Dropping stitches is inevitable. Even the most experienced knitter do it from time to time. Some times I do it on purpose. I can hear you gasp, but really, why should I rip out rows and rows of work to fix one mis-crossed 4 stitch cable when everything else is just fine? The answer is, I wouldn’t and you don’t have to either. If you can just rip out the 4 stitches where the cable is fix it, and put the cable back on the needle without ripping everything out? Oh, yeah! I’m all about doing less and still getting it right. So here’s what you need to know to pick up dropped stitches with confidence, grace, dare I say panache.
At it’s most basic, knitting is simply pulling a loop through a loop, over and over again. We start with a whole bunch of loops resting on a needle. Then we lay a continuous piece of yarn across them, either in front or in back, and pull a small bight through an existing loop to create a new loop. (the word “bight” is one I’ve lifted from knot tying. It means a small section of a longer piece of string that is wrapped around or pulled through another section of the knot.) Each loop is connected to the stitch before it and the stitch after it all in a row. Each loop is also attached to the loop below it (the loop it was actually pulled through) and well as the one above it (the loop that is pulled through it) in columns.
As you’re looking at your knitting, you can see the loops on the needles were pulled through the loops from the row below. Almost like it was born from the stitch below. So, we can say that every stitch has a mother…and a grandmother, and a great grandmother. And each stitch that is born has siblings, all little loops pulled up from the same piece of string on the same line. Think of it like a family tree. Every stitch in the same row is part of the same generation. It’s going to be easier to understand how to pick up a dropped stitch if you can tell which generation the dropped stitch is in, and how many generation have to be born in order to get back to the generation on the needle.
So let’s take a look at the process of making all these generations happen. First, Identify your dropped stitch. See it hanging out there? It’s a loop, alright, and it has a mother and a grandmother below it. But no new loop is being born out of it. There is no new generation coming from it.
If you look behind it, though, you can see some straight bights of yarn. They look a little like ladder rungs, if ladder rungs were made out of yarn. These rungs go from the stitch on the right directly to the stitch on the left…without making loops through our little dropped stitch. Count them. In our example, you can see two of them, right? this stitch has dropped two generation down and will need to come back up those two rungs in order to get back with its siblings.
Remember that knitting is pulling a loop through a loop. So what do we have to do here? Right! Pull each of these bights through the dropped loop. Just like this…
#1 Stabilize the dropped stitch by sticking your needle through it.
#2 With your dropped stitch on your right needle, slide the tip of your needle under the first bight.
#3 Use your left needle tip to pull the dropped stitch over the ladder rung bight…like binding off.
#4 Pull the free bight through the stitch…like a loop through a loop, right?
Then do all the steps again on the next ladder rung. Just like this…
#5 With your new stabilized stitch on your right needle, slide the tip under the next ladder rung bight.
#6 With the left needle, pull the stitch over the bight.
#7 Pull the ladder rung bight through, like a loop through a loop.
#8 No more ladder rungs. You’re done.
Now you’ll see that there are no more ladder rungs, no more bights behind, no more generations to raise up. Your stitches look like you knit them there in the first place.
And, by the way, you can do the same thing with purls. Since a purl is just a backwards knit, so everything is backwards. Like this…
#9 Stabilize the stitch from behind and place the loose bight in front, just like you do with your working yarn when you purl.
#10 with your left needle, pull the stitch from behind, over the bight in front.
#11 Pull the bight through the stitch, but away from you instead of toward you, like you do with a purl stitch.
#12 See the purl bump at the base of the stitch? That’s how you know it’s a purl.
If you look closely, you’ll see that these new stitches look like purls…because they are!
So, now you don’t need to panic if you see a dropped stitch. And you don’t have to frog an entire piece just to fix the little thing umpty-nine rows back. You are really the boss of your stitches, and you can make them come and go as you please.
Let me know how it work out for you, and send me pictures of your generations of picked up stitches.