How to knit the rib stitch pattern and all its many variations. A step-by-step tutorial for knitting beginners.
Hems, necklines, cuffs, scarfs – there is probably no knitting pattern that is so versatile as the rib stitch. But how do you knit it? In this tutorial, I’m going to show you exactly how to knit the most basic rib stitch and all the amazing alternatives and variations of this classic knitting stitch pattern.
Ribs create a wonderful stretchy fabric with lots of negative ease that can be used every time you need a bit of extra give. It’s also a great way to fit a piece of fabric to a waistline or the sleeves of an arm. If you ever plan to knit socks or a sweater, you will definitely need to know how to knit rib stitches for cuffs and hems but the classic pattern can definitely be used to embellish unique projects all on its own.
All rib stitch knitting patterns have one thing in common: They alternate purl and knit stitches one way or another (so make sure you know how to knit these first) and are almost all reversible – so perfect for scarfs, shawls, etc.
So, let’s show you how it’s done, eh?
ⓘ In knitting patterns, you’ll often find rib or ribbing instead of rib stitch. There is no dedicated abbreviation.
1×1 rib stitch
The most simple and common version is the 1×1 rib stitch. You can create a nice, moderately stretchy fabric that still has quite some grip. The individual ribs won’t be all that visible, though, and sometimes it almost looks a bit like stockinette stitch because the fabric will contract quite a bit – especially before blocking.
To knit it, you repeat one purl stitch and one knit stitch over and over again. You, do have to take care when you do your cast on, though. The pattern will be slightly different with an even and an odd number of stitches.
1×1 Rib stitch with ODDnumber of stitches
- Row 1: *Knit 1, Purl 1* across the full row
- Row 2: *Purl 1, Knit 1* across the full row
- Repeat rows 1+2 until you reached the desired length.
1×1 rib with Even number of stitches
- Row 1: *K1, P1*
- This is a one-row repeat. So, each and every row you follow the start with the exact same pattern
ⓘ There’s an easier way to memorize this. You basically have to knit every stitch as they appear. In the first two or three rows, this might still be a bit difficult and you should really pay attention there. But afterward, the knit stitches will form the actual ribs, so knit those. The purl stitches will form the dips in between, so always purl these.
Here’s my full guide to the 1×1 rib stitch with step-by-step instructions for beginners.
Another way to explain this: The knit stitches will look like a “V”, while the purl stitches have a little sling around their base.
Pro tip: You will get a much nicer cast-on edge if you cast on both purl and knit stitches. For very visible hems (like socks, etc) it can really pay off to learn a cast on that creates purl stitches and alternate between the two. Here’s how to cast on purlwise
Reading tip: If you are struggling with your tension. Check out this post on how to knit rib stitches neater.
2×2 rib stitch
A stretchier version of the easiest pattern is the 2×2 rib stitch. It’s basically the same stitch, but you alternate 2 knit stitches with 2 purl stitches. The result will be a fabric that shows the individual ribs much better. Even though you can also knit this pattern with any number of stitches, you may consider casting on multiples of 4 to end up with a fabric that looks the same from every side. This pattern is quite a bit more stretchy than the 1×1 version.
Here’s the repeat:
- Row 1: *K2, P2* across the whole row row
- Repeat row 1 over and over again.
If you were to cast on any number of stitches that are not divisible by 2, then you will have to knit the stitches as they appear. Due to the nature of the repeat, you will end up with half-finished ribbings one edge on each side, with an odd number of stitches.
So, in a nutshell, try sticking to casting on multiples of 4 – especially if you are knitting in the round (see below). Make sure to check out this tutorial with a super stretchy bind-off for the 2×2 rib, and my tutorial on how to graft 2×2 ribbing.
If you are knitting a scarf, then I would personally always cast-on multiples of 4 plus 2. So 18, 26, etc. That way, you end up with knit columns on both sides. On top of that, I would add two selvage stitches on each side. Here’s how I would knit a ribbed scarf:
- Row 1: Sl1pwib, *k2, p2*, k3
- Row 2: Sl1pwif, p2, *k2, p2*, p1
- Repeat these two rows until you reached the desired length
Tip: Once you got the hang of this pattern, you can also create other ribbing variations. Like 3×3 ribbings or even a knit 4 and purl 2 repeat. The possibilities are sheer endless. Just remember to cast on multiples of however many stitches your repeat has. I do have to mention, though, that the wider those rib repeats get, the less elastic they will be.
Rib stitch in the round
You can knit the rib stitch in the round the same way you knit all the other ribbing patterns. There’s just one thing you need to be aware of – even for the 1×1 rib stitch – you need to always cast on an even number of stitches. Or to be more precise, always multiples of your repeat.
Why? Because if your row starts with, say, 3 knit stitches, you want it to end with 3 purl stitches. Otherwise, you will end up with one odd rib (that is either 6 knit stitches wide or a little dip that’s shorter than the others).
