How to Unknit – Tinking, Frogging and Safe Frogging

It might seem counterproductive, but we do occasionally need to unravel our knitting. The reason for that is simple – we unknit when we make a mistake and want to fix it. 

It takes a while to finish a handknit project (if you want to get some estimates, check out the Knitting Time Calculator), and it is only natural to try and make it look great. Big visible mistakes can ruin the look of our great projects, so fixing the mistakes is worth sacrificing a few rows of the work and a few minutes of our time.

Depending on where your mistake is and how fast you caught it, there are two main ways to unknit your work. 

1. TINKING

If you read the word “knit” backwards, you will understand what “tinking” means. That’s right – it’s backwards knitting. When tinking, we undo the work stitch by stitch.

It’s a safe way to unknit because all your stitches are sitting on a needle at any given moment. There is no risk of dropped stitches or any other accidental unravellings.

The not so good thing about tinking – it’s a slow process. That’s why it works best when the mistake happened in the same or previous row. Or if you work in a complicated stitch pattern like brioche. 

It is possible to tink stitches from left to right and from right to left, depending on whether you start tinking from the middle of the row, or from the beginning of the row after you already turned your work. Generally, you will start tinking as soon as you spot a mistake

HOW TO TINK:

1. Once you see the mistake, stop knitting (what’s the point if you are going to unravel it anyway, right?).

2. Mark the place where the mistake happened (a locking stitch marker or a safety pin will work just fine). You can skip this step if the mistake is clearly visible and is hard to miss.

3. If you are in the middle of the row, it will be easier to tink from left to right:

a) Pull the working yarn to the left to open the stitch that is underneath the first stitch on your right needle (let’s call it a “mother stitch”).

b) Insert the tip of the left needle from FRONT to BACK into the “mother stitch”.

c) Slip the first stitch off the right needle and unravel the yarn.

If you noticed the mistake only after you finished the row and turned your work, it would be easier to tink stitches from right to left:

a) Pull the working yarn to the left to open the “mother stitch”.

b) Insert the tip of the right needle from BACK to FRONT into the “mother stitch”.

c) Slip the first stitch off the left needle and unravel the yarn.

Repeat steps (a) to (c) until you come to the spot where you’ve made a mistake. If you followed step 2, this spot is marked with a stitch marker.

The process is same for knit stitches, purl stitches and yarn overs.
Simply undo stitches one by one regardless of the type of the stitch.
If you have decreases or increases in this row, undo them too. The idea
is to bring the stitches to the state they’ve been in before you started
working the current row.

4. Undo the stitch(es) where the mistake happened and

5. Resume knitting. If you follow a pattern repeat, keep in mind that you’ve just unknitted one or more rows. That means that the row you are starting with right now is one or more rows down from the row you worked on before you tinked back.



2. FROGGING

If the mistake happened more than four rows down, tinking can take quite some time. In this case, your best bet is to “frog” your work. Frogging is a fancy word that camouflages a much scarier truth – you need to rip out a few rows.

In fact, if you say “rip it” a few times, you will somewhat sound
like a frog. That’s how the word “frogging” came to mean “ripping out”.

Etymology aside, this process is not a pleasant one, no matter how we call it. You should treat it like a knitting surgery.
That means sitting in a well-lit place, putting your work on a table
(or any other flat surface), and focusing on the task at hand.

Frogging itself is quite simple, but a bit tedious:

1. Make sure your work is laying flat on a table, and you can see the stitches well. I know I mentioned all this in the previous paragraph, but this step is crucial, so I am repeating it again.

2. If the mistake is relatively hard to see, mark it with a stitch marker or a safety pin. If you have other markers in your work, make notes where each marker is. We will have to insert them back into the work in step 7.

3. Take the needle out of your knitting. 

4. Pull the yarn to unravel the stitches. I find that if you pull it up and forward (see the photo below), the remaining stitches are not much disturbed. 

5. Stop when you come to the row where the mistake happened.

6. Undo the stitches of this row one by one and pick them up with your needle right away, same as we did when we tinked.

If you pick up stitches from left to right, insert the tip of the left needle into a stitch from front to back.

If you pick up stitches from right to left, insert the tip of the right needle into a stitch from back to front.

7. Count your stitches to make sure none of them is lost or dropped. Re-insert the markers removed during the frogging (if any). 

Find your current working row in the pattern and the pattern repeat (deduct the number of rows you unravelled), AND
treat yourself to a piece of chocolate or a nice cup of tea. You
definitely deserve a treat after the stressful knitting surgery you’ve
just performed ๐Ÿ™‚

SAFE FROGGING

There is a way to pick up stitches before you take the needle out
and unravel those few rows. All you need to do is to go to one row
below the mistake, and pick up the right leg of every stitch in that
row. Then unravel everything up to the row with the picked up stitches.

You probably saw photos like the one below on Pinterest and other blogs.

I tried doing it a few times with very little success.
If the knitted piece I plan to frog has more than 20-30 stitches, it’s
quite difficult to make sure that all stitches you pick up belong to the
same row. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t say I will recommend picking
up stitches this way.

The idea itself is great, so I kept experimenting, and eventually found a way to make it work. Because the problem was to find all stitches in the same row, I simply look for a purl row and pick up stitches there. Works like magic ๐Ÿ™‚

I made a short video to show you exactly what you need to do to pick up stitches BEFORE unravelling a few rows of your work. Click here to watch it.

One warning though – this little trick is helpful if
you work in a simple stitch pattern that has purl rows in it –
stockinette, stockinette-based cables or a plain eyelet pattern.

It’s not so good for ribbing, seed stitch, brioche and other more complicated stitch patterns. For those stitch patterns, I usually use a lifeline.

There are a few ways to add it to the work, a number of little things to consider and several events when this technique lives up to its name. I cover it all in another article. Click here to read it.

Stay tuned ๐Ÿ™‚

How to unknit - tinking, frogging and safe frogging | 10 rows a day
Tinking and frogging | 10 rows a day
How to tink stitches from left to right | 10 rows a day
How to tink stitches from right to left | 10 rows a day