Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Horizontal fold lines in knitting, part 1: knit sides out, purl sides in the fold

Just as the universe folds and twists in accordance with laws of interest to physicists, so knitting curls and folds in accordance with laws of interest to handknitters.  For example, the tendency of stockinette to curl purl side out is well-known and many excellent knitting designs take this into account, working with the roll, rather than going all out to conquer it.  Perhaps less well-known is an equally strong force of knitting, which can equally add a structural design element: the tendency of stockinette to fold along a purled row.

purl-line on the knit face of stockinette, unfolded (left) and folded (right)

Specifically, when you want knitting to fold back on itself along the row-line, such as at a hem or cuff, it's easy to make the fabric fold sharply by running a row of purl on a stockinette background.  This strongly forces a stockinette fabric to fold in half with the knit sides out while the purl sides are trapped in the fold, back-to-back, as shown in the photo above.

flat knitting
If knitting stockinette back and forth, you simply knit on the purl side for one row, then return to pattern.  This means that you will work 3 rows of knit successively and the center of these three--the one that looks like a purl line, but is located on the smooth knit side of the fabric--will be the fold line.

circular knitting
If you are working in the round, it's a little different.  As you know, when knitting stockinette circularly you're always working on the knit side, so you'll simply purl a single round to get the same effect.

This is all very simple, but there is one little wrinkle to getting a neat fold line when knitting circularly.  As you know, however, knitting in the round creates a spiral.  This means that the beginning of each round is stacked above and one stitch over from the end of the previous round.  In the context of a fold line, this means that the beginning and end of the purl round "jog," they won't line up because they aren't actually in the same round at all. The discontinuous purl line is highlighted in pink in the photo below.
discontinuous purl line "jog" when worked in the round

To avoid this "jog," use the same trick as for avoiding color jogs:
  • work the entire purl round as usual.  
  • on the next round, where you would set off knitting in the ordinary course of things, simply SLIP the FIRST purl stitch you worked instead.  In other words, at the end of the purl round, instead of working a knit stitch as the first stitch of the next (knit) round, simply slip the next stitch on your needle INSTEAD of knitting it. 
  • All further rounds are worked normally, and this is the only stitch slipped.  
This slipping trick drags up some stitches and squishes others, aligning the beginning and end of the purl round, and essentially eliminating the jog.  As seen in the photo below, the resulting purl line, highlighted in pink, is waaay better than the jogging line of purl in the photo above.
discontinuous "jog" alleviated by slip-stitch method above

In sum so far: the introduction of a purl row/round on a stockinette ground will cause the fabric to to fold very sharply along the purl row, knit side out and with the purl side of the fabric trapped inside the fold.

As with many things knitting, there are some neat variations.

beefier fold line
For a beefier thicker fold very suitable to utility wear, consider a double purl-line fold.  Although this looks like (and is!) the surface decoration called "welting" when seen on unfolded stockinette, if you fold the fabric at this welt-line you will find you've created a thick, pleasant, sturdy edge--much more substantial than a single purl-line fold line, and very suitable to outerwear or rough use or heavy yarns.

beefier double purl-line (aka "welting"), unfolded (left) and folded (right)

contrast-colored fold line, method 1

There are two ways to make a contrast colored fold line, a gold fold line on a green fabric, for example.  The classic method is done in three steps:
  • On the row or round BEFORE where the fold is wanted, work a row or round in contrast color, but keep to your stockinette pattern (knit if in the round, purl if working back and forth)
  • On the row or round where the fold is wanted, return to the main color and purl
  • On all following rows/rounds, return to the ordinary pattern of the stockinette fabric
contrast-colored method 1, unfolded (left) and folded (right)

When folded, this single line of contrast color yields a fold with a pleasant "stitched" sort of appearance--the main color (green) shows in little dots below the gold contrast color fold, per the above illustration.

contrast-colored fold line, method 2

For a more consistent-colored fold line (no "stitched" appearance) two rows or rounds are worked in the contrast color, as follows:
  • On the row or round BEFORE where the fold is wanted, work a row or round in contrast color, but keep to your stockinette pattern (knit if in the round, purl if working back and forth)
  • On the row where the fold is wanted, remain in the contrast color and purl a row or round
  • On all following rows or rounds, return to the main color, and work in the ordinary pattern of the stockinette fabric
contrast colored method 2, unfolded (left) and folded (right)

Note--although two lines of contrast color have been worked, this is nonetheless a single purl-line fold, because only one row has been purled.  If you wanted to combine the beefy double-purl line fold with the contrasting color trick, you'd have to work THREE lines of color and two lines of purl.

