Why Stockinette Stitch Curls — and What to Do About It

curling stockinette stitch swatch

Simple, versatile stockinette is basically the bread-and-butter of knitting. But no matter how skillfully and evenly you knit it, your finished fabric will always get a little funky around the edges — curling in on itself, to be specific.

The good news is, it’s not your fault! That tendency to curl is an unavoidable part of how stockinette fabric comes together. You could say it’s part of its charm. And there are ways you can work around the curling to make sure your project comes out exactly the way you want it.

Why Stockinette Stitch Curls

curling stockinette

It’s all about the difference in size between knit stitches and purl stitches.

Take a look at a swatch of stockinette and you’ll see that the V-shaped knit stitches on the right side are wider than the bumpy, wavy purl stitches on the wrong side. Multiply that tiny difference times many, many stitches, and you end up with fabric where the right side is actually wider than the wrong side. What’s more, the purl stitches on the wrong side of stockinette are longer than the knit stitches on right side. So while the right side is pushing out to the sides horizontally, the wrong side of the stockinette is pushing vertically on the top and bottom edges. No wonder it can’t lay flat.

So why is this curling limited to stockinette? Think about swatches of garter stitch and seed stitch. In those cases, the stitches are the same on both sides, so they’re not battling each other for length or width.

What to Do About It

While you can’t stop stockinette stitch from curling, you can tame it to get the look you want. Here’s how…

1. Let It Curl and Call It a Style Choice

purple stockinette hat

This solution’s our favorite because it’s so easy. Instead of battling the stockinette stitch curl, just let those edges roll for a nice touch of texture at the brim of a hat or the hem of a sweater.

2. Add a Border

knit border with fringe

Dressing up the edges of a stockinette project not only looks great, but it also puts an end to that pesky rolling. Simple garter stitch and seed stitch do the job, but many patterns get fancier. The shawl above uses cabling and a decorative fringe to keep its stockinette stitch body nice and flat.

3. Line It With Fabric

Adding a fabric backing isn’t always the answer, but it works great with certain projects like a blanket or even a knitted skirt or dress.

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4 Responses to “Why Stockinette Stitch Curls — and What to Do About It”

  1. Sue

    You can prevent the curling by casting the double stitch method.
    Instead of picking up half the stitch to form next casted stitch, pick up both underneath.
    Makes a prettier tidier finish on edges and keeps it from curling in stockinette.

  2. Ajna

    I am obsessed with the border of the blue and white shawl. Does anyone have a pattern please?

  3. Brenda

    Is it advise able to very lightly press the sides of a stockinette knitted project, say a sweater, before it is sewn together? Older patterns suggest blocking the pieces before sewing them together.

    • Carolyn Peters

      Hi Brenda, I learned to knit in the 1950’s, using my mother’s patterns from 15 years earlier, and I’m still at it. One of the biggest differences between them and now, is the yarn. The older patterns that I used for baby clothes were primarily wool, and a light press never damaged the yarn. Also, pressing or blocking by washing or spraying with water and pinning until dry, made it much easier to sew pieces together without bunching or stretching your pieces together. Today’s yarns are primarily synthetic and I’ve found that pressing often doesn’t make much of a difference. They seem to have their own memory. Why not try using a yarn that is a natural fibre or that has some percentage of natural fibre in it. Also key is to make sure your tension is consistent.