Ribbing. Sigh.

Ok guys, I've been knitting for lo these many years, usually handspun, usually bulky weight. In the past several years I've switched over to knitting more worsted weight, and for the life of me, I can't get the ribbing around the base of the sweater or vest to stay perky after the first wash. In fact, in the worst cases, it's actually SPREADS - yes, despite decreasing stitches and going down about two needle sizes, the bottom of the sweater is sometimes wider. What the hell?

I just finished a neck down raglan. It looked great, and I finally thought I'd gotten this ribbing thing. But one wash...and I need to redo the ribbing.

Any ideas? I'm a notoriously loose knitter, I know that about myself, and I do try to tighten up when I rib. And as I said above, I do decrease stitches AND go down a couple of sizes. I generally do a K2 P2, or K3 P3 rib, and generally do about three inches of ribbing.

Any ideas? This is downright embarrassing!

Thanks - Jonathan in very snowy DC


albert's picture

I get good results doing twisted ribbing, that is you knit into the back of the knit stitches, and purl into the back of the purl stitches. This process is slower than normal ribbing, but the result is a very firm, crisp ribbing. When purling into the back of the purl stitches, I find it helpful to insert my needle between the stitch I am purling and the next stitch to come, then just kind of slide the needle tip over into the back of the purl stitch. Like most other things in knitting, this will make sense when you actually do it.

gardenguy42's picture

I'm with Albert on this one. Twisted or crossed ribbing might work better. You could also try Elizabeth Zimmerman's trick (from the DVD "The Knitting Workshop) of taking a few strands of elastic thread and sewing it into the back of the ribbing and then tightening it up. You could also try something besides ribbing to border your sweaters, like garter, reverse stockinette, or seed stitch. Good luck!

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." -- Mahatma Gandhi

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Work only half of the stitches every 3 or 4 rows. For example, if you do k1 p1 ribbing, every 4th row or so just to the K1 (rows 1-3: rib; row 4: k1 slip1). If you're doing k2 p2 ribbing, you might want to try k2 p2 for rows 1-3, row 4: k2 slip 2.

Kent's picture

I also go down 2 or even 3 needle sizes to get the ribbing really 'crisp' and tight. I think the 2x2 works the best for me - has the most elasticity?

For those fibers that really spread out after washing (like some of the Elsebeth Lavold yarns), I will cast on 80% of the total stitch count for the ribbing and then increase back up after the ribbing.

Even after all of that, the sweater I knit with Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool still doesn't 'pull-in' at the waist!


Joe-in Wyoming's picture

The twisted ribbing sounds like a good way to go but maybe you could also consider the 80% formula when doing the ribbing part. If top down, you can always decrease away part of it before you get to the ribbing - Barbara Walker does that on most men's sweaters as a matter of course for a tapered fit - then take down your stitch count that final bit just before you begin the ribbing itself. It may be that you'll only need to go down 15% overall but only trial and error can really show what will work. Good luck. -- Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

potterdc's picture

Thank you guys so much! I'm going to do a sample ribbing of all the suggestions here and I'll let you know what I decide. So helpful!


Think less, enjoy it more.

Think less, enjoy it more.

New York Built's picture

I agree with Albert, with one modification....try it first every other row. You may not need all those little springs added all throughout the ribbing to make the difference. I've found that even with alpaca, notorious for no spring in the fiber, to work well with just twisting the knit stitches every other row in ribbing to work well, with a 10% reduction in the number of stitches.

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