A step by step tutorial on different ways to keep your stockinette stitch from curling in at the sides.
You are currently working on a scarf or some other beautiful project and a few rows in you start to notice that it doesn’t keep its shape? And now are wondering how to prevent that? Just how do you stop knitting from curling?
Well, you came to the right place. In this tutorial, I’m going to show you 7 techniques on how to keep the edges from curling when knitting. It may be annoying, but it is just as easy to fix.
But first, let’s ensure you understand the reason for the problem in the first place.
Tip: Check out my free knitting school for beginners and intermediate knitters.
Why is my knitting curling?
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The only knitting fabric that curls in at the edges is stockinette stitch. That’s because knit stitches are not symmetrical in the front and in the back. Usually, that is no problem because almost all other knitting stitch patterns are a mix of knit and purl stitches.
But since stockinette stitch only consists of knit stitches on the right side, your knitting takes the path of least resistance: It curls to the knit side on the bottom, and to the purl side at the edges. I’ve read a lot of people speculating that it’s the difference in width that is responsible for the curling, but actually it has more to do with tension.
To illustrate, take a piece of stocking stitch and try to fold it. You will notice that it is much easier to fold it vertically on the right side and much easier to fold horizontally on the wrong side. And your knitting will curl along these fault lines because there is horizontal tension on the right side and vertical tension on the wrong side.
The “V”s form a continuous band to the top, while purl bumps a continuous line to the edges. The fabric wants to relieve that stress and contracts in that direction. Just like a rubber band snaps into a circle.
And that is actually an apt comparison, because a lot of animal fibers are very stretchy. So, as you knit, you stretch the fibers, but then they contract and settle into their natural state again. As a result, a lot of wools are even more prone to curling.
Once you understood this concept, it’s quite easy to find remedies for it. So, let’s dive right into how to fight all that curling once and for all, eh?.
There are 7 major ways to prevent curling. Don’t think of them as separate strategies, though. Rather combine them for an ideal outcome.
But please take special note: Not all of them are applicable to a finished project. So, if you are reading this blog post after the fact, only options 3-7 will probably be able to help you along.
#1 Adding selvage stitches
I told you that curling occurs because of tension and fault lines. The easiest way to prevent it is by adding a special edge that disturbs these fabric characteristics. Knitters call an edge of two or three stitches that is not part of the actual repeat a selvage or selvedge (derives from “self finished edge”).
There are two kinds of selvages that prevent curling: Edges that disturb the fold lines with a mix of knit and purl stitches, and edges that relieve the tension via slipped stitches or eyelets. I’ll give you the most popular ways here, but you can certainly get creative yourself. Let’s take a look:
#1 Garter Stitch Edge
In stockinette stitch, you just knit all stitches on the right side, and purl all stitches on the wrong side. To add a garter stitch edge, change the repeat to:
- Right side: Knit across all stitches
- Wrong side: Knit two stitches, purl all stitches and stop two stitches before the edge, knit two stitches
This is probably the easiest edge. Depending on the size of the project, you may want to increase the edge to 3 or even 4 stitches. If you want to see how that looks in a finished project, take a look at my easy dishcloth pattern.
#2 Seed stitch Border
Similar to a garter stitch edge, you can also use a seed stitch border. In this case, I do recommend to knit an edge that is 3 or 4 stitches wide. The repeat would be like this:
- Right side: Purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, knit across, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1
- Wrong side: Purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, purl across,purl 1, knit 1, purl 1
If you want the edge to be even wider, you simply have to alternate between knits and purls.
#3 Slipped Stitch border
Adding a slip-stitch border is a very nice technique if you want a more invisible edge. It’s a tiny bit more complicated to knit and you need to keep track of the rows (so maybe use a row counter) but otherwise, it’s very neat indeed.
- Right side: Knit 1 stitch, slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn in front, knit across until three stitches are left, slip 1 purlwise wyif, knit 1 stitch
- Wrong side: slip 1 purlwise wyif, knit 1 stitch, slip 1 purlwise wyif, knit across until three stitches are left, slip 1 purlwise wyif, knit 1 stitch, slip 1 purlwise wyif
The only downside of this selvage is that it’s a bit thicker. But I feel a reinforced edge can actually be a smart idea.
