Monday, March 24, 2014

A faster, easier way to tink

Unraveling, tinking, ripping-out, frogging*: these are all names for un-knitting already-knit fabric, and there is a range of methods for doing it, from slow-but-sure to fast-and-bold. Today's post shows a combo method--fast, yet sure.

At the slow end of unraveling, there is tinking. "Tink" ("knit" spelled backwards) means to unpick knitting, working backwards down the row to transfer each stitch from needle to needle, while pulling the running yarn out of each stitch in turn, during the transfer process. Worked over a long stretch, this stitch-by-stitch approach is dull work, yet many knitters do it patiently, preferring to be slow but sure.

At the bold end of unraveling, there are the knitters who slide the work off the needles, yank out arms-lengths of yarn until the target row is reached, then pick the bare naked loops onto a needle. The upside of the bold approach is speed. The downside is the necessity to grab the naked loops without a lot of manipulation so as not to start ladders or draw the yarn out of nearby stitches. In practical terms, this leads to ply-splitting.

If correcting split stitches on the fly is not a problem for you, just keep on doing as you are doing now, no need to read further, you expert, you! However, if you're a tink-er wishing for more speed, today's post shows a combo method.

It is possible to slide the work off the needles, yank out yarn with abandon, yet slow down as you near the target row and catch the underlying loops perfectly: no ply-splitting, and here's how:

  • Slide the work off the needles
  • Unravel by pulling out yarn, as fast as you like
  • STOP one row (or if you are cautious, two rows) short of the target row.
  • take a very thin knitting needle in your active (knitting) hand, and unravel the last row(s) as shown in the below you-tube video. 

Note that you ARE splitting the plies of the EXISTING stitch (the one you're removing).  Yet, once that stitch has been pulled out, the underlying stitch (the one you want on the needle) is unsplit. If you take care to set the stitches on the needle RIGHT arm forward, the stitches will not be mis-mounted.

In some instances some of the stitches MAY be mismounted (left leg forward) because sometimes, it is easier to pick them up that way unsplit  IF you are getting mismounted stitches, you can either go through the work again, changing the orientation of the mis-mounted ones, or you can straighten them out as you knit into them, by inserting the needle through the back loop. There is more information at this post on length reassignment surgery (second and third illustrations).

Using a very thin needle speeds pick of the stitches of the target row. Further, you do not need to slide the stitches onto the original size needle to begin the re-knitting process, you can knit them right off the thin needle.  This is because the stitches you're catching onto the thin needle were originally formed over a needle of the correct size.  The thin needle is simply a holder.  As long as you work the new row with a needle of the correct size, no fabric-distortion will result. For further reading on this subject, here is a link to a whole post about it.

CAVEAT:  As neat as this trick is, I myself wouldn't do it on lace, or on anything knit with silk.

Good knitting! TK

*frogs say "ribbit-ribbit," sounds like "rip-it, rip-it," yeah?


  1. Thanks so much! Having to do a lot of tinking these days, so much appreciated.

    Glad to hear you're doing well. Keep up the good work (sigh).

  2. Neat trick! If I'm frogging back multiple rows, I use a thinner needle to pick up the stitches on the row to which I wish to get back to, then remove the needle from the top of the fabric and rip back. And hey presto, everything is good to go and ready to get back to the knitting.

  3. so glad you're back, I've missed you!

  4. Hi Dan--I used to do it your way (thread needle through fabric before unraveling) but I'd still wind up splitting plies about half the time, which then required me to proceed as shown in the video. Evidently, you are more careful (or have better eyes!)
    Thanks for writing, TK

  5. So glad to "see" you again...just love this blog. Can't wait for your book/let...will be worth it, I'm sure!

  6. I enjoy your blog very much, and your illustrations & explanations are the best! I "unvented" this frogging tip for myself several years ago, so I was gratified to see you include it here. This site is a wonderful reference. Thanks.

  7. How timely and APPRECIATED this tip is for me!! I'm about to have to tink and I've been putting it off because I hate doing it. Love this method and will try it today. Thank you!


  8. I use this trick with an adjustable circ - the kind that you use with replaceable needle tips. I make a tinking circ that has a small needle at one end, and the size needed for the project at the other.

    I rip back with the small end, then knit the rescued stitches off the same needle from the "regulation" end. This eliminates any need to do another transfer prior to working them.

  9. Wish I had seen that this morning! I used the rapid pull, pick up slowly method.

  10. Hi KB: Your two-ended needle trick is very clever! Thanks for writing about it. However, even with ordinary unmatching needles, there is no reason to do any transfers off the smaller needle. This is because the stitches being worked off the smaller needle were already formed around a larger needle. The fact of these regulation size stitches being held on a smaller needle in no way affects their final size. In other words, once a stitch is knit, it retains the size at which it was knit, even if it is later placed onto a smaller needle before having the next row inserted into it. (This is also why you can knit directly off a metal stitch holder, or a smaller cable needle). Thanks again for writing. Best, TK

  11. I just use a yarn needle and a scrap yarn in another color and thread the loops I want onto the string. Then I can just pull out the messed up rows and the yarn stops the stitches from unraveling.

  12. I can't buy your book fast enough! Waiting patiently... :D

  13. Hi, I think you and this post are the best help for my current issue. I knit a cowl flat in seed stitch, intending to seam it after blocking. After binding off and matching my edges, I realized that my cast on edge and first 4 inches are a completely different tension then the rest of the piece. I'm hoping to pick up stitches in a row where my tension is correct, undo the cast on edge and material up to those stitches and then reknit the piece. However, I realize that the stitches I pick up will be upside down on my needle and anything I knit will be backwards, in reverse from the rest of the piece. What are your thoughts on this? Is it possible that it will work, or is there of a better way? If worse comes to worse, I can lose those 4 inches and not sacrifice the piece.
    Thanks for anything you can tell me.
    Your posts have saved me time and again over the last few years.

  14. Hi Alanna--As you say, removing the bottom four inches of your piece will, indeed, give you live stitches which you COULD knit downwards at a better tension, but your pattern (seed stitch) will be 1/2 stitch off the pattern for the rest of the cowl. In effect, you will have the same problem as if you had worked a provisional cast on

    So, you must think outside the box, in some way. A few alternatives off the top of my head:

    1. Remove the bottom part you don't like, bind OFF the live stitches at the bottom of the cowl, unbind the top part of the cowl, unkink the yarn removed, and reknit that yarn onto the top part of the cowl. Then, again bind off, matching the bind off at cowl bottom.

    Here is a post on unkinking yarn quickly:

    Here is a post on snipping a single stitch and unraveling in both directions to quickly remove a length of knitting from a garment:

    2. Add a decorative element (in the same color or different) to disguise the tension change. One trick which might work is Fake Latvian Braid--here is the link for that---

    3. Remove the bottom as you proposed, and reknit the bottom in some other pattern, or at least, with a band of some other pattern before returning to the seed stitch, to disguise the fact that the cowl bottom is 1/2 stitch off the cowl top. So, for instance, remove the bottom, unkink the yarn and re-knit the bottom with a band of garter stitch, or at least, with a band of garter stitch and then return to the seed stitch.

    4. Leave it alone. I haven't seen the garment, but based on past experience with other knit garments, this would probably be my vote. The fact is, a cowl is normally worn scrunched up, and the tension change so glaringly obvious to you will most probably never be noticed by any other living soul.

    Finally, consider posting your qeustion together with photos of your cowl on Ravelry, in the TECHNIQUES forum, and I'll bet you get even more suggestions.

    Thanks for writing--TK


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Thanks, TK