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Picking Up Stitches Properly and Evenly

Dec 18, 2013

Picking up stitches is very simple in actuality, but it's sometimes confusing as written in patterns. Way back in 2009, Knitting Daily founding editor Sandi Wiseheart did a couple of wonderful tutorials about picking up stitches, and I thought we could all use a refresher course:

What is "picking up and knitting"?

Picking up stitches is a way to add new stitches to an already finished bit of knitting—along the sides for a button band, perhaps, or at the neckline for a collar. You can add stitches to any edge: a cast-on edge, a bound-off edge, or the side edges.

There are two steps involved:

1.  Pick up loops along the edge of the knitted piece, using a spare knitting needle. (This is the "pick up" part.)

2.  Knit new stitches into those newly picked-up loops. (This is the "and knit" part.)

That's why many instructions say "pick up and knit"—it is a two-step process. Many knitters do both steps for each single stitch—pick up the loop, then knit a new stitch into it—before moving on to pick-up-and-knit the next stitch.

However, there are many skilled knitters who pick up all the loops along the edge at once, placing them on a spare needle. They then switch the spare needle with the new loops to their left hand, and knit all the new stitches onto the loops in a second, separate step.

It doesn't matter which way you do this, as long as you do both steps—pick up, and knit—for each stitch.

Here are some step-by-step photo tutorials:

Picking up stitches along a slipped-stitch row edge, such as a sock heel flap or button band, shown at top left, or picking up stitches along a cast-on or bound-off edge, such as a collar or cuffs, shown at bottom left.

—Sandi Wiseheart, founding editor of Knitting Daily

I'm one of those knitters who picks up all of the stitches at once, and then knits them as part of the next step—button band, collar, heel flap, whatever.

One question that I get all the time concerns picking up stitches evenly. I have a knitter friend who finds this very challenging, and in a recent project she had to pick up stitches for her button band five times before she got the correct number.

Anyway, here's how you pick up stitches evenly:

When a pattern instructs you to pick up a specific number of stitches along an edge, save yourself some frustration with a simple trick.

  • First, measure your piece, then gather locking stitch markers or safety pins. If you have only a small area, you may find that just dividing your piece into two sections will be enough.
  • For longer edges, use more markers and divide your piece into four or more equal sections, using a ruler and placing locking markers at even intervals along the piece.
  • Now divide the number of stitches that you need to pick up by the number of sections you've created and you'll have a much more manageable number to track.

I found this great tip in a back issue of Interweave Knits; I hope it helps you out the next time you have to pick up stitches for a project.

Aside from the gorgeous knitwear in each issue of Knits, there are tons of useful tips, such as the one above. Did you know that there's an online index of every single pattern and article that's appeared in Interweave Knits since its inception? If you're like me and you have a bookshelf full of back issues, this index is invaluable. Check it out. (There's one for Knitscene, too, at the same link!)

Check out the back issues we have on sale now!

Cheers,

P.S. Do you have a tip for picking up stitches? Share it with us in the comments!

 


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Comments

Cathy Bearns wrote
on Feb 3, 2014 9:28 PM

would like to see the actual process of picking up sts. on gloves...

Saphyreslady wrote
on Dec 23, 2013 11:08 PM

Picking up stitches is not just for adding stitches.  I use it all the time when I join mitered squares together.  The only difference is that it's is not on a slipped edge but on turned edge and/or a top edge in garter stitch.  

debknit@2 wrote
on Dec 21, 2013 1:34 PM

The photos and descriptions are great, however, if you pick up and knit one stitch for every row for a button band, you will have too many stitches to make an even band, since most knit stitches are wider than they are long.  My rule of thumb is to pick up and knit about 3 stitches for every 4 rows along a center front edge.  And for doing a sloped edge (neckline), Ann Budd recommends to pick up and knit one stitch for every bound off stitch and about 3 stitches for every 4 rows along a slope.

mjbliss wrote
on Dec 21, 2013 11:16 AM

I can't find the online index for Interweave Knits.  The link provided brings me to Knitwear and Knitscene.

Dawninco wrote
on Dec 21, 2013 11:01 AM

Kathleen-

I have a question concerning a problem that I have run into several times regarding your statement: "It doesn't matter which way you do this, as long as you do both steps—pick up, and knit—for each stitch".

There are some instances where you need to be on a certain side of the work for the next row following the "pick up and knit" instructions in a pattern. A button band for example, or a specific pattern, etc., when working flat. Picking up, turning your work, and then knitting back on the "wrong" side will put you back on the right side again. Lots of work arounds on this, but I have run into some student's projects where the student did not think forward in the instructions to avert a problem. Do you have anything to add to your wonderful instructions above that would clarify when to recognize when picking up and knitting in one motion would be more appropriate when not specified in the instructions?

Thanks much!

rhynold wrote
on Dec 21, 2013 8:14 AM

When knitting I always slip the first stitch of every row, thus when having to pick up stitches it is easy.  I also use a crochet hook as a took to pick up the stitches, then transfer them onto a knitting needle.

EdianeRob wrote
on Dec 19, 2013 6:12 PM

I actually use a crochet hook to pick up the stitches and transfer them to my knitting needle once it gets full.  I find it goes pretty quickly.

on Dec 19, 2013 1:52 AM

This has always been my least favourite task, I have major problems up the side of the neck shaping on jumpers, I'm never happy with the result. Now I change patterns to a boat neck and enjoy wearing my jumpers instead of having nearly-finished projects waiting for me to steel myself for the neckband challaenge!

on Dec 18, 2013 10:14 PM

This is often the most important part of the garment, because it is a design element and the eye goes there first.  The problem is that there are almost always more little loops on the side of the knitting than there are stitches that have to be picked up.  If you try to ;pick up the correct number you end up skipping loops, which leaves a hole.  My nearly 70 years of knitting experience has led me to this:

1. using a crochet hook, pick up a stitch in EVERY loop.  If there is a corner, pick up several stitched - again, the goal is to avoid gaps in the line of new stitches.

