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February 6

Fixing a Backwards Stitch in your Knits

I hope you all had a fabulous weekend!  I ended up taking care of my sick husband for the better part of it; luckily he took a lot of naps so I was able to get good, long chunks of sewing time in.  Just wait though… in a few days time I bet I’ll be sick.  *knocks on wood*

Last week, I happened to be knitting right before bed (aka in bed) on my Basque Cardigan and I decided to stop and admire my handiwork.  To my surprise I had failed to notice some 20 rows down that I had a stitch that was supposed to be a Knit stitch, but instead it was a Purl stitch. Eeeep!

Can you see it?!  My knitting needle is pointing to a bump, which is a purl stitch that should be a knit stitch.

Here’s the full, front of my Basque Cardigan:

I know no one will able to see such a small mistake as this except for myself, but imagine if you’re working in a chunky knit where each stitch is very visible.  The mistake there would be very obvious…

I was going to fix it right then and there, instead I thought that it would make for a perfect blog post for the newbie knitters.  So I decided to ignore the error till I got around to take photos for you all and show how I go about fixing the mistake.  Initially the mistake was only 20 rows down while now it’s more like 30 or 40.  heh  As you can imagine, the further down the mistake is, the longer it will take to fix my backwards stitch.

The best time to catch mistakes is right away, and hopefully on the same row that you happened to make the mistake.  But sometimes you don’t see these things until much later like me, when I assumed that I was doing perfect knitting and wasn’t….  :)

How To Fix a Backwards Stitch:

Supplies Needed:
1 Crochet Hook (comparable size to your knitting needles)
1 Stitch Marker or Safety Pin

What has to happen is that we need to release the one column of stitches (where the error occurred) and turn the purl stitch into a knit stitch.  Basically you drop one stitch on purpose, let it run all the way down to the error and work your way back up.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is stick your stitch marker (or safety pin) into the stitch that is right below the mistake.

Doing so will ensure that we don’t pull out our knitting too far; the stitch marker physically won’t allow us to pull our work further than we want to.  (Can you see the little purl stitch right by the stitch marker now?)

To Drop A Stitch:

To drop your stitch, you’re going to first assess which column of stitches in which your backwards stitch occurred in.  Work the next row, until you get to within 1 column of the ‘error column’.

You’re going to end up having two knitting needles with live stitches on it.  Be sure to take extra care that you don’t drop stitches off your needles while we’re doing this surgery.  (Another option would be to use a stitch holder instead of having live stitches on your needles, but either way works just fine.)

Pull off the single stitch on your knitting needles in the same column in which the error happened.

I’ve circled the live stitch in white, above, that I just dropped off my knitting needle.

Slide the two sides of your work to the ends of the knitting needles so your stitches have no chance of falling off.  This would be a great time to put on your needle protectors if you have them.

Doesn’t this feel wrong?! We’re doing the single one thing we’re not supposed to do in knitting, dropping stitches.

Create a Run:

Carefully pull your knitting apart to force the one column of stitches to run all the way down, just past the error.

Scary??  What’s great is that you’ll notice that no other stitches are being affected by this one column.  I find that in learning how to correct mistakes with knitting, gives one a wonderful insight into how each stitch is interconnected to the rest, it’s a wonderful anatomy lesson of knitting.

Keep pulling your two sections apart:

Keep unraveling:

Aaand I’ve finally reached the stitch counter with the live stitch on it:

Not too bad right?!

Just remember to be gentle but you may have to coax your stitches apart.  Once you’re done, you’ll see a bunch of bars where you used to have stitches.

Here’s how much I had to pull out… Craziness!

To me that was the hardest part….

Since we just pulled out our stitches 1 row below the error stitch, we technically already fixed the problem of the backwards stitch!

All we have to do now is work our way back up to the top, creating one knit stitch for every bar we come across (1 per row).  This is where the crochet hook becomes a handy tool to have.

Insert your crochet hook into the live stitch that your stitch marker (or safety-pin) is holding on to:

And remove the stitch marker:

How you work a knit stitch upwards with your crochet hook:

1.) Keeping the live stitch on the hook, insert your hook into the 1st bar (uppermost of your live stitch) from underneath.

2.) Pull the ‘bar’ or stitch on the left side of the crochet hook through the stitch on the right .

The act of pulling one bar-stitch through the current live stitch (stitch on the right) creates a knit stitch.

(You’ll find that it’s a matter of how you hold your work whether you think of the bar stitch as the left stitch, or top stitch.)

In crochet this is called a slip stitch: pulling one stitch through another without using any working yarn.  It’s also similar to how one picks up stitches on an edge in order to work a neckband, or button band with knitting.

