Drastic measures

There’s a funny thing that happens in blogging world, probably in many different areas of the DIY/crafting/making/creative spheres, which is that we have a tendency to focus on completed projects and attractive successes more so than the yucky middle areas or failures. I don’t think this is necessarily a conscious decision, either, and it happens to the best of us, but when left unchecked for a while it can all to easily start to appear as though we’re all producing perfectly completed things all the time and never worry about mistakes any more. I can tell you that experienced knitters/designers/creatives of all stripes would probably respond to that with a loud HAH BLOODY HAH, and then proceed to tell you about their many fuck ups. Experienced knitters don’t stop making mistakes, we just do them more rapidly and keep finding new ones.

So, let me take you back to one of these mistake times, a little less than a month ago when I was finishing up my Ossel dress (which has by no means been retired for the season yet, true to form we have snow predicted for Easter Sunday just for kicks), I had a situation arise that I discovered during the blocking phase.

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This dress is worked in pieces from the bottom up, and once I finished the pieces I washed them and then pinned them all out to block and dry. It was then that I discovered that I had knitted the back piece a full two inches longer than the front. I don’t have an exact explanation for why this happened, just that it is indeed the kind of thing that can happen, and when your pieces are as long as those for a dress, it can be more challenging to measure your pieces against each other with the right amount of accuracy and make sure both are the length you want. This is also an increased risk when you are working in pieces from the bottom up as opposed to top-down/seamless – but then also because I worked this in pieces, there is the upside of being able to address the problem on only one piece, not the entire sweater. (Every technique has upsides and downsides, I am here to reassure you).

The extra 2 ins in length was in the skirt section (i.e. the widest half at the bottom). There are a few different ways you can go about fixing this, depending on your level of skill/patience/interest:

1. Rip back the piece to the skirt, including ripping out 2 ins of extra length, then re-knit the shaping decreases and increases for the body and everything all up to the shoulders.

2. Rip back the piece just enough to remove the first 2 inches from the body, then re-knit from the armholes up and say to hell with any of the shaping increases and decreases matching up.

3. Turn your attention to the front piece instead, making it 2 inches longer in order to match the back.

4. Ignore the mistake and just seam it up as best you can anyway, accepting that the back is going to be a little bit bunchy from the extra fabric.

I did none of these things. I wanted the extra length gone from the back, not added to the front, but I didn’t want to spend another week or more re-knitting. I went for Door #5.

Let me also pause for a moment and say that I am a person who is normally pretty free with my encouragements about knitting techniques – I really believe that most things in knitting seem much much harder than they are, and a lot of the time just plowing ahead and learning the New Thing will get you past the hesitation and you’ll be fine. I still think this is a useful approach most of the time. However, this is not one of those times. This is a Break Glass Emergency move. We are playing for all the marbles with this move, and it is not for the faint of heart.

Reader, I got my scissors, and I cut that extra fabric out of the knitting. Yes, yes I did.

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Now, I am a big fan of cutting my knitting when it properly applies, in other words I really enjoy cutting steeks. Steeks, though, are planned well in advance and have a normal sequence of steps involved, and they make vertical cuts not horizontal ones. Cutting across your knitting horizontally is riskier, and is awkward when you are cutting off the bottom of something because it’s harder to unravel “up”. Most knitting wants to unravel “down”, or possibly a little bit sideways if it’s going to unravel at all.

So, in making this cut I had to be pretty precise and cut exactly where I wanted to to be, and because it was moss stitch I had to pay close attention to the cutting line. (Also, I was doing this in the basement TV room, so no, it really wasn’t the most ideal lighting ever, and also it was the weekend so I’m pretty sure I had had at least one cocktail if not two, already. HI, ISN’T THIS FUN? I’m such a good role model, kids.) I’d never done anything like this before, but I’d heard of it done before, and the knitting part of my brain is home to most of my confidence, so I just went for it.

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Once I had the cut made where I wanted it, I put the stitches back on the needles as quickly and carefully as possible (removing more bits of cut-yarn fuzz along the way). You can see some knotted bits at the end where I secured some of the cut ends at the sides. It’s not pretty but it’s fine, because the seaming at the end turns all that crud to the inside of your work not the outside.

