Sunday, November 22, 2015

Picking up stitches along a selvedge

Getting live loops where there are none requires you to pick up stitches. But what does "picking up stitches" mean? Part of it depends on WHERE you are picking up stitches.  Per the below diagram, one common type is picking up along a vertical edge.  This is called picking up through a "selvedge" (sometimes spelled "selvage" or "selvedge") and is the subject of this post, which is the first in a series.

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As you see on the below schematic of a cardigan sweater, the most common place for a vertical selvedge pick up is along the "long edges" of a cardigan sweater, in order to knit the button bands (shown in darker green, below).

The different types of picking up--today's post is about picking up through the vertical (dark green) "selvedges" which are the "long" fabric edges on this schematic of a cardigan sweater. Future posts will show horizontal and combo pick-ups. 

There are two methods of picking up stitches along a selvedge.  The first, called the fabric method, involves actually picking up loops out of the fabric itself. The fabric method comes in two versions: the every-single-row version and the every-other-row version.

Here are several illustrations: the first shows the every-single row version.  In this method, you pick up one arm of every stitch along the selvedge.  This is done by tracing up the first full column of knitting, and pulling onto your knitting needle, the innermost arm of each stitch in that column.

As you might imagine, this is a fairly primitive process. There is little slack in these edge stitches, and after catching the first one or two stitches, brute force is required to squirm the loops up onto your knitting needle.

There are several tricks you can use.  A very slim dpn helps to park the loops upon.  Another variation is called "pick up and knit" where you park only one or two stitches on the holding needle, then knit those off right away, and then pick up another one or two. Obviously, pick-up-and-knit gives the same end result as picking up the stitches first, and then knitting them all off at the same time--it's just easier, slack-wise, because knitting each stitch AS you pick it up allows for more slack at the time of pickup as only a stitch or two has to be dragged up to stretch all the way around needle. Yet, whether you use a slim dpn or the pick-up-and-knit trick, pulling every stitch right out of the side edge distorts and stresses the underlying fabric, and I would not recommend it.

The second, somewhat more refined version of the fabric method involves missing a row, then picking up a loop, and repeating this process, so you get a loop on every other row.  This fits with the actual structure of knitted fabric better--if you have a knit selvedge, the edge generally falls into a pattern of a longer loop paired with a shorter loop, you would (obviously) pick up the longer loop onto your needle. This is something of an improvement over the every-single-row method: with more slack, there is less stretching and stressing of the underlying fabric, less brute force.

If you are running a slipped selvedge, where one edge loop spans two rows, you might want to consider ignoring the actual loops of the slipped selvedge.  They are so large, the danger is that they'd get stretched out if you used their arms to pick up onto the holding needle.  Instead, consider moving in to the first full column past the selvedge for your pickup.

The second method of picking up stitches is called the added-yarn method.   In its classic incarnation, it is worked by holding a yarn behind the fabric.  As illustrated below, you then reach between the arms of the first full column of knitting with your crochet hook and fish forward a loop. Each loop is parked onto a knitting needle as it is formed.  Some knitters prefer to draw the added-yarn loop up into the space between the first and second full columns of knitting.  If you prefer that method, you'd draw up loops by inserting the crochet hook as the two red dots at the top of the illustration indicate.

The added-yarn method is rather more respectable in knitting circles than the fabric method, because this added-yarn technique does not distort the underlying fabric. Further, the line of yarn traveling up the entire length of the selvedge helps spread stress evenly along the column of knitting, which cannot be said for the fabric method.

There is another added-yarn method which is much better for picking up when you are planning to knit a layer of fabric, such as a facing.  Since, I have already written an entire post about my "beautiful method" I won't repeat that here, but if you go and look, I'll be waiting here when you return.

Given the amount of stress and distortion of the underlaying faric, the every-single-row fabric method is probably one to avoid.  But, for a quick item which receives no stress or tugging (edging on a neck scarf muffler) the every-other-row method works well enough.  In fact, if you do this enough, you get to where you can simply knit right through the edge loop without even bothering to anchor it on a knitting needle first--a true "pick-up-and-knit" trick.

Yet it is undeniable that, from a structural--and even from an aesthetic viewpoint, the added yarn method is all-around better: less stress and a prettier back-of-fabric.  For the front bands on an adult's cardigan sweater, which get tugged all the time and which are always on display, the added-yarn method is really going to be better. For this high-end use, I would not use the fabric method.

Now we come to the question of the RATE of pickup.  In a nutshell, the problem is that stockinette (the most common knit fabric) is not square.  A typical gauge in worsted weight yarn is 5 st/in, 7 rows/in.  If you attach two such fabrics to one another via picking up stitches along a selvedge, you can see the mismatch which will occur between rows and stitches.  In other words, if you pick up at a rate of 1:1 (one loop per row) you will get 7 loops where you really need only 5.

