Alternatives to a Ribbed Hem

We're so used to seeing ribbing at the cuffs, necklines, and hems of sweaters. But there are other choices to be made! In the new issue of knit.wear, designer Jane Howorth offers you options for hemlines.

The XO Tee by Sara Morris uses the plain hem on the sleeves.

Alternatives to a Ribbed Hem

Whether you modify an existing pattern or design your own, a unique hem brings a custom touch to any handknit. Try one of these patterns at the bottom edge of your next sweater!

If you look at a number of different knitting patterns, you'll see many examples of garments that start with the ubiquitous rib border of knit 1, purl 1, or knit 2, purl 2. This type of plain rib border provides an elastic edging at the openings of a garment and prevents curling, but it's not particularly decorative. In addition, it's not especially interesting to knit. I often feel a sense of relief when the tedious ribs are done, and I can move on to the next part of the knitting.

Why do we use plain rib so often? Knitwear manufacturers use it because it's simple and cost-effective on mass-produced garments. But when it comes to our own knitting, are we perhaps being influenced too much by this mass-production approach? We can make handknitted garments that are unique and meet our own needs by exchanging the standard rib border for another stitch pattern.

Stockinette stitch has a natural tendency to curl or roll inward onto the knit-stitch side of the work. The reason for the curl is that it takes slightly more yarn to form purl stitches than it does to form knit stitches, and that extra yarn on the purl side causes the curl. Rib-stitch patterns are made up of both knit and purl stitches, and the combination neutralizes the tendency to roll and forces the fabric to lie flat. Combined knit and purl stitches also create the other key property of a rib: its elasticity. Using rib stitch at the neck, cuff, and lower edges of a garment makes it fit closely in those areas. Here are three examples of patterns that can be used at the edges of garments.

Bobble-Stitch Rib
Mock-Cable Rib

Mock-Cable Rib
A rib with moderate elasticity, the mock-cable rib is great for all sorts of items, and it's not too heavy for baby wear. It works well on a child's cardigan, where the eyelet holes can be used as small buttonholes down the center-front band.

Cast on a multiple of 5 stitches, plus 2. Work Rows 1–4 of chart the desired number of times.

Bobble-Stitch Rib
A rib with high elasticity, the bobble-stitch rib brings a little fun to plain-rib edges by adding a row of bobbles immediately after the cast-on row. You can work this rib in one color or increase its impact by working the cast-on and bobble rows in contrasting colors, as shown. In this pattern, the bobbles have been spaced along a 3×1 rib, but that spacing could be changed to any other ratio. This rib is particularly attractive when worked on sleeve edges and on children's items.

Cast on a multiple of 4 stitches, plus 3. Work Bobble row of chart once, then work Rows 1–2 of chart the desired number of times.

Plain Hem

Plain Hem
A plain hem is a good choice when an inelastic edge is needed. It can give a sophisticated, couture look to a finished article. You can alter the depth of the hem to suit the article.

To work a plain hem, cast on the required number of stitches and work an odd number of rows in stockinette, using smaller needles and starting with a knit row. Change to larger needles. Knit one wrong-side row. Continue in stockinette, starting with a knit row, and working one fewer row as contained in hem. Next row (RS) Fold hem in half along purl row, then insert right needle into first stitch on left needle, then pick up underside of first stitch of cast-on row, and k2tog with stitch on left needle. Continue to pick up a stitch from cast-on edge and knit it with the next stitch from left needle, throughout row. Alternatively, the hem can be folded and slip-stitched into place with tapestry needle after the article is completed.

—Jane Howorth, knit.wear Spring/Summer 2014

Try on of these hems on your next sweater! For even more hem ideas, get the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of knit.wear.


P.S. What are your feelings about ribbed hems and their alternatives? Leave a comment and let us know.

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Knitting Daily Blog
Kathleen Cubley

About Kathleen Cubley

Hello daily knitters! I'm the editor of Knitting Daily. I've been obsessed with knitting for about ten years now and my favorite projects are sweaters. I like the occasional smaller project, but there's nothing like yards of stockinette with a well-placed cable or a subtle stitch pattern here and there. I crochet a bit now and then—especially when I need to produce a baby blanket in time for the baby shower. I've been in publishing for 20 years and I'm finally exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of knitting and communication. I live in Spokane, Washington and when I'm not knitting I enjoy gardening, snuggling with my dogs, swimming, reading, and playing in the snow in the winter. But, really, I'm pretty much always knitting!

