crafts & knitting · knitting tips

A neat edge to a top down seam, a tutorial

There are occasions when you want to create a really neat join between two seamed pieces, especially when this join is at the top of the piece and so very visible. Within my patterns this occurs at the top edges of both the removable shoes (soon to be released) and some of the designs in my ‘bags, backpacks and baskets’ pattern.

Above is a picture of the top seam that you’re aiming to achieve:

And here’s a little tutorial on how to work it…

Normally when you cast off you cut the work from the ball and thread this tail through the final stitch on the needle in order to secure the cast off row and prevent it from unravelling. But that creates a little nubbin at the end of the row and can interfere with a neat join when you start to sew an attaching seam.

So instead, when you have your last stitch at the end of your cast off row, cut the work from the ball and pull on the loop of this last stitch, like so:

Keep pulling that loop until the cut tail is pulled all the way through, effectively unravelling half of this final stitch:

Then thread a tapestry needle with this cast off tail end and sew through both arms of the edge-most stitch on the opposite side of the seam:

Then sew back across the gap and down through the stitch that the tail end is emerging from:

In doing this you have replicated a cast off edge stitch to span the top of the seam between the two pieces (see image at the top)

And then you can continue seaming the two pieces together using mattress stitch ( Mattress stitch seaming tutorial can be found here)

I hope this helps you to get neat and attractive edges to the seams at the top of your removable shoes and bags, happy seaming 🙂

J x

crafts & knitting · knitting tips

A mattress stitch tutorial

Seaming. You either love it or hate it. Personally I’m a lover of seams, especially mattress stitch because it gives such a professional finish, so I thought I’d write a little about the benefits of using a mattress stitch seam and how best to work it on different knitted surfaces.

Granted, there are times when a seam is not always appropriate. Socks for instance are definitely better without seams but when it comes to toy knitting I’m a firm believer in seams as an integral part of shaping the finished toy.

It seems that for some seams are dreaded and actively disliked and perhaps the main reason is because seaming takes longer and after you’ve finished knitting something you don’t want to spend ages finishing it off. However, I suspect that there are some who don’t like seaming because they are never happy with the results. To those people I’d like to offer the following few little tips from my experiences and a few words of encouragement; you can do it, keep at it because practice really does make for perfect seams…

So what is mattress stitch?

It’s a way of joining a vertical seam with a virtually invisible look on the front of the work, on the reverse there will be a raised selvedge, see here the front and back of a mattress seam:

front and back

The principles of mattress stitch are very simple, you work in the direction that the piece was knitted in and join the pieces together with right sides facing you, by sewing through one bar between stitches on one side of a seam and then a corresponding bar on the opposite side of the seam. When I say ‘bar between stitches’ this is what I mean:

In the picture below you can see I have numbered the 3 columns of stitches nearest to the edge of the work. Each single stitch makes a neat V shape with each row of stitches sitting neatly in the V of the stitch in the row below to create columns. Between every column of V shaped stitches there are horizontal bars running from the back of one stitch to the next (on the reverse of the work this is seen as a purl bump). These ‘bars’ between stitches are what you want to be sewing through when you work mattress stitch, it’s commonly referred to as a ‘channel between stitches’ and the best channel to use is the one between stitch 1 (which is right on the edge of the work) and stitch 2, as shown here. Some people seam through 2 bars each time, now if you have a very long length to join this is probably a good choice but as all my patterns deal with small pieces I always seam through a single bar as I feel it gives a neater seam on most knitted fabrics.

channels2

What to sew with:

Before you begin, it’s best to consider what you are going to sew your seam with and whether you are going to use the cast on tail end from the knitted piece or use a new length of yarn.

Usually I begin seaming with the cast on tail from the work (all of my patterns give instruction to leave a certain length of yarn when you cast on) but sometimes there are reasons why you might not want to do this:

  1. the tail end you’ve left is too short
  2. the yarn is not strong enough *
  3. the yarn is expensive and you don’t want to use it up on a seam.

In these instances you would cut a length of alternative yarn to seam with. This could either be a length of the same yarn your piece is knitted in or one of a similar colour.

