Saturday, January 14, 2017

The great K1P1 ribbing quest

For my green sweater, I decided I wanted a folded-over k1p1 rib neckband-- it's a neat, cozy sort of edge that looks good to my eye right now. Trouble is I am never happy with the look of MY k1p1 ribbing, to the point that I usually avoid the stitch altogether because it's just demoralizing. Other knitters seem to produce crisp, even ribbing--  I have produced it, in fact my very first knitting project (circa 1999!) was a scarf done entirely in k1p1 ribbing and it looks great:

Compare that to my first neckband attempt on the green sweater:

I am mystified by my inability to reproduce as an expert knitter what my own naive, beginner hands once made without thinking about it! But I am also stubborn and unwilling to admit defeat-- and tinkering with my neckband has given me an excuse to procrastinate further on fit decisions. I have knitted, ripped, and re-knitted the neckband of the sweater... quite a few times. Five I think. I am closer to the look I want but I have also committed to what feels like a bigger quest of sorts: to find some answers-- through research & swatching-- to this problem of k1p1 ribbing. I don't think I'm alone in my struggles, so for the Greater Good of knitters, this is going to be the first in a series of posts about k1p1 ribbing. Get excited!

First I should define what "good" k1p1 ribbing should look like and how my k1p1 ribbing deviates from that ideal. That first scarf is the only sample I have on hand of what I would call "good" k1p1 ribbing, so let's take a closer look:



The knit columns are tight, fairly even and very well defined-- they stand up prominently like the ridges of corrugated cardboard. I think of those knit and purl stitches like partners in a contra dance, linking arms alternately in perfect balanced opposition-- the energy of that opposition is felt in the springy, sprightly elasticity of the fabric. It stretches easily but snaps back with spirit, and when the fabric is relaxed, the purl stitches vanish. A sliver of vertical shadow between the knit columns and a slightly rounded appearance to the knit stitches shows that it is not stockinette, but it is nearly as neat and cohesive. I notice a very slight back-and-forth wobble to the knits, as if they are being pulled to the left or right, but it is subtle and regular enough that it seems like a characteristic of the fabric rather than a mistake. That is good k1p1 ribbing-- or at least the best I have ever made.

The neckband of my green sweater shows what my present-day k1p1 ribbing typically looks like-- quite a contrast! The knit columns are wide and look stretched out-- like ladders, but in the middle of the stitches rather than between them. The fabric has little elasticity-- the purl stitches are still clearly visible in the relaxed state. I would describe it as both stiff and lethargic. Yet it has this twisting energy, as if the knit stitches are being yanked upwards by their left arms-- this is more visible in profile, but in the picture above you can see that the left sides of the knit columns appear slightly higher and more prominent. As a result the whole neckband seems to bias to the left. Maybe if I didn't have that first scarf for comparison I wouldn't be so aware of the flaws in my present-day k1p1 ribbing-- or maybe I would just think that k1p1 ribbing was an ugly-ass stitch that I never, never want to use in my knitting. What I do know is I can't accept it as-is.

There are some big differences between these two samples in terms of construction, yarn, knitting technique-- what I want to know is which factors exactly lead to the huge differences I see in the appearance of the fabric. Are there fundamental characteristics of the k1p1 fabric that lead to the problems I'm seeing? And how do I go about correcting these problems? What role does technique and tension play in this? What about construction and yarn? These and other questions I hope to explore in my upcoming posts on this topic-- with lots of swatches to illustrate! I will say that what I've learned so far in my quest has led to noticeable improvements in the look of my sweater neckband-- here is the most recent version:

Much better right? More about how and why soon!


  1. I'm very curious, as I've encountered the same thing with k1, p1 ribbing. So I hope you don't mind me following along!

    1. OMgosh I would love it if you did! I need to get motivated to write the next post, and the idea that someone is interested is a great kick in the pants-- thank you!