diagonal pattern on the knitting needles with a mistake

Tinking – How to undo your knitting, stitch by stitch

There are three basic methods for correcting your knitting mistakes: You can unravel, sometimes called frogging, you can ladder down, or you can undo stitches, one at a time. The latter is usually called to tink because you are knitting backwards, and tink is knit spelled backwards. In this guide, I will take you through basic tinking, relevant for the brand new knitter AND advanced tinking of lacework and cables.

When to tink

Tinking is one of the most useful knitting tricks you will ever learn. It is particularly useful when you discover a mistake, for example, a purl stitch that should have been a knit stitch, in the row you are currently working. The more experienced you get, the faster you will discover your mistakes, and tinking is generally the safest way to deal with your knitting whoopsies. It is however rather tedious if your mistake is several long rows down, so there are plenty of cases where one of the other two options is better. I use tinking when the mistake is in the same row or perhaps one row below, or if the pattern is really complicated with lacework or cables, and I for some reason didn’t use a lifeline.

diagonal pattern on the knitting needles with a mistake
Spot the mistake. Stitch number 9 on the right-hand needle should’ve been a purl, not a knit stitch. This is the type of situation where tinking is really useful.

How to undo knit and purl stitches

In order to tink a knit stitch, you insert the tip of the left needle into the loop below the active stitch on the right needle from front to back. It helps to hold the working yarn taut. You then pull the left needle back so that the old stitch ends up on the left needle, and the new stitch is pulled off the right needle and undone. Voila – one stitch has been unmade! You continue tinking until you get back to the mistake, fix it, then reknit. With a little bit of patience, you will soon be knitting forward again.

For tinking a purl stitch, you bring the working yarn to the front, and you still insert the left needle from front to back. By keeping the working yarn taut, you are opening up the loop the left needle needs to go through, making it easy to spot. Knit Purl Hunter has made a really nice video demonstrating how to tink both knit stitches and purl stitches. She emphasizes how you can look where the working yarn is coming from to make sure you insert the needle in the correct place.

Sometimes you may forget that the needle is supposed to go from front to back, and then the old stitch may end up twisted on the left needle. When the stitch is placed correctly, the right leg of the stitch is in the front. If you notice a twisted stitch, you can use the right needle to lift it off the left tip, and then the left needle to pick it up the correct way. Alternatively, you can knit the twisted stitch through the back loop. Sheep and Stitch has an excellent video on how to recognize and correct twisted stitches.

Advanced tinking

Ideally, you should know how to undo every stitch in your knitting repertoire. Whenever you are teaching yourself a new stitch, take the time to knit a swatch for practice. Get used to the new stitch, learn to recognize it. Understand the anatomy of the stitch, and learn how to tink it. You will be so glad you did this when you later start making mistakes in the project that involves the new stitch. I hope the videos I have collected, will help you out.

Tinking cabled knitting

When you undo a cable, you have to take all the stitches in the cable off the right needle at once. You drop them off the right needle, unravel them, and pick them up with the left needle. It sounds a bit scary, but the stitches don’t come undone all that easily. It’s easier than it sounds. VeryPink Knits has a great video.

Tinking increases and decreases – lacework

This video from Annie’s Crafts is what I call advanced tinking! She demonstrates not only purl stitches, twisted knit stitches, and yarn overs, but also knit 2 together, slip slip knit and double central decrease.

This next video by JenACKnitwear shows tinking of some of the same stitches as the previous video, but also provides a few new tricks. It’s a really nice demonstration of how you can use ring stitch markers to keep track of your knitting and help count your stitches. This will help you identify mistakes sooner, and possibly avoid them altogether. She also uses locking stitch markers to identify the wrong stitches which are really helpful when you are tinking back to a mistake in lacework. Finally, at the very end of the video, she shows how you can teach yourself to correctly tink a new stitch type, by first making the stitch, and then slowly undoing it. This is a very useful skill.

Final thoughts – avoiding mistakes

Learning how to fix mistakes will give you confidence in your knitting, and you will no longer be afraid to try new things. That’s great, but it doesn’t change that mistakes are really annoying. Tinking long stretches of your hard labor is incredibly frustrating, not to mention slow. It’s better to avoid making mistakes in the first place. I find that slowing down my knitting really helps if I am knitting something complicated. I might choose needles with more grip (such as bamboo) for a lace project for the simple reason that I will knit more slowly and be less prone to mistakes. I also know that I make more mistakes when I knit in front of the tv, or when I am tired, or if I am chatting with friends. This is one of the reasons I always have a few projects going at the same time. It allows me to pick the perfect project for the occasion. Some projects deserve (need) your full attention, while others are something for your hands to do, while your mind is elsewhere.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions below. Happy knitting!

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10 thoughts on “Tinking – How to undo your knitting, stitch by stitch”

  1. Thank you so much for this! I thought I’d dropped a stitch and created a ladder in the middle of the work – but after trying all of the fixing a dropped stitch advice I could find, nothing seemed to help. After learning to tink from this post, I tinked back a couple of rows and realised I’d made a different kind of mistake which was distorting the work. I was then able to fix that problem and resume knitting forwards! Plus I have now learned something about the structure of stitches.

  2. That orange bit of knitting where you show a wrong stitch at the top…I don’t suppose you know what pattern that is? I love a bit of textured diagonal!

    1. Hi Bitsy, when you have that many rows to undo, usually you will want to unravel rather than tink. Try googling afterthought lifeline and you will find help to do it safely. Very Pink Knits has an excellent video about lifelines. Good luck

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