*Going back briefly to point 2 above. If you have knitted in a single ply yarn or a softly plied wool you might find that the yarn breaks too easily to be used to sew a seam. I love knitting animals in Malabrigo worsted which is a single ply yarn but I’ve often found that half way up a seam the yarn just comes apart and then you have to unpick the seam and start again. You can strengthen any weak yarn by giving it extra twist. Do this by simply threading the needle with the tail end and twisting in the same direction as the yarn is plied until the yarn curls on itself. This will now be a much stronger yarn to seam with:

snapped

So back to seaming. Whether you use the cast on tail or a new length of yarn you need to begin by anchoring the bottom of the seam.

Anchoring the seam:

I always lead with piece on the right hand side of the seam, it seems to give a neater finish (but that could just be because I am right-handed), so here’s how to set up so your first seam stitch is on the right hand side of the seam…

Assuming you are starting with the tail from the left hand piece:

1, take the yarn across to the right hand piece and sew downwards through a stitch on the cast on edge;

2, now sew upwards through the corresponding stitch on the left hand piece.

If your tail end is on the right hand piece just follow step 2 above.

begin

Now you are ready to start the seam with the first stitch on the right hand of the seam and below are instructions for seaming 4 different surfaces:

1. Seaming smooth stocking stitch:

Making sure that you are working into the very first bar above the cast on edge, slide the tip of your needle through the bar between the first and second stitches…

stockingstitch right

(note: I’ve used blue yarn as the working yarn here simply for contrast so you can see more clearly, in reality it’s best to use colour as similar to the work as possible)

… then slide the needle through the corresponding bar on the left hand piece

st stitch left

Keep working up along the length of the seam, alternating between the right hand side and the left. At this point it does not matter if the stitches are loose (see below).

loose stocking stitch

Every inch or so you can pull gently on the working yarn to tighten then and draw the sides of the seam neatly together…

st stitch

Unless otherwise instructed don’t pull too tightly or the seam will pucker and become rigid (sometimes this will be useful depending on what you are seaming). If you find you have pulled too tightly you can gently lengthen the seam again, as mattress stitch forms a very fluid seam which will compress or stretch as required until you’ve tied it off at the end.

Once you have completely joined the sides it’s best to tie off the end you’ve sewn with (to the cast off tail from the knitted piece) in order to anchor the seam. Then weave in the ends (I usually weave them in along the seam selvedge although bear in mind that depending on the yarn you’ve used this can make the seam a little bulkier).

2. Seaming stripes on stocking stitch:

Seaming stripes follows exactly the same process as above. The main issue is making sure that the stripes line up nicely. I find that leading with the right hand side gives the neatest alignment, so just make sure that you are sewing the first stitch of a new colour section through the right hand side before the left.

stripes

straight stripes

3. Seaming reverse stocking stitch:

This is a little more complicated, but only because on one side of the seam you want to sew through the top part of a stitch and on the opposite side you’ll need to sew through the lower part. I’ve heard these referred to as ‘frowns’ and ‘smiles’, ‘mountains’ and ‘valleys’, ‘uppers’ and ‘downers’ and so on, you get the idea. Here’s a picture to show what I mean: 1 is a lower bar (smile, valley, u, etc.) and 2 is an upper bar (mountain, frown, n etc)

uppers and downers

In order to seam reverse stocking stitch all you need to do is be consistent. I tend to use the lower bar for the right hand side of the seam and the upper bar for the left hand side but it doesn’t matter which side you chose as the ‘upper’ and which as the ‘lower’, all that matters is that you are consistent once you have chosen.

Begin as above by anchoring the start of the seam and then beginning with the right hand side slide the tip of the needle through the first lower bar…

lower right

and then on the left side slide the tip through the corresponding row upper bar…

upper left

Work the length of the seam, alternating between the right hand side and the left. At this point it does not matter if the stitches are loose (see below).

rev stocking stitch loose

Every inch or so you can pull gently on the working yarn to tighten then and draw the sides of the seam neatly together…

rev stocking stitch

Unless otherwise instructed don’t pull too tightly or the seam will pucker and become rigid (sometimes this will be useful depending on what you are seaming). If you find you have pulled too tightly you can gently lengthen the seam again, as mattress stitch forms a very fluid seam which will compress or stretch as required until you’ve tied it off at the end.

Once you have completely joined the sides it’s best to tie off the end you’ve sewn with (to the cast off end from the piece) in order to anchor the seam and then weave in the ends (I usually weave them in along the seam selvedge although bear in mind that depending on the yarn you’ve used this can make the seam a little bulkier).

