Ripping Back Without Ripping Your Hair Out

Every knitter has his or her own way of resolving the inevitable knitting mistakes. We shall skip over the painful first four stages of shock, denial, bargaining, and anger (for those are perhaps best worked through in a closed room with a glass of something soothing close to hand, and the music turned way up to mask the wails and screams) and sail somewhat serenely right on through to the final stage: The Fix.

Once again, I have called on Cap'n Frog, this time for his help in ripping back two inches of misplaced cables in my Gathered Pullover. (Sorry, Elizabeth K., I know you wanted me to leave the miscreant cables in as a badge of honor, but if I left them in, there wouldn't be a tutorial.)

Fix-It Method of Choice: In this case, I'm simply going to take the stitches completely off the needles, rip back to a round or two before the errors started, put the stitches back on the needles, and get back to knitting.

I am not using a lifeline, as this pattern is so simple overall that I do not have to worry either about losing my place in a complicated chart, or losing elusive yarnovers. I do, however, need to account for the four markers as I rip back.

The miscreant cable is on the left

I could, in theory, use the "drop down" method: drop each column of mis-knit stitches down and rework them vertically, so that I wouldn't have to re-knit all 192 stitches times 20 rounds (3840 stitches! Ouch!). However: In this case, there are misplaced cables where there is supposed to be only stockinette stitch, and cables use a slightly different amount of yarn over the same span as stockinette does. If I use the drop-down method on just the baadly-behaved stitches, and don't re-knit all the other stitches around them, then I could end up with a funny-looking patch where the tension would be all caddywhumpus (technical term). Caddywhumpus tension = Bad. So: rip and re-knit it is.

Steps 2 through4

Ripping back without losing track of where the markers belong. The more daring amongst you might simply note the placement of the end-of-round marker somehow, and then just rip away, with plans to recount and re-position the markers as you put the stitches back on the needles. I'm always afraid I am going to end up having all the markers off by a stitch or two…and of course, I would fail to realize this until I had another two inches of cables mis-knitted!). So here is a trick I use:

You'll need: some of those locking safety-pin style markers, as well as a few small dpns. The dpns need to be smaller than your working needles so that they do not distort the knitting too much.

Step 1: With the knitting still on the needles, lay the project on a flat surface where there is good lighting.

Step 2: Starting in the space denoted by one of the markers on the needle, thread a dpn down vertically through the rows, until it comes out one or two rounds below the mistake.

Step 5

Step 3: Make sure the needle goes cleanly through the "ladder" between the stitches and does not cross over one column of stitches into another.

Step 4: Once the dpn is in place, place another marker on the "ladder rung" of the row below where you want to rip out to.

Step 5: Repeat this for all the markers around the needles.

Step 6: Double-check to make sure everything looks correctly placed.

Step 7: Remove the dpns, and then carefully slide all the stitches off the needles.

Step 7

Step 8: Start ripping back. Enjoy the little "yarn popping" sounds and the sheer fun of ripping. Be sure to stop ripping when the loops above the "ladders" with the markers are the next row of live stitches.

Step 9: Holding the knitting in your left hand, support a section of live stitches with your fingers.

Step 10: Using a needle a size or two smaller than your working needle in your right hand, insert the needle from back to front for each stitch, threading the stitches back on the needle, one at a time, all the way around.

TIP: If you come to a stitch that looks twisted, or dropped, or wrong in some way, thread it on the needle anyway (if possible) and clip another marker to that stitch for later surgery.

Putting stitches back on the needles

When all the stitches are back on the temporary needle, use your real working needle to start knitting again, re-positioning pattern markers on your needles as you go.

When you come to a marker marking a twisted stitch, untwist the stitch before working it.

When you come to a marker that denotes a dropped stitch, use your crochet hook to loop the stitch back up into place.

Each time you fix a mistake, remove the marker alerting you to that mistake, and give a little crow of victory, because you've certainly earned it.

If you would like some really awesome step-by-step pictures on how to fix specific mistakes, then allow me to recommend a book that sits on my knitting table: Lisa Kartus' Knit Fix: Problem Solving For Knitters. It's a GREAT book, and I'm not just saying that because I work here, I'm saying that because my copy has chocolate and coffee stains all over it, badges of honor in my house!

Pssst! We're still collating the answers from the post on What do you need to be a fearless knitter? so we'll have those results for you, plus some exciting new knitting fun, in the weeks ahead!

