Perfecting the Knitted Rib

Perfecting the Knitted Rib

Ribbing is a key part of many projects and has a big job to do in keeping those hat and sweater bands nice and snug. Creating perfect ridges can be challenging, especially if you're new to knitting or trying out new patterns. In this article we begin with a few general tips followed by my favourite tried and tested method.

Knitting Tips

1. Use Appropriate Needles

The elasticity of your ribbing is influenced by needle size. For a more compact, elastic rib, start with needles one size smaller than your yarn recommends. After completing the ribbing, switch to the recommended size for the rest of your project.  (You can read more about needle selection in our Guide.)

2. Maintain Consistent Tension

Even tension is crucial when knitting ribbing. If your tension varies, you'll end up with uneven stitches. Make sure to keep a steady hand and consistent grip on your yarn.

3. Mind the Edges

The edges of ribbing can sometimes look sloppy if not done carefully. To create a smoother edge, slip the first stitch of every row purlwise with yarn held to the back, and purl the last stitch.

4. Swatch it

If you're trying a new type of ribbing, it may be helpful to knit a swatch first. This gives you the opportunity to practice the pattern, check your gauge, and see how the yarn behaves.

5. Be Mindful of the Cast-On and Bind-Off

Choose a stretchy method for both casting on and binding off to ensure that the edges don't restrict the natural stretch of the ribbing. Techniques like the tubular cast-on and a stretchy bind-off can be more suitable for ribbed projects.

6. Block Your Work

Blocking can work wonders on ribbing by evening out stitches and making the pattern more defined. However, be cautious not to stretch the fabric during this process, as it might lose its elasticity.

Crafting the Perfect Rib

The nature of alternating knit and purl stitches can sometimes produce loose, irregular vertical ribs. While there are several techniques to mitigate this—like slip stitching or tightening the purl stitch—the method I prefer draws from Combination Knitting.

In this approach, you'll purl in the Eastern Style, wrapping your yarn clockwise around the needle. This technique uses less yarn and tightens the transitions between knit and purl stitches. However, it results in a twisted stitch, which you'll then correct by working into the back loop on the subsequent row or round. Take a look below for a written tutorial.

K - knit
KTBL - Knit through the back loop: Insert the needle from right to left into the back loop of the stitch. Wrap yarn and pull through as normal.
P - Purl
P1C - Purl clockwise: Insert the needle as if to purl, wrap the yarn underneath and around the needle in a clockwise direction. Pull loop through as normal. (Twisted stitch.)
P1CTBL - P1C, inserting the needle through the back loop from left to right. Wrap yarn in a clockwise direction and complete the stitch as normal.
SL- Slip stitch purlwise with yarn held to the back

1x1 Rib - Knit flat
Cast on an even number of stitches. (This tutorial includes 1 selvedge stitch at each end.)
Setup row: Sl1, k1, p1c, to last st, p1.
Ribbing row: Sl1, *[k1tbl, p1c]; repeat to last st, p1.
Repeat the ribbing row as required.

Once ribbing is complete, if your next row is a knit row: Sl1, *[k1tbl, k1] to last st, p1. All stitches will now be orientated the correct way. Continue to knit as per pattern

1x1 Rib - Knit in the round
Cast on an even number of stitches.
Setup round: [K1, p1c]; repeat to end.
Ribbing round: [K1, p1ctbl]; repeat to end.
Repeat the ribbing round as required.

Once ribbing is complete, if your next round is all knits: [K1, k1tbl] to end. All stitches will now be orientated the correct way. Continue as per pattern.

This technique works for all kinds of ribbing - 2x2, 3x2 etc. Simply work the knit and purl stitches as detailed for the 1x1 rib whether by rows or in the round.

By applying these tips, you're more likely to knit ribbing that's neat, beautiful and functional. Like any skill, it may take some time to master, but the end result will be worth the effort.

Happy Knitting.

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