How to lengthen and shorten knits
Unhappy with the length of your finished sweater? Don’t despair – it’s not too late to adjust it, as Faye Perriam-Reed explains in this tutorial.
It’s frustrating when you realise your garment has come out the wrong length. It could be that you’re longer or shorter in the body than the size guides that designers work to, in which case you might already be familiar with this problem. Maybe your garment was for a little one who’s suddenly had a growth spurt, but you’re not ready to donate your handiwork just yet. Maybe your tension was off slightly, or tightened up a bit as you went along, resulting in a shorter pattern piece than expected. Or it could just be that you got carried away while watching TV, and thought you’d get away with just measuring it on your lap after a glass of wine. We’ve all been there.
Luckily, changing garment length after you’ve already cast off is a fairly simple surgery, and there are a few different options out there, depending on your level of patience and the type of finish you want to achieve.
The easiest correction to lengthen would be to simply unravel the cast-on edge, pick the stitches back up and knit down, wouldn’t it? Well no, not necessarily. For starters, unpicking a cast-on edge is quite time-consuming, and once it has all been unpicked you can’t just unravel – you’ll need to pick up and knit down from it.
If you choose to do this, the easiest method would be to pick up all of the stitches before you begin unpicking…
…then gradually follow where the yarn tail is going and undo stitch by stitch on to a second needle.
However, the stitches you’ll pick up from the cast-on will all be half a stitch out, so they won’t actually sync up properly with the row you’re knitting into. If you’re working stocking stitch, this isn’t a bad option as it’s only really noticeable at the sides; however, in rib, you’ll see from our example that it’s quite obvious.
There are ways around this – you could always make a feature of it and knit a couple of rows in garter stitch before continuing the rib – but you might find it neater to do one of the following options.
Your best bet would be to cut your knitting at the place where you’d like to extend it, pick the stitches back up, knit a few extra rows and then graft it using Kitchener stitch back to the other section. So, look for a place where there is no increasing happening – ideally before the waist shaping begins (unless you need to change the length between the end of the waist decreases and the beginning of the bust increases). Cutting just where the ribbing stops is a good option.
Make sure the side seams have been unpicked first if the garment is already sewn up, or this is going to make a mess.
Pick up the stitches on a long circular needle on the row below where you intend to cut, then carefully snip one of the stitches in the row above the stitches on the circular needle in the centre of the row – so the end left behind on the bottom row is long enough to weave back in. Once the stitch has been snipped, you can start to unravel each stitch at a time, catching each one from the top section on a needle the same size or slightly smaller than the one used to knit the garment as you go along.
When you’re done, you should have two needles full of stitches, one from the upper part of the garment and one from the lower part (or the rib).
Check knitting direction!
If you’re lengthening the garment, decide in which direction you want to knit the extra section. If you’re working stocking stitch, you can go up or down and the pattern will look the same. However, if there is a texture, such as rib, cables or a colour pattern on the garment, you’ll probably want to knit bottom up, so that the new piece won’t look strange and misaligned. Make sure that where you’re cutting allows for this.
Depending on the state of the original garment pieces, you may wish to add a stripe here. A well worn child’s sweater, for example, may have faded after several washes, so even if you are able to match the yarn, it might be obvious where the join is.
When you’ve finished, if you are not reknitting the bottom section, you’ll want to graft the two pieces back together again. See our Masterclass in The Knitter Issue 80 if you’d like a reminder of how to work Kitchener stitch.
If you really don’t want to cut and you only need to knit a few rows onto the bottom, you might find Eunny Jang’s video tutorial useful. She explains a nifty technique to disguise the join in cables and wide ribbing after unpicking the cast-on here.
If you need to shorten a garment, it goes without saying you could just rip back, or cut a piece out and graft the two halves back together. I found myself having to do shortening surgery when I knitted the ‘Seven Sisters’ pullover by Mari Chiba. It was a bottom-up yoke design which I discovered, due to my body shape, didn’t lay flat on my chest, and the neck was just coming up that little bit too high on me. I cut into a stitch, unravelled about 10 rows back, and then grafted the top and bottom back together.
After about one hundred stitches I did start to regret this decision! However, as a result, I’m now much faster at Kitchener stitch and my jumper fits, so I’m pleased I went for it. Ripping the whole thing back to the beginning of the yoke would just have taken so much longer.
About our expert
Faye Perriam-Reed is a designer and the technical editor of The Knitter and Simply Knitting. She enjoys exploring construction and finishing techniques to achieve neater results.