Bobbles, Popcorns, Nupps, and Knitting Backwards

It isn’t every day that I write a blog post that requires a table of contents, but there’s no use being in denial about it, so here it goes. In this tutorial, I will be showing three bobble or “bobble-like” techniques.

1. Bobbles

1. supplemental Knitting backwards (a.k.a. How Not to Hate Bobbles)

2. Popcorns

3. Nupps


1. Bobbles

Bobbles are little fabric tumors made by violently increasing several times into one stitch, working those increased stitches back and forth a couple times, then decreasing them back down again before moving on. This can be incredibly tedious, because it means for each little bobble you make, you have to flip your work back and forth four or six times. So in the basic bobble instructions below, I include instructions on how to knit backwards, avoiding the whole flipping thing.

If any of this is a little opaque to you, you may be assisted in the general concepts by this excellent bobble making video. Her bobble recipe is a little different from mine – each pattern that includes a bobble will include exact instructions on how much to increase, how many times to work back and forth, and which decreases to use. I’m showing you my favorite, but the basic concepts are all the same.

My preferred bobble is inc. 5 in 1 stitch, worked back and forth twice before decreasing over two rows. They look like this.

First, knit normally (into the front loop) of the stitch in which you want to make the bobble, but after making the stitch, do not remove the original stitch from the left needle.

Instead, use your working needle to go into the back of the same stitch to knit into it again. But again, do not remove the original stitch from the left needle.

Knit again into the front, back, and front again of the same stitch before finally dropping the original stitch from the left needle. You have increased five stitches in one stitch.

Your next step is to knit two rows of stockinette on those five stitches you just increased. This would normally require turning and purling, but this gets mega old. So instead, you might want to try:

1. supplemental: Knitting Backwards

Technically, you are replacing what would be purling on the back row, but I still think of it as knitting backwards. I have yet to run into a pattern that actually includes instructions on knitting backwards, so to my knowledge I’m not contradicting anyone. I’m sure there are multiple ways of doing this, but this is easiest on my right-handed knitting style, because I don’t even have to switch the hand that’s holding the yarn.

As you might expect, when knitting backwards, your left needle is now your working needle. Insert it between the two legs of the first stitch on the right needle, and put the working needle behind. This is technically a mirror image of going in knitwise through the back loop.

When the working needle is fully inserted, they should look as if you had just inserted your right needle in “purlwise,” but with yarn in back.

Wrap the working yarn counterclockwise around the working (left) needle.

Just as you normally would do with the right needle, use the left needle to snag the working yarn and pull it through the stitch.

Pull the old stitch off the right needle, and you’ve knit a stitch backwards.

1. continued. Finish knitting backwards across that first row of stockinette on the five increased stitches.

Then knit back across those same five stitches, normally.

Now it’s time for your decrease row, which you will do backwards. Don’t freak out – knitting two stitches together backwards is exactly the same, just inserting the needle into two stitches instead of one.

After the first decrease, knit one backwards, then knit two together backwards again. Your five increased stitches are now down to three.

Knit those last three stitches together normally.

To see your happy little knitted tumor in all its glory, push it to the front before you continue. After the bobble, be sure to pull the next stitch tight. You may also notice you have a huge gap in the fabric right before the bobble. On the next row, pull the first stitch after the bobble tight to close that gap.


2. Popcorns

Some people love bobbles. They will put them on everything they have an excuse to put them on. But some people hate them. They hate the huge round shape of them, the way they stick out, whatever, I’m not in your head. But if ever you want to replace a bobble with a textured stitch that’s similar, but less bobble-tastic, try a popcorn – they’re like a mini-bobble, and there’s no flipping or backwards knitting required.

The first step is to increase 5 (or more or less, depending on your whim) into one stitch, by knitting into the front, back, front, back, and front of the same stitch before dropping it from the left needle.

When you’ve done that, your increased stitches will look like this.

Using your left needle, or a crochet hook, or your fingernails, lift the stitch second from the tip of the right needle, and leapfrog it over the stitch closest to the tip – just as you would do if you were binding off.

Now do this three more times, lifting the other stitches over that same end stitch, until you are back down to one stitch where you had five before.

