Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cuff-to-cuff: dealing with with the body stitches

The morning's e-mail brought an interesting question about casting on extra fabric in a cuff-to-cuff construction.*  Reader A. writes:

I am working on a baby sweater knit from one cuff across to the other.... I am done with the sleeve and about to cast on for the front and back. I read your post on the backward e loop. I am wondering if you have any further techniques for this situation. The cast-on edge will be hidden in the seam.
(*In case you are wondering what this letter is all about, it may help to know that "cuff-to-cuff" garments are knit sideways.  As this relates to the illustrations below, the garment is started at the cuff of the sleeve at the lower edge, and ends at the cuff at the upper edge. In other words, the direction of knitting is from bottom to top, as these garments are oriented in the illustrations. The problem which Reader A is asking about relates to casting on the stitches which are to be the foundation of the fabric for the long edges just past the widest part of the bottom sleeve.)

Here's the answer:

To create the foundation for the body stitches, you could use the backwards loop cast on, with the modification shown in THIS POST. However, the problem with this trick for a very long edge is the problem of all cast-on's, and that is tension.  For such long edges (and so many of them!) you might want to consider a different approach.

Cast on the extra number of stitches you need for the body in scrap (waste) yarn and knit a few rows--you will have two pieces of scrap fabric ending with live stitches--these are shown as gray rectangles on the illustration below. Once these waste yarn rectangles have been created, simply knit the stitches for the body along the new stitches you have created with the waste yarn--the waste yarn stitches take the place of the cast-on. (This is a refinement on a method known as COWYAK).

When you get all the way across the body to where the other sleeve begins, cast off the body stitches and make the second sleeve, as directed by your pattern. At the end of the project, carefully remove the waste yarn and cast OFF the live stitches. The four cast-off edges are shown in red on the illustration below.

A cast off can be adjusted or even taken out and re-worked, meaning that you can adjust the tension of the stitches formerly on the waste yarn fabric when you get to the project end.  Another advantage of casting off the lower edge at the end, instead of casting on at the beginning, is that four long edges for the body match exactly for method of construction.  Matching both the tension and the construction of all four edges means that the two long body seams are more likely to look and drape identically, since they have the same amount of yarn inside each seam, and are the same finished length.

- - -

An variation on this approach is that when you get to the other side of the body, instead of casting OFF the long edges, you could knit those off with waste yarn also for a few rows before you start the sleeve.  The result is that all four long body edges wind up on waste yarn fabric--the four waste yarn rectangles are shown in gray on the illustration below.

If using this variation, then at the end of the project, you can remove the waste yarn from all four long edges, so that you once again have live stitches, as shown by the blue edges on the illustration below.

Once you have live stitches on all four edges, you can simply 3-needle bind off the live stitches at each long body seam--a situation many knitters find easier than seaming-by-sewing.

Good knitting, TK


  1. This is brilliant! I love COWYAK and this is a great way to cast on those extra stitches and keep things looking good!

  2. I must say I am almost always blown away by the quality of your technical suggestions! This post is no exception. I am so glad I follow your blog. My only fear is that I won't remember you've covered a topic when I could do with your advice.

  3. Amazing! Thanks so much. I always learn a new way to look at knitting when I read your blog. I dislike sideways knitting because of just the problem you mention of uneven sides. I will now have to find a side to side knitting pattern just to try it!

  4. Or . . . with the 2nd method, one could *graft* the edges together for softer seams. (I may be in the minority among knitters, but I generally LOVE to Kithchener! unless the yarn is highly-textured)

    Admittedly, the half-stitch offset would cause difficulties with matching texture- or color-patterning, but at least it would be under the arms.

  5. I've also seen a technique where you provisionally cast on one half (the front or back) after the first sleeve is knit. You then knit back the other way, across the sleeve stitches and then pick up the stitches from the provisional cast on for the other half (the back or front). It's elegant and seamless.

    Thanks for all your posts. They're great!