#4 Lace border
Lace is a knitting technique where you combine decreases and increases to shape the fabric with decorative eyelets creating a very airy fabric. And here’s the good news: You can apply the same principle to your scarf. It’s a bit more difficult to knit, but with a bit of practice pretty easy as well.
It does require more than just knit and purl stitches, though. But this could be the perfect opportunity to learn them, eh? Here’s how you would change the repeat to add a lace edge to your scarf:
Adding a hem
And likewise, if you want to prevent your knitted hat curling at the hem, you have to add a couple of rows in a different stitch there. A 1×1 rib or a twisted rib will be perfect.
Note: If you go for a rib stitch and it needs to function as a proper & stretchy hem, then make sure to knit it with a needle one size smaller than the rest of the fabric. This will ensure that the hem will look crisp and doesn’t give too much (1×1 rib is about 5-10% more stretchy than stocking stitch).
- Row 1: *Knit 1, purl 1*
- Row 2: *Purl 1, knit 1*
Repeat these two rows 4 or 6 times (or however wide you want the hem to be, and then start with stockinette stitch
If you want it nice and easy, you can also just add three or four rows of garter stitch at the bottom:
Row 1-6: Knit all stitches
And then start with stockinette stitch
Personally, I feel the transition between rib stitch and stocking stitch is a bit smoother, but it really boils down to your personal preference.
Important note: The way you cast on matters a lot as well. If you cast on with a standard longtail cast on, you can begin with either a purl or a knit row. A longtail cast on creates knit stitches for that very first row.
So if you turn your project around, and start knitting, you are essentially creating a mini garter stitch edge (that will curl less). If you start, on the other hand, with a purl row, then you will knit in pattern (= neater edge) but it will curl more.
#2 Choosing a different stitch
This might seem utterly trivial, but stockinette stitch is certainly not the only way to finish a scarf or a hat. Garter stitch (like my easy scarf for beginners) or rib stitches can look beautiful on scarves and are more cuddly on top of that.
None of these patterns share the curling dilemma, because they are all a mixture of different stitches. On top of that, they all reversible – so they look exactly the same from both sides. But there is one stitch that might truly speak to you because it looks similar to the stocking stitch: The double stockinette stitch. Here’s how to knit it:
Every row: *Knit 1, slip 1 purlwise with yarn in front* Repeat this pattern until you reached the desired length
Read my full tutorial on how to knit the double stockinette stitch here.
Please be aware that the double stockinette stitch is called so for a reason. In a way, you are knitting each row twice. This means you will need more yarn and your project will be a bit narrower with the same amount of stitches.
#3 Blocking your knitting
Have you ever stood in the bathroom trying to fix your hairdo, only to realize you have to wash them to get them in shape? Well, I certainly did. And why does this little titbit matter? Well, most yarn is spun from animal hairs, and in a lot of ways they behave in a similar way. When you wet them, they suddenly become a bit more malleable.
So, what you can do with your finished scarf (or any other knitting project) is, you can gently soak it for 30 minutes in lukewarm water with a bit of mild soap (check the washing instructions of your yarn before!). Don’t stir it around heavily, just let it soak. Then carefully (!!) wring out the project, place an old towel on your carpet (or any other soft surface), use pins to bring your knitting into shape, and let it dry.
You could also buy professional mats (Here are the blocking mats I use). They are easier to use and will help you with many a project.
This process is known as blocking among knitters. Because once the project is dry, it will retain that shape (more or less) until it gets wet again. Incidentally, it also helps out to even out the stitches (just in case you didn’t keep an even tension across all rows).
! Important: Blocking will be able to take out quite a bit of the curl, but it won’t be able to fix everything. Blocked stockinette stitch will still curl a bit and it will bounce back even more over time.
Also, blocking really only works on organic fibers. For acrylic yarns, you need heat (like from a steam iron; but be careful you don’t melt the fabric in the process).
