Sewing Ribbing: Overview

This is the first of five posts in a series on sewing ribbing.

Have you ever come across a sweater pattern that starts off by quite bossily telling you to read through all the instructions before starting? Yes, I’m always eager to cast on and start knitting too. But if we don’t read through the complete instructions first, we may have some heartburn during the sewing-up.

If you prefer a different seaming technique than the one the designer specifies (or even just assumes you’ll use), your ribbing sewing-up will look, shall we say, less than ideal. Fortunately, the fix is very easy—if we haven’t cast on yet.

Even if the pieces are complete, there are still dodges available.

The Bottom Line

This table shows how we have to start and end each piece of a sweater for the particular combination of ribbing and sewing technique we want to use. The four specific posts show all the gory details, and they’ll explain how to alter the sweater’s directions if necessary.

Half-Stitch Seam*
start/end with
Full-Stitch Seam*
start/end with
1x1 RibbingK1/K1K1/P1
2x2 RibbingK2/K1K2/K2

Your project may use another rib pattern, like 2×1 or 3×3. Use the same technique shown in any of the posts above, making small charts and “sewing” the ribbing in the computer or on paper before you even cast on, so that you can be sure you’ll get a good result when you do the in-yarn sewing-up.

* In this series of five posts, “half-stitch seam” means any seam that consumes half a stitch from each edge, and “full-stitch seam” means any seam that consumes a full stitch from each edge. Typically, the half-stitch seam is the mattress seam, and the full-stitch seam is the backstitch seam. But each seaming method can be done the other way: mattress seams can consume a full stitch from each edge, and backstitch seams can consume only half a stitch from each edge. There are other sewing techniques as well, but AFAIK, they’ll also consume either a half or full stitch from each edge. (Unless you really like bulky seams in your handknits, there’s no point in consuming more than a single stitch from each edge.)

My Sweater Pieces Are Already Done—Now What?

If you’ve already worked all the pieces and the sewing-up looks terrible, try using the “other” sewing technique just in the ribbing.
If a half-stitch seam looks bad in the ribbing, try sewing it with a full-stitch seam. If a full-stitch seam looks bad in the ribbing, try sewing it with a half-stitch seam. In the rest of the seam, you can switch back to the other seaming method.

If neither sewing-up option looks good, you can always—brace yourself—ravel.

If You Worked the Pieces Top Down, Easy Peasy

If you worked the sweater pieces so that you bound off (instead of cast on) in the ribbing, then you just ravel in the normal way and rework the ribbing according to the table above.

Brute-Force Raveling, but Be Careful

If the ribbing is between the cast-on and the main fabric, then you have to ravel the hard way.

Snip one stitch in the first row above the ribbing, remove that row, pick up the live loops, then knit the ribbing downwards with the correct set-up according to the table above.

Be aware, though, that if the main fabric of your sweater has either colorwork or texture, you may have problems. TECHknitter explains in the post above at the phrase “was not knit in stockinette.”

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