From this point forward it was actually pretty smooth sailing. All I had to do was re-knit (“downwards” direction) the ribbing at the bottom hem, and we were good to go. Actually, having the ribbing made it easier than it might have been otherwise because trying to match patterns would have been more challenging when picking up and going in the other direction.

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Then, I continued with seaming up the dress and it was all fine after that. The only real disadvantage was that now I had the bottom of my skirt freshly knitted and bound-off and I have admittedly still not re-blocked it, so the back hem is going to be a little bunchy until I finally wash it again. This is something I can live with.

This was a high-risk, high-reward fix. If it had failed, my recourse at that point would have been to re-knit the entire piece over again. Luckily that didn’t happen, but I do take some comfort in that fact. I don’t know how many material hobbies exist that would allow you to remake the same item all over again, with the exact same materials, in order to correct a mistake, but I am guessing it is pretty few. Unless your knitted item has accidentally fallen through a shredder, it doesn’t actually matter what the mistake is. You can knit it again. (Of course we don’t usually want to do that, but it’s a good safety net to have).

Have you had big time mistake-fixes recently in your own knitting life? I hope they turned out well in the end.

Happy weekend, knitter friends!

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47 comments

  1. I have heard of others doing this but have always wondered, do the stitches appear “upside down” on the ribbing? Is it such a subtle thing that it didn’t matter? Thanks for sharing!

  2. There is a slightly easier way to make sure you have the “cut” exactly even – just snip one stitch, and gradually undo each stitch, putting it onto the needle as you go – more time consuming, but slightly less scary.
    Of course I am about up to the steek on my very first steeked vest – that is very scary! I haven’t even knit the steek stitches yet – just keep making the vest longer and putting off the inevitable. Maybe I should make it into a dress?????

  3. ok once the paramedics revive me I will read the rest of this post. I saw the scissors and I think I blacked out.

  4. YIKES! So glad it worked out. You’re right about the way we “crow” (or at least I do) about our beautiful finished articles, but don’t mention the messes. Last week I tried a completely new style – a triangular shawl (I’m a new knitter) with lots of yarn overs and k2tog’s. I made several unfixable (for me) mistakes and finished the shawl anyway. It’s AWFUL. Was so upset, I couldn’t knit for two days. Going to block it and see if some of those larger holes can’t be made smaller and then give it to someone that wants something warm for her neck when she sits on the porch in the dark with her kitties on cool night. I think I was lucky that my first 18 months of knitting didn’t engender any monstrosities like this one.

  5. Such an impressive knit in the first place, this rescue now makes it heroic!

  6. You’re a brave, brave woman! I have to say though, I’m the sort of person who has little patience for fixing things, so I might well have done the same thing. I’m so glad it turned out well.

  7. Wow that was frightening. I thought i was reading a horror story. Lol. So glad it worked out. You have more guts than I do!

  8. Michelle · ·

    I did this with a wrap! I had been sick during a part of knitting a quarter of the way through and realized after it was done I had really been sick so I cut it off and knit the reverse way and it turned out perfectly! Realizing it was the beginning portion when I had knitted the rest correctly I wouldn’t say die and I got the scissors! Yay!

  9. I admit to cutting my knitting more than a few times, but I’ve always inserted my needle in the stitches as I was cutting.
    I would have done the same thing with the ribbing and “kitchenered” it to the body. But that’s only because I love to kitchener stitch! 😉

  10. Oh great master…..you are so brave….
    Signed,
    Grasshopper

  11. swantori · ·

    The ‘me’ before I started knitting would be all ‘phoooey, she cut her knitting. So?’
    But now I’m on the edge of my seat in horror, although I always admire those who steek. I applaud you.

  12. Edna Zuber · ·

    I’ve done this a couple of times, but to toddler sweaters that needed to be longer in the sleeves and body. Since stockinette, no precision needed. Off a half stitch but doesn’t show. Like the idea of snipping first stitch then pulling out yarn from each stitch across. Tedious but precise.

    I now put a row counting thread in my knit pieces. A variation of Lucy Neatby’s technique by Avid Knitter. Put long loop of lace weight or fingering yarn over needle. When pass loop as you knit, place place working yarn on front (public) side of loop for two rows, then back (private) side of loop for two rows. Can easily count rows by 2’s. No longer have to measure against another piece. Also great when blocked row gauge different than unblocked.

  13. lyndanewfangledtangle · ·

    Highly entertaining blog post! Love it. Braver woman than me.