  6. I loved the very specific instructions in Churchmouse Yarns & Teas for the Baby Wrap Sweater. Because the sweater is knit with two-row garter stitch stripes, one of the sides is actually a two-color long-tail cast-on. It's a very well-written pattern.

  7. This is so helpful. As long as we're talking cuff to cuff, would you be interested in discussing how to shape the neck? My pattern is so vague that I can't tell if I'm supposed to knit the front and back of the cardigan at the same time or if I should knit one front panel, knit the back and then knit the under panel / sleeve and THEN pick up the second front panel. Is this even possible?

  8. Hi Kate--for a cardigan, you have multiplied the problem of matching edges. I would choose the provisional cast on method for a cardigan, then go around and adjust those the edges by removing the provisional cast on, and casting off at the end. This allows you to adjust the tension of all the edges to match (and re-adjust if you didn't get it right the first time).

    A cardigan front is made just like a pullover, with the exception that half-way across the front panel, you cast off, then cast on again (and this is where I would use a provisional cast on) then keep going across the other half of the front.

    As far as the neck, I don't know what pattern you are using, but in the general rule for necks is that, even with a crew neck (round neck) the back of the neck is to be made higher (quite a bit higher, actually) than the front. So, cast off gradually around the front neck hole, then on the other front, cast on gradually to match--use a well-fitting sweater you like to wear to figure out the depth of the neck-front.

    At the end, adjust the neck opening via an attached (sewn-on or picked-up) front and neck band--for a cardigan, you can make this all in one piece starting at the lower corner, working up one side, around the neck, then down the other side.

    Good luck with your project! TK

  9. Thanks! So helpful! It is a crew neck, and I appreciate your advice.

  10. At first this tip seemed another genius method, than it occurred to me, how will it affect sleeve length. Seem that if you cast on as written in pattern, add a few rows of waste yarn fabric, then remove those rows, it would make longer arm. Am I missing something?
    Thanks for your wonderful posts.

  11. Hi Linda--the waste yarn doesn't affect the arm length. What you do is, create a new cast on for the BODY with the waste yarn. You still connect the ARM to the BODY on the same row you would have done otherwise--the waste yarn affects only the status of the BODY FABRIC cast on (that is, it allows that cast-on edge to be turned back into live stitches). Write again if this still does not make sense, OK?

  12. Twice now, I have wanted to pin content from your site, but pinning disabled because, you say, Pinterest claims they will own your illustration. Concerned, I did a little research and found this is not the case:

  13. Hi Anon. Here's the most recent language I could find from Pinterest:

    You grant Pinterest and its users a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, store, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify, create derivative works, perform, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest solely for the purposes of operating, developing, providing, and using the Pinterest Products. Nothing in these Terms shall restrict other legal rights Pinterest may have to User Content, for example under other licenses.

    There are a lot of unanswered questions in this language. For one thing, what does "on Pinterest" mean, and for another, what qualifies as a "Pinterest Product?" It sounds like that means Pinterest only has the right to let my illustrations be pinned on the site as it now appears, but it doesn't take much imagination to read much more into it.

    For quick example, under the language above, Pinterest could decide to bring out the "Pinterest Big E-Book of Knitting," available as a PDF from the Pinterest site, free for all to print at home, and there's nothing in the language quoted above which stops Pinterest from doing this. That hypothetical book would be a "derivative work," and a "Pinterest Product," as well as being "on Pinterest."

    Copyright law is so far behind the current wave of digital information, and there are so many open questions, well, I don't want to be the guinea pig who ends up in court trying to figure this all out.

    And this is especially so because each illustration takes hours, sometimes more than a day of work, and I put it all out there for free--I make no money off the blog (although somday, I hope to put it all together in a book.) It would make me indescribably sad to lose any rights at all in my illustrations.

    May I humbly request that if you want to see TECHniques from TECHknitting, you note the relevant blog entry using your browser's "bookmark" function? That will take you straight to the source. Pinterest is prettier, I know, but, regretfully, it's too darn scary for me.

    Best regards, TK

  14. Clever Clogs!!! Of course! thank you for this!


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Thanks, TK