Having a Moment With: Committed Ribbing

Having a moment: a little ode to the things I’m currently captivated by. In theory, with some relation to knitting.

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Full disclosure: I once referred to the ribbing at the beginning of a hat as “the unfortunate, time-consuming gateway to the real knitting.” My youthful tendency towards hyperbole aside, I was also just…deeply not correct, and, in my own subsequent design work I have rather decidedly changed my tune. So, on this last Friday of summer, let’s talk about the error of my ways, shall we?

One of the big questions about our hand knits, which I kind of alluded to when we talked about the “do you want to knit that” question, is “to what extent are we trying to make hand knits that “look like” ready-to-wear sweaters?” As a designer, I’m usually aiming (or at least gesturing) in that direction, trying to produce sweaters that are fun to knit AND look like the kind of thing you could have bought at a store, that trigger that “wait, did you MAKE that?” reaction from friends and family. And the more I push on that idea and explore it in my design work, and the more I really look critically at the kinds of ready-to-wear sweaters that inspire me, they tend to include either a) a lot of ribbing at the trims or b) none at all (and indeed, you also see a lot of sweaters that are all ribbing, or some form of it, but that’s a separate “having a moment” topic). What you don’t see much of is the inch-or-so of ribbing that used to be about where I wimped out in many of my first projects. And I hemmed and hawed about this for a while, but ultimately concluded that the added polish is worth knitting a few more rows (and really, it’s not that many) at the hem.

The good news is, this is a super easy feature to modify in most sweaters, if you decide you’re with me in the “go big or go home” camp on your hems, and the sweater pattern you’re working with is not. I tend to find that the magic “substantial hem” is 3-5” in length (usually 3 on the sleeves, unless you want to double it back). Take a peek at your schematic: how much total length is in the body below the underarms? Does it specify the ribbed length vs the overall length? (Hint: if it does not, you can always subtract the specified ribbing length from the overall body length, and then add back in your new-and-improved ribbing length to get your estimated total length). If you just add additional ribbing, will it make the sweater too long? If so, you can always compensate by making the body a little shorter (just check your shaping instructions to make sure you can still fit in your increases/decreases/whatever, or maybe work them more frequently). In general, you’re talking about a modification that requires maybe 1-3 steps of arithmetic, and that doesn’t in any way affect the more complicated, structural bits of the sweater above the yoke (so, in the grand scheme of sweater surgery, this one is a short outpatient procedure that can be done with a local anesthetic). If you take the “the right answer is no ribbing” approach (equally defensible, depending on the sweater), you’ll need to make similar calculations in reverse (adding length if need be to the patterned section of the body to make sure you’ll still get the overall length you’re looking for).

What are your ribbing preferences? What catches your eye when you look at ready-to-wear sweaters, and think about what distinguishes them from your hand-knits?