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How to Knit Ribbing (1×1 and 2×2)

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Learning how to knit ribbing is a must for every knitter! This comprehensive beginner’s guide covers everything you need to know to knit neat, stretchy ribbing on your next knitting project.

two swatches of knit ribbing on a gray background

Ribbing is a fundamental knitting technique that adds stretch, structure, and visual interest to garments and accessories. Whether it’s the brim of a hat, the cuff of a sock, or the waistband of a cozy sweater, ribbing is used in so many knitting projects!

And while it may seem tricky at first, ribbing is easy to learn with a bit of practice. In this beginner’s guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to knit ribbing. We’ll start with the basics – necessary supplies, essential skills, and step-by-step instructions. Later, we’ll share tips and troubleshoot common questions about ribbing.  

Once you have ribbing down, you’ll feel confident tackling all those pretty knitting projects in your Ravelry queue!

What is Ribbing?

Ribbing is created by alternating knit and purl stitches to form columns of stitches. Rib stitch produces a stretchy fabric that lies flat and doesn’t curl up like stockinette. The most common ribbing patterns are 1×1 rib (knit 1, purl 1) and 2×2 rib (knit 2, purl 2). 

What is Ribbing Used For?

Ribbing might seem like a small detail, but it serves important structural and design purposes in many knitted items. Ribbing is frequently used at the cuffs, hems, waistbands, and necklines of garments – anywhere you need some extra stretch. You can also use ribbing as an all-over pattern.

  • Cuffs/Hems: Ribbing adds stability and stretch to hold the garment in place.
  • Necklines: A ribbed neckband or collar allows a sweater to stretch over your head.
  • Hats: Ribbed brims on hats keep them snug to your head.
  • Mittens/Gloves: A ribbed cuff helps gloves stay on your wrists.
  • Socks: Socks cuffs are ribbed so they don’t fall down. Some designs also incorporate ribbed accents on the leg or foot.

Supplies You’ll Need

You don’t need anything special to knit ribbing, just the usual supplies:

  • Yarn: Choose a smooth yarn in a medium weight to practice.
  • Knitting needles: Choose a size according to the yarn label recommendations, or one slightly smaller.
  • Tapestry needle
  • Scissors

Knitting Techniques to Know

And then, here are the basic knitting skills to review before jumping into the ribbing tutorial below.

  • Casting on: The alternating long tail cast-on works great with ribbing. Alternatively, use another stretchy cast-on like the long-tail tubular cast-on or the alternate cable cast-on.
  • Knit stitch
  • Purl stitch
  • Binding off: Finish your ribbing with a flexible bind-off that mirrors your cast-on.

Knit Ribbing Instructions

Now that you’ve got your supplies and skills squared away, we’re ready to knit ribbing! 

1×1 Ribbing

The most basic ribbing is called 1×1 rib, and it’s just as simple as it sounds! To knit 1×1 rib, you’ll alternate knitting 1 knit stitch and 1 purl stitch across the row. The result is a reversible, ribbed fabric with plenty of stretch.

  1. Cast on an even number of stitches.
  2. Row 1: *K1, P1; repeat from * to end of row.
  3. Repeat Row 1 until the piece measures the desired length from the cast-on edge.
  4. Bind off in pattern, and weave in ends.
swatch of 1x1 ribbing on a metal needle with blue yarn on a gray background

2×2 Ribbing

Next up is the 2×2 rib. As you may have guessed, this ribbing alternates 2 knit stitches and 2 purl stitches across each row.

  1. Cast on a multiple of 4 stitches.
  2. Row 1: *K2, P2; repeat from * to end of row.
  3. Repeat Row 1 until the piece measures the desired length from the cast-on edge.
  4. Bind off in pattern, and weave in ends.

Tip: Make sure to bring the working yarn between needles to the front before purling, and to the back before knitting.

swatch of 2x2 knit ribbing on a metal needle with blue yarn on a gray background

I find 2×2 ribbing to be a bit more stretchy and flexible than 1×1. It’s my go-to ribbing pattern for sleeve cuffs, socks, and hat brims. And like 1×1 ribbing, 2×2 ribbing is fully reversible.

But what if you don’t have an even number of stitches?

