A comparison between 6 different techniques to weave in the tails after you finished knitting a project
The other day, there was a discussion on Reddit about the best way to weave in ends. Most knitters hate sewing and on top of that, a lot are even scared their work might unravel unless they tie knots. So, of course, this is a hot topic.
Personally, I was taken a bit aback that so many seemed to favor blunt tapestry needles and techniques similar to a duplicate stitch. I learned it with a sharp tapestry needle and then sewing in the tail. I have been using this technique all my life and for almost all my knitting patterns and projects.
But I love to try out new knitting techniques (and feature them in my newsletter, so don’t forget to subscribe and get your free pattern). I am currently working on a big intarsia sweater where I’ll have to weave in hundreds of tails. So, I thought, hey Norman, maybe you were wrong all these years?
So, I knitted two swatches. One in stockinette stitch and one in a rib stitch. I used 2.5 mm needles and some pure very smooth wool. I explicitly didn’t use chunky or fuzzy wool because the bigger you go, the easier it gets to hide about everything. And then I took my regular tapestry needle (here’s something very similar on Amazon*) and a blunt tapestry needle to weave in ends. I used 3 popular techniques you’ll find on the internet around every corner, and 3 techniques I have personally been using.
The results were quite surprising. I want to stress that probably all methods are fine, but as I am a perfectionist, I wanted to find out the minuscule differences to pick the best in my eyes.
But let’s take a closer look.
The rib stitch swatch
I knit a 2×2 rib in an orange Wollmeise yarn with 2.5mm needles. Normally, I’d use 2 or 2.25mm needles, but I felt that the “big” needles would show any inconsistencies better.
I didn’t block the swatch or prepared it in any other way because normally you wouldn’t be doing that before weaving in the tails either.
For the top tail in the picture below, I used a sharp tapestry needle and went right through the individual stitches of a rib. That’s how my grandma finished all her socks (on the inside, mind you) and that’s my personal favorite method. The idea: That way you create a lot of friction, which makes it harder for the tail to slip out and easier for it to “felt”.
For the bottom tail, I used the smallest blunt tapestry needle I had and wove the tail through the ribs (the ones you would usually use for mattress stitch). It’s the most common method I found online for rib stitches and the one that was the most similar to my version. You don’t spear through the ribs, but weave over and under them instead.
And then I went once more in the other direction with both needles. As always, I stretched the swatch a bit in both directions to let the ends settle in. This is how my little swatch looked after that.
You can spot a slight difference here. My method (top) leaves a bit of a puckered rib. Nothing serious, but definitely something you can see. The alternative method is a bit visible (but maybe less so, but you can see the extra strand peeking through) as well and it sort of bulges out the fabric a bit to the side.
Until now, I’d call it a draw. Both are not totally invisible, but I could live with either.
The difference becomes much bigger, though, when we take a look at the wrong side. Here you cannot see the tail in the top version at all, while there is a very visible snake-like line in the bottom right corner. And again, you can see how the fabric bulges out a tiny bit.
Now, the important part: The whole exercise has two objects – being as invisible as possible and as secure as possible. Knitting stitches can unravel, after all. So, what I did was give the swatch a good strong stretch in either direction. I don’t know about you, but my clothes sometimes get caught by the door handle, small kids might try to climb you, etc and I tried to simulate that.
This is how the swatched looked after the stress test. For my original version, the puckered effect was quite a bit more pronounced, but the end was still invisible and secure. The alternative where I wove the ends through the ribs (bottom) got quite a bit more visible and there was a loose loop (next to the teal arrow).
So my final verdict: Spearing the threads of the yarn with a sharp tapestry needle is slightly better for ribbing – especially for reversible projects.
I don’t believe the end would unravel in the second version. After one washing and a bit of wear, I’m sure it will felt in place. Since you have to use this method on the right side, the tail would definitely irritate me, though. So, a no for me. That being said, you can also wrap the yarn around the outer loop of a rib with a blunt needle and you will achieve a similar, though less durable, result.
