Unraveling from the cast-on edge

When I decided to remove the rib border of my partially-finished seaweed scarf, I thought it would be simple enough: just unravel from the cast-on edge to where I wanted the scarf to start, bind off, and continue knitting from the other end.  But when I started unraveling, I found that approximately one in three stitches, rather than freeing itself with a gentle tug, tightened instead, so that I had to loosen the yarn by hand, and then pull the tail end of the yarn through the loop of the stitch. 

Why did no one warn me about this?  I didn't think I had read about this problem anywhere.  Just to be sure, I consulted my Stitch 'N Bitch, Stitch 'N Bitch Nation, Vogue Knitting, and Debbie Bliss' Knitting Workbook; I didn't find anything more specific than this line in S 'N B:  "Unraveling a cast-on edge is not as easy as unraveling regular knitting."   

Well, the issue was not the cast-on edge; as I laboriously unraveled my work, I realized that these problem stitches occurred at every transition between knit & purl stitches.  This seemed counter-intuitive:  how was the yarn getting twisted around itself, and why would this be a problem unraveling from the bottom, but not from the top? 

Rib_swatch_1

Hmmm.

So I made myself a sketch showing a few rows of 2X2 rib.  The transition between knit and purl stitches is circled, and you can see that each stitch in the top row (arrows), including stitches on each side of purl-knit transition, enters and exits the stitch directly below it without ever twisting around that stitch. 

Here is the exact same sketch, Rib_swatch_2_1upside down.  Once again the purl-knit transition is circled; note that within the circled column of stitches, each one is twisted around the stitch directly below.  Aha!  Since each "stitch" in this direction is really the space between two stitches in the right-side-up direction, (which also explains why there is one less stitch than you would expect), moving the yarn from one side of the work to the other to go from knit to purl, and vice versa, caused the yarn to wind around itself. 

There is a point to all of this:  should you ever want to unravel something from the cast-on edge, avoid unraveling ribbing if at all possible!  (Stockinette and reverse stockinette will unravel just as easily up as down.)  For example, if you want to change the ribbing on a garment, and especially if the ribbing is, oh, say, 5 inches deep!, use this trick from Annie Modesitt above the ribbing, and then knit down, adding whatever new ribbing you like.  (If you need the yarn, you can always unravel the removed ribbing from the top and re-use it.)

Whew!  I think I feel a headache coming on.  Enough of this topic. 

On a totally unrelated subject, the yarn I used in this poor muzzled sweater held up so well that I've been trying to think of what else I should knit with it (apparently it was quite a bargain when I purchased it ten years ago, as I have plenty left).  I've been wanting to try a side-to-side sweater and have completed some pattern swatches; maybe I'll work up something for my smallest nephew, now 3 months old.  At that size, it should go quickly!


7 Comments on this post:

Good explanation of the problem when unraveling ribbing from the bottom. That's happened to me too and I wondered about it. The diagram was helpful.
I know this was posted a long time ago, but I have a scarf I'm knitting in Fisherman's Rib Stitch. I was going to try and pull it out from the bottom up past a mistake (knot) I had made and bind it off, but it seems from your post that this will be a real pain to rectify. Do you have any suggestions for me? I have been working so hard on this scarf and do not want to pull the entire thing out. I'd rather pull out 8 rows than 40. LOL
 Hi Sarah, The only thing I can suggest is to unravel as little as possible, which would mean cutting the scarf just below the mistake. You could either cut the entire scarf (lots of little yarn ends to pull out) or cut the yarn in one spot and then unravel. Carefully choosing where to cut would minimize the pain. But before you do that I would make sure that you can bind off in a way that would look nice, after you have done your unraveling. I think it would probably look okay, but since the knitting will be offset by half a stitch when you work in the other direction (from which it was originally worked) to bind off, it might look a little funky. Good luck! Angela
Hi, I am trying to create a project that while I knit my scarf, or whatever I am knitting, the bottom comes undone and unravels while someone else knits with the yarn that is unraveling from my piece. I have been trying to unravel from the bottom smoothly but it keeps getting knotted on the ends. Is there a way to make it unravel as smoothly as it will from the top of the knitting? Maybe knitting in a round? Thanks! S
If you are knitting simple stockinette, without ribbing or lace stitches, and you do a provisional cast on, then the scarf should unravel easily from the bottom up. Or with a long-tail cast on, unravel the entire cast on edge (because you will have to pull the yarn end completely in and out of the knitting) before the other person starts knitting with that end of yarn.
Very helpful post and comments. I am up to the armholes of a sweater and don't want the ribbing that is on the bottom edge. It looks like my best bet is to cut just above the ribbing as per knititude's comment from Dec 2, 2011. I think I'll use the stretchy EZbindoff on the bottom edge. I'll report back as to how it turns out. Wish me luck.
Thanks for this explanation. I was having the same issue between knit and purl sts, obviously. At least I now know why.

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