Want to see it once more?  (This time I worked all the way up before doing more photos.)

On the crochet hook you have your current live stitch:

Insert the hook underneath the next bar up, from the bottom towards the top and then pull the bar stitch through the live stitch on your crochet hook following the white arrow:

Once you get the rhythm of the crochet hook and how to make your knit stitches using the bars, it should be easy as pie to go all the way back up.

I pulled the last bar through and am left with 1 live stitch on the crochet hook.  All that’s left is to transfer this live stitch back onto the knitting needles.

Using the knitting needle, pierce the live stitch that is on the crochet hook:

Pull out the crochet hook and you’re good to go!

At this point, you’ll be in the middle of your work.  So just continue knitting on your merry way as the pattern instructs…

Oh!  Before I forget, be sure to examine your work to make sure you caught all of the bars and to ensure that you don’t have anymore backwards stitches.  And don’t forget to inspect your work every so often for mistakes or dropped stitches.  :)

If you have any questions be sure to leave me a comment and I’ll be happy to answer or clarify any of the steps as needed.

  1. Beatrice / Feb 6 2012

    This seems to happen to me quite often that I have a purl where it should be a stitch or vice versa and it’s always a bit scary unravel a column of stiches….because I have never thought of stopping it with a safety pin! What a great idea, one that I am sure I will use frequently in future. Thanks for the tip. I really enjoy reading your blog and I loved your owl sweater!

    • Liz / Feb 6 2012

      Thanks Beatrice! I myself, am actually afraid to do steeking, but I imagine it’s really just the same thing….

  2. Litchi / Feb 6 2012

    Wow, that must have taken a lot of courage to let your stitches drop on so many rows! I really don’t like doing this but I do it anyway when I know I won’t be able to forget the mistake… (I talk like I’ve done that many times but I did it only a few times since I learned to knit a few months ago ;) ).
    I can’t wait to see the finished cardigan :)

    • Liz / Feb 6 2012

      Thanks Litchi! I wish I had gotten around to taking the pictures when the mistake was only 20-30 rows down… Oh well… It was quick work once I got into the grove of working my bars back up.

  3. Charlotte / Feb 6 2012

    Nice tutorial! (I’ve kind of perfected this technique recently due to…ah, ahem.)

    I would just add that if you do the opposite of this – knit where you should have purled – the easiest way to fix it is to turn the fabric around and do exactly this. Work into the back of the knitting and it’s the exact same process.

    Probably fairly obvious to experienced knitters, but maybe not so obvious for newer ones.

    • Liz / Feb 6 2012

      YES! You’re so correct! When I forget how to do the purl stitch with my crochet hook instead of looking it up online, I just flip my work over to the other side and do a knit-version.

      Thanks for adding that in Charlotte. :)

  4. Marie / Feb 6 2012

    Oh my goodness, you are one clever lady! To me, a newbie knitter, this looks/sounds teriffying and I’d be tempted to ignore my mistake. But your tutorial is so brilliant that I’d feel a little more confident tackling something like this in the future! Thanks for taking the time to document and post this!

    • Liz / Feb 6 2012

      It looks worse than it really is, Marie. As long as you keep your live stitches on the needle, you’ll be fine! Dropping stitches on purpose, in a controlled place like a table, makes the work quick and easy.

  5. little betty / Feb 6 2012

    This is crazy fixing! I don’t think I’ve have the nerve to tackle creating a run that long for one stitch, but great work!

  6. Shannon / Feb 6 2012

    Thanks very much!! I frequently drop stitches while cabling and while I understood how to knit back up the bars using my needles, I could never figure out which direction things were supposed to go with a crochet hook, which I think would be much faster. I don’t know how to crochet at all, so I’m often mystified by anything having to do with hooks.

    • Liz / Feb 6 2012

      Oooo yes! I carry a crochet hook with me at all times for the dreaded-dropped-stitch. It makes picking up the bars soooo much easier!

      I love knitting, but working with hooks is good too. You have the extra insurance of that little hooked end with crochet where you don’t in knitting.

  7. Stephanie / Feb 6 2012

    Wow. I had no idea you could do this! It does look rather scary but much easier than unraveling all that knitting for just one tiny stitch.

  8. Corinne / Feb 6 2012

    Outstanding, and timely. If you knit, you make mistakes. This information is great ant the photo’s make it all make sense, thank you so much.