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? Aside from the Gathered Pullover: a rather untidily grafted hood on my husband's pullover that might need some Knitting Daily magic; and the Secret Knitting Daily project.

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44 thoughts on “Ripping Back Without Ripping Your Hair Out

  1. Here is the most important thing you need to be a fearless knitter – daughters! “Mom, you can do this!”, “Mom, you know this stitch, just move it”, Mom, there is nothing that can’t be undone and fixed” I thank God every day for the gift they have given me.

  2. I’ve always wondered why people use markers at all. I find them to be more trouble than they’re worth.

    I usually just take the smaller needle and pick up the stitches right where I want to stop, pull the working needle out and wind the ball of yarn back up.

    I love the popping noise 🙂

  3. I have a knitting fear that can be part of your survey. I have trouble with stitch markers. I never know if I am supposed to make a decrease at the marker or before the marker in order to keep everything lined up. And when making waistline shaping with back darts should the shaping be put inside the markers or outside the markers. It definetly makes the slant of the darts different.

  4. when I need to pick up stitches after a ‘frogging’ trip – I do try to pick them up correctly, but I’m more concerned with getting them on the needle before they rip out further. If a stitch is on the needle backwards, I just fix it when I get to it. Much quicker that way, and it seems very evident to me if a stitch isn’t sitting correctly.

    Gwen S.

  5. I usually rip to the row before I want to get back on the needles, and then pull the yarn stitch by stitch as I put the stitches back on the needle. I lose fewer of them this way.

    Whatever works for all of us!

  6. Dear Sandi and Knitting Sisters,
    I am an avid knitter, but I am also a seamstress in a university costume shop. It took me YEARS to be strong enough to undo mistakes in both sewing and knitting. There is such an emotional investment in creating something! When you make a mistake and have to re-do it, try this. Have a knitting/sewing friend take the project away from you and take it apart. They are not as attached to it as you are, they’re doing you a great favor, and you can get a fresh start. My friends and I do this for each other all the time. It works!
    Be happy, Jan

  7. I just picked up -not two, but three major timesaving ripping techniques here. Thank you all!
    I usually ‘un-knit’ because I’m afraid to lose stitches…I almost can’t wait for my next mistake to try these out(I said almost).

  8. Yes, that’s one way. BUT I’d never do that. When I’ve messed up a cable, I knit to that cable or close to it, I drop the whole cable. Say it’s a 23 stitch cable pattern and ten rows back I twisted something the wrong way. I’ll drop all 23 stitches off the needle and let it rip ten rows down, keeping all else on the needles. I use a dpn and put all 23 on it. Using second dpn or the right needle, I take the lowest rung of yarn (pull them out in the back and make sure you start with the lowest rung and knit that row, turn, do the back side with the next rung, and on up. It looks scary, but it’s really not. When you’re all caught up, just pull it a bit this way and that if a stitch is out of whack size-wise. I have pics of this on my blog: Scan down to the entry called “Holey Crap” (I couldn’t get pics to post in this comment) Really, it works fine. You don’t have to reknit all those perfect stitches!

  9. Sandi, Thanks so much for sharing your stitch-marking method–new to me and a great idea. The last time I had a ripping need, I did not have a smaller needle available [I was on an airplane] but I did have a long crochet cotton thread and cibi needle so I created a lifeline by running the thread through the front leg of each stitch in the row below the mistake. I was so pleased that I was able to rescue my project and I managed to get all the stitches back on the needle just as we landed!

  10. Oh wow. Why didn’t I ever think of picking the stitches back up with a smaller needle? The couple of times I have had major frogging sessions, that tip would really have come in handy. Well, thanks! I’m sure there are many more frogging sessions in my future, and this knowledge will make them all a little less painful.

    (By the way, please forgive me for saying… The Cecily Beanie with the buttons is very cute. But every time I look at the one with the random clump of soft green pom poms, all I can see is moss growing on the side of the model’s head! So sorry – it’s a lovely hat otherwise.)

  11. I didn’t know it was done this way. When I mess up, I’ve been un-knitting back to where I need to fix the problem (which is really annoying when it’s lots of rows).

