Yarn is just like a curtain rod

As I continued to piece together the Brilliant Retro, I realized that perhaps my seaming technique is different than other folks’. When I was a young and naive knitter (a whopping 2 years ago), I followed the recommended seaming procedures and did perfectly fine. But over the years (ha!) I’ve started to deviate from the dogma ever so slightly, and I thought I’d share with you my current seaming protocol.

In the interest of making this more of a discussion than a tutorial (because seaming is seaming, and I’m definitely not reinventing the wheel here), feel free to share you seaming deviations in the comments. What do you do differently than everyone else?

1. Selvedges When knitting stockinette or mostly-stockinette, I don’t treat edge stitches any differently than the rest of the knit fabric. I’ve tried slipping every first stitch, knitting every first stitch, and so on, but have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t help me one way or another, and just adds one more thing to remember. Therefore, on the right side, I knit all the stitches, including the edge stitches, and purl all the stitches on the wrong side.

Now, if the edge isn’t going to be hidden in a seam, it’s a whole different story! Slipped stitches, seed stitch, picot edging, Annie Modesitt’s modified i-cord edging… I love it all! If I’m looking for new ideas, I can always consult my MontseEdges and selvedges, pp. 181-186.

2. Seaming allowances My edge stitches are always a bit wonky, and I like to hide all the irregularities inside the seam. In my case, this requires allotting 1 full stitch on each edge to be eaten up by the seam. Once in a while, especially when knitting a rather dense fabric, I can get away with 1/2 stitch on each side, but I usually don’t temp fates and stick to 1 full stitch. I always include the extra stitches in my calculations – if I determine my sweater’s front needs to be 100 stitches wide, I cast on 102.

With respect to ribbing, I like to put the seam between two knit stitches. I bet this is not universal, though. For me it results in the most invisible seam, as deduced through trial and error, nothing more. So, on the right side, I’d work something like k2, *p2, k2*, then eat up a knit stitch from each edge when I seamed.

What about the added bulk in the seams? Isn’t that a good enough reason to take in a half of a stitch rather than a full one? Generally, I allow myself to be totally reckless with my knitting (oh, the hubris!) and iron the seams to make them flat (e.g., my Pentagon Pullover). I’m absolutely convinced that ironing the seams makes the wearer seem 10 pounds lighter.

The one instance where I seriously ponder the bulky seam situation is baby garments. If the whole sweater is 40 stitches wide, even a stellar ironing job can’t hide 2 stitches in each seam. While I’m not a huge fan of knitting adult sweaters in one piece, it makes more sense with baby stuff, don’t you think? They’re just a big pile of puddin’ anyway :).

3. Placement of increases/decreases Considering 1 stitch is eaten up by the seam, I typically place my increases and decreases 2 stitches away from the edge: k2, k2tog, knit to last 4 sts, SSK, k2… or, k2, m1left, knit to last 2 sts, m1right, k2.

4. Seaming yarn As I noted in my last post, I don’t always use the pattern yarn for seaming. I think the most important characteristic of a yarn used for seaming is smoothness. When using mattress stitch (aka, ladder stitch, invisible seam, weaving, or vertical grafting), the seaming thread is almost perfectly vertical, meandering just a tiny bit to catch the running threads. Meaning, you can pull at one end of the thread, and the other end will retreat/shorten. This allows wonderful precision when it comes to the length and tautness of your seams if the seaming thread doesn’t give you any beef when you tug on it. Anything nubbly, hairy, or prone to breaking doesn’t strike me as a good yarn to use for seaming. Just ask yourself, “will this give me any trouble as I pull it through hundreds of inter-stitch spaces?”

5. Actual protocol Now we’re getting to the truly unorthodox :).

Many people leave long tails of yarn when casting on, and then use those lengths of yarn to complete the seaming. As long as the yarn is smooth (see #4 above), I see nothing wrong with that strategy. I myself used to do that all the time, and still dabble in it once in a while – 3-needle bind-off at the shoulders comes to mind.

However, recently I’ve moved away from this technique.

First, if it’s not too much trouble, I like the elements of a sweater to line up nicely. I want the decreases/increases to be right next to each other; same for the point where the ribbing ends. So, I take a darning needle threaded with a brand new length of yarn, pick an obvious design element, and start joining there. If things aren’t matching up, I pull the thread out – it usually takes just a few tries of two or three stitches each to get a perfect match.