  9. Montana / Feb 6 2012

    I am flabergasted! Seriously. First off, I really wish I had known this sooner! I had never thought that you could just “drop your stitch” all the way down and fix it! Secondly, feeling a little silly that I hadn’t realized this sooner, seeing has I’ve used a crochet hook to fix stitches before, I just ripped the knitting all the way out, then fixed the stitch with the crochet hook and resumed knitting all over again. My point… THANK-YOU!

  10. Kat Ezat / Feb 7 2012

    I had to learn how to do this last year when working on a baby blanket in moss stitch! So my crochet hook had a lot of work to do!! Thanks for the tips :)

    BTW: I featured you on my blog today!
    http://lifesjewelsonstring.blogspot.com/2012/02/my-top-7-sewing-blogs.html

  11. Sam / Feb 11 2012

    Your tutorial could not have come at a better time. I’ve just started my first adult garment and discovered a backwards stitch in the ribbing. My normal approach would have been to rip the whole thing out and start again but your instructions enabled me to correct the mistake with minimal drama. Thank you so much:-)

    • Liz / Feb 12 2012

      How awesome; so glad my tutorial helped! :)

  12. Christine / Feb 20 2012

    Wow, I’ve always wondered how to do this! Thanks for the great, clear tutorial. I’ll definitely have to try this the next time I make a mistake like this (and am feeling brave enough to take it on!). But your tutorial definitely makes it look do-able.

  13. Laura / May 9 2012

    Hi Liz,
    Just wanted to let you know I’ve just used your guide to help me fix my first backwards stitch – in the middle of Fair Isle, no less! Your tutorial was very helpful and I feel so accomplished now, so thank you for your clear guidance!

    • Liz / May 10 2012

      Yay! I’m glad you find this post useful. :)

  14. Michelle / Jan 1 2013

    I have just discovered a problem that is similar to this but there are two significant differences, I need to convert a knit stitch to a purl stitch and I need to do this with two stitches that are next to each other.

    Eight rows ago I was supposed to purl for 19 stitches. Instead I followed the directions for rows 3,5 and 7 which was to P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P3.

    Basically I need to convert the Knit stitches in this one row to purl stitches.

    Any advice on how to do this?

    • Liz / Jan 5 2013

      Hey Michelle! I’m sadly in the lobby of the hotel right now and am unable to really explain this properly for you. But the quick thing I would do is that if you have to pick up a purl stitch… turn the work around and pick up a knit stitch like I described. And when you turn your work around you’ll have made a purl stitch. :) It’s a quick and easy way to do this.

      I know I also only documented how to do one stitch, but the method is the same no matter how many stitches you need to drop and re-knit. If all else fails you could just do one column of stitches at a time if you’re nervous to doing 2 stitches next to each other at the same time.

      If this doesn’t help at all I’d point you in the direction of Knitty.com and search for terms like “pick up stitch” or “fix a dropped stitch”.

      Hope this helps!

  15. Hannah Odarve / Mar 27 2013

    I super duper appreciate this tutorial. I am a new knitter and I was just gonna ignore it because the fiance won’t notice it I’m sure but the OC in me would bug me and remind that it is there and I can’t just ignore it. I made it successfully! Thank you sooooo much!

  16. Larissa / Apr 7 2013

    Your Basque Cardigan is beautifully done, and your tutorial very thorough, but correcting dropped stitches can be even easier with a latch hook tool, which is a small crochet hook with a rug hooking style latch to keep the stitch it the hook. They are a dream for weaving in loose ends too. Just found your blog and am completely inspired by all your projects. You do great work!

    • Liz / Apr 9 2013

      Thanks Larissa for the great tip. :)

  17. Bridget / Aug 17 2013

    Hi Liz. I wanted to thank you for this excellent tutorial which came in very handy for me today. I’m knitting a 1936 cable jumper, using a thicker yarn than the pattern recommends. I made allowances for that while knitting but in the end I had a knit row on either side of the button band that stuck out like a sore thumb, extending beyond the width of the centre cable. Thought I could live with it but decided today I *can’t*. I remembered seeing your tutorial and that gave me the courage to pull out about 30ish rows and change those knit stitches to purl. Phew! The jumper looks much much better and I’m even more happy with it. So a huge thanks to you!!

  18. Christina / Dec 18 2013

    Thanks for this! I had no idea I could fix a stitch so far down in my knitting. I’ll be using this technique more often than I’d like to admit! Lol.

  19. Julia / Feb 24 2014

    Brilliant! Thank you so much for posting this. I just made this mistake for the first time, and it was a breeze to fix it using these directions :-)

  20. Sarah / Jun 18 2014

    So useful! I’ve just corrected two of my stitches – a purl that should have been a knit and a knit that should have been a purl. I’m sure no-one else would have noticed but it would have bugged me. Thanks so much.

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