How to knit a neat and tidy ribbing!

If you struggle to knit a neat and tidy ribbing it may be yarn tension that’s causing you problems.

Tension is crucial in knitting and many issues that may occur depends on it. Untidy ribbing is one of them.

So, to make a neat ribbing that’s firm and elastic enough to keep it’s stretch you need to figure out your tension. But what are the best ways to tighten that tension up?

New to knitting ribbing? Read this post about the basic rib stitches and watch the tutorial on hon to knit them!

Tightening the yarn to increase tension

When working rib patterns with two or more knit stitches after each other the left of the knit stitches can be looser than the others. This is because more yarn is needed between knit and purl stitches than between knit stitches.

The solution to the loose stitch is to tighten the tension when knitting the first purl stitch. This can be done either by tightening the yarn before purling or pulling the yarn after to tighten the stitch. June Hemmons Hiatt explains this further in her book The Principles of Knitting (affiliate)

Knit ribbing on smaller needles

Another way to get higher tension is smaller needles. Ribbing details are commonly knit on smaller needles than the rest of a knit project. The higher the tension, the more stitches are going into an inch and the elastic and firm the fabric gets.

This is actually the method I use myself when I knit ribbing, mainly because it’s so easy to switch out the tips of my interchangeable needles. I just pull the tips so that the project sits entirely on the cable, unscrew my tips and attach another pair.

The easiness of changing tips is one of the reasons I think the HiyaHiya needles are outstanding. No need for tools!

Learn more about interchangeable knitting needles here!

Twisting stitches for neat ribbing

Twisting stitches also tighten up your ribbing, at least if you ask Elizabeth Zimmerman who included this tip in her book Knitting without Tears. Hiatt, on the other hand, claims that twisting stitches rather makes the ribbing less elastic.

I haven’t tried knitting ribbing with twisted stitches yet, so I don’t have an opinion on however it’s more elastic or not. But I know it looks beautiful and definitely can be used for decorative purposes.

If you want to try it out, twisted stitches are worked by knitting and purling in the back leg of the stitches, instead of the front leg.

Combining twisted knits with counter wise purls

Over at we are knitters blog, you can learn yet another way to neaten your ribbing.

If you twist the knit stitches by knitting in the back leg, and work the purls in the front leg as usual but wrap the yarn clockwise, instead of counter-clockwise, less yarn will be needed for the purl stitch. Again, it’s another way of increasing tension. You can see the results here!

Or, you could knit normal and twist your purls

Yet another way to make a neater ribbing is to knit all the knit stitches as normal, in the front leg. But twist the first purl stitch, that means to purl through the back leg of the stitch and wrap the yarn clockwise. This method is suggested for knitting rib in the round by Suzie Sparkles.

For knitting flat, Sparkles suggests working the right sides as described above. For the wrong side rows, you need to untwist the purl stitches for the previous row, that’s now your knit stitches.

Work the purls on the wrong side as you normally would and knit the knit stitches in the back leg, wrapping the yarn counterclockwise to untwist the twists from the previous row.

Head over to Suzie Sparkles Knitting to see pictures and get a more in-depth explanation of this, it can be a bit confusing!

Reading tips:
––> How interchangeable knitting needles make your knitting more enjoyable!
––> How to knit simple rib stitch patterns
––> Measuring gauge – everything about gauge and tension

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