both fabric faces at once.

In a nutshell, the problem is that you have to drop the column to fix the mistake, yet by so doing, you lose the information the column encodes. As is evident, what's needed is a way to drop the column, yet retain the information. That's where today's unvention comes in, a trick I called "controlled drop."

Controlled drop
A ladder in stockinette fabric is capable of being latched in either direction. So, what if, as soon as you released a stitch at the top of a column, you took a crochet hook in hand and instantly re-latched it into a new, upside-down column? With this trick, each stitch is loosened only for the amount of time it takes to unpick it from the original column.  It's then instantly latched up again, this time going the other way. Also, with this trick, the strands are never involved, so they can lay quietly undisturbed on the fabric back.

Instantly re-latching lets you drop, yet saves the information.  Stated otherwise, when re-latched upside-down, the stitches are reversed, yet each stitch's order (relationship to other stitches) remains undisturbed, as does the relationship of the stitch to the back strands.

The process is called "controlled drop" because the dropping process is controlled: the column is let out stitch-by-stitch, rather than a freely dropped column of the kind you would use in plain (non-color) knitting.

Start at the top.  Once two stitches have been released, insert the crochet hook under the second "ladder rung" and draw the second rung though the first.  This maneuver creates the foundation for the upside-down re-latch column you'll be making.

The first step in creating the upside-down
"controlled drop" column

Continue in this manner, drawing each stitch released from the original column into the new upside-down column.  As you can see, it's possible to unlatch and re-latch in a single motion.  The red circle shows how this is done--the crochet hook unlatches the stitch from the original column by grabbing it where it arises out of the fabric (the side of the stitch).  When this part of the stitch is yanked, the stitch-loop pops free, turning into a single strand of yarn (a "ladder rung") which can be instantly re-latched into the new upside-down column of the controlled drop.

A single stitch being drawn from the original
(right-side up) column into the (upside-down)
"controlled drop" column

Using this method, you keep un-and-re-latching until you get to where the problem stitch lies, and can fix the error.

With the problem solved, you reverse the process.  In other words, insert the crochet hook into the loop of the newly-corrected stitch--the hook will now be be the bottom stitch in the original, right-side up column.  You then loosen and re-latch the upside-down stitches, one by one, from their portion of the column.  This restores the original direction of all the stitches in the column.  At the top, the last loop is returned to the knitting needles.

Once your column is safely corrected with the top loop secured, stretch the fabric around the fixed column several times. The fabric will settle down to look exactly like it did before you released the column: the stitches will be in the correct order, the strands remain undisturbed.  The only difference is, the error is gone, fixed by you at the interface between the controlled drop and the original column.

Good knitting, TK

* For more on the basics of stranded color knitting, here are some links:
Color knitting how to, part 1--background 
Color knitting how to, part 2--two colors, one in each hand
Color knitting how-to, part 3--knitting with two colors on one hand AND three color knitting 
Color knitting how-to, part 4--multi-color knitting, one color at a time, also called multiple-pass knitting 
Color knitting how-to, one color at a time: slipped stitch knitting 

**If you do find that you want to know more about fixing knitted fabric via the drop column method, here are some links:
Correcting errors in the rows below, part 1: moving a decrease
Correcting errors in the rows below, part 2: moving an increase
Correcting errors in the rows below, part 3: adding an increase
Correcting errors at the side edges of your knitting 
Fixing a run in garter or seed stitch 

PS:  The whole idea of knitting encoding information is not original with me.  The best-known example of encoding comes from the Tricoteuses of the French Revolution, among whom the fictional Madame Defarge  was the most famous.  True, these knitters were encoding a different kind of information (spoken words in a sort of a morse code vs. the order inherent in the fabric itself) but the concept is similar: stitch order encoding information.

PPS:  Controlled drop is not only for color knitting: it can also save your neck in the case of having to drop a single column nearby to complicated shaping.  See, a giant ladder in a lace garment is a headache, especially if YO's are involved, but if you're only dropping a single column to correct a mistake, you have a better chance of setting order out of chaos if you use controlled drop.
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  1. Glad to hear you're still working on your dream, keep at it! Thanks for the update post :)

  2. I never knew how to do this before.

    Thank you for your post.

  3. What a great way to recover a mistake, and as always fabulous grafics

  4. You are back...and with a whopper of a post! Is it safe to assume that this would be the way to help fix a mistake in Double Knitting as well? I did my first DK cowl and once I had the hang of it I realized that there were some stitches (only a few) down by the CO edge where I had miscarried the yarn. Would this have been my ticket to fixing them?

  5. Hi Suzanne--yes, this is also the way to fix a mistake in double knitting--you let down TWO controlled drops (first one fabric face, then the other) then fix the error at the interface between the bottom of the columns on each fabric face.

