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By Theresa Vinson Stenersen
Photos by Sigurd Stenersen

All of us were new to knitting at one time or another. For me, that was around 3 1/2 years ago and at a time when I was far away from my knitting aunts. I depended on the kindness of online strangers and books like Vicki Square's Knitter's Companion and Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Without Tears to help me over the rough spots, of which there were...well, several.

But perhaps because no one told me otherwise, I have always felt like I can do anything I put my mind to, at least when it comes to knitting. I believe that becoming aware, as you knit, of the structure of knitting -- how the stitches are combined side by side and row upon row to create a fabric -- is the key to gaining that kind of confidence. Then you'll be able to recognize quickly when something is not quite right and feel comfortable fiddling with it until it's back to looking the way it should.

When Good Stitches Go Bad
recognizing and correcting twisted or dropped stitches

The needle is going to get pulled out of your knitting eventually, whether it be your cat, your toddler or just plain ol' slippery yarn. When this happens, do not panic.

Remember: "The first thing to do in a cardiac arrest is take your own pulse."

Take the needle [one with a smaller gauge than you were working with, if it's handy] and begin inserting it into the loops, one by one. Be sure you get an equal number of loops as you had stitches. Once all the loops are back on the needle, lay it down carefully and take a few cleansing breaths.

Now check to see if any of the stitches look different than they should. It's possible, even likely, that some of the stitches will be twisted or dropped one or more rows. First let's talk about what that looks like, then we'll do something about it.

These stitches [above] are "twisted". Look at each individual stitch. The loop is sitting over the needle like an upside-down U. The part of the U that is visible on the front of the needle in this picture is the left-hand leg which indicates that they are twisted. When the stitches are sitting they way they should, the part of the U that is most visible from the front of the needle should be the right-hand leg both on knit and purl stitches.

You may be asking yourself: What shall I do if my stitches are twisted? The easiest thing to do is knit the stitch through the back loop [a.k.a. tbl]. To knit tbl, insert the working needle into the half of the U that is extending from the top of the needle toward the back. When you work a stitch in this manner, you untwist a twisted stitch. [Say that three times fast!]

On a side note: If you work a untwisted stitch tbl, you make it twisted. Why, you ask, would I want to? For some stitch patterns or for eliminating gaps after picking up stitches around a sock gusset or while doing short rows.

"Dropped stitches" may have unravelled themselves one row or many rows. Let's talk about those that only went down to the row beneath the current row on the "knit" side. You will see a loose strand of yarn on the back of the work that extends horizontally from one stitch before the dropped stitch to one stitch after. Bring that loose strand onto the right-hand needle as shown above.

Then insert the tip of the needle in your left-hand into the loop of the dropped stitch from the back and use the needle in your right-hand to bring the loose strand...

...forward through the loop. Then remove the left-hand needle, leaving the newly fixed stitch on the right-hand needle. Since this stitch has not been worked yet, you'll need to transfer it back onto the left-hand needle by inserting the tip of the left-hand needle into the loop from front to back and slipping it off the right-hand needle.

For single dropped stitches on the "purl" side, the technique is identical, except that you'll insert the needle through the dropped stitch through the front.

When stitches drop more than one row, they create a run with loose strands extending, ladder-like, from just above the dropped stitch's loop all the way up to the needle. On the "knit" side, insert a crochet hook into the loop of the dropped stitch from front to back, hook the lowest horizontal strand, and pull it through the loop. Repeat, working up the "ladder" until the strand closest to the needles is pulled through, then return this stitch to the left-hand needle, being sure it's not twisted.

For "purl" side dropped stitches, insert the needle from back to front, and pull the strand [which should be in front of the loop] through, repeating until all are picked up, then return to the needle. Once you've worked your way over all the stitches, you'll be ready to continue on with your knitting like nothing ever happened. And when you decide to take a break this time, put it somewhere your cat can't get to it!

Send your questions, comments or suggestions for future "Techniques" to Theresa.


Originally from the southern United States, Theresa now makes her home in Norway, with her husband and two step-daughters.

She spends most of her time knitting woolen garments to keep herself warm. Or, alternately, blogging about it.

© 2002 Theresa Vinson Stenersen.