I started doing it this way because so often I’d begin seaming at the cuff of a sweater, and 3 inches later, when I encountered my first increase, I’d see that the two sides were off by 2 stitches. Ug!

I think you can see that the seam will travel in two directions from the “seaming epicenter,” so make sure to leave a good length of yarn for both sides.

As I seam, I weave the yarn somewhat loosely through the running threads for about an inch or so, then pull it taut. But not too taught! As I mentioned in section 4, the seaming yarn travels through the edge rather unobstructed. In fact, think of the seaming yarn as a shower rod, with the knit fabric slipping and sliding on it like shower curtain rings. You can imagine crowding the entire shower curtain in one spot, or distributing the width of the curtain unevenly along the length of the rod.

Same with mattress stitch – yank on the seaming thread a bit tightly once, twice, three times, and one sleeve comes out an inch shorter than the other.

Ask me how I know :).

So, returning to the instructions, I weave the seaming yarn through about 1″ of fabric, pull the yarn until I sense resistance, then gently tug on the fabric to make sure it’s not too tight. Ruching is a fabulous technique, but I’d rather leave it out my sweater seams.

By the way, using an unattached length of yarn to do the seaming is very helpful in achieving the right spring in the seams – both ends are free for pulling, tugging, undoing, etc.

Another reason I enjoy this seaming strategy is because it allows me more control over finishing the edge of the cuff.

When the edge of the cuff is the first thing to be seamed up, it’s hard to determine which exact yarn loops need to be joined, and in what order, to give the most invisible result. When approaching the edge from the center of the seam, nothing could be simpler!

In addition to the seaming yarn securing the two sides of the fabric together, I usually use the pattern yarn (tail left over from cast-on) to make a few stitches at the very edge, too. Just to add that last polishing touch.

Postscript Why the hell am I so wordy today? Did you really make it all the way to the end?!? On the plus side, now I have it all written down, for the next time I’m asked about seaming in the comments or e-mails.


71 thoughts on “Yarn is just like a curtain rod

  1. Lin

    Thank you so much for your seaming tips. I have a seaming phobia and will try all methods to avoid it…. but, my next project will be a vest top made specifically to practice my seaming! I just need to avoid all those top down raglans I want to knit! 🙂

  2. Lin

    Thank you so much for your seaming tips. I have a seaming phobia and will try all methods to avoid it…. but, my next project will be a vest top made specifically to practice my seaming! I just need to avoid all those top down raglans I want to knit! 🙂

  3. Carrie

    Sounds pretty interesting to me. I have never been instructed on seaming or weaving in ends, so I’ve always done it in the way that makes the most sense for the item, only looking at Montse in the recent past.

    I also love that Gramma’s favorite color is my favorite color – it’s an added bonus, looking at your pictures. 🙂

  4. Ruth

    I do 1 through 4 exactly the same as you do on every point. Your technique on 5 makes sense — it is a good idea for getting the increases all to line up. But why would you normally do the cuff first? I usually start the seams at the underarm and go outward, so that the cuff is last. I thought that was generally how it was done.

  5. Richelle

    I have been avoiding seaming like the plague. I may now give it a try. You make it seem effortless. Keep the awesome tutorials coming. I’m learning so much from you, it is greatly appreciated.

  6. Emilee

    I loathe seaming, and knit stuff in the round if at all possible. Your tips make it sound manageable, though. I’ll have to give it another try.

  7. emily

    all these assembling posts come just in time for me, as i’m at the finishing stages of a cardigan, so thanks a bunches .

    i have an unrelated question though – from the last photo it seams that you knit a row or two of plain stockinette before starting the ribbing on the cuff. why is that?

  8. Ann

    A discussion and a tutorial! Fantastic! Since I have never sewn, I have been apprehensive about seaming and I’m working hard to get over this. Thanks for the alternative approach!

  9. kim

    Delurking to tell you how much I enjoy your site. I can’t believe you’ve been knitting for such a short time. You are such an expert knitter. This was a great tutorial. Thanks!

  10. Ashley

    The “start in the middle and work out to both ends” technique is what has really made my seaming look perfect (if I do say) in many cases, I think. And while I myself am a selvedvge-stitch-slipper, I also factor in an extra stitch on each side of the pattern for seaming.

  11. Amy

    This is great info! I do most things the same way you do, including stitching in farther from the edge than most folks do. I’m never really happy with how my edge stitches look, even when slipping the first stitch. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished sweater!