Lifting over the last stitch:

Push this new little popcorn to the front before you go on for maximum pop. You may notice a little hole to the right of your finished popcorn; when you get to that place in the next row, just pull the stitch right after the popcorn a little tighter to close the gap. (It’s nowhere near as big a gap as with a true bobble.)


3. Nupps

Popcorns still too 3-D for you? Want to go back to the days that you could see a new action film in the theatre without emerging with a headache? Those clever Estonian knitters, with whom the knitting historian Nancy Bush made friends, have a flat bobble-like object you can try. You still increase several times into one stitch (the 7-stitch increase is shown below), but you increase a little differently and don’t decrease until the next row, making a flatter, more symmetrical bump.

Here’s a tip: if you’re going to be doing a lot of nupps, use the sharpest needle possible. (I used my bluntest bamboo tips as a sort of penitence.)

Start out by knitting into the stitch, but again, do not remove the stitch from the left needle.

Instead, do a yarn over – put the yarn between the needles as if to purl, then overtop of the right needle.

Swing your working needle back around to knit into the front of the same stitch again.

You should now have three stitches where you had one before.

Yarn over and knit into the front of the stitch again, either once for a 5-stitch nupp, or twice for a 7-stitch nupp. The 7-stitch nupp is shown. (I probably would not use a 5-stitch nupp except in lace, or with super-oversized needles; they need an open fabric for contrast or else they’re just invisible.) Here’s what the 7 stitches increased into one looks like:

Now, unlike other bobbles, you are going to now move on with your row. If you are replacing a regular bobble with a nupp, you will have to spot for yourself on the next row where your increases were, so you can decrease them back down again. Thankfully, in in a biggish yarn, this isn’t too hard.

Now comes the tricky part – you have to purl all 7 (or 5) of these stitches together. This is why you want a super-pointy needle – you can observe below what a royal pain it is to attempt this with fatty blunt bamboo needles.

That’s it! When you finish the row you can see the little lump, though it will even out even more after subsequent rows. The little holes below the nupps are fairly inevitable when working with needles close to the recommended size; that’s an after effect of the K1, YO, K1, YO, K1 method of increasing, as apposed to KFBFBF. They will be smaller if you do a 5-stitch nupp, so it’s up to you whether you would rather have more visible nupps or smaller holes. The Estonians were using these primarily in lace, in which the holes would not have been as issue.

Yes, I broke my Lenten knitting fast to bring you this little tutorial. Part of my contract from the beginning was that I would do any knitting required for “work.” It took about half an hour. I enjoyed every stitch, despite the penitentially blunt bamboo needles, and I’m sad it’s done already. But now there are only 8 more days until I can knit again.

6 thoughts on “Bobbles, Popcorns, Nupps, and Knitting Backwards

  1. Your tutorials here were wonderful! In my group, one picked the popcorns which were perfect for her worsted weight cotton; another was unsure. Seeing all the different ways to make these little critters gave me the courage to try a 4th kind! When the gal from my group didn’t want to do bobbles, but found that popcorns were too small for her DK, I invented a cross between both that popped out just right! My group and I thank you so much for ALL you have taught us about textured knitting. And we also thank you for the thoughts you shared in many of the essays.


  2. Mina – you can think of doing a knit stitch as having four steps: in (stick the right needle in), wrap (wrap the yarn around the right needle), through (pull the right needle out, snagging the wrapped yarn on the way), and off (slide the old stitch off the left needle).

    To increase one into a stitch, called a Knit Front Back or KFB, you do the first three steps, but do NOT slide the old stitch off the left needle. Instead you start back at step one, sticking the right needle into the back of the old stitch still on the left needle. You then complete that stitch.

    To increase one stitch into five, you do the same thing over and over – repeating the first three steps of the knit stitch, inserting the right needle into the front, back, front, back, and front of the same old stitch for each re-do.

    I hope that makes some sense.


  3. I have made a dress for a friend.There’s a line of bobbles up the front of the pattern that turned out to be embaressing. Is there a way to take out a cpl of them without having to rip out & re-knit the front . ( was thinking clip the yarn & sew the excess in )


    1. Red – that sounds like a really good idea. If you clip it in the middle, you should be able to pick out the knitting in the bobble, and be left with two ends that you can weave in just as if you’d switched to a new ball of yarn there. Sounds like a pain but way less of a pain than ripping!!


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