4. Seaming garter stitch:

In garter stitch every row is knitted, forming distinct purl ridges across the fabric. When seaming garter stitch I don’t sew through the stitches on every row. Instead I ignore the bars on alternate ‘smooth’ rows and just sew through stitches on the ‘bumpy’ rows. I’ve found this gives a much neater seam. Here’s a seam joined by sewing through a stitch from every row (both purl bumps on one row and smooth bars on the following row), it looks messy to me:

garter stitch wrong

And here’s a seam sewn by just using the stitches from the alternate ‘bumpy’ rows, which I think looks neater:

garterstitch right

Simply use the same principles as for seaming reverse stocking stitch by sewing through upper bars on one side of the seam and lower bars on the other. Here I’ve sewn through the lower bar on the right hand side…

garter rightside

And the upper bar on the left-hand side…

garter left

Unless otherwise instructed don’t pull too tightly or the seam will pucker and become rigid (sometimes this will be useful depending on what you are seaming). If you find you have pulled too tightly you can gently lengthen the seam again, as mattress stitch forms a very fluid seam which will compress or stretch as required until you’ve tied it off at the end.

Once you have completely joined the sides it’s best to tie off the end you’ve sewn with (to the cast off end from the piece) in order to anchor the seam and then weave in the ends (I usually weave them in along the seam selvedge although bear in mind that depending on the yarn you’ve used this can make the seam a little bulkier).

Remedying possible problems:

Jumping channels:

Sometimes if your mind is wandering you can accidentally jump across channels between stitches. This will be very evident on the front of the work, here there is a noticeable step on the left hand side of the seam (see where the arrow is pointing to). It’s easy to fix this by unpicking the work to the point just beneath the jump, see ‘Unpicking in the event of a mistake’ below.

jump channels

Out of alignment stripes/colour work:

When sewing stripes it’s obviously important that they line up. Again I find that leading with the right hand side usually gives the best result. If you find you’ve missed a loop or your stripes are not aligned then it’s best to pull out the seam and start again (see ‘unpicking in the event of a mistake’ below).

not aligned

Sewing in the wrong channel between stitches (not making a neat V):

Sometimes you may accidentally sew through the bar in the centre V of a stitch instead of the bar between two stitches. This is what that seam will look like. You can see that the stitches immediately on the left of the seam are lying in the same direction as those on the right of the seam rather than mirroring them, so it looks like the central row of stitches has two left hand arms. It’s a neat seam but not invisible and to correct this you’ll need to unpick the seam and start it again  (see ‘unpicking in the event of a mistake’ below).

half channel

Unpicking in the event of a mistake:

One of the nice things about a mattress stitch seam is the ease with which it can be undone.

If you turn the work so that the wrong side is facing you’ll see the selvedge seam. Bending that over you’ll be able to see a little line of straight stitches running down the length of the seam these are the back of the mattress stitches (here I’ve used blue thread for contrast). Simply find the point that you need to unpick to and slide the tip of the needle underneath the stitch at that point and pull the working thread gently all the way through so unravelling all of the mattress stitches above that point. Then just re-thread your needle and continue seaming.

pull out

Well, that’s it. I hope you find some of these tips useful and enjoy using them to finish your knitted projects neatly and professionally. If you have any questions ask away in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them and if you have anything else you’d like me to cover in a future tutorial please let me know.

happy knitting and seaming 🙂

You can find my other tutorials here

crafts & knitting · knitting tips

duplicate stitch

Duplicate stitch (also known as Swiss darning) is a useful technique for adding a surface design onto an already knitted piece. It’s a stitch I use a lot especially on the front of bunny jumpers and some of the more complex dress designs.

Duplicate stitched

It works well for any design that would normally use intarsia and there are some advantages that duplicate stitch has over intarsia:

  • Using lots of colours: When you knit intarsia using any more than 3 colours it becomes very complicated (and tangled) but working a design in duplicate stitch means that you can incorporate many more colours. I’ve used up to 6 together on one design
  • Unpicking: With duplicate stitch it’s easy to unpick the design completely if you don’t like it any more and your knitted piece is still intact once you remove the design. You can also unpick to any point if you realise you’ve made a mistake – just gently undo half a stitch at a time without pulling too hard so as not to pucker the earlier stitches. If you’ve knitted in intarsia the whole thing would have to be unpicked.
  • Using different yarn types: When using duplicate stitch you can mix different yarn types which might cause problems with tension if used during intarsia knitting. For instance you could use a fluffy yarn to work an animal design. It is not recommended to use a yarn that is thinner (or substantially thicker) than the yarn used for the knitting.
  • Using duplicate stitch allows you to cheat a little by duplicate stitching just half a stitch. For instance in this little heart below I’ve added half a stitch at either end of the top row in order to smooth the curve of the top of the heart.

