Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hems and facings: part 3 of "better bands and cuffs"

Includes 9 illustrations
Q. Why do the edges of cuffs and bands want to stretch out?

A. In this series on improving wonky bands and cuffs, the first two posts have established that stretched out bands and cuffs are NOT YOUR FAULT--the edge of any knitted FABRIC wants to stretch out. Click here or here for more information about the whys and wherefores of stretched-out edges.

Q. If the fabric edge wants to stretch, how can I stop it?
A. Short answer: you can't. Because the stitches at the edge of the fabric are unsupported, the stretching is structural. Your best bet is to accept this property of knitting, and work with it: avoid putting the edge of the knitted FABRIC at the edge of your knitted GARMENT. (A note to perfectionists: This series will cover the tubular cast-off, which is something of an exception to this rule. But for now, the short answer is to separate the fabric edge from the garment edge. )

Q. The previous post showed a rolled stockinette edging. Is that always the best solution?
A. Although a rolled edging may be the easiest way to achieve separate the garment edge from the fabric edge, a rolled edge is not useful in every garment, or in every fiber, or at every edge.

Some knitters find the rolled edge too informal or too bulky. Some knitters just plain do not like it.

Also, a rolled edging may suffer from one structural defect of its own: In certain fibers, when used as a bottom edging of a long sweater, it MAY become squashed from sitting on it, so that the rolled edging in the back looks flatter that that in the front.Usually, this flattening is cured by washing and reblocking--stockinette's tendency to curl is simply one of the strongest forces in all of knitting. Yet, after constant wear in such "slippery" fibers as cotton, linen, or synthetics, a rolled edge on a hip-length garment may become permanently flattened around the seat.

Q. Is there another way to separate the fabric edge from the garment edge?
A. Yes. If a rolled edge will not work for you, the next easiest solution is HEMS AND FACINGS. With a hem or a facing, the edge of the FABRIC is held inside the garment--the cast on (or off) edge is the inside edge of the hem or facing, and knitting from several rows inside the fabric edge is folded over to make the garment edge.

Q. What is the difference between a hem and a facing?
A. In woven cloth, a hem is usually a self-facing (made from the same material as the garment, but folded over and tacked down) whereas a facing is usually, but not always, made from a different fabric sewn to the garment fabric at the fold-edge of the garment. In knitting, however, there is no real structural difference between a hem and a facing--they are both backings to bands of various sorts (bottom bands, cuffs, front bands). However, a hem is usually at the bottom edge of a garment (bottom hem, cuff hem) and usually CANNOT be seen while the garment is in normal wear. By contrast, a facing is usually at the front edge of a cardigan or sometimes at the neck (front band facing, button band facing, neck facing), and MAY be seen during normal wear.
Q. I thought that hems were always tacked (sewn) down, while facings sometimes are sewn down, but more often are left loose.
A. This is correct for woven garments, where front band facings typically are not attached along their long edges. In fact, this is even true for knitted garments with woven facings.
Below is a drawing showing an inside view of a famous-maker Norwegian sweater--a commercially knitted garment. This garment has a woven fabric facing for the neck and zipper. The neck facing IS tacked down, but the neck opening facing, around the zipper, is NOT tacked down, it is loose along both long edges, being tacked down only at the collar and the bottom of the zipper placket.
However, while a woven facing may not be tacked down, a knitted facing almost always is. (Actually, I've never seen a loose knitted facing, but as soon as I assert that ALL knitted facings are tacked down, someone will e-mail an example to the contrary!) Due to knitting's tendency to curl, a stockinette facing would curl up to become an rolled edging if it were not fastened down, while a non-curling facing (garter stitch, seed stitch) would prove too bulky for most situations. Bottom line: while woven facings may not be tacked down, knitted facings almost always are.

Q. Start at the beginning: what's the easiest kind of hem or facing?
A. The very easiest band backing (whether hem or facing) is a folded-over ribbing band. The ribbing is simply knitted twice as long as wanted, then folded over and tacked down on the inside of the garment. There is no fold mark at the halfway point--the band simply rolls over, presenting a broad, fat edge. Like the rolled stockinette edge, this broad fold-over edge can really take the abuse. Below is a photo of the cuffs and bottom bands of a little sweater jacket that's been through several kids, and is ready for more.
This kind of band is not restricted to ribbing--there are other fabrics well suited to "life on the edge," and these (seed, moss, garter) can be used for a doubled over band also (although ribbing works best, IMHO).

