Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Dry blocking" uneven ribbing: a quick little trick

TECHkntting blog has a post offering several cures for uneven ribbing.  All of these work, but they have a limitation: you pretty much have to work them as you go.  If the sweater is already off the needles, these tips won't help. Today's post shows a new little trick which does. Nothing earth-shaking, you understand, but a handy little trick in the right situation.

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.

The trick
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:  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.

Good knitting!


GhostofaRose said...

I always think of that quote of Elizabeth Zimmerman's when I notice the laddering that can occur between needle changes when working in the round. And in cables, when the last column of knit stitches prior to a purl column looks too loose. (For the same reason that ribbing can look wonky.) But I'm a perfectionist too and always fix it if I can.

Also, I keep in mind that especially with wool but to a lesser extent with almost all fibers, some degree of felting, matting, pilling, and/or tangling of microscopic fibers or scales is going to happen whenever you wear and handle a knitted fabric, no matter how careful you are when washing it. Even when these effects are too slight to be visible, they can still interfere with the even redistribution of the yarn.

So although I think that Zimmerman is correct to a certain extent, I wouldn't depend on just waiting for my knitting to eventually look perfect. I agree with you and your friend that fixing the wonkiness right away is always a good idea!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, thanks, thanks for this. I am working on a cabled sweater and this greatly in many sections. I feel so much better!!

TECHknitter said...

Anon: maybe consider reading the linked post on alternative methods for getting rid of wonky columns in cable sweaters? The trick here is really best for ribbing...
PS: Here's that link again--
(cut and paste into browser window)

Dayana Knits said...

I am CRYING I love this so much. I want to call in sick just to take care of all of my ribbing!!!

Idiosyncratic Eye said...

Nifty! Thank you. :)

cathyc said...

I can see how nicely this works for 1/1 rib where the purl stitch sits invisibly between the knits, but what about ribs with larger purl sections which are clearly visible. Does the process of taking the slack from the knit stitches like this make the purl stitches look untidy?

TECHknitter said...

Hi Cathyc: As you note, the purl columns are relatively invisible on 1/1 ribbing. Further, since you work the fabric back last, any residual slack ends up on the side of the ribbing you can't see. For ribbing larger than 1/1 (or for ribbing where both sides of the fabric will show) your best bet is wet blocking--the easiest way to block already-knit wonk-ified ribbing is to wet the ribbing only, bunch and hold the top and bottom of the ribbing in your hands, then pull the wetted ribbing as long and narrow as you can get it, using short, sharp tugs. Let the ribbing dry in the pulled down position. As stated in the post, wet-blocking also works very well on 1/1 ribbing, it's just slower than dry blocking, if you include the drying time.

kushami said...

Excellent! My ribbing often looks wonky. Strangely, my ribbing has deteriorated as my knitting experience has grown.

But, whenever I feel bad about it, I comfort myself by thinking of the truly horrible ribbing pics in Vogue Knitting. At least mine never appears in print!

Oh, and thank you for spelling Zimmermann correctly :-)

Fern said...

Do you have any tips for tightening up/evening out the cast on and first row of knitting? My first row ALWAYS looks terrible.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Fern, yes, I do have a tip for you: Try COWYAK!

This is a waste yarn method of casting on, so your CO and first row or two are temporary. Those rows are then removed, and the bind OFF worked on the now-live stitches.

Andrea Miller (xraymd) said...

Just found this and WOW! Watched the video tip with my eyes popping. It is addressing the exact wonkiness I am seeing in my ribbing in my knit columns.

Two questions:
1) Will trying this work to neaten up 2x2 ribbing? (Should I be drawing the slim needle down along each of the 2 purl columns between the 2 knit columns?)
2) The video tip mentions doing this on both sides of the ribbing - I think this is a corollary question to my question 1) - does this mean on both sides of the knit columns, or does this mean flipping the fabric itself to repeat the steps on the "other" side of the fabric?

TECHknitter said...

Hi Andrea: This trick works best with 1/1 ribbing. Try it on 2/2 ribbing and see what you think. As far as "both sides" what I meant was flip the fabric and do it again on the other side.