- Round 1: *P1, K1*
(or *P2, K2*, or *P3, K3*, etc)
- Repeat until you reached the desired length
Twisted Rib stitch
Are you looking for a ribbing that is less stretchy and a bit more rigid? Then the twisted rib stitch is what you are looking for. It’s basically knitted the same way as the standard rib but all stitches are knitted through the back loop. That way, you twist the loop of each stitch and tighten up the fabric a bit.
As a side-effect, the ribs are also a bit more 3-dimensional, which looks especially neat in scarfs. It can also be an excellent choice whenever you are knitting with a more rustic yarn. Then twisting the stitches can lead to a neater overall appearance. Here’s the repeat:
- Row 1: *knit 1 through the back loop, purl one through the back loop*
If you got an odd number of stitches on your needles, then you’d have to start row 2 with a ptbl stitch. Otherwise, repeat that one row over and over again. The twisted ribbing is a bit slower to knit, though. So, do keep that in mind.
Note: You can create your own variants with the twisted rib stitch as well. So, a 2×2 twisted rib stitch is possible or even a 3×3 twisted. Though the effect becomes less pronounced the larger the ribbings are. When you are knitting in the round, you can also just knit the knit stitches through the back loop for a similar effect but easier knitting.
Broken rib stitch
A very nice variation is the so-called broken rib stitch. Some beginner might end up accidentally knitting this one. It’s basically a regular rib stitch that is “broken” by a knit row. That way, you create a fabric that is somewhere in between the 1×1 and the 2×2 ribbing in terms of its stretchiness.
Alas, it’s also not a reversible pattern BUT the wrong side looks a bit like crochet stitches and I like it even better. Here’s how to knit:
- Cast on an odd number of stitches
- Row 1: Knit
- Row 2: *P1, K1* p1
- Repeat row 1+2
Note: You can also knit the broken rib stitch with an even number of stitches. In this case, you have to knit row 2: *P1, K1*
Zig Zag Rib stitch
A fun and very beautiful alternative to the classic ribbing is the so-called Zig Zag Rib. I personally really love the 3-dimensionality of this pattern, even though it is sadly not reversible.
It’s also a tiny bit more difficult to knit. Here’s the repeat:
- Cast on multiples of 3 stitches and then add one more. (so, 22, 25,28, 31, etc)
- Row 1: P1, *knit the second stitch on the left needle through the back loop without dropping it, knit the first stitch, drop them both, P1*
- Row 2: K1, *purl the second stitch on the left needle without dropping it, purl the first stitch, drop them both, k1*
- Repeat row 1+2
For a more detailed step-by-step tutorial, read my zig-zag stitch post.
I do have to admit that knitting the second stitch through the back loop and then fiddling the needle into the first one to knit is a bit tricky. It takes some practice and even then it’s a bit annoying. But there is no denying the zig-zag rib stitch is beautiful!
The holy grail is certainly corrugated ribbings. Using two colors and either Fair Isle or Double knitting, you can create a rib stitch in two colors. This can look very beautiful and could be a great choice for a hem. Be careful, though. Two-colored ribbings are typically not stretchy at all!
Here’s my full tutorial on double knitting corrugated ribbings.
Brioche Stitch Ribbing
Technically speaking, the Brioche stitch is not a ribbing variant. But as this pattern also creates beautiful and very voluminous ribs, it should still be mentioned here as a nice alternative, especially as you can knit it with two colors.
- Cast on an even number of stitches
- Row 1: K1, *yarn over, slip 1 purlwise, K1. Repeat from * to the end of the row, K1
- Row 2: K1, *yo, sl1p, knit 2 together*, K1
- Repeat only row 2
You’ll find a detailed Brioche stitch tutorial here.
Rib stitch selvedge alternative
The typical rib stitch creates a garter stitch edge. This will look beautiful with the broken rib stitch or the zig-zag ribbing, but for the standard 1×1 or 2×2 ribbings, I feel it’s somewhat distracting.
The easiest and probably most elegant rib stitch selvedge is knitting a slip stitch edge. Here’s how to knit it:
- Step 1: Cast on 1 more stitch on either side of your repeat
- Step 2: Slip the first stitch and knit the last stitch of every row
How to bind off Rib stitches
Most ribbings are incredibly stretchy. That’s why you knit hems, etc. with this beautiful pattern. But there is one problem: When you bind off your stitches, you often end up binding off all that extra elasticity with it. That’s why you should take extra care. Here are a couple of alternatives and when to use them:
#1: Standard BInd off
The standard bind-off works quite well. It also looks extra neat as you can bind off all stitches as they appear. Just remember to knit a bit looser than you usually would and you’ll be fine. Especially for the twisted variants or a 1×1 ribbing, this might actually be the best cast-off.
