Solving problems I didn’t know I had #1: rowing out

One of my favourite things about craft is problem solving. There is always a new technique to try, and challenges to puzzle my way through.* Even though I’ve been knitting for 13 years, and feel confident in tackling most projects, there is always something new to learn. In the process of knitting the Armande Cardigan by Andi Satterlund (still on the needles), I’ve encountered a few challenges and learnt more about knitting along the way.

Pattern designer Andi Satterlund models her Armande Cardigan.
The Armande Cardigan, courtesy of Knitty.

The first lesson is a big one! It’s about tension. I’ve known for a while now that my tensions in knitting flat and in the round are vastly different, to the point where I have to change several needle sizes to match them. Even so, I’ve never quite managed a smooth transition between the two, such as where a short row sleeve cap changes from short rows in the flat to the rest of the sleeve in the round.

I was determined to resolve this problem, and set out experimenting with the Wool of the Andes I picked for this project. Combined knitting worked, sorta – I’ve used it for years in ribbing to tighten things up, but it hurts my hands too much to use for a whole project. Besides, it produced a very unsightly, too-tight swatch for stockinette in the flat.

John Howard with a pained expression. Text: I've made a huge mistake.
My hands, after trying to knit a swatch in combined knitting. Ouch!

With a bit more research, I learned my problem is rowing out: where very loose purl stitches are so much larger than the knit stitches in the same fabric, that they affect the gauge and create a distinctive line in the knitted fabric. It’s obviously been a problem for me some time – just look at the rowing out in my Anouk Cardi (below)! I can’t believe I didn’t notice it until now.

On the advice of forum posts, I tried to work purl rows with a much smaller needle. This didn’t really do much, and the mismatch in the needle sizes required was too great to be practical (the row gauges of 5mm and 3mm needles don’t really match).

And finally, I came across a solution. Nibbles & Bytes’ rowing out solution #1,849,113, a simple method of adding more tension to the purl stitches as they were formed, worked a treat. After pulling the loop of the purl stitch through, you position the right needle under the left at a 90 degree angle, before slipping the previous stitch off. Note that I knit in the “flicking” style, which is essentially a modification of the right-hand English method which is easier on the wrists. You might not even have this problem if you knit Continental!

It took a bit of practice (one baby layette, to be precise) but I’ve finally achieved even tension in the flat. Guys, my gauge in the flat is the same as in the round! I don’t even have to change needles during a project, and my ribbing is tight and even. What a revelation.

Four swatches of knitting.
Top left: I didn’t have a swatch of my usual knitting style for Armande, so this is from the sleeve cap of my Chuck Jumper. You can see that the purl rows are very clearly delineated. Top right: knitting with 5mm needles for knit rows, 3.75mm for purl rows. Still not very balanced. Bottom left: knit in the round on 5mm needles. Bottom right: flat tension finally even, with a slight change to knitting technique.

This has become a wordy post (is anyone surprised?), so I’ll share my second lesson with you next time!

Hand knitted fabric, stockinette and ribbing.
Check out how even my ribbing is now!


*To paraphrase someone in a chronic illness support group: if I’m thinking about knitting, I don’t have to think about being sick!

Author: Siobhan S

30 something, living in country Australia. Spoonie profile: ME/CFS, dysautonomia, anxiety. All about sewing, knitting and food. Unapologetic disability advocate.

17 thoughts on “Solving problems I didn’t know I had #1: rowing out”

  1. This all sounds marvellously intriguing. So far I have purchased some wool and a book of stitches – both second hand – and that’s as far as I have got. Time to get some lessons!


    1. Haha 🙂 It’s really not a problem if it doesn’t bother you. For me, realising this issue existed and rectifying it was a huge relief, because I’d struggled so much with achieving even tension in the flat in the past, and my cables and ribbing were very loose and wonky.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is fascinating. Never had the problem but then I knit with the right hand needle under my arm which does the right-handed thing naturally! You have however made me realise that the stitches on the jumper I am wearing which I knitted in the round are asymmetric, so instead of straight Vs, one side merges into a smooth line and the other side is a series of bars. Gives a sort of ribbed effect. Not like that on the socks I’ve just knitted, So gives me a problem of my own to figure out!


      1. I might be. The jumper is knitted is merino wool and my first pair of knitted socks also knitted in merino wool seem to have developed the same alignment of stitches.


          1. No! Thanks for the article. It explains what is happening perfectly. Not so much the fibre more the way it is made into yarn. I have learnt something new! I also read some of your stuff about ME/CFS. I have it too but only since I was about 50. So I really sympathise with your situation.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. I developed a problem with rowing out a few years ago- I didn’t even know there was a name for it! I am going to have to try this method. I am an English knitter (though I can knit continental, I generally only do this for fair isle) but I imagine the technique is similar


  4. Wow! Congratulations on figuring that out! I didn’t even know that could be a problem. I feel like I need to check my knitting, now!


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