When working basic ribbing patterns like 1×1 or 2×2 ribs, having an even number of stitches creates a nice symmetrical pattern. But what if you have an odd number of stitches? No worries, you can still work beautiful ribbing!

To work 1×1 on an odd number of stitches:

  1. Row 1: *K1, P1; repeat from * to the last stitch, K the last stitch.
  2. Row 1: *P1, K1; repeat from * to the last stitch, P the last stitch.
  3. Repeat Rows 1-2 until the piece measures the desired length from the cast-on edge.
labeled 1x1 ribbing on a metal needle with blue yarn on a gray background

In these types of cases, it’s really helpful to know how to “read your knitting.” Once you identify the knit stitches as little V’s and purl stitches as little bumps, it’s simply a matter of “knitting the knits and purling the purls.”

Binding Off in Ribbing

When finishing a section of ribbing, it’s important to bind off in the same knit/purl pattern to maintain the stretchiness of the edge. Here’s how to bind off in pattern:

  1. Knit or purl the first stitch according to the established rib pattern.
  2. Knit or purl the next stitch according to the established rib pattern.
  3. Pass the first stitch over the second stitch and off the needle.
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 across the row, knitting or purling each stitch according to the established ribbing pattern.
  5. Cut the yarn, leaving a tail. Pull the tail through the last loop and tighten to secure.

Tip: For an even stretchier edge, choose a stretchy bind-off method like the sewn bind off or Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy bind-off.

Other Rib Stitch Pattern Variations

While 1×1 and 2×2 ribs are the most common, there are plenty of other ribbing patterns to play around with! Here are some other ribbing variations to try:

  • 2×3 Ribbing: Visually interesting, multiple of 5 stitches, not reversible.
  • 3×3 Ribbing: Wider ribs, multiple of 6 stitches, reversible.
  • 4×2 Ribbing: Sometimes called the “uneven rib stitch”, multiple of 6 stitches, not reversible.
  • 4×4 Ribbing: Even wider ribs, multiple of 8 stitches, reversible.
  • Twisted Rib: Similar to regular ribbing, but you’ll work through the back loops.
  • Broken Rib: Two-row repeat, not quite as stretchy as regular ribbing.
  • and more!

Note: The wider the ribs are, the less elastic they will be.

variety of knit ribbing textures in blue and mustard yellow yarn

Tips and Tricks for Knitting Ribbing

Here are some handy tips and tricks to help you knit beautiful ribbing:

  • Cast on using a stretchy method like the long tail tubular cast-on or the alternate cable cast-on to ensure a flexible edge.
  • Take care when switching between knit and purl. Bring the yarn between needles to the front before purling, and to the back before knitting.
  • Try for even tension – Pay special attention to your tension, especially when transitioning from a knit stitch to a purl stitch. Switching from a knit to a purl takes up extra yarn, which can make the knit stitch look sloppy.
  • For tighter ribbing: Use slightly smaller needles to knit the ribbing portion of your pattern, then switch to the recommended size for the rest of your project.
  • Choose a stretchy bind-off method that mirrors your cast on edge.
  • Block pieces lightly when finished for even ribbing. Don’t stretch the ribbing out too much, or you’ll lose some of that elasticity.

FAQs

With a bit of practice, knitting ribbing will become second nature. Here are some answers to common questions about ribbing.

Why does my ribbing look uneven or loose in some areas?

Uneven ribbing is usually caused by inconsistent tension while knitting. Take care that your purl stitches aren’t looser than your knit stitches – especially on the transition between a knit stitch and a purl stitch. Blocking can also help even out the look of ribbing.

How do I fix a mistake several rows back in my ribbing?

For small mistakes a few rows down, use a crochet hook to drop down to the problem stitch and correct it. For larger errors, you may need to rip back to the mistake and re-knit.

How can I make my ribbing more elastic?

Yarn choice, needle size/tension, and blocking all affect the stretchiness of your ribbing.

  • Springy yarns like wool and wool blends tend to “bounce back” better than super-soft acrylics.
  • Try using needles one or two sizes smaller than recommended for tighter ribbing.
  • Choose a stretchy cast-on/bind-off method.
  • Don’t stretch out your ribbing when blocking. If anything, “squish” it in a little before letting it dry.

More Knitting Tutorials

Check out these other beginner knitting tutorials and guides.

What’s Next?

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