The blue square and the red square are both knit in stockinette,
but they are 90 degrees offset.  You can see the mismatch
between the row and stitch gauge where they adjoin.
The gray arrow shows the direction of the knitting on each square.

So, how to adjust the rate of pickup? There are many different opinions about this.  I think probably the most common trick is to simply skip rows on the pickup process. So, if you were using the added yarn method, with a 5-stitch:7-row pickup ratio you would skip drawing up loops in 2 of every 7 rows.  This would bring your live stitches on the needle to the exact number you need for a 5-st/inch gauge.

However, IMHO, this is not the best approach.  If you think about it, skipping rows makes for an uneven gappy edge, and the underlying fabric will respond by flaring or puckering.

I myself would strive for the most even pick-up possible.  Once I had my loops live, I would then worry about my gauge.  An even pickup followed by an increase or decrease has less of a gapping problem because the foundation, at least, is even across the underlying fabric.

With the every-other-row fabric method, I would be picking up only 3½ stitches per 7 rows, or more realistically--since I can't knit ½ stitches--I am picking up 7 stitches per 14 rows.  This is lower than my target rate of 10 stitches picked up for every 14 rows. (basic algebra--I hated it too--says 10 st picked up for 14 rows is the exact same as 5 stitches picked up for 7 rows.) So, I must INCREASE the number of loops on my needle.  In the first row (the one I am going to knit into the fabric selvedge loops) I will make this adjustment.  Into every group of 7 stitches on my needle, I will add three, more-or-less evenly spaced loops via the backward loop method (or any other increase you like).

The spacing isn't even, I fudged the spacing
to be able to illustrate two increases

With the added yarn method, I would pick up through every stitch.  Obviously, I will get one loop per row, a 1:1 ratio. At this rate of pickup, I will have 7 picked-up stitches on my needle for every seven rows, but I really want to have 5.  So, I will have to DECREASE the number of stitches on my needle to get to a target pick up rate of 5 loops picked up per 7 rows by getting rid of 2 stitches per group of 7. On the first row I will knit right after the loops have been picked up, I will work the decreases: k2tog's or ssk's are very handy and easy decreases to use, and I will space the two required decreases more-or-less evenly across each group of 7 stitches.

If you are knitting BANDS, an even better trick (imho) is to sufficiently change the GAUGE of the knitting you are going to add on the newly-picked-up stitches, so that this new knitting is at the natural pickup gauge of 1:1.  With the added-yarn method, this means you need not decrease. With the every-other row fabric method, you would double your number of stitches by k1, m1 in the first row to get to the same 1:1 ratio as added-yarn method (one stitch picked up for each row of selvedge).

The band-facing is picked up
via the "beautiful" method,
which is an added-yarn technique. 
In fact, changing gauge is what I myself nearly always do, especially with front bands on a cardigan, and here is why.  The gauge of knitting suitable for the body of a garment is much looser and stretchier than the gauge suitable for the front bands of a cardigan. The front bands should be knit more tightly (and it wouldn't hurt the cuff, neck or bottom bands of a garment to be knit tightly, either). If you adjust your needles down far enough, and knit tightly enough, the change in gauge makes the 1:1 pickup rate work.

In my experience, this tighter gauge and a 1:1 pickup rate yield a very professional result for knitting bands on picked up stitches.  See for yourself: at left is a photo of a front band-facing tightly knitted at right angles to the main fabric (showing on the purl side) on a 1:1 ratio of picked-up stitches.  Although this band-facing is on the inside of the garment, it is the same idea as a band which would be seen on the outside of the garment. As you can see, the knit stitches line up straight across from the purl stitches of the main fabric, even though the knit stitches were picked up and knit at right angles. By going down several needle sizes, the band-facing was knit tight enough to make its stitch gauge identical to the row gauge of the underlying fabric.

I will leave you with an aside on garter stitch which has the unique property of being "square,"  For this reason, it is a very good choice for modular knitting, which often features attached squares, triangles or strips at various angles to one another.  In the context of picking up stitches, garter stitch is naturally picked up and knit at a 1:1 ratio without having to perform any tricks at all.  However, as The Provisional Kitchener states in the comments, this is only an APPARENT 1:1 ratio, it is actually a 1:2 ratio because garter has "got as many stitches as ridges in a square - one ridge being made up of two rows. Which means you pick up one stitch every second row (which is every ridge)."(Thank you PK, for this good catch!)

Good knitting

You have been reading TECHknitting on picking up knit stitches along a selvedge, (also spelled selvage and selvedge, go figure!)


The Provisional Kitchener said...

Re garter stitch being 1:1. Shouldn't it be 1:2? It's got as many stitches as ridges in a square - one ridge being made up of two rows. Which means you pick up one stitch every second row (which is every ridge). The problem lies within actual rows knitted and visible rows here, so I think it helps to point this out to avoid confusion.