There is one caveat: If the ribbing appears at a place in the garment where you will stretch it to the maximum (e.g. the cuff of socks), the standard bind-off will not be stretchy enough in most cases.
#2: Yarn over bind off
This is a lovely bind-off for rib stitches that are super stretchy and you really want your edge to be just as stretchy. It’s a bit more complicated as it’s a different technique for purl and knit stitches, but it’s actually quite easy to remember.
- Step 1: Knit the first stitch
- Step 2: YO purlwise and then purl one (assuming it’s a purl stitch)
- Step 3: Pick up the YO and the purl stitch with your left needle and slip them across the first stitch and then drop them
- Step 4: Reverse YO, K1 (assuming it’s a knit stitch)
- Step 5: Pick up the backward YO and the knit stitch, slip them across the first stitch and drop them
Repeat until you cast off every stitch.
The only difficulty with this bind-off is the reverse yarn over for all knit stitches. It may feel a bit unaccustomed at first but it’s actually the only way to pick up the stitches from your right needle for the slip-off.
#3: Stretchy bind-off through the back loop
A stretchy bind off I personally feel is best for 2×2 ribbings is casting off through the back loop. Instead of knitting two and then slipping the first over the second, you bind off like this:
- Step 1: K2, then slip those stitches on the left needle and knit them through the back loop
- Step 2: K1, slip both stitches on the left needle as if to knit and knit them through the back loop
Repeat the second stitch until you cast off all stitches.
How to count rows in rib stitch
Counting rows in the rib stitch is very easy. You simply have to identify one column of knit stitches and follow it all the way up to the top. Each little V stands for one knit stitch and thus one row. So, if you want to know how many rows you have knitted already, you can just count these little Vs stacked upon each other. Make sure to also count the loop that is already on your needle.
And just in case, here’s a more detailed tutorial on how to count rows in knitting for your consideration.
How to change colors when knitting ribbings
Ribbings are the perfect pattern for scarves. And what could be better than adding some color to your pattern by knitting stripes? But you will quickly notice the transition, so the immediate row where you join in a new color will look a bit marbled if you simply knit across in pattern.
To avoid that, simply knit across the first row in a new color before you switch back to your knit-purl combination. And that’s already the whole secret. It will look much less conspicuous!
#1 Try out smaller needles
Consider knitting the rib stitches on smaller needles than you would usually do. This will make the ribs look more solid and the fabric snugger. Most patterns will actually tell you to do so anyway, but if you are creating your own project, consider toying around with the needle sizes a bit.
If you knit ribs with too big needles, they sometimes look a bit flimsy and crooked. This effect is even more pronounced with handspun wool and other rather irregular yarns.
#2 Always knit a swatch
Some knitters knit really tight, others create a stretchy fabric like it was their second nature. And here’s the “problem”. With the rib stitch, the natural stretchiness of your knitting will be exponentially bigger. So, if you are a very loose knitter, you might end up with hems that slide off. Personally, I sometimes knit them too tight. Either way, knitting a little swatch to test out the gauge is better and faster than frogging, eh?
#3 Check those stitches frequently
When knitting ribbings, you are constantly switching between purl and knit stitches. Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes a little mistake sneaks in when I am not paying attention – one that will be very visible in the end. So, check your knitted fabric for those wrong stitches frequently. Here’s how to fix a mistake in knitting, just in case. Also, whenever you end up a row with a stitch it shouldn’t end with (typically a purl stitch) then that’s a clear indication that you skipped a stitch somewhere.
#4 Remember to move your yarn from back to front
This is probably more a problem for English knitters, but do remember to yarn forward whenever you wish to purl stitches. Otherwise, you might be creating accidental yarnovers, and you probably don’t want that.
- Cast on an even number of stitches using a standard long-tail cast-on around two needles for a stretchy edge. Remove the second needle as you start knitting
- Turn your work around, bring the working yarn to the back of your work, and knit one stitch.
- Bring the working yarn to the front (making sure your needles didn't actually catch the yarn), and purl one stitch.
- Continue alternating knit and purl stitches until you reached the end of the row.
- Once you finished the first row, turn the work around, and start the second row with a knit stitch.
- Purl one stitch. You should see a little bump around the base you are purling into. Then continue alternating knit and purl stitch until the end of the row again.
- Continue in the rib stitch knitting pattern until your pattern reached the desired length and then bind off loosely. Avoid pulling the stitches too tight. Instead, pull out the loops a bit before you pass them over. That way, you maintain a stretchy edge.
Consider adding a selvage stitch on each side for a neater edge. In this case, slip the first stitch of every row without knitting. The repeat will change like this.
- Row 1: slip 1 st purlwise with yarn in back, *k1, p1*, k1
- Row 2: slip 1 st purlwise with yarn in front, *k1, p1*, p1
For a neater cast-on edge, you may consider starting your work with an Italian or tubular cast-on. If that sounds too advanced, an alternating cable cast-on can be a great choice for beginners.