Which is stretchier, 1x1 or 2x2 rib?

 I have asked this question so many times before starting a project, not sure which type of ribbing to use on a garment. And I feel it is a question that could be perfectly answered through scientific reasoning, so LET'S DO IT! Below is my report and findings on the stretchiness of 1x1 versus 2x2 knit ribbing. I will be using a standard scientific method to conduct my experiment, keep reading to see my results and decide for yourself which ribbing could be considered stretchier.



Background:

I recently finished a Mommy & Me hat set for me and my daughter Violet which has led me on a hat making journey- I want to make my nephew, Teddy, a hat for Christmas as well. I have leftover yarn from his baby blanket so I can make a hat that matches, and might as well design one that uses the basket weave pattern I used for his blanket. This has led me to the beginning of the hat, the ribbing on the edge. I used 1x1 rib on the Mommy and Me hats in worsted weight, but Teddy's blanket yarn is DK weight knit on Size 5 needles so I don't necessarily want to use 1x1. This has led me to consider a 2x2, but what's more important is that I get a good fit for the hat. Which ribbing will fit better? Which looks nicer with the pattern? Which do I like best? Lot's to consider here, but let's focus on the original point for the ultimate question of this post.

Question:

Which type of ribbing is considered stretchier, a K1P1 (1x1) rib or a K2P2 (2x2) rib?

Research:

I'd like to mention that I did try researching this topic and found several comments and opinions about the different styles of ribbing, but nothing conclusively proving that one was stretchier than another. Some stated that it depends on the knitter themselves and what their tension is like. Others stated that what's more important is the look, that 1x1 looks more like stockinette than 2x2. The data for a stretch factor is clearly lacking.

Hypothesis:

Based on personal observation and a few opinions found through research, I believe that 2x2 will be a stretchier ribbing than a 1x1.

Procedure:

To determine stretchiness, I will be knitting swatches of 1x1 and 2x2 ribbing on different sized needles and measuring the swatch unstretched and again at maximum stretch. For consistency, I will cast on 28 stitches using a cast-on loop method and work for 24 rows before binding off. To measure the swatch, I will measure the width at the center of the swatch and will pin one edge down while pulling along the width as far as I can to measure maximum stretch. For comparison, a stretch factor will be used determined by dividing the maximum stretch width and the unstretched with. The yarn used is a DK weight in 100% super wash merino wool, suggested size 5 needle.

Data:

Below is a data table of the measurements from my 6 different swatches of 1x1 and 2x2 on different needles.

As would be expected, as the needle size increased, the unstretched width increased. But just comparing unstretched widths, the 1x1 rib was over 1 cm wider than the 2x2 rib for all needle sizes. Here is the size 6 needle swatches for comparison with the 2x2 above and the 1x1 below.


Analysis: 

What's most conclusive is the stretch factor, because the 2x2 could start out thinner but still not stretch very far which would just mean that it's a tighter stitch. This is not the case! The stretch factor for 1x1 is an average of 1.96 while the stretch factor for 2x2 is an average of 2.233. The 2x2 is able to stretch very far compared to its starting width. Below is the size 4 needle swatches to compare again. 2x2 is above, 1x1 below.

An an example of maximum stretch for the size 5 needles. First the 1x1, then the 2x2.


Conclusion:

When designing a knit project where you want a lot of stretch, a 2x2 rib is your best bet. The bottom hem of a sweater or the cuffs on sleeves are best done with a 2x2 rib. If your edging doesn't require much stretch but needs something simple, the 1x1 is a better choice. I would agree that the 1x1 does look more like stockinette stitch, so it will blend in well if your pattern is mostly stockinette stitch and you want a nice edge on your project. The 2x2 rib would also be a great choice for any cinching in your design, for example on the waist of a sweater. Because the 2x2 is overall thinner at it's unstretched width, it will cinch very nicely but still stretch to fit over the shoulder and bust when putting the garment on.

Personally, I will be doing the 2x2 rib for the hat I am working on because the basketweave pattern has series of k2 and p2 stitches within the pattern, so it will work in seamlessly into the weaves. So at the end of the day, select what will look best with your design as well! The trickiest part is determining the gauge for the rib so you can accurately calculate the number of stitches to cast on, especially for a hat where the ribbing will be stretched for a good fit so you don't want it to be too big and loose (I've done this mistake many times). What I do is take a swatch of ribbing that I want to use (either 1x1 or 2x2) and stretch it a bit, not the maximum stretch seen here but as far as I'd want it stretched if I were wearing it. Then I measure the gauge at the stretched position to calculate the needed cast-on stitches based on the desired circumference. So regardless of which rib you use, it's still important to use a swatch gauge as you want it worn for calculations.


It feels good to get a scientific conclusion to this question of stretchiness that's been nagging me for some time. With these results, hopefully we all can make better informed design choices for our knitwear. I am a very even knitter, but I suppose that the stretchiness could be different for different knitters. Maybe I should test this theory next... 

Do you have other burning questions about knitting that could be answered through data collection and a scientific process?? Let me know in the comments below! I would love to investigate how different fibers behave when stretched and look at permanent deformation (those beautiful alpaca yarns stretch and NEVER go back to their original form). What do you think?


Follow me on instagram at @redfeatherknits for updates on my designs.

Comments

  1. Which ribbing uses more yarn?

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    Replies
    1. Great question as I wondered the same thing- when I put them on the scale they were the exact same weight so they use the same amount of yarn!

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