  12. If the error is close to the starting point, I have been known to rip it all out and start over. Otherwise, I try to use the vertical drop down fix. For people who have trouble remembering if a marker denotes a particular type of increase or decrease, color code your markers. Green could mean k2tog, and so on.Just make sure you write down what each color means, and be consistant. Devoting this method to one type of marker is another good thing to do. You can buy sock stitch markers with small charms that have the type of de/increase on them too. But my method is cheaper. 🙂

  13. Sandi,
    I LOVE the “Knit Fix” book too! I recommend it to any knitter, experienced or not. I teach knitting in a K-8 school, and fixes are a big part of the learning experience.

  14. Having just frogged a hat, with a stitch pattern, all the way back to the beginning because I ‘lost’ a row somewhere, I’m feeling less fearful about starting over. Nothing like coming out on the wrong side when you’ve gotten to the point where the ear flaps get placed. I frogged to each decreased section and found that somehow, along the way I had skipped something. There was nothing but to start all over. Fortunately #11’a and chunky yarn. I just hope the cold weather holds long enough here in the Pacific Northwest to allow the recipient to enjoy it this season.

  15. My ripping problem is that I always wind up with stitches on about three different rounds–some of them run when I frog. Now that I know how to recognize and repair it, I can manage, but for a long time it was a real impediment to frogging! Was I pulling too hard? Or just using slippering yarn?

  16. Ooh! So many new terms that hint at so many ways to fix the sadness. I’d love to see quick links to a KD glossary, beginning with “lifeline” Would you consider making us such a thing? I’m sure I’m not the only one… In my little dream world this perfect glossary might include 1-4 reference books, magazines, or websites where we newbies could find more information or tutorials. In such a way it would serve both the knitting community (us!) and Interweave Knits. Persuasive, no?

  17. Hello Sandy,

    Thanks muchly for your tutorial on ripping back.As a veteran ripper, I’m pleased to learn about the dpns placed vertically to locate where to put the markers for patterns. That’s a great technique. Thank you (but I’m sure I’ll never have to rip again.Is this part of the denial stuff?)

  18. This great post from Sandy was only equalled by all the great, funny and instructive comments. Now I want to hear tips about frogging when one is knitting lace. I, too, have a Daughter who is forcing me to be fearless. I am still swatching to find the right wintr-white yarn to knit the “I Do” lace shrug from (for a late March 2008 wedding!!!!), and trying to learn its Porcupine Lace pattern (Walker vol. 2). Sandy, do you have any tips for frogging lace? I am going to look for the Kartus book.

  19. Sandi-Thank you for proving my mantra–If you are going to knit, do it right or rip it out! My mother taught me that and I have tried to teach that to my daughter. Yet she is truly a fearless knitter who tries to make lemonade out of her ‘baadly-behaved stitches.’ She is my knitting hero–I only taught her the basics and she has no fear in changing a pattern and designing her own touches! It is so refreshing to know others make those crazy mistakes! Kudos to you for ripping!

  20. Ok,so how many of the UFO’s weall took inventory of last Fall are UFO’s because we can’t bare to rip out our frogs? I have ruined beautiful yarn because I’ve ripped and reripped only to have put the project away thinking I must be daft or something because it just won’t work out. Case in point: I’m knitting the Diagonal Rib Socks by Ann Budd with hand painted wool. After knitting about 4 inches of the first leg I really got to looking at the Diag. rib pattern, past the bright hues of the painted yarn, and behold I had been doing an ssk instead of the k2tog. It looks ok and I asked my daughter whom their intended for, if it was ok! Her comment was extremely calculated, “Looks Cool Mom”. HA,to me. Now that I’ve turned the heel and completed the gusset she took another look and matter of fact stated, hey can I pick another color, then I can have TWO pair!
    I’ve used the dp trick for ripping back rows to keep track of where markers need to be, I’ve also found that a constrasting yarn and a needle gives flexability and works great.

  21. When picking up stitches after a big off-the-needles rip, I will sometimes find I have to just focus on picking them up, and disregard stitch orientation entirely. I find it easier to fix them on the next round by knitting or purling through the back loop or re-orienting stitches needed for patterning as I go.

  22. Reading your post today makes me feel SO much better! Just lost about 16 inches off a wrap because the second skein looked totally different in artificial light than the first skein!! Talk about a freak out—checked and double checked color under my Ott light, and the skeins looked fine. Shade difference was only apparent under fluorescent lighting, and therefore I never saw the problem until I was KIP at a clinic, waiting to undergo medical tests.