  14. Well, that was terrifying. Glad it all worked out for the best!

  15. Many years ago I knit a lopi cardigan: one piece to underarms, knit sleeves, join, then knit the yoke. Finished it and the sleeves were horribly terribly long. Put it in a box, and pretty much stopped knitting for a while. After I picked knitting back up, and gained a bit more confidence I opened the box, took out the sweater and cut the sleeves. Unraveled one back a bit, then kitchnered the bits together. The other one I picked up the stitches and knit backwards. I can tell which is which by the way the patterned stitches are upside down. No one else knows unless I tell them.
    It was, for me, a very liberating action.

  16. Well bloody cool!

  17. I cut a friends knitting once, she didn’t like the neckline and wanted a straight cut about 5″ long and couldn’t bring herself to do it. She couldn’t bring herself to watch me do it either. I pretended it was a steek and stitched the area to be cut prior to the actual cut, then crocheted an edging. Nothing so brave as what you did! I do have to say it is easier to cut your own knitting as my friend would have had to re knit the entire front of the sweater if it had gone wrong. If I mess up my own knitting, it’s my knitting and only me to blame ….

  18. PamelaR · ·

    I really want to thank you for showing this. I’m a new knitter and any time I can learn something new about my new craft, I consider it a good thing. This shows me that there are ways to fix a major booboo and sometimes it’s a good thing to think outside of the box or even go for the most obvious. You did a little of both. Again, thank you for this most educational post.

  19. Wow! I’m currently working on rescuing a top-down sweater with a way-too-wide neck that I made several years ago and never wear. I undid the top 2.5 inches of ribbing, decreased by 1/3, and started the ribbing again. I have another half-inch to go, and I think it will work! Then I may as well lengthen the sleeves and tidy up the bottom ribbing, because why not? I was feeling very courageous with it all until reading this post and comments. Knitters, I salute you!

  20. Great piece of nerves!! Probably without the cocktail you might have thought differently about this little trick. But, it certainly was worth the nerves of doing it. So much time saved. Wonderful fix. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Good job! I’ve never understood this attitude of terror towards cutting knitting, as if every stitch were precious and the whole process were analogous to performing surgery on one’s own child. We’re making garments, and those garments should fit us perfectly, and we should be happy to do whatever to make that happen, right?!
    I’ve performed surgery many times before, the most recent one was when I knit a giant Man Sweater with a texture pattern just above the hem which I abandoned after the first repeat. There’s no way I was going to re-knit any large section, so I snipped a thread, unravelled, re-did the offending rows only, then grafted the cut together. Steps and photos here: https://limescented.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/eight-steps-to-obliterating-the-past/

  22. You cut ALL THE WAY ACROSS? Yikes, that’s gutsy. I’ve shortened sleeves this way, but I snipped one thread, and then picked up the stitches while I picked out the row. Much safer. I’m a chicken.

  23. Brave Lady! I did this a couple of times with different garments that had stretched in the wash over the years and it worked every time. I tend to take a deep breath coupled with a VERY large glass of wine and then just go for it! What’s the worst that can happen?……! xxx

  24. You were very, very brave. Steeks are so scary to me, I can’t ever imagine doing something like this!

  25. You’re a brave woman, in so many ways!
    -brave enough to share making mistakes
    -brave enough to admit that sometimes we take risks after a cocktail or two in the basement
    -brave enough to support the rest of us who wouldn’t readily admit that these sorts of things crop up frequently, but that we often resort to the bin labelled “I’ll get to it…..some day…..or possibly NEVER.”
    And it all makes me smile!
    Thank you.

  26. That is awesome! I’ve got a pair of tights I have to do something similar to. The body to waist is too long but I’m trying to work myself up to it. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has to do that from time to time!

  27. slippedstitches · ·

    Now that I finished hyperventilating I can say you are an extremely talented knitter. I’ve cut into my knitting to fix mistakes and it has yet to turn out well. To think you did this with moss stitch, blows my mind. You are a master knitter.

  28. You. Are. Brave.

  29. Thanks for this! It is good to see I’m not alone in mistakes like this.

  30. One of the ladies in the knitting group at my LYS, Alpaca Direct (www.alpacadirect.com), made a similar mistake. She was knitting a vest for her husband, but she knit the two pieces on different sized needles or something. She reknit the bigger piece to match the smaller one, and she should’ve done it the other way around. So, the vest ended up fitting her teenaged son instead of her husband. Oops.