As ever this blog post has been a very thorough and interesting account of how to get good results for different applications. Thank you for going into so much detail and for sharing.

Clare Lakewood said...

This is fantastic. I have always dreaded picking up for edges on garments because mine always looked like rubbish. I'm now confident I could manage something much more sophisticated.

Carol said...

I'm intrigued by the idea of using your "beautiful" method coupled with the technique of going down several needle sizes to allow for picking up every row to pick up stitches for a cardigan button band. I would LOVE to see a photo of the front of the yellow swatch from this post as I can't picture for myself what it would look like. Thanks for this post and all your great help.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Carol: that particular sweater actually has an I-cord bind off along the edge, of a sort called applied I-cord From the FRONT, it looks like the fabric simply remains in pattern to the very edge of the I-cord. The secret is, the band FACING stabilizes the edge from the inside. Here is a linky to where you can see the front of the garment:

That linky comes from this post:

Hopefully, that will answer your question? If not, write back. TK

TECHknitter said...

Hi Provisional Kitchener--I amended the text of the post to reflect your oh-so-correct comment. Thanks for writing. Best, TK

Carol said...

Wow, interesting. I was trying to imagine how perpendicular ribbed button band stitches would look coming out of the purl "gutter" picked up from the back. So this is quite different, but I really like it; it's very neat and tailored.

So on the buttonhole side, did you create a purl "gutter," pick up stitches 1:1 on a smaller needle, knit 1 or 2 more row to create the buttonholes, and then do an I-cord bind-off? And on the button side, did you do the same thing minus the holes?

TECHknitter said...

Hi Carol--On the buttonhole edge, that is an APPLIED I-cord, which means I knit it using a mill, then slip-stitched it to the fabric edge. So, to make the buttonhole, I simply ran the slip stitching up the I-cord and NOT the fabric , thus keeping the 4 or 5 rounds of I-cord loose of the edge at the buttonhole location.

I cord from a mill:

Slip stitching:

Also, I was thinking of a better post to show a really good use for the beautiful band facing, and that is to work in conjuction with a steek. Here is a post about combining the beautiul band facing with a steek: this post shows the facing very clearly.

Best, TK

acmcs said...

Fantastic post!! I just finished the front bands on a baby shrug not knowing there was some other method than the fabric method. Oh well, next time.
Any hope of a post on picking up stitches in the underarms? I always end up with a gappy mess.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Anne--I'm assumong you're refering to underarm stitches which are bound off, yes? Use the added-yarn method, and holding the added yarn in the back, draw one loop to the front of the fabric right through the middle of each stitch in the row below the bind off. With this method, the bind off winds up on the inside of the fabric, and the outside of the fabric shows no evidence it was ever bound off--the secret is yours alone. This is a good trick at collars, also, because the bind-off helps the back of the neck hold its shape.

When binding off stitches in the middle of the fabric, you can set yourself up for a better pick up by improving the tension at either end of the bound-off stretch by using these tricks:

Thanks for writing. TK

acmcs said...

Thank you! Great idea!!

MJ Pepper said...

TK, this 2 part post is so far beyond AWESOME it cannot be described!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

I struggle with '3 in 4' pick-ups all the time, so your techniques are so appreciated.

Designing most of the things I knit without having your techniques before has caused me to despise 'added bands' so I have not used them. NO MORE!

I also LOVE the right angle facing worked on smaller needles! PROBLEMS SOLVED!!! Why did I not think of that?

It is wonderful to see you posting again. I am 100% DELIGHTED!

Thank you again, and Happy Holidays.

MJ, the SKEINdinavian

Casey Erin said...

Hello TK - I have been reading your blog for a few hours now, and while I have learned a lot of very interesting techniques, what I REALLY want is instructions on how to make a beautiful, commercial-looking button band for a cardigan. I feel like your "beautiful method" hints at it, but I need it spelled out!

What I was planning for my current project is to pick up the band, knit a few rows in stockinette, knit a purl row, a few more rows in stockinette, and sew the hem shut on the inside. I'm worried the band will be too thick, though. Oh, it's not easy for a perfectionist knitter, lol. My son will be grown before I decide how to knit this baby sweater!

GotToKnow said...

As I understand it, the article relates to other stitches except for garter stitch, which you mention at the very end. In garter stitch, I would pickup one stitch per ridge (which equals to 2 rows). Correct? I'll look around your site regarding gauge. My pattern calls for 5 inches of garter stitch, bind off, then pick up 30 stitches on the side. However, I find it very difficult to find more than 25--so, I'm cheating and picking up whatever loop i see! but I'll check your site for gauge. this article is detailed and awesome! thank you.