Before you start:

To block or not to block: It’s entirely up to you. You will find it easier to work duplicate stitch neatly if your piece of knitting that lies flat so if you’re unsure then best block first.

It is better to use a slightly blunt-nosed needle as a sharp needle can split stitches in the knitted fabric and make the whole process a bit more difficult.

Thread the needle with a long length of your chosen yarn. It’s good to choose a colour that contrasts well with the background colour of your knitted piece and the weight of the yarn needs to be at least equal to the weight used in the background knitting.

tip: if you are using a yarn that snaps easily (like a single ply yarn) then you may want to work with shorter lengths and join in new lengths regularly at the back of the work – I’ve found that the repeated sewing through the stitches can wear a weak yarn and cause it to snap.

Where to start:

Start from a bottom corner of your chosen design. I’ve found it much harder to get a neat finish if I am working downwards and threading the yarn behind an already duplicated stitch above – it never sits as neatly so I recommend always starting at the bottom of the design and working upwards.

I prefer to start from the bottom right corner but doesn’t matter if you start from the left or right of a design, so you choose what you’re most comfortable with.

Find the centre point of your chart and mark the centre point of your knitting – this will make it easier to count out stitches so that you begin your design in the right place (here I’ve used a piece of blue thread to mark the centre stitch).

begin

Here’s how:

Thread your needle loaded with the length of yarn you’ve chosen for the design through your knitted piece from the back to the front by coming through the ‘V’ point of the first knit stitch that you want to duplicate…

2

Now from the front of the work slide the needle through both ‘arms’ of the stitch above, in the same direction as you are working in across the row (I always work the first row from right to left)…

3

And lastly take the needle back through the ‘V’ point of the stitch that you are duplicating from the front of the work to the back…

4

At this point check the tension of the duplicate yarn. Don’t pull it too tightly or the work will begin to pucker but don’t leave the duplicate yarn too baggy either – it needs to rest gently on top of the stitch being duplicated, hiding as much of it as possible.

That’s one stitch duplicated…

one stitch

Work across the length of the row in the design that you are duplicating, repeating each step above for each stitch worked…

7

As you gain confidence with the technique you’ll find that you can work entirely from the front side of the work and just slide your needle tip across from the end of one duplicate stitch to the bottom ‘V’ start point of the next stitch…

5

Finish the row with your needle on the wrong side of the work.

To start the next row bring your needle from the back of the work to the front through the centre of the next stitch to be worked in the design. If this is more than 2 stitches away from the last worked stitch then you can weave in the yarn at the back of the work to avoid a long yarn float. I find it easier to turn the work on it’s side when I’m working from left to right back across a row…

back across

Join in extra lengths of yarn where needed, either where you’ve run out of a colour, where a new colour is added or where there is a large gap between the areas in a design. You can knot ends together once you’ve finished and weave them in on the back of the design…

back

Finished duplicate stitched initial from the front…

finished

I hope this helps a little. It’s the way that I work with this technique but if you’d like some other explanations you’ll find there are loads of tutorials and videos on the internet if you search ‘duplicate stitch

And if you’d like to use the alphabet charts to add an initial to your bunny sweater you can Download Alphabet chart.

Here’s a chart for the rose that I have used before on some of the dresses for my animals (as pictured at the top of this post):

Rosechart

There are 4 colours used for the rose in order to create light and shadow within the petals. It can get very tangled on the back of the work so I tend to work one colour at a time. Tip: thread your tapestry needle with at least 1m/1yd of yarn and make your first stitch in the middle of the bottom row of a colour section, leaving half of the length of the yarn as a tail – then you can work upwards for the right-hand side of the design with that particular colour and then go back and pick up the long tail end to work the left-hand side. This allows you to use much longer strands of yarn and so creates less ends to sew in later on. Follow the tips for neat duplicate stitching as detailed above.