  12. Knitography

    I hate sewing of any kind, so I really appreciated this post and all of the tips that it contained. I am almost done a cardigan and I am going to try some of these ideas out when I seam it up. Thanks!

  13. Emily

    For K2P2 ribbing I always allow one full stitch for seam allowance, and seam between to purl stitches. In theory both ways should be equally invisible, but it’s just how I’ve always done it.

  14. natalja

    Seaming is such an unpopular topic with knitters that they never talk about it in great detail. There are so many different seaming techniques and everyone has his/her preferences. I wish more people would share their knowledge/experiences like you did. I found your “seaming protocol” very detailed and extremely helpful, since I just started my first cardigan. I’m sure I can use some of your tips. Thanks!

  15. christie

    I do a lot of this stuff — but the tip about starting at a “matching point” like the end of the ribbing is a great one! Thanks!

    Got any tips about weaving in ends? I have a method or two, but I’m never completely confident that the whole shebang won’t come unraveled. Is there a “right way?”

    What I do differently than most knitting people: I sew the shoulder seam, attach the sleeve cap, then work the side and underarm seam in one fell swoop (with separate yarn, working from waist to cuff). It’s a trick borrowed from sewing garments, and it means I don’t have to set in sleeves very often.

  16. Joanna

    I do pretty much the same thing as you, but I really like leaving long lengths of yarn and using them to seam, because it leaves me with fewer ends to weave in. Just a personal preference though! Also, I’ve learned that I’m much better at mattress-stitching than I am at eyeballing. There have been too many times that I held the pieces up and thought “hmm, looks like I’m off by a few stitches,” tried to compensate, and then discovered a few inches later that I’m a few stitches off in the opposite direction! So now I try to just go with it and save my compensating for the end (or for matching increases/decreases, like you mentioned).

  17. Elisabeth

    I made it all the way to the end of the wordiness and enjoyed every minute of it :0) I haven’t made any adult sweaters yet, but I will definitely be using your tips because they make such beautiful seams!

  18. Michelle

    I have a sick joy of weaving in ends. Sure, I’d rather knit than seam, but there is something satisfying about clean-looking seams. Your tips are going to take my guilty pleasure to a new level.

  19. Karen B.

    With the exception of starting in the center (brilliant!), I must’ve read your seaming playbook as it appears that we follow very similar approaches to finishing.

  20. Nancy J

    Congrats on your being published in IK — mine came in the mail today. Yes, I made it to the end of your post. Very Important Information needs to be read to the end! Stay warm!

  21. Cath

    I crochet seams together whenever possible. This is mainly because it’s so easy to frog the seam if, for instance, you decide that the sleeves aren’t sitting right after all when you’ve seamed them, but also because you don’t have to worry about how long a piece of yarn to use for sewing.

  22. Allegra

    It really just blows my mind that you just started knitting two years ago. You knit and design such fabulous things! I guess when you love something you do it full-force, huh? What other way is there??

  23. Sarah

    Your tips are always great — the ironing thing really works! I also think I might try intentionally using a different yarn for seaming more often — it seems like it would be easier to spot and rip out a seam further down the line if there is a subtle difference in yarns.

  24. Janine

    Again, absolutely lovely. I think your precise methods really add to the already stellar quality of your knitted garments. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I am just as picky about the finished piece and so feel like we’re knitting kin :).

  25. jess

    hey, neat! I do just about everything you mention, especially the various and sundries in #5. I want my seams to match up at those points, and I found it easier to start there, leave ends on either side, and seam from that point.

    On my first adult knit sweater, I realized that I couldn’t seam with the yarn I knit the sweater with because every time I gave it the slightest tug, it would tear. So I seamed with a smooth, smaller yarn and it worked out well.

    I received my IK today! Congrats on the published pattern and I can’t wait to start my version! (in LL, I’m sure).

  26. Elizabeth

    After a few incidents involving tragic misalignment, I have taken to starting with the cuff edge when I seam my sleeves and the hem edge for the body so that when I come together any fudging required is hidden in the armpit. I may try your method next time for a more precise result, though. 😉

  27. Laura

    Thanks for the info! So many knitters are self-taught or Grandma-taught or whatever and they never learn about finishing techniques. Many people can successfully knit a pattern. Fewer can expertly seam, block, weave ends, join yarns… etc. The final appearance of the knitted object or garment depends a lot on the finishing. Thanks for sharing your angle on seaming!