    Since the problem occurred where I had started the new skein, I decided to work from the join, picking up the live stitches as I gently pulled out the misshaded yarn from the new skein. Since I had LOTS of YO and K2TOG I did not feel safe just calling in old Senor Frog.

    Knowing that far superior knitters often find themselves spending an evening in the company of the ‘Frog’ makes me feel okay about my many mistakes!

  23. An easy way to place the marker and also make sure you don’t rip too far: before you start ripping, for each marker, ladder down an adjacent stitch – either before or after the marker, just be consistent – until you get to the row above where you want to stop, then clip a marker *through* that stitch. After you have done that for each marker you want to save, then rip. When you get to the first clipped stitch, the yarn will get caught at that point – unclip the stitch, put the marker in its proper place, and start tinking (unknitting stitch by stitch rather than ripping) and replace each marker in the right place when you get to a clipped stitch.

    Hope this makes sense … it’s very easy and quick, doesn’t involve finding a dpn or weaving it in, and also helps make sure you don’t rip back further than you mean to.

  24. An easy way to place the marker and also make sure you don’t rip too far: before you start ripping, for each marker, ladder down an adjacent stitch – either before or after the marker, just be consistent – until you get to the row above where you want to stop, then clip a marker *through* that stitch. After you have done that for each marker you want to save, then rip. When you get to the first clipped stitch, the yarn will get caught at that point – unclip the stitch, put the marker in its proper place, and start tinking (unknitting stitch by stitch rather than ripping) and replace each marker in the right place when you get to a clipped stitch.

    Hope this makes sense … it’s very easy and quick, doesn’t involve finding a dpn or weaving it in, and also helps make sure you don’t rip back further than you mean to.

  25. I read this post just after I got off the phone with my sister who was telling me she had to rip out some knitting because she didn’t like the way it looked. I was giving her a bit of advice on how I rip. Then I opened my e-mail to find this post so I forwarded it to her. I don’t like ripping out and redoing mistakes all that much but it is a necessary part of the craft. On the other hand, I have no problem ripping to “remodel” something I don’t like or wear. I have learned some important lessons this way. I am currently going to “remodel: a sleevless funnel neck shell that I made out of a bulky weight hand died cotton (Patagonia Nature Cotton). The yarn is beautiful but I onlt wore the top once or twice. I finally realized that when it is warm enough for me to go sleeveless the last thing I want to wear is something in bulky yarn. So now I have ordered more of this beautiful yarn (luckily no dye lots) and am making sleeves. Also since the shell is a little short I am ripping back to the arm holes and adding an inch–and while I’m at it I’m getting rid of the funnel neckline which I have decided is just not something I particularly like. And ripping is actually pretty fun! Put on some good music (I was listening to Patty Griffin) and rip away!!!

  26. I’ve never really agonized over ripping, because leaving the mistake in is more agonizing to me than re-knitting something, plus, it’s all still knitting, right? My tip, Sandi, is that when you rip, stop ripping 1 row above where you really want to restart. Put the stitches back on your needles and UNKNIT the final row. In this way, I never need to worry about dropped stitches and all of my stitches are untwisted and facing the right direction when I’m ready to begin knitting again.

  27. love this! my technique goal for 2007 was to learn pattern knitting…and be able to read what is on my needles and locate where I goofed up. Chose to make the shoulder cozy from Wrap Style for my sister, just gave it to her this weekend. So it was a little late for Christmas, but since she was visiting from Seattle, I got to see her open it! I have learned, at least for awhile, that I need patterns with at least one row of knit or purl, so I can rip back to “home.” My 2008 technique goal is cabling and I know I will use this technique (a LOT!)
    Deb in KC

  28. Ok, so. I have been VERY SLOWLY reknitting a sweater that came out horribly wrong. Before deciding to reknit it, I blocked it, so the yarn is really set in that place. I am reknitting the sleeves, and (being lazy) just found the end of the old sleeve and am frogging the old one as I knit the new one. My new fabric looks really wonky– wrinkled and wrong, but I discovered (in my grand experiment) that if I steam it, the stitches on the new sleeve even out and the gauge is correct.

    Is this “dangerous?” I feel like this is somewhat under control, but I haven’t seen this method recommended at all, so I’m doubtful that it’s very reliable.