* * *

This is the first post in a two part series about horizontal folds in knitting.  The next post will be about getting stockinette fabric to fold the other way, so that the PURL (reverse stockinette) sides are out, with the KNIT sides trapped in the fold, back-to-back.

Until then, good knitting
PS: Why yes, I am from Wisconsin.  Did my green and gold color scheme give it away?


Jamie said...

Is there a reason why one shouldn't knit, rather than purl, three successive rows when working flat -- i.e., knit RS, knit WS, knit RS, continue in stockinette? (I'd always rather knit an extra row than purl an extra row.)

TECHknitter said...

Ooo, Jamie--that's what I meant--I got all balled up with the idea that it was to BE a purl line on the knit side. THANKS for this catch!

::runs off to fix error::

Cursing Mama said...

I've been trying to work in my mind how to knit a nice bag of sorts for my ereader and this folding technique in the round is going to help a lot!

Laura said...

Excellet tips (as usual)!

This is a subject for another post, but what about a *vertical* fold line (for example, a button band that is knit at the same time as the rest of the garment, but which needs to be folded in and sewn down at the end)? I've heard that purls don't work here, as they want to curl out instead of in? What about EZ's phoney seam, would that work?

Thank you so much for the wonderful reference! I am always sending people to your blog to answer knitting questions!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Laura--vertical folds will be covered in a different series--stay tuned!

Lynne said...

Thank you again for all of your great information! and hooray Packers!

Lexie said...

I've done a few hems, but i always run into the same issue. I don't know if I count the purl row when trying to knit the same number of rows to attach my hem to the body, or do I skip it? (this happens to me whether I'm knitting bottom up aka hem first, or top down, aka hem last.) When I go to either knit the provisionally casted on hem into the body, or cast of the hem and do a modified three needle bid off (no second needle) to attach it to the body, I always have issues getting the right row count so the hem doesn't flip up, or roll under.

Oh genius of Techknitting, what am I doing wrong?

Julie said...

Go Pack! Congrats on the Superbowl win!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Lexie--a couple of things. First of all, an unknit row of knitting (the last row of loops on the needles) is much taller than a knit row, because there is nothing broadening the heads of the sts, so they stretch UP instead. So right there, you need to have fewer sts if you are sewing down loops. Second, you want there to be ONE FEWER row inside the hem than outside,( that is, the hem facing should be shorter than the hem) so that the hem facing does not roll out over time. Third, KNITTING the hem shut causes rolling even if the row count is perfect. For the reasons this is so, go to


Far better (in my experience, at least) to SEW them shut--such a bore for knitters, I know, but it really is worth it to get the non-flipping hem.


If you are still having troubles after trying these tricks (try them on a swatch!!) then e-mail me, OK? (e-mail address in profile).

Good luck--TK

Tracy said...

Thank you. Informative. To the point. Pretty pictures.

You rock.

Barbie said...

I think Jamie's comment also applies to the instructions for the contrast-color fold lines.

Knitting flat, method 1:
- knit the row before the fold (right side row)
- switch colors and knit the fold row (wrong-side row)
- return to the main color, knit

Knitting flat, method 2:
- knit RS in contrast color
- knit WS in contrast color (fold row)
- knit RS in main color

And if you really love purling, you could make the fold row be a WS row rather than a RS row.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Barbie--I guess my brain was set to "purl!" But yes, a row of knit on the purl side will work just as well as a row of purl on the knit side, when working flat (back and forth). Thanks for writing. TK

Champe said...

I'm wondering about jogless texture changes if you're continuing in purl instead of switching back to knit after 1 row, because the slip stitch on row 2 was wonky when I tried. There must be a trick.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Champe-I'm not sure what you mean by "continue in purl instead of switching to knit?" Please elaborate further via e-mail (the e-mail linky is in the right sidebar). Thanks.

memyselfandI said...

Any thoughts as to how get a nice fold when also changing colour? I'm thinking along the lines of flip dolls, where both 'skirts' are of very differing colours, say a pastel and black, with no common color in the designs to use as a distractor to avoid this problem. I don't even know if this is possible, due to the nature of knitted fabric, but I thought I'd ask.