  28. Jomy

    I actually like seaming; it’s almost magical how I can just pull a thread and make it all come together!

    I love the feeling, also, of having a good invisible/mattress/… seam. How many times have I put a seamed, knit garment on and have to FEEL around for the seam because I couldn’t see it? 🙂

    I don’t know how you do it, but I do my seaming kinda differently than how I usually see it done.

    Instead of putting my needle under two stiches at a time, I always do one. It’s easier for me to concentrate and easier to execute, but still with excellent results.

  29. Marcy

    Such common sense. I will keep this in mind if I ever decide to make the foray into a garment in pieces.

    I am enamored of all-one-piece sweaters (usually the top-down variety), but I’d like to make some sweaters with set-in sleeves. I have Barbara Walker’s book and several of EZ’s books, but I’m having a problem understanding just how they want these sleeve caps executed. Plus, the pictures are not inspiring me. It’s hard to tell if the sweaters look bad because the pictures are dated, or because the set-in sleeve doesn’t really work well in all-one-piece construction.

  30. domesticat

    i may or may not have made it all the way to the end ;). i also do my seams like you – seaming allowances just make sense. what if a row started with a yo (and they have)? i mean who wants to seam yarn-overs? not i.

  31. Gena

    I do some of those the same way! I also start at design elements to make sure my pieces line up. I think it makes the whole process easier to have a “landmark” to start at.

  32. everythingearin

    I like to do a figure eight stitch on the very edge of a cuff then sew up an inch or so. Then using a different length of yarn I match up the design elements. Sort of your “divide and conquer” technique. I then seam up and down easing things in as needed. I’ve never considered using a different yarn but that makes amazing sense plus I can see that I am pulling in too tightly. What really gives me problems is seaming up garter stitchs. I’m not that happy with my weaving in of ends either. Suggestions?

  33. Ari

    I definitely made it to the end, as I hate seaming and am always looking for a “better” way to do it (okay, I knit in the round ALOT!). Loved the whole post and you definitely make seaming seem like alot more fun than it is. I was inspired to go seam up a project that has been sitting for a year now.

  34. Rita

    Great tips! I do my seaming differently than your point 5 in that I start, not in the epicenter, but at both ends (wrist, and usually armpit). I seam in both directions, and if i need to fudge any stitches, they are near an elbow or around waist-level where I can hide them.

  35. Kim

    Awesome! I was wondering about your comment concerning pressing seams. I’m always really afraid to apply my iron to anything delicate – wool, silk, cashmere. I am working on a baby sweater in Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino – can I just press the seams (the poor 1-stitch wide things…)? What setting do you use on your iron? Or is it only slightly warm and you press with the weight of the iron (or with the weight of your shoulder)?

  36. Claudia

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write down and illustrate with pictures your seaming tips. I’m starting my first cardigan and have been worried about the “finishing” stage as that’s where a “hand-knit” garment can begin to look “home made.” I’m definately going to use your tricks of the trade. Thanks again. An Appreciative fan.

  37. mari

    Your post made me so happy today! It’s informative, chock full of your great photos and… I do everything exactly the way you do it! Really, it’s a little embarrassing, but I couldn’t have been more proud of myself. It’s only because I consider you such a great intellectual knitter that I got excited. Ok, I’m done fawning. Great post!!

  38. pennie

    Your seaming is flawless. It looks really wonderful. I’m not actually crazy about the seaming process, but nothing can ruin an otherwise beautiful project worse than sloppy finishing. So I invest the time. I’ll have to try your way soon.

  39. Jody

    Something else to think about… If you don’t have a smaller yarn available in the same color, is to split the yarn like embroidery floss. That way you still get the same color, without all the bulk.

  40. Marilyn

    How do you have time to knit, seam, write about it in such beautiful detail and clarity, AND be a grad student, loving granddaughter, apron maker, and who knows what else? Do you sleep?

    Gorgeous use of periwinkle, again, and thanks for the inspiration. Just don’t tell us that you also exercise every day!

  41. Barb in Sudbury

    Woo hoo! I got my IK today! Love the socks.

    And as usual, your in-depth treatment of a knitting technique gave me some food for thought–I’m seaming a cardi soon and will try some things differently (your way) to see if it’s an improvement over what I have been doing.


  42. Brenda

    Thanks for the tips. I can always count on a thorough and straightforward explanation from you! And where is the seam on that ribbed cuff?

