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Topic: Using smaller needles for ribbing?  (Read 10508 times)
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« on: January 06, 2010 12:19:05 PM »

My questions are:

1. Why is it recommeded to use smaller needles for ribbing than what is used for the body of a piece?
2. What is the recommended difference in needle sizes? By what do all of you swear? I've seen patterns that instruct to use needles that are one size different (say US 7/4.5 mm for ribbing, US 8/5 mm for body), and some patterns that say to use needles that are two sizes different (US 6/4.25 mm for ribbing, US 8/5 mm for body).

I have some projects with ribbing that I have put off for some time, and I won't get back to them untill I get other people's opinions on this matter.

My theory as to why it is recommended to use smaller needles for ribbing is that the smaller needles cause the rib stitches to bunch close together, instead of leaving the stitch open if worked with a single size of needles.

Case in point-

I have a plain black superwash wool cardigan in the works, made up with US 8/5 mm needles. A small sample of the details: for the fronts the ribbing has 44 stitches , and increase by 6 stitches (for a total of 50 stitches) for the stockingnette stitch body. I don't mind the way the ribbing looks, as the stitches are beautiful and well-defined, so I may not have to redo it with smaller needles.


Slightly stretched

(On my laptop at home the stitches in the photographs are visible, but the photographs are dark on this computer that I'm using at the public library. In order to see them, you'll either have to adjust your moniter's brightness or I can lighten up my images.)

Some lighter images of the ribbing.

Unfortunately, however, I have a skull argyle sweater vest in progress that uses the same amount of stitches for the ribbing as well as most of the body, and the ribbing is just unsightly! I think this might be because I used acrylic yarn. Acrylic yarn (in my experience) doesn't seem to be able to handle 1X1 rib, though it's fine with 2X2 rib

Flat front

Ugly, open rib stitches

Stitch detail (don't stare too long, you might have to get eye transplants)

Another detail shot

Stitch detail (slightly stretched)

I even worked up a swatch using the same yarn as the vest (Bernat Satin) in a different color to see if the stitches would look better if the piece were made with less stitches for the ribbing compared to the body, as with the black cardigan. The results:


Stitch detail

Slightly stretched

Stitch detail (slightly streched)

Not bad, compared to the argyle sweater with the same amount of stitches for the ribbing and the body. But as one can see, the rib stitches are open. I thinking using smaller needles would help "close" them up.

So to recap, I think smaller needles are used to "close up" the gaps in the rib stitches, since they seem to open when another stitch (like stockingnette stitch) is introduced. But the "openness" problem seems to be affected by fiber as well; wool seems to look fine without having to change needles. When worked in one needles size, acrylic looks terrible with 1X1 rib, but decent with 2X2 rib. This is 2X2 ribbing for an acrylic vest.

So what are your ribbing experiences, tips, and recommended readings (if any)? I look forward to hearing from a lot of people!
« Last Edit: January 08, 2010 10:15:46 AM by PUFFYsanjo - Reason: added 3 more photos » THIS ROCKS   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2010 01:50:24 PM »

I usually see it explained as a way to pull in the ribbing tighter - either for the fit for the item or for tension reasons. You can also use the same needles but fewer stitches for the ribbing than the stockinette portion.

I usually see a 2 needle-size difference if using smaller needles or 10% fewer stitches if not.

Like a lot of things with knitting - try it both ways and do it the way you like better. (And keep in mind that what works best for one project may not be the best for another.)

FWIW, I usually use the same needles with fewer stitches.


« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2010 03:14:40 PM »

Generally, if you use the same size for ribbing as you do the stockinette, the sts are looser and look bigger because of the knit to purl transitions. So if you go down one size, the ribbed sts look the same as the stockinette sts. And if you go down 2 sizes, it pulls in more for a snugger fit, which you might want for a hat or mittens.

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« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2010 10:23:05 AM »

Thank you both for your input. You both seem much, much more experienced than I am. It's great to hear from people like that.

ThreadOrYarn, I've never seen it explained in patterns, and I did a search on this forum about ribbing, but I couldn't find out why people use smaller sizes. I just had my little theory, but what good is that without other's input?

Soozeq, that makes so much sense, and it's what I thought, but wasn't sure. I will use what you said about using needles two sizes smaller for hats. I get paranoid about my hats falling off my head.

So what would you recommend for the ribbing of a top, like a sweater or a vest? I know it's a personal choice, but I don't wear either, so I'm not sure what to look for when coming up with one. Would one normally want the vest to hug the body, or have a loose piece? I guess that also depends on a person's bodybody weight and shape, too, huh?

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« Reply #4 on: January 08, 2010 02:30:33 PM »

If it's just ribbing at the bottom, you would only need to go down a size to make the stitches look more uniform. If the whole thing is ribbed, you just go with whatever size you feel makes it look and fit well. The fit is up to you whether you want it snug or looser.

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