Hot Tip: If it ain’t broke, don’t rip it

Hot Tip: If it ain't broke, don't rip it

I’ll never forget being a brand-new knitter, having no idea how to fix a mistake, and ripping my work out every time I made one. And I mean ripping all the way back to nothing. Total do over. (As I always say: If you only take one knitting class in your life, make it a fixing-mistakes class.) Gradually I figured out how to “tink” back to fix a mistake in the current row, how to rip out a row or two and put the stitches back on the needles, etc. One day I mis-crossed a cable and was irate at the notion of ripping out a lot of perfectly good knitting just to fix a couple of stitches. So I googled and came upon a Yarn Harlot tutorial about how to “ladder down” to a fix a cable error, and that blog post changed my knitting life.

In short: In many or most cases, if you’ve made a mistake and failed to notice it right away, it can be fixed in a targeted, surgical fashion. Take the mistake in my Channel cardigan seen above, where I had apparently spaced out for a moment on which row of the chart I was knitting and messed up the chevron pattern in one spot. It’s 13 stitches, 24 rows down, in a sea of otherwise flawless knitting. (Right in the middle of my lower back, in plain sight.) If I were to rip out all 24 rows from end to end, it would mean repeating about 6 hours’ worth of knitting. Obviously undesirable, and fortunately unnecessary.

Here’s all you have to do:
1 ) Knit to where the problem area begins, then slide only the affected stitches off the left-hand needle. In my case above, that meant freeing up the 13 stitches of the chevron repeat.
2) Take a deep breath.
3) Gently pull the first strand loose, effectively ripping out the first row of stitches between the two needles. (Everything that’s still on the needles is secure — you needn’t worry about the adjacent stitches.)
4) Repeat for each row of stitches until you reach the row where the mistake occurred. That will be the last row you pull out, leaving you with the live stitches from the previous row — the last one before you screwed up.
5) Put the live stitches back on a needle. (I like DPNs for this process. You may find it easier to pick up the stitches on a smaller needle, but make sure you do your knitting with DPNs that match your working needles.) Each of the loose strands will be your working yarn for reknitting those rows.
6) Starting with the first loose strand above the row of stitches on your DPN, reknit your row correctly.
7) Repeat with the next strand, and the one after that, until you’re back at the top of your work.
8) Slip the stitches back onto your working needle, ready to be knitted as normal.

It’s undeniably awkward to knit with a little strand like that, and you’ll almost certainly find your tension a bit wonky. I tend to pull too tight at the beginning of the row and wind up with extra yarn at the left end. If that happens to you, just take the tip of your needle and tug on the stitches to even them out as best you can, and trust that blocking will take care of the rest.

As many times as I’ve done this over the past few years, it always feels a little scary going in, but when you put those corrected stitches back onto your working needle, you can’t help feeling like a superhero.

NOTE: Please excuse these horrible photos — I wasn’t thinking of the blog at the time I was doing this! Several people on Instagram had asked how I was going to fix this mistake, and these are just screenshots from the unartful blow-by-blow I posted on my IG Story. Next time I need to do this kind of surgery, I’ll try to get better images.

(Stitch markers from Fringe Supply Co.)


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51 thoughts on “Hot Tip: If it ain’t broke, don’t rip it

  1. OMG,this gave me heart palpitations just looking at the undone stitches! I’m impressed; you are SO brave!

  2. “2) Take a deep breath.”

    LOL!!! I should probably challenge myself to fix mistakes like that but I usually keep going, don’t think anyone will actually see it!

    • It always depends where it is and what you’re comfortable with! I have a mistake in the moss stitch on one side that I left. But this one was too big and blaring for me.

  3. Don’t apologize for the photos- they are a perfect example. I have a beautiful Norah Gaughan cabled top in timeout now for the same issue. In my case, it involves a mistake in the direction the cables crossed many rows back and I’m not sure surgery is realistic. One day I will take the plunge- the only thing I need is courage!

    • In case you haven’t visited the Yarn Harlot post KT links to, it ends with a second “dirty cheat” method for fixing these kinds of mistakes that doesn’t involve dropping stitches. I’d encourage you to check it out!

    • It’s a perfect method for fixing mis-crossed cables. Really anything where there’s a consistent number of stitches involved from one row to the next (as opposed to increases/decreases/yarnovers that might pose an issue).

  4. My learning experience was very similar except for the times when I ripped back to the beginning and gave up altogether. I use DPNs when I do this but I usually go down a size since it is so fiddly, especially those last couple of stitches on each ‘row’. The first time I tried it I figured I had little to lose since if it didn’t work out I’d rip and reknit. I’d already done that once and didn’t want to do it again so I took the plunge and gave it a try. It was such an ego boost when it actually worked!

  5. I am wondering if this is the fix for garter stitch errors. Maybe unknit a few stitches, rather than just one. Normally for garter stitch errors, if they are readily apparent, I rip out the rows and begin again. Sigh.

    • If you knitted an entire row that should have been purled, or vice versa, you would need to rip out the whole row. But if you somehow did some of the stitches incorrectly, as opposed to the whole row, then this would be a possibility.

  6. I love step #2, breath. I’m such a chicken, that before I take those stitches off the needle, I run a needle in the right hand part of the stitchs in the row under the mistake. It makes a safety to be sure you don’t unravel more than you meant too.

  7. Yes! I’ve had to do this twice in the last six months – once when I had some weird messed up stitch in a garter stitch Rae shawl, and once when I forgot my LAST edge button hole on my Yoga shawl – and you totally feel like the smartest person alive when it works out :)

  8. I’ve been knitting seriously for forty years, and yes, I have learned about laddering down to fix mistakes. But just TWO days ago I noticed an area in a project where I got off pattern over maybe twenty five sts, and it never occurred to me to put them on a dpn and fix one whole row at a time. I did it stitch by stitch. Just shows that there is ALWAYS something new to learn. I usually learn something new on every project I do, and I knit every day. It doesn’t take too much to excite me! Thanks for great posts every day.