#4 Adding a crochet border
Now, adding a selvedge is nice and fine when you are just starting out, but in case your finished scarf is curling on the bottom or around the edges, this really doesn’t help you a lot. What you can do is instead is adding a crochet border.
So, pick up a crochet hook, insert it into the outermost knit stitch of the edge and add a row or two of double chain stitches to either side. This will change the look and feel of your finished garment quite a bit. Because you are mixing two techniques here and that will be visible. But, you could even do it in a nice contrasting color and call it a design feature.
Now, this obviously requires you to know a couple of basic crochet stitches and you are probably just learning how to knit as we speak. As an alternative, you can also pick up stitches with your knitting needle and add a vertical edge that way. Just remember that you have to do something different. A moss stitch would be perfect for that. Three or four rows will be all you need, then bind off loosely.
Important: As a knit stitch is not as high as it’s wide, you should skip every third stitch or even every second stitch(either with your knitting needle or your crochet hook). Otherwise, the edge will become too dense.
#5 Lining the fabric
If you know a little bit of sewing, then you could also consider adding a lining to the back of your scarf. Just make sure you take a fabric that matches your yarn weight and don’t forget to block your project (see above) before you start with the sewing.
This isn’t even uncommon. Most fur scarfs and stoles will have a silk lining on the back and you could imitate that look and feel. I do recommend you to pick a very sharp needle and line it by hand. That way, you don’t have to punch all the way through and your stitches will remain invisible on the right side.
#6 knitting with bigger needles
One very easy way to stop your knitting from curling is by using bigger needles. As your gauge gets wider, the single stitches get more room to breathe and will thus eliminate the basis for the curls. When your knit stitches have got enough room, a little blocking will easily fix the little waves that remain on the edges.
Be aware, however, that this will also fundamentally change the other properties of your garment. It will be much more drapey but also less warm.
Note: In case you were wondering. I am knitting with the Knitter’s Pride Dreamz double pointed needles in this article
#7 DROPPING STITCHES
This last tip is not for the faint of heart, but it could be a simple option to rescue a scarf you wouldn’t wear otherwise because it’s rolled up in a tube. What you can do to relieve the stress from the edge is dropping the second last stitch to either side and unravel that column of stitches all the way to the bottom.
From here, you have two choices:
- If you like the look, you call it a day, block it and wear you garment with pride.
- Or, you pick up a crochet hook, and graft purl stitches all the way back to the top again.
If you want to do the latter, simply turn the project around to the wrong side and crochet a simple chain stitch from the strands. One at a time. (you can do it from the front as well, but it’s easy from the back as you do not have to bring the strands to the front before you crochet them).
#Bonus: Wire & Glue
It’s probably a bit more unconventional, but you can reinforce the edge of your knitted items with wire as well. Now, in a scarf that is certainly nothing you would want to do. But for home decor, this can be a very valid option. For my cute knitted pumpkin pattern, I employed this technique.
The wire will add extra structure to the edge and will allow you to push the knitting into otherwise impossible shapes. As an alternative, you can soak the knitting in light glue or starch, bring it into shape and let it dry. Usually, this will alter the surface appearance of the knitting, but I’ve seen people creating lovely bowls with it, etc.
Other things you should know about curled edges
There are some scenarios, where a curling edge really is nothing to worry about. For example, if you are knitting a sweater that is knit flat, it doesn’t matter at all. After you have sewn the back and front together, the curling will be fixed.
And this leads me to another important fact. The natural shape of the stockinette stitch is actual tubular. It was a stitch used for stockings and other tubular projects where the curling is actually part of the design. You want your socks to retain a nice round shape. And what else is a curl, but the beginning of a circle, eh?
I don’t think it counts as a proper prevention technique. Still, know that knitting in the round can solve the problems in a smart way as well. If you add a purl stitch at the beginning and in the middle of your round, it will create a nice fold line for a tubular scarf that has two sides!
And at the bottom of a hat, the curling actually creates a natural hem and might actually be a desired feature. So, definitely think outside the box as well!