2. count the number of stitches

3. reduce the stitches evenly across the row by knitting two together as many times as needed to go from actual to desired number of stitches.  If you have picked up extra stitches in a corner, do at least one k2tog there.

on Dec 18, 2013 10:13 PM

This is often the most important part of the garment, because it is a design element and the eye goes there first.  The problem is that there are almost always more little loops on the side of the knitting than there are stitches that have to be picked up.  If you try to ;pick up the correct number you end up skipping loops, which leaves a hole.  My nearly 70 years of knitting experience has led me to this:

1. using a crochet hook, pick up a stitch in EVERY loop.  If there is a corner, pick up several stitched - again, the goal is to avoid gaps in the line of new stitches.

2. count the number of stitches

3. reduce the stitches evenly across the row by knitting two together as many times as needed to go from actual to desired number of stitches.  If you have picked up extra stitches in a corner, do at least one k2tog there.

CarolFisher wrote
on Dec 18, 2013 5:58 PM

I see how many stitches  I need for a certain area, then measure that area in inches; divide that by the amount of the stitches. So I have to pick up that number per inch which I have measured off and marked with stick pins.

Carol J.

nmeager wrote
on Dec 18, 2013 5:38 PM

Many many years ago I read an article on picking up stitches and the writer noted: Do NOT pick up a stitch in a hole that already exists because you will just make that hole bigger. That goes for either knitting or crocheting-- those "already there" holes are so tempting! Unfortunately, like many other guilty pleasures-- it really shows if you have indulged. ;-)

mcsheep wrote
on Dec 18, 2013 4:57 PM

The best marker to use on any edge for any reason is your basic bobby pin!  It's even good for holding 2 knitted pieces for sewing together.

Rhyslarn wrote
on Dec 18, 2013 2:57 PM

I use a crochet hook to pick up my stitches but I use a separate length of crochet cotton (size 10) to mark my intended stitch locations. When I am done pulling through a loop in all of my spots I can easily see if my stitches are evenly spaced AND I can count them without trouble. This method made it so much easier when trying to pick up a gusset when knitting a pair of dark brown socks.

Kirsten Bey wrote
on Dec 18, 2013 1:16 PM

I also pick up stitches with a crochet hook and I crochet a stitch into the loop I pick up.  I place these stitches onto the needle I'm using or a separate needle of the correct size, whatever makes picking up the stitches the easiest.

These "crocheted" stitches look just like a row of stockinette.  They are also individual stitches and not just a bunch of loops that are connected to each other.  I have found this to be a very good way to pick up stitches along the heel flap when knititng socks but I use it for pretty much all my picking up stitches.

jhm3c wrote
on Dec 18, 2013 12:29 PM

I pick up stitches with a crochet hook, placing each stitch onto a needle of the proper size for the border I intend to add. As I do, and Instead of worrying about the number of stitches I pick up, I pick up as many as it seems "natural" to do in order to make the edge from which I've picked up look regular and even. I then adjust the number of stitches on the first row of the border.

Cautions: I don't work with yarns any thicker than aran weight, and I suspect this wouldn't work as well with heavier yarns that might show where the adjustments have been made. Also, I wouldn't use it in extreme situations, like when you're missing 25 percent of the required number of stitches, but in those cases, you've probably made a mistake in picking up, or else there's an error in the pattern.

Karen_183 wrote
on Dec 18, 2013 12:14 PM

Thanks for this Kathleen.

Darlene@30 wrote
on Dec 18, 2013 12:02 PM

I usually have trouble picking up stitches on sock gussets. I use a crochet hook and the yarn doesn't POP off.

amandapace wrote
on Dec 18, 2013 11:57 AM

I find it easier to use a crochet hook to pull up a loop. Then I place the loop on my needle as I pull up each one. After all the loops have been put on my needle, I knit the row.

CharleneM@14 wrote
on Dec 18, 2013 11:50 AM

My last project that involved picking up stitches was made for simple spaces. I needed 72 stitches along the edge of 8 even stripes.

I still remember the first time I needed to pick up stitches. I fell in love with an Entrelac shawl on display in a shop and bought all the supplies and the pattern without a second thought. I had to try several times to find the right method as there was no Internet back then. By the time I was a few rows in I was a real pro at picking up.

Now I try to learn and practice at least one new technique a year. Sometimes I seek them out, sometimes they still surprise me.

Fiddledidy wrote
on Dec 18, 2013 11:37 AM

Just to say, the picking up stitches evenly tip is great, why didn't I think of that!

Many, many thanks for all your tips, suggestions and enjoyable reading over the last year.

Very best wishes for Christmas and a happy healthy New Year from a very impressed UK follower!

charlesnix wrote
on Dec 18, 2013 11:31 AM

Yes--but don't the two different methods give different results?  Picking up and knitting each stitch leaves a little "knot-like-thing" at each stitch.  Picking up the whole row ends up more like grafting, and leaves a purl ridge on the back side.  And, I pick up the whole row at once, too.  The results seem smoother, tighter, and no little holes to mar the texture.