The back story/other alternatives
Some time ago, a new knitter asked how to fix a sweater with wonky ribbing which she wanted to wear NOW! Four alternatives jumped to mind.
1) Remove the ribbing via the "snip" method and reknit the ribbing "down." This would have removed the wonky ribbing, alright, but is a sort of heavy-handed cure, best reserved for serious situations like length changes, I think. Further, given that the ribbing had been knit wonky due to inexperience, there was no reason to think a re-knit ribbing would be any improvement. Plus, reknitting takes time, especially as there were seams to release. So, no go for this trick.
2) Let out the purl columns and latch them back up. (Scroll at link to Solution 2) However, this would have required obtaining live stitches, another time-consuming fix. Again, no go.
3) Try to block the wonkiness out by re-blocking. The sweater had already been blocked, but I did not think the ribbing had been blocked the best way. Blocking ribbing is different than blocking stockinette fabrics: When thoroughly wetted, the ribbing (and only the ribbing!) is pulled down--tugged sharply and repeatedly--until it is as long and narrow as you can get it, then left to dry in that position. This was probably the best choice, but it would have taken maybe a day or so to dry. Strike 3.
4) Do nothing, wear the garment as-is and wait for time to cure the problem. This is not as odd a cure as one might think. On page 6 of her great classic, Knitting Without Tears, Elizabeth Zimmermann wrote:
I used to think that people in the Olden Days were marvelously even knitters, because all really ancient sweaters are so smooth and regular. Now I realize that they probably knitted just as I do, rather erratically, and that it is Time, the Great leveller, which has wrought the change--Time, and many washings.However, the knitter was not willing to wear the sweater as it was, so another no-go for her situation.
So, I got to thinking: what is it about Time or blocking ("washing") that makes knitting turn out more even? Well, knitting is a series of interconnected loops. Each loop is connected in the rows and the columns. (More info here, scroll to heading "soap opera.") Repeated stretching through wear or blocking re-settles the yarn more evenly across the fabric, so that each stitch in any given patch contains an average amount of yarn. As-you-knit tricks work by controlling the amount of yarn in the fabric. With resettlement, the amount of yarn in the fabric does not change, but prior uneven distribution is smoothed out. When each stitch looks pretty much like the one next to it, wonkiness disappears.
What if there was a way to duplicate this resettling action? Maybe by tugging columns of ribbing with a needle or crochet hook? Yes! That trick worked. Later experimentation on several purpose-knit swatches has confirmed the method. I privately have come to think of this trick as "dry blocking ribbing." Actual wet blocking is probably better and quicker overall, but requires drying time. By contrast, this method requires working over each column of stitches, but no drying time: when you're done, you're done = pretty quick overall.
I want to stress: wet blocking is the premier method. However, this "dry blocking" trick is a good one to use when instant redistribution in ribbed fabric is what you need.
|Before: wonky ribbing|
|After dry blocking: for contrast, the rightmost columns have not yet been worked|
Easy to show, hard to illustrate, the method involves tensioning the fabric, then dragging the point of a slim needle down the purl column of the ribbing. Work the front first (the fabric face which shows when the garment is worn). Flip the fabric and do the same trick on the back. Here's a one minute video.
If you are having trouble viewing the video, here is the http address: http://youtu.be/Hkt70fslOzc You can cut and paste the address into your browser window if the link does not work.
One final thought: do you wonder whether this works on stockinette fabric? It works only mildly. Further, the amount of stockinette in the average sweater is vast compared to the amount of ribbing, so this would be tedious. Bottom line: imho, with stockinette, wet blocking is your best bet.