    Since the usual error in double knitting is a wrong color switch (front stitch on back, back stitch on front) this method lets you easily switch the mistaken strands onto the correct face, then re-latch up each fabric separately. And because DK has FOUR strands to keep track of, this method is even more valuable for such fixes. Best, TK

  6. Thanks so much, TECHknitter! Switching colors was exactly what happened to me. In the end, because the cowl was a gift and the mistakes were not very noticeable, I opted not to fix them. It may not have been the smartest thing to do a colorwork cowl as my first DK project under a deadline. However, I learned how to do it and now I'm armed with tools for the next time. Happy knitting!

  7. This is brilliant! Thank you for sharing.

  8. A fabulous, thorough, and fabulously illustrated piece, as usual! Only wish you didn't leave us for so long! Be there for us 24/7, please? :-D

  9. this is so awesome! computer code is part of knitting, fractals are part of knitting, knitters are doing it for themselves!!!

    Thank you, absolutely enamored with your blog.

  10. Great post! Are you on Ravelry too?

  11. Hi Barbara L-W: yes, I'm TECHknitter on Ravely, also.

    Hi Terrie: yes, knitting has a lot in common with computer programming!

    Best, TK

  12. Ah, this is an awesome tutorial. I love your blog :)

  13. Your most recent post is so timely. I knew that you were (are) on hiatus, so when I checked back today to search for some information on color knitting I was tickled to see this information.

    With the coming of post season baseball, I have been knitting some caps for some fans in my family. I've been struggling with the logo in the middle of the cap and the floats over the back of the work when doing colorwork in the round. Reading back through some of your posts, I re-read the post about "multiple pass" color knitting then set everything aside to go run some errands.

    While I was driving my brain was still struggling with the floats for an old English "D" . . . but thinking of the multiple passes I thought that if I put the front cap stitches onto a DPN that I could use that technique for that portion of the cap.

    This may be known to knitters who do lots of color knitting (my experience with color knitting is minimal). Here's what I did:

    1. I knit the background stitches to where the CC started. Knit the CC, then went back to the background color. Knit around the cap. Coming back to the front of the cap, I knit the back ground color to where the CC started, slipped the (CC) stitches purlwise, knit one stitch of the background color, wrapped the CC, then (because I was on a DPN), turned the work, slipped the background color stitch (purlwise), PURLED the CC and then dropped the color. Turned the work and slipped all stitches already knit purlwise, then finished up around the rest of the cap with the background color.

    2. Now when I came back to the front of the cap, there was a minimal "float" to pick up the first stitch of the CC and I was able to knit each stitch of the background and CC colors, dropped the CC and knit the rest of the way around the cap.

    When I came back around the next time, I went back to step #1. It was kind of like knitting flat, but without adding extra rows, my floats are small and don't pull and pucker the fabric, and I'm pleased that I figured something out.

    I don't know if this is kosher knitting, but it's working for me. I searched through your blog and didn't find anything that addressed this. There is probably a "better" (more refined? official "knitter" way?) solution for this problem -- I know I'm not the first to come up against this obstacle, but I couldn't find an answer so this is what my brain came up with. ;-D

    Thank you for your blog. When I am stuck on how to do anything in knitting, your blog is one of my first resources!

  14. Hi Penandra--First, thank you for your kind words about TECHknitting blog.

    If I am following what you did, it sounds like you've "unvented" intarsia in the round! Way to go. This is certainly a clever way to solve your problem. There are other ways to manage long floats, as well, and someday...

    Anyhow, thanks for writing. Best regards and good luck! TK

  15. A very elegant fix!

  16. This is SO timely!! I'm about to start my first color work project (just 2 colors) and I KNOW this is going to happen to me. :) I'm sure your book is going to be excellent and can't wait to have you back blogging. I learn so much from you.

  17. Glad to get an update from you. Looking forward to your book when you finish it. As always, your how-to descriptions and diagrams are the best around. Thanks

  18. Oh my, why did I not see this post last Sunday, when I was frogging six rows of stranded knitting on two socks at the same time? :o( I've bookmarked it for the next time!

  19. what about, before unraveling, just taking the floats, and tying a piece of waste yarn around them, sticking a spare needle under them, or otherwise separating them from the "correct" stitches. that way, you can just unravel the stitches, and use the scrap yarn/needle like a heddle in weaving.

  20. Hi Anon--your (clever!) trick would certainly work in the right circumstances.

    Consider, however, the issue of double-knitting. In that case, the floats are inaccessible because they are inside the fabric (interlocked together between the two fabric faces, actually).

    Conisder too, a complex pattern. If the floats are quite short--perhaps a single stitch checkerboard ground (alternating colors along the rows stacked in alternating color columns)--there might be manueverability issues.

    Bottom line: yes, you could certainly use a "heddle-ing" trick in the right circumstances, and save the trick shown in the post for the more complex, tighter-knit color work, or for double knitting.

    Thanks for writing --TK


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Thanks, TK