The Stockinette stitch swatch
I also knitted a little swatch in stockinette stitch, and here, I have to say, my results weren’t as clear as in the first example. This time, I simulated the two tails you would get after joining in a new skein in the middle of a project. Again, I used my sharp tapestry needle (left) and its blunt sister (right).
My preferred method has always been spearing the purl bumps and going in both directions for a couple of stitches. Normally I would do it diagonally, but I thought that would mess up the comparison.
For the traditional method to weave in a tail on the purl side, I used a duplicate stitch (a bit harder to show on a still picture without a contrasting yarn, sorry). Most tutorials I read said you don’t have to go in the other direction, so I didn’t.
Here’s another picture of how it looks after I pulled the needles through on both sides.
And this is how the swatch looks after I cut the tails. My version is definitely quite a bit more visible (but I also went into both directions) and it’s definitely nothing I would use if this was the right side. The duplicate purl stitch version is pretty invisible…both do pucker the fabric a bit.
And here’s a picture of the right side. Both are pretty visible and nothing I would use. The duplicate stitch alternative is, again, a bit less visible but still noticeable.
Just like before, I also did a little stress test. Once again, the tail came loose where I used the blunt tapestry needle, while the puckering sort of intensified a bit on the left side.
My verdict: Both are not ideal. And I couldn’t really recommend either version. Quite the surprise for me!
Stockinette take two – Diagonal weave in
I still had two tails left and so I thought, hey this is a bit unsatisfying, so I used my preferred version to weave in those two ends on the purl side.
I also found a very similar version for blunt needles. You weave in the needle through the purl bumps lined up diagonally in both directions and then cut the yarn. The difference is just that I don’t go under the purl stitches but through them. I spear right through them. This is how it looks like (I already went into the other direction with both needles).
Now, admittedly, I probably should have started a new swatch for a cleaner look, but I placed the needles right next to where I wove in the tails. I would definitely say that spearing through the threads of the yarn with the sharp tapestry needle is much more invisible, but the version with the blunt needle is not so bad either.
If you take a look at the right side/knit side, then you cannot see either of the two methods (I placed the scissors on the swatch so it doesn’t curl up too much). You can still see the little line where I wove in the other two tails in the middle, but from the diagonal alternative, I can spot no trace. Maybe the tiniest little extra threads at the top, but you’d need a magnification lens to see these.
And of course, I did another stress test. Interestingly enough, the duplicate stitch alternative with the blunt needle from before almost came undone (I didn’t pay attention and accidentally placed the swatch upside down, sorry).
When it comes to the two diagonal weave ins, the differences are minuscule. Again, a little tail of the version with the blunt needles came off, but if anything, the rest became a bit more invisible. While my preferred version with the sharp tapestry needle became a bit more visible. For lack of words, I’d call it swollen purl bumps.
So my verdict here: Both are viable alternatives, both do their job, though I do have to say I like the version with the sharp tapestry needle where I speared through the threads a bit more. The tail seems to be more secure and it’s a tiny fraction more invisible.
Both are definitely preferable to either of the two variants in the middle.
In the end, I want to stress that it was, by no means, scientific significant testing. For that, I would have to repeat it to confirm, and then knit it with a couple of different yarns, etc. I might just do that, but for a quick test, I think it was quite interesting. It also has to be said that I have more experience with one version, so that’s definitely something to consider.
Still, I think it confirmed that I will continue using my current technique. It’s that little fraction better that matters to me. At the same time, it surprised me how bad weaving in horizontally was. I’ll look a bit more deeply into those results and check if I didn’t make any mistakes there but definitely something to keep in mind.
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I also have to mention, that using a sharp tapestry needle is muuuuch faster. You don’t need to go over and under, thread around the corner, and back again. Instead, you can simply sew in the end in one smooth motion. That’s probably why I like it so much.
Last, but certainly not least, I would love to hear your thoughts about weaving in tails. Do you agree, do you disagree? What is your favorite technique?
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