Happy stitching x

crafts & knitting · knitting tips

Knitting tips: Fair Isle/stranded colourwork

During writing up the first of my animal patterns it’s been hard to know just how much detail to go into. I didn’t want the patterns to only cover the written knitting instructions with a few lines about assembling the toy almost as an afterthought. Instead I wanted them to include as much detail of the finishing process as possible because I think that is a hugely important part of making them. But there is a limit to what you can pack in to a pattern and so I thought I’d write up some extra notes here on the blog that can be referred to if needed. These extra posts will be categorised under ‘knitting tips’ and the first of these ‘knitting tips’ posts is about Fair Isle/stranded colourwork knitting.

Through chatting with knitting friends it seems that stranded knitting is generally thought to be quite difficult. It really isn’t though. It is a little bit fiddly and takes a little patience and practice to get right but it is perfectly achievable for anyone who can already knit and purl.

There are tons of instructions, diagrams and videos out there on the internet and plenty of books published on the subject and I’m not intending to cover every conceivable aspect of Fair Isle. Instead I’d like to write up notes on the way that I work stranded / Fair Isle and
some tips I’ve learnt along the way to iron out some of the difficulties that are commonly experienced. It is worth pointing out that I knit English style, with both colours in my right hand, so my notes below are written for that way of working. If you knit continental style with a colour in either hand then check out this video or try a search on You Tube as there are lots of other good ones.

Colour dominance:

When you knit a design with two colours you are constantly switching between them and it is really important to be consistent with the order in which you use them. By this I mean which yarn is stranded over the top of the other at the back of the work when it is not the colour being knitted with at the time. It is generally accepted that the yarn stranded beneath will be the more dominant colour in the design.

For example, the two samples below are knitted in the same colours and to the same pattern. The only difference is that in sample A the cream yarn is stranded below the red yarn and in sample B the red yarn is stranded below the cream.

Because of this difference I usually strand the accent colour below the main background colour (as in sample B above). You can choose either way but the most important thing is to be consistent if you want your finished piece to look neat and even.

There is a lovely post here about the perils of ignoring yarn dominance!

Catching up the yarn at the back of the work:

When there are gaps between sections of a pattern worked in the same colour the strands of un-worked yarn that travel across the back of the work are called floats.

It is generally suggested that floats should not strand across more than 7 stitches but my preference is for no more than 4 stitches. If I have to strand yarn across 5 or more stitches I always catch up my floats and usually in the centre of the span.

Lots of people only catch up their floats with a single wrap but I have found that my knitting looks much neater with a double catch up.

How to do double catch ups:

In this sample the darker pink is the main colour and the lighter pink is the accent colour.

Here I need to strand the accent yarn that I’m using for polka-dots across the back of 6 stitches of the main colour. Because it is the accent colour I am stranding it below the main colour (see above note on colour dominance). To catch up a long float first bring the accent colour from underneath the main colour.

Then work the next stitch with the main colour, so catching the un-worked accent yarn up with the loop between the stitches worked in the main colour. Then take the accent colour over the top of the main colour before working the next stitch, so catching the un-worked accent yarn a second time in a downwards direction.

At this point it is good practice to gently tighten the main colour stitch you’ve just worked as it can become a little loose with the extra yarn caught through it. It is important not to tighten the accent colour strand as this will cause the work to pucker and become uneven. Keep the strands of accent colour caught up at the back loose enough to stretch with the work.

Here’s how it looks from the back. You can see the floats of accent yarn are caught up each time by two loops of the main colour yarn.

This technique can be used on both a knit or purl row.

Other rules that I always apply to fair-isle/stranded colourwork

  • Try not to catch up your floats in exactly the same place on consecutive rows as this can lead to banding on the front of the work.
  • Always take any strands of un-worked colours right to the end of each row and catch them up on the edge by twisting them with the yarn currently being used. If you don’t do this you will end up with gaps in your knitting where the stranded yarn pulls at the fabric.
  • If you are working sections of a pattern that don’t include one of the colours, run this un-worked colour up the side of the work by twisting it with the main colour at the end of rows rather than cutting and re-attaching it each time it is needed.
  • If you are mattress seaming your piece try to sew through the strands of both yarns when they are both present on the same row rather than just the main colour as this will give a much neater and more robust seam.
  • You can mix different brands of yarn but stick to the same weight category and yarn composition – for instance don’t use a 4ply cotton yarn with a 4ply wool yarn as they will have different stretching properties.

These notes are not intended as an exhaustive guide but just a mention of the techniques that I like to use. A search on google or You Tube will give you many more tips and techniques if you want to know more.

If you have an aspect of knitting that you’d like me to write about in more detail please let me know and I’ll do my best to help.

Thanks x