  43. Iris

    Enjoyed your discussion about seaming, very interesting ideas, especially about using a different yarn where appropriate – I never thought of that! I was in B&N today using up a gift card and came across the Montse which I scarfed right up. It’s a great book – thanks for the tip!

  44. Sarahfish

    I was reading along going yup, yup, I do that, un huh… oh wait! I love the idea of starting seaming at a paired set of increases or what have you so that it all lines up. I have actually tried seaming the same sleeve with the tail from the cast on/off edge so many times, and having it not match up each time, that the yarn tail gets weak! D’oh. Thanks for the why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moment!

  45. Heather

    I do not pull the yarn taut for my seams because I do not believe – at least for mattress stitch – that the seam yarn should be straight. I treat it more like kitchener stitch, which should be treated with the correct amount of tension, but not pulled tight.

    Also, I do not use the yarn from the cast-on edge, even though this is tempting since it reduces final end-weaving. If there is any reason that the sweater has to come apart, it can really complicate matters to have used yarn attached to the sweater. If it is NOT attached, you can cut if needed, which is otherwise not a good idea. Or if unraveling is required, likewise cutting is an option, or it is easier to predict where the seam was sewn rather than tracking down how that end was treated – as seam yarn, then woven in and doubled back, etc.

    Ask me how I know.

    But I very much like the use-a-non-sweater-yarn for seaming idea. I have had yarn break because I didn’t predict how it would behave, and that is very disappointing. In fact, I still have an unfinished mitten sitting around somewhere…

  46. Heide

    I hate finishing. That’s part of the reason socks are so appealing. Thank you for the tips, perhaps countless hours of careful knitting won’t be sabbotaged now by my terrible seaming if I follow your tips.

  47. Lillian

    Great info. I think #1 is in Mary Thomas’ Knitting Book – from 193?. Good techniques are timeless.

    And for Marcy – I did a top-down, set-in-sleeve sweater following Barbara Walker’s Knitting From The Top. It’s easy (much easier to do than to read & visualize imho) and your increases or stitch-pickups (depending which method you do) make the ‘seam line’ where the sleeve meets the shoulder. I’m knitting, slowly, occasionally, a top-down modified-drop-shoulder from her book now.

  48. Elise Hiller

    Thanks for this post!! I had just finished my first sweater made in pieces only a few weeks ago and wished I had your tutorial then. I managed to meander my way through and I think things turned out ok, but I need improvement. I had looked in many resource books, (memo to self…must buy Montse)but could not get a great handle on the “how” of it all. Just dove in and made it up I’m afraid, but now armed with your tutorial, I am ready to finish the final sleeve on the hubby’s sweater and begin to put it all together. Now, if only you could sit next to me when I begin seaming…..

  49. Beverly

    Glad I’m not the only one who fiddles with seams. Lately I’ve been doing a crocheted (slipstitch) seam that’s meant to be seen on the right side. Not for everyone or every garment but has its place.

  50. Beverly

    Glad I’m not the only one who fiddles with seams. Lately I’ve been doing a crocheted (slipstitch) seam that’s meant to be seen on the right side. Not for everyone or every garment but has its place.

  51. Onaridge

    Yep made it to the end. As someone who avoids seaming like the plague I finally have to seam a vest and I was very interested in your technique and had just been wondering about whether to leave enough tail or use a fresh piece of yarn. I like your technique and will try it. Thanks for sharing!

  52. Elle

    Yay! Perfect timing. I just finished knitting a baby jacket, seamed the shoulders and set in the sleeves the old fashioned way. For 2 days, I’ve been looking at this project saying, “There’s gotta be a better way,” and using lateral thinking to come up with…something. Well, I came up with the idea of looking at your blog – I always learn something here – and VOILA! Pretty darn good, if you ask me. Soooo, I’m gonna use the new patented Grumperina method right now! Wahooo!

  53. Tara

    Wow! I have been knitting on and off for 15 years or more and have mainly stuck to items that don’t require seaming because it always looks bad. Thanks for this post-I am ready to try it again.

  54. Hickory

    Wonderful tips! Thanks! I always do my sleeve caps starting in the middle with the sewing up yarn going both ways, but now I’ll do it that way on all my seams! As always you are thorough and thoughtful and so generous to share. I love teaching seaming and sewing up, so many people are afraid of it, but they just don’t know how to do it properly yet. 🙂

Comments are closed.