18 thoughts on “Alternatives to a Ribbed Hem

  1. Dear Kathleen,
    I really enjoy your daily articles. I have learned a lot from them and your writing style is very smooth and friendly.
    I will certainly put different hems to use next time insntead of a plain ribbing, which I usually don’t like. Thanks so much,

  2. Not exactly a comment on the hem ideas but I wanted you to know how much I appreciate how much helpful information you have on here about knitting without requiring me to pay for it. I love your site!

  3. When knitting socks from the toe up, consider doing a cuff that makes a hemmed edge— no tight last row BIND-OFF! Knit cuff double the desired height; turn sock wrong side out; fold down to the first row of “ribbing pattern”, and bind off like a 3-needle bind-off. If using self striping yarns, the “loops” to pick up from the first row of ribbing will usually be the same color and easily distinguished.

  4. 1. Instead of doing a purl row for the folding row, do a *k2tog yo* (repeat to end of row). You’ll get a nice picot-like hem.
    2. Using a much thinner cicular needle, pick up the stitches from the cast-on row. Hold this needle close and parallel to the main knitting needle, and knit together 1 stitch from each needle. It is much faster than fiddling with each stitch in the cast-on row and the inside of the finished hem looks really neat.

  5. I recently used the plain hem, but was disappointed that I hadn’t folded it toward the front. The stitching just added something special that I didn’t want hidden…next time.
    Love your tips and blog.
    Thank you.

  6. I have started to k1, p1 on the right side, then p the wrong side to make a hem. Work these 2 rows for 1 to 2 ” to make a flat hem that resembles a ribbing, but lays flat. I think it I works out nicely and looks more custom-made.

  7. Those alternatives are great ideas! I make small doll clothes and need a rib type hem on the dresses. Often, I use a seed or moss stitch. I use the mock cable stitch on fingerless gloves as a decorative stitch that keeps the glove stretchy. Sometimes, on the doll dress hems, I knit 2 garter stitch rows, 4 seed st rows and then 2 more garter stitch rows. It’s very pretty and is even better at keeping hems flat. On the bodice of the dress, I use a moss stitch and it comes out looking like smocking. Another stitch that’s great for a scarf, is the Mistake Rib Stitch. It’s simply a K2, P2, rib, but done on an odd amount of stitches. When you do the WS row, you just start again with a K2, P2 pattern and that’s how the Mistake Rib pattern is made. I will have to try that Bobble Stitch, soon!

  8. Love the hems! Enjoy trying new things!
    Just want to mention~ your link says “get the Spring/Summer 2013 issue of knit wear”!
    I believe you meant 2014 as mentioned in the author credit above. And indeed the link goes to 2014. Just thought it might cause some confusion!

  9. What a great idea. Can’t wait to work it into an upcoming project. Keep up the great sharing of your creativity. Look forward to reading your blog everyday.

  10. The knitted hem has an annoying tendency to flip up. After many experiments I’ve figured out that if the main garment is knit at a gauge producing a fairly firm st st fabric, it is pretty well impossible to overcome this as the st st curl is so pronounced. So I only use this hem with a more fluid fabric or when the pattern st has less curl.

  11. I’ve used lace ribbing on a hem that required a bit of elasticity. I made it very deep and repeated it at the neckline and cap sleeve edges, and it looks very pretty. I’ve also used moss stitch, which gives a nice texture. I don’t use ribbing much these days, as it gives a “bloused” look to a pullover, and I prefer a snugger, more feminine look and fit.

  12. This post is definitely going to a place of honor in my knitting binder. But printing it was a hassle – a “Print” button would be a big help on these. Thank you for your help! Helen Dearing

  13. “The reason for the curl is that it takes slightly more yarn to form purl stitches than it does to form knit stitches, and that extra yarn on the purl side causes the curl.”

    Really? So how come it happens on machine-knit stockinette as well?

    It’s actually because each stitch on the knit side has the previous stitch’s bump behind it, forcing it to lean forward a tiny bit.

  14. What is the reason that you “work an odd number of rows” at the beginning of the plain hem? I cannot come up with a single reason that the technique could not be done with either an even or an odd number of rows.

  15. I do love a plain hem, though I usually start with a provisional cast-on instead of picking up stitches from the cast-on row. Six of one, half-dozen of the other!