A step-by-step tutorial on fixing mistakes when knitting garter stitch. How to pick up dropped stitches and fix holes.
I begin by assuming you just dropped a stitch, you are in full panic mode, and you are afraid that you just ruined all your hard work. Nonsense! There is an easy way to rescue your project and this tutorial will show you exactly how to fix a dropped stitch in garter stitch.
But first of all, I want you to take a deep breath, calm down, and secure the dropped stitch. Because if you don’t, then that column of stitches will unravel all the way down to your cast-on edge. It would be still fixable then but it will take so much more time.
If you have a stitch marker, then you can use that. A spare needle, a safety pin, or maybe even a pencil will all do the job. Just find something you can slip the stitch on. It really doesn’t matter. It’s just an interim solution if things already unraveled for several rows. If it’s just one row, you can usually lift it on your left or right needle (scroll all the way down to see that).
Now, before I show you how to fix the dropped stitch, we need to talk about the anatomy of this knitting stitch pattern. As you probably know you create the fabric by knitting a simple knit stitch across all rows. And a knit stitch will appear like a purl stitch from the wrong side. That’s why you can also purl all stitches to create the same fabric (often called reverse garter stitch), and you need to switch between purl and knit stitches when you knit garter stitch in the round.
Why is this important? Well, because whenever you want to fix a dropped stitch, you will be working from one side. And this means you have to re-create a knit stitch for every right side row and a purl stitch for every wrong side row.
Let’s show how to do that.
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- Identify if your dropped stitch is located on a right side or a wrong side row. If it has a little V underneath, then the next stitch you need to create is a purl stitch. And if there is this little bump at its base, it's a purl stitch, and the next row will be on the right side.
- Insert your crochet hook into the stitch from the front (and remove whatever you used as a provisional means).
My dropped stitch has a little bump (so it's a purl stitch), and that means I have to start by recreating a knit stitch in the next row.
(Note: If you start on the right side, skip to step 4 and then go back to step 3)
- Pull the next strand that connects the two stitches above your dropped stitch through the loop.
This will recreate a knit stitch. As I said, the strand needs to be in the back of your stitch. If there are several rows above, absolutely make sure that you didn't accidentally pull through a strand two or three rows above. Sometimes they sag quite a bit and it's a bit harder to see.
- Secure the knit stitch you just recreated with your fingers and remove your crochet hook. And now re-insert your crochet hook into the dropped stitch from behind and from under the strand connecting the two stitches in the next row. It needs to end up being in front of your stitch.
- Pull the strand you just brought to the front through the loop.
- Repeat steps 3-5 until you are back to your current row and lift the fixed stitch back on your left needle.
Make sure that you don't accidentally twist your stitch in the last step. If it is, insert your right needle into the stitch from behind and slip it over. And then slip it back to the left needle (point to point). Otherwise, you will end up with a knit through back loop stitch here.
Sometimes you notice the mistake too late. If you already knitted across a couple of rows, this method won't work. That's because for the last couple of rows, there will not be a big enough bar between two stitches.
In this case, you have to carefully unravel your project for several rows until there is a strand you can work with again. If you squeeze in the stitch anyway, it will be very noticeable in the end.
Also, if you dropped several stitches side by side, the method works just the same. You start with the stitch closest to one edge, repair all the way to the current row, slip the fixed stitch back to the left needle, and pick up the next dropped stitch, etc.
Be aware that there is a limit to this technique, and at a certain point it's probably better to unravel as the repaired fabric will look a bit wonky if it's too large a stretch that unraveled. But if it's just one row, then it's quite invisible.
If you don't have a crochet hook, you can also try to fiddle the yarn through with a spare needle. If you back up the dropped stitch with your fingers, things usually work out as well. Not ideal but usually doable.
Fixing a stitch without a crochet hook
Sometimes, your knitting only unravels one row. In this case, you can also fix the dropped stitch using your knitting needles. It requires a bit of shuffling around but it will still be faster than fetching your crochet hook.
Step 1: Pick up the dropped stitch with your left needle.
Make sure the strand/bar between two stitches is in front. If it isn’t, you need to bring it to the front with your fingers.
Step 2: Insert your right needle into the dropped stitch coming from behind and going underneath the strand/bar.
Step 3: Purl the dropped stitch (so pull the strand through).
Step 4: Slip the rescued stitch back to the left needle and continue knitting as normal.
This method also works if you already two rows unraveled. But in this case, you would have to “knit” first before you follow these steps. If it’s more than 2 rows, it usually doesn’t work and then you will absolutely need a crochet hook. I, at least, always have it in my project bag (here’s a post with all the things I have in my knitting toolkit).