Waste Yarn Wisdom

If you are a hand knitter, you have probably rarely or never needed waste yarn. When you knit by hand, your stitches are securely held on your knitting needles (barring unfortunate pet incidents). When you are ready to bind off, or graft your final row or round of stitches, you simply do that with your knitting needles or a crochet hook. It’s all right there and convenient. But when you machine knit, your stitches are on individual needles (latch hooks) on your knitting machine. Simply dropping that project off the machine would leave you with a whole lot of live stitches that are likely to unravel before the piece hits the ground. Here is some helpful information about waste yarn.

Raw Edges

Let’s say you are machine knitting a raglan sweater. You knit two sleeves, the front and the back of the sweater. Yes, you could certainly bind each off directly from the knitting machine. When you have assembled the pieces and you’re ready to knit the neck band, you could pick up stitches from the bound off edges. But it is so much nicer to just knit that neck band from live stitches. In this case, once the piece is completed, you would switch out your project yarn with waste yarn. Knit a whole bunch of rows. You want plenty of them so that if it unravels, there is no risk of your actual stitches dropping.

Hung Hems

When you know you’ll be using a hung hem on your garment, you can begin with what is called a cast on rag. This is a piece of knitting that you hang from every other needle. You then use waste yarn to create a removeable base. (Don’t worry, once you have knit a few rows, the “every other” missing stitches fill in automatically). Once you have a good base of waste yarn, you knit the rows you need for your hung hem. (If you are doing a picot edge, do half the rows, do your picot row and then do the other half.) You then pick up the first row purl bumps and hang them onto the corresponding needles. Knit one row and you have competed your hung hem. This gives a really nice finish.

As a Separator

If you are knitting socks on a circular sock knitting machine the waste yarn can have a few purposes. First of all, it is typical to use a cast on bonnet to start your first sock. You hang the bonnet using every other needle and then knit several rounds with waste yarn. Knit a sock. Once you complete the sock, you’ll knit a bunch of rounds of waste yarn. This allows you to safely remove the sock from the knitting machine. But… wait just a tick. Let’s face it, most of us need two socks. Don’t spend a bunch of time removing that sock and starting the process all over. Use that waste yarn that protects that previous toe as the foundation for your next sock, and so on. I have done as many as 18 socks all in one stretch before removing them from the machine.

Waste Yarn Tips

I typically try to use up leftover yarns I have kicking around. And that’s okay, you can definitely do that. Knowing what will work best can definitely minimize headaches though.


Using a waste yarn that is a different weight than your project yarn can make it really tricky to identify where your stitches are. It can result in missed stitches when you pick up for a hung hem and it can make it difficult to see all your stitches when you are grafting toes on socks. By using a yarn that is the same weight, it will be a zillion times easier to identify what you are looking at and knowing that you are grabbing the right stitch when you need to.


Yes, colour matters! I have all sorts of leftover sock yarn. Much of it is self patterning. I love me some self patterning sock yarn! Using this as waste yarn can be tricky; but you can, in a pinch. Avoid using colours that contain those similar to your project yarn. Also having multiple colours can be confusing; when it comes time to graft, it can really slow you down. I find it much easier when I use a solid colour. Ideally, use something that has a different colour value than your project yarn. If you don’t really understand colour values, take a black and white photo of the two yarns side by side. If they look the same in black and white, then they are the same colour value. They may seem like significantly different colours, but in poor lighting conditions, similar colour values will be tougher to distinguish from one another. As someone who typically grafts toes in the evening, I am speaking from experience.


I am not talking about nubbly textured yarns like boucle. Definitely avoid those. What I’m referring to here is the difference in texture that you get when one yarn is wool and the other is cotton, or acrylic. The truth is that these differences in texture can be your friend. Having distinct texture differences can make it so much easier to identify which yarn is which.


Yes, you can reuse waste yarn. You will lose some length each time. You always end up trimming some of it away. So the first time you use it, be generous. And when you take it off, wind it up neatly. Keep it tidy. A Ziploc style bag can be good for storage. Keep these away from your cat! When you start a project with a previously used piece of waste yarn, be aware of where the end is. If you get carried away with the rhythm of the knitting machine, it’s easy to end up knitting it right off. Next thing you know, it’s on the floor!

And there you have it!

Happy Knitting!


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