Nobody likes to do it. It can be one of the most depressing and unpleasant parts of a knitting project. But sometimes, you have to rip out your knitting.
At its most basic, ripping out is very easy. You just pull the needle out from inside your stitches and start unraveling the yarn. If you need to start over completely, this is all you need to do – just make sure to roll your unraveled yarn up into a nice, loose ball as you go along, so you won’t end up with a giant tangled mess after everything’s ripped out.
But what should you do if some of your knitting project is salvageable? If you only need to rip out a certain number of rows, that can pose a trickier problem. Unraveling is easy to start but not as easy to stop, however, there are some tricks that can help keep things under control. First, lay your knitting down on a flat surface so there’s no extra gravity pulling down on the stitches. Then, carefully unravel the knitting one row at a time, keeping an eye on the row where you’re planning to stop. Once you’ve undone the last row, grab your knitting needle and carefully insert it into the first loop on the side furthest from where the ball of yarn is attached. Work your way across the row, inserting the needle into each stitch (and making sure not to twist them).
If you happen to drop a stitch along the way, you can secure it with a safety pin to remind yourself to pick it back up when you knit the next row. Once you’ve gotten all the stitches back on the needle, you’re ready to start knitting again.
When ripping out, it’s also important to keep in mind the type of fiber you’re using. Fuzzy fibers like wool tend to stick together, holding the stitches in place so that the fabric won’t start running after the needle is removed. I find wool yarns to be the easiest for ripping out, so that’s a good yarn to practice on. Mohair has a tendency to stick to itself like crazy, making ripping out a real challenge. On the other side of the spectrum, slippery fibers like bamboo are very slick, so it’s important to be patient and take your time while unraveling them, otherwise you could easily unravel too far very quickly.
One of the handiest knitting techniques for ripping out rows in a complicated project is using what’s called a lifeline. A lifeline is a strand of extra yarn (preferably in a contrasting color) that is threaded through the stitches of a particular row, preventing the stitches from unraveling past that point. Once the ripping out is done, you can simply transfer the stitches from the lifeline to your needle one at a time, without needing to wonder if you’ve dropped one accidentally.
You can either add the lifeline to a row while you work, or it can be added afterwards. If you’re anticipating a few tricky rows coming up, stop on the last row you know is correct and thread the yarn through all the stitches on the needle as in the photo below.
If you just realized that you’ll need to rip out, but didn’t anticipate the need for a lifeline, you can still put one in before starting to unravel. Use a tapestry needle to thread the yarn through the first leg of every stitch.
Ripping out can be an emotional process, but hopefully these tips and tricks can help keep things as easy and painless as possible!