    Congratulations on that fix. You’re braver than I. I haven’t even worked up the guts to steek something.

  31. Thanks for sharing – I love to see works in progress!!

  32. Randi DeLisle · ·

    To prevent this sort of problem, I count rows instead of measuring. I move a stitch marker up every 10 rows. Also mostly knit in the round or back and forth on circular so the garment is one piece, anyway.
    Randi

  33. I would of cried if I had made “the cut” but I am glad that it worked out for you.

  34. Oh wow…I am not that brave yet!!! My latest mistake was sewing elbow patches onto an old sweater entirely crooked. One is about an inch lower than the other, and I’m not sure how I managed that.

  35. Good Lord. I need a martini. And the thought of all that seed stitch is giving me hives.

  36. Oh my. This does make me feel better. But I fell your pain. Nice recovery.

  37. Wow, what a gutsy woman you are!

  38. Oh wow – I bow at your feet. I’m just such a chicken about these kinds of fixes, and I must get braver! I tell myself it’s ridiculous, it’s yarn that you can undo and re-use, etc etc. I think my problems are that I am 1) free-time-challenged, and 2) product-focused rather than process-focused. So when I see a huge mistake that was several knitting-hours ago, I curse, cry a little, have another glass of wine, put the whole project back in its bag and shove it in a drawer for a few months (ok, years), while working on other projects. (Luckily I am never without at least 6-7 WIPs..) I must get over my catastrophic thinking; it’s the next thing I need to learn in knitting. I’ve been knitting for over 5 years, and I still consider myself relatively new at it, because I have yet to finish a sweater – somehow, that has become my definition for new vs experienced knitter. I want to learn steeking and shaping and making fitted garments… but yikes – those scissors! I’m still hiding under my desk from your story above! 🙂 Knitting is supposed to be relaxing, right…?! (Maybe I need to use more wine with my knitting?)

  39. Nikki E · ·

    I’m in the same camp as commenter Wanda. I’ve been knitting for a number of years and have used a variety of techniques–cables, short rows, lace, fair isle–but I’ve yet to knit a sweater so I still consider myself an advanced beginner. I’ve knit a bolero and a child’s sweater (which did have some issues that my friend/knitting teacher helped me to resolve) but the thought of all the many things that could go wrong with an entire adult-sized sweater has just been too intimidating. I need to learn from your example here and just GO FOR IT (maybe with a little “liquid courage” as well 🙂 )!

  40. You’re a rock star.

  41. Some time ago I knit ‘the neverending socks of doom’…quite literally the same day I finally finished them, the ‘thinks she’s a moth’ cat got ahold of one of them and chewed a hole just below the cuff. (Yes, she’s still alive and even living indoors). Even though they were knit cuff down, I just snipped the top off, reclaimed what I could of the yarn, and reknit it the other direction. Glad I didn’t realize I should be scared to do it. 🙂 Honestly, I was more infuriated than afraid of the procedure.

  42. You are a crazy, wonderful genius ❤

  43. Gretchen · ·

    My former boss writes a blog, and my favorite entry was when a painted bracelet went wrong. It’s another good lesson in creativity, trying to make a mistake work. Love the dress!
    http://www.ialwayspickthethimble.com/2014/06/16/painted-leather-distressed-cuff/

  44. You are certainly one ballsy lady! I’m so pleased it worked out for you. Had it not, I think I may have cried on your behalf.

  45. Nikki E · ·

    I’m a fairly new reader of this blog and after having read this post, I commented above that I still feel like a newbie–though I’ve been knitting for eight years (admittedly with some lengthy breaks)–because I’ve not yet knit a full, adult-sized sweater. Imagine the delight I felt while delving further into your blog content upon discovering that you wrote a whole series of posts devoted to the ins-and-outs of sweater knitting! So, armed with the inspiration from the courageous act of cutting your knitting as well as the posts with sweater-knitting guidance, I’m out of excuses. Many thanks for providing this push–I definitely see a sweater in my future!

  46. Have never been able to bring myself to steek. Just not that brave!

  47. Pattye Brewer · ·

    Hey! I just found your blog! I am loving it. But what I really want to say about this post is that you are one brave knitter. The picture made me cringe- even though I knew it turned out well.

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