Q. A rolled over ribbing band seems awfully thick. Is there any way to reduce the bulk, but still have a ribbed band at the edge of my garment?
A. Yes. Instead of doubling the entire band, you can knit a few round of plain stockinette, then fold this little strip over and tack it down. After this short edging of doubled fabric, the rest of the ribbing is knit in a single thickness. The idea is very similar to a rolled stockinette edging, but instead of the rolled edging being left loose, it is tacked down. Below is a close-up of a mitten cuff made this way.
It also seems to me that this, or something like this, was a traditional method of starting fisherman sweaters. Below is a closeup (detail) of a photo found on page 21 of Gladys Thompson's masterwork "Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans (Dover Books, NY, 1971). The bands on this very old (1920's) sweater are doubled, perhaps by this method, or perhaps by simply using two yarns to cast on the edges, as was done with other guernseys pictured in the Thompson book.
The notes with the guernsey photo state that the garment was 40 years old when the photo was taken (1955) and that its owner wore the garment in the British Navy during WWII, when the garment would already have been over 20 years old! I believe that both of the above photos shows why it really pays to strengthen the edges of your bands.

Q. Are there other kinds of hems besides ribbed ones?
You bet here are, lots of them! Since hems are not a new idea, many traditional hems have developed--look in a good fabric dictionary book, and you'll see examples. Of the classics, a picot hem has to be one of the prettiest and daintiest. The method is simplicity itself: for bottom-up sweaters, cast on and knit the hem. After the inside of the hem is as long as you want it, on the"right" (knit) side of the fabric, work a row of *k2tog, yo." For top-down garments, reverse the procedure. A few rows or rounds of plain knitting past the yo row, you will see that the fabric wants to fold on the line of yo's, and the prettiest little lacy edging will show at the fold. (see photo below).
Another important kind of hem is the stockinette hem folded on a reverse stockinette (purl) fold-line. (addendum, February 2011: more about folds) This is a classic hem because it works like a dream--for various esoteric structural reasons, stockinette WANTS to flip right up and fold at a line of purling--it is a force of knitting as strong as the desire of stockinette to curl and stay curled. This classic stockinette hem takes advantage of this property, which looks very well (see photo below).
BTW: Here is a
TRICK to avoid a big "bump" at the end of the fold (purl) round in circular knitting. When you get to to end of the purl round, slip the first purl stitch which you created at the beginning of the round . That's right, simply slip that first purl stitch from your left needle to your right needle, without knitting it. Magic! The bump will never appear and the beginning of the round will not show.

This classic foldover stockinette hem is made by working a length of stockinette as long as you want the inside of the hem or facing to be, working a purl row on the face (knit side) of the fabric, and then continuing in plain stockinette. The short part of the fabric before the line of purl is the hem or facing, and is tacked down on the inside. A variation is to knit the inside portion of the hem in a thinner yarn than the outside (garment) yarn, and this reduces the bulk of the hem considerably. This very common in commercially made garments, but is a trick which can also be used by hand knitters (see photos below).
Q. You talk about "tacking down" the folded over hem or facing. How is that done?
A: Tune in for the next post--this one is getting W*A*Y too long.

PS: A BIG thanks to MARTHA in the comments--who caught a typo in the directions for the picot edge (now corrected).

* * *

This post is part 3 of a series. The other posts are:
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 1: Opera and Soap Opera (November 1, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 2: Why cuffs and bands are wonky, and what to do about it (November 14, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 4: Knitting shut hems and facings (December 9, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 5: Sewing shut hems and facings (December 23, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 6: Your steam iron: a mighty weapon in the fight against curling and flipping (December 25, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 7: Zig-zag bands (December 29, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 8: Provisional tail method of 1x1 tubular cast on (January 11, 2008)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 9: Tubular cast off for 1x1 ribbing (it's pretty) (January 15, 2008)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs: the wrap-up (January 23, 2008)

You have been reading TECHknitting on: "hems and facings for knitted garments."