  29. This is a great tutorial! Thank you for the tips. In a future “episode” could you go through how to knit back the cable if you chose to drop the stitches and go that route? I’m not exactly sure how you work the stitches back up with DPNs when your “working yarn” is stranded between the area you are working up. Thanks!

  30. I have a question: Is it OK to knit with the wool all curly and kinked after frogging? I am going to completely rip out a partly knit back and use this wool to knit a different project. Do I need to “condition” the yarn somehow to get out the kinks? I know someone out there knows the answer to this! Thanks.

  31. Sandi–typically it’s not my throat producing the wails and screams…it’s the disbelieving throats of my family members! My young daughter and husband just can’t bear to look at me ripping back sometimes almost entire piece to fix a mistake I’ve found, but I know it would drive me bonkers to know I left it in there…that is, unless I’ve decided to make it a “nifty design element” which I’ve done a time or two Linda M.

  32. I spent last weekend frogging the sweater I’m working on not once, but TWICE! It has a repeating lace pattern, so if you mess up one row, you’ll be off all subsequent rows. And since there’s 229 stitches, and the yarn is one that makes it difficult to easily see where the mistake is, it’s just easier, and faster, to rip it out to before the pattern started. Believe me, I agonized over whether the frogging would be necessary, but rather than waste time knitting a few more rows to see if it would be noticeable, I sadly started ripping. The second time the sadness turned to anger! But I’m always glad after frogging, because I’d be very disappointed with a glaring error. Now I’ve placed a whole lot of markers to keep my pattern on track, and voila, no more mistakes!

  33. Have a good friend pull it out for you if it is too hard tor you to do yourself. A good knitting friend will understand and will gladly help you through the emotional trauma and may even gleefully rip, thanking the knitting gods that it is not her piece the whole time and thoroughly enjoying the popping noise.

  34. After setting aside my mistake for a week (month/year, depending on how painfully far back the problem is), I’m just fine about ripping back. I consider knitting to be a therapy of sorts, so I just keep telling myself – it’s part of the therapy, not a mistake or problem…. sometimes I listen to myself, sometimes I don’t!

    Having said all the above, I think it’s probably better to rip back straight away, as the longer I leave the knitting, the more memory the yarn takes on?

  35. I don’t do a lot of “full frogging”, mostly on lace which can’t be fixed by dropping and picking up–that’s when the tears begin and when I have to frog lace it’s usually because I have dropped a stitch and once it gets away beyond one row I’m cooked. Funny, what you do to fix other knitting is the ruination of lace. But with other knitting I feel comfortable dropping down forty and more rows–I help several people with fixes and you should see their faces when I rip a couple stitches 20 (or even 10) rows down. Or when I slide all the stitches off the needles(only with “regular” ie worsted wt. wool or acrylic yarn knit “regularly” (NO yo’s, not on a twist row)which is something they didn’t believe was possible without ruination.

  36. Sandi,
    I began crocheting 8 yrs ago when pregnant with my first child. I attempted knitting time and again, but was convinced calculus was easier. March of this past year, I watched each step of someone knitting. Determined I tried again and fell in love. Now I have knit many hats, several doll sweaters, a few big people sweaters, a dress, and I continue. In the meantime I am also knitting a cable afghan for my daughter. It was meant to be knit in panels and stitched together, but I don’t like sewing together and will do many a creative feat to avoid it altogether. So, rather than casting on 24 stitches, I cast on 168. Halfway through the blanket, I found that I cabled one row to the wrong side. I did not want to rip out 168 st x 12 rows. I decided to continue on and see how noticeable the mistake was later. Unfortunately, as I continued through my 18 row repeat, I found that the next set of twisted stitches also went the wrong way. By now I was on the third set. Now I had 48 rows to correct. I went through “the painful first four stages of shock, denial, bargaining, and anger.” Then I bravely decided to work till the twelve affected stitches were at hand. I put point protectors on my needles, and ripped out 48 rows of 12 stitches each. I used my trusty bamboo needles and got to work. Using a trick from, I can knit forward and back so that I didn’t have to turn my afghan at the end of each 12 stitches. I took my time fixing any gaps, using a bamboo point to make sure all stitches in the row were even with no loose threads. I made it through, cable by cable, and even I (the perfectionist that I am) cannot detect with panel had the face lift.
    Viva la fearless knitting!