Waste Yarn and Ravel Cord

Waste yarn or scrap yarn? Older US patterns usually call it scrap yarn. You may also see the term, waste knitting. They all mean the same thing. This is yarn of a similar weight to your main yarn, in a contrasting color. It is used at the beginning and/or end of your knitting, when you need live stitches. It is not part of the finished garment, and is removed after the finishing steps. Several years ago, hand knitters began using a similar technique, but they call it a provisional cast on. They also will move live stitches onto stitch holders, so that they can be finished later.

Ravel cord is supplied with all new machines, but is frequently missing from used ones. It looks like a piece of heavy nylon string. It is available from any machine dealer (not just Silver Reed dealers.) You can also use heavy bedspread-weight cotton crochet thread, #5 or #3 pearl cotton, or Omega brand nylon crochet thread. Some people have reported good luck with thick nylon fishing line or the nylon cord sold for mini-blinds. What ever you use in place of ravel cord must be strong and smooth.

While the cast on method shown in the previous tutorial is good for a few items, especially knitted hats, it produces an unstable edge that gathers. We often begin a garment piece with waste yarn and ravel cord, and either make a hem, using the live main color stitches, or knit the garment piece, then go back and pick up the live stitches and knit ribbing. This is particularly useful when the ribbing has fewer stitches than the main fabric (a sleeve cuff, for example.)

To begin a garment section, cast on with waste yarn and knit at least an inch. Seven or eight rows is usually a good amount. Clip the yarn. Put a clothes pin or clamp on one end of the ravel cord and insert this end into the main feeder on the carriage, letting the clamp dangle about six inches below the carriage. Bring the carriage close to the first working needle

ravel cord 1

Hold the ravel cord above the carriage with your non-dominant hand (left hand, for most people) and push the carriage across with the other hand. The ravel cord has to slip easily through your hand as the carriage goes across; you are actually knitting a row with it. However, you should not hold it so loose that loops and tangles form. You may need to practice this a few times until you develop a “feel” for the correct tension.

ravel cord 3

Change to main yarn. Reset the row counter to 000 and continue to knit. Leave the waste yarn and ravel cord in place until instructed to remove it.

At the end of the piece, change to waste yarn. You do not use ravel cord here; simply change yarns in the carriage feeder. Knit about an inch. Clip the yarn, and take the carriage across empty. The fabric will fall off the machine.

ravel cord 4

Change to main yarn. Reset the row counter to 000 and continue to knit. Leave the waste yarn and ravel cord in place until instructed to remove it.

At the end of the piece, change to waste yarn. You do not use ravel cord here; simply change yarns in the carriage feeder. Knit about an inch. Clip the yarn, and take the carriage across empty. The fabric will fall off the machine.


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This tutorial was copyrighted and uploaded to the original Clearwater Knits website in 1997. It was updated July 15, 2016.