    • You can definitely ladder down one stitch (i.e., one column of stitches) at a time. I think the right fix always just depends on the circumstances. If I spot something a ways back on my current row, for instance, I’m more likely to just leave it until I come back to those stitches on the next row, and then just fix each one as I come to it, rather than tinking back. Do you know what I mean? Whereas sometimes it’s better to do this, and sometimes something seems so tedious to fix — or isn’t very many rows down — that it’s less onerous to just rip and reknit.

      • Yes, this…It took me a couple of years of knitting to realize you can fix your stitches this way!

  9. Thank goodness for your post! Now I can fix the mistake I made that I’m trying to ignore, and it’s so blindingly obvious now that you’ve so eloquently pointed out how to. You’ve made my day!

  10. I just hand it to Sister Meg and say “here, fix this. I’ll be downstairs.”

  11. A little side note: if you use a crochet hook of comparable size to you needles, it is much easier. Put the looks on one needle and you the crochet hook to “knit” the stitches leaving the new stitches on the crochet hook as you work them. At the end of the messed up aread, transfer sts on hook to knitting needle and work the next row. It is super easy to grab that little strand of yarn with a hook; not so easy to do with a needle.

  12. Thanks for this tip! I never thought of ripping and then reknitting. Brilliant! I have used a painful process with a crochet hook and this sounds so much less painful.

    • Just dropping down one stitch at a time? Sometimes that’s the easier fix — sort of just depends on how many stitches you’re trying to fix (and over how many rows) and what feels less onerous to you.

  13. Ah, this is so useful! I have a hole in a sleeve I’m working on where I spaced out and joined my new ball of yarn improperly. Do you think this would work for fixing that hole? Or is there an easier strategy?

    • That sounds like not an actual mistake or problem but just what happens when you join a new ball — if what you did was just stop knitting with the old one and start with the new, right? You just close up that gap with how you weave in those ends, weaving one tail one direction and the other the other. There’s a good tutorial about that somewhere on

      • Alas, this guy is a bigger hole than it should be—maybe dime sized. I definitely dropped something somewhere, and only noticed later. So I might try this method and hope it works…

  14. Honestly when I saw this first (was it on Instagram?) I was holding my breath. But as you did with your St. Brendan it was a huge lesson for me: Ripping/tinking all that is not the end of the world, and it’s not failure – it’s about making something you love even better!! Thank you for that!

  15. So, funny story, I saw your IG, thought, “oh, that seems useful for the future” and then the next time I picked up my knitting, noticed a mis-directed cable! Serendipitous. I’m waiting for the weekend to try this, though. I need daylight, as well as patience!

  16. You’re so brave! I’ve been knitting forever and I’m still too scared to do this. I usually end up ripping and ripping back to square one.

  17. I’ve used this technique many times. (Too much chat at knit night = mistakes!) Even if it looks a bit uneven and the tension looks different after you’ve fixed it up it usually sorts its self out during blocking.

  18. Thank you so much I have ripped a lot of knitting due to one small cable error. I have pinned this for future use as I will need it.

  19. I’m another one who has done this a number of times but just with ripping down one column of stitches: it’s very quick and simple to do. I’ve corrected mistakes in lace in a similar way but in that case dropping the stitch also either side of where I think the problem is: it’s easiest if the root error is a missed yarnover because then you can just pick up the bar between stitches and make that your yarnover and then use it in the following rows (and you really need to be able to ‘read’ your knitting to help you understand where to place the subsequent stitches and what to do with them). The tension can be a bit tight (since you’re adding in extra stitches with no extra yarn) but a bit of gentle persuasion along the row can sort that out.

    The one thing that makes my heart sink is correcting mistakes in brioche. I’ve tried both techniques i.e. ripping back down a column and ripping back through rows, and don’t enjoy either. Because it gets confusing as to which are the live and which are the slipped stitches it’s the one case where I’d weave in a lifeline below the mistake before I ripped.

  20. i like to pick up the stitches of the section i’m going to be re-knitting prior to ripping back to the mistake, so that i don’t “over-frog” beyond the point i want to fix

  21. I love how exhilarating it is when I’ve laddered down through a bunch of rows and have the frilly mess of it in front of me. This is extreme knitting. The real trick is to make sure you’re knitting the rows in the right order. Ask me how I know.

  22. I’ll really have to look up this technique! For a one stitch mistake like the one in your photos though, I would have just dropped the one stitch column to where there was a mistake and used a crochet needle to knit it back up. No need to re-knit the entire section. But then again, I’m lazy!

  23. WOW. I just “unknit” to the mistake. This is so much more efficient and SO MUCH SCARIER!

  24. I made the Channel Cardigan last year, and recognized the pattern from your photo immediately. It was the most complex sweater I’d ever attempted; to have to do this kind of surgery on it would likely have ended with me being hospitalized — just seeing those photos gave me heart palpitations.

    But you are so, so right: learning to correct mistakes changes everything. I’ll add this technique to the list and pray I never need to use it.

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  27. I just finished a afagan for a Secret Santa gift party in 2 weeks. I now noticed a mistake back at row ten in the beginning. Using two strands of yarn, but it looks like I dropped one strand for 2 stiches. No time to start over. Help?

    • Hi, I’m so sorry this got missed before — if it’s just one of two strands, I would just take a yarn tail and secure it on the back by weaving it in however you can!

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