Finishing Tip: Mattress Stitch Tutorial

Do you have some Spring projects hiding in your closet that are ABS: "all but seamed"? I bet you do. Seaming up projects is something many knitters express outright hatred for–they love the knitting part, but when it comes to the seaming, even a beloved project can go right into the back of the closet to languish in pieces. But the way I see it is: If you finish up those Spring projects, then you'll be guilt-free about starting some pretty summer tops!

I think a lot of knitters dislike seaming because they fear "ruining" the project with a bad bit of finishing. But if you know how to stitch a seam properly, the seaming is a breeze–plus, you get to actually wear your pretty handknit sweaters!

Today, I'm going to show you the basics of mattress stitch.
And it's really, really not hard! (I promise. Would I lie to you?) The two things you need to know to work mattress stitch are: Bars and Legs. Yep, Bars and Legs, my friends.

Bars: If you take a close look at a piece of stockinette knitting, you will notice that there are "bars" connecting every column of stitches. Stretch the knitting a bit, you'll see a column of stitches, and then a column of bars, then a column of stitches. When stitching a vertical seam, like a side seam, you catch a bar of one side with your needle, then a bar from the other side, then a bar from the first side again. A full photo tutorial for a vertical seam is here.

Legs: If you look at the bottom of a piece of stockinette, you'll see the two "legs" of each bottom stitch sitting at the base of each column of stitches. When stitching a horizontal seam, such as a shoulder seam, you catch both "legs" of a stitch at the end of a column with your needle on one side of the seam, then catch the legs of an end stitch on the other side, and so on. A full photo tutorial for a horizontal seam is here.

What if seaming isn't the reason you haven't finished your sweaters? What if you've dropped some stitches, or there's a mistake several rows back? We're all human, we all make mistakes; the secret to being a great knitter is knowing how to fix your mistakes. Interweave's book Knit Fix: Problem Solving for Knitters is a wonderful resource for all kinds of knitting problems–it has clear illustrations and step-by-step instructions to help you get out of all kinds of tangles! Look for Knit Fix at your local yarn shop, or order it here.

Now go finish up a few projects! After all, you want to wear them, don't you?






Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? There are two new little people arriving in my family this summer, and I'm working out what to make for them. One little person is going to get the Sólás Caomh, a delicious cabled blankie from Interweave Crochet Spring 2009; the other little person's gift hasn't been chosen yet.


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Finishing & Construction, Knitting Daily Blog

34 thoughts on “Finishing Tip: Mattress Stitch Tutorial

  1. One way to begin to love seaming is to use a couple of selvedge stitches at the edges of the pieces and then it’s really fun to sew them together. Also, I love to bind off the shoulders with a three needle bind-off.
    I love to sew sewing things, but knitted things just are in a different class……

  2. Thank you Sandi! I will be giving it a try this evening on a pair of fingerless mitts that have been in the cue for awhile. Now, any advice on neatly tucking in the starting and ending yarn after completing the mattress stitch? This is where my project always goes wrong.

  3. Of course, more complicated is joining the legs to the bars, as in attaching a sleeve to the body, since the stitch gauge and the row gauge are rarely the same! The thing I really detest sewing up, though, is the diagonals of the sleeve seam….

  4. Thank you, Sandi, for the Mattress stitch tutorials. I have done this stitch before, but it never looked very good. You have explained it so that I can understand what I was doing wrong.

  5. Knit Fix is a fantastic book! Between that and A to Z of Knitting by Martingale & Co. (ISBN 978-1-56477-784-3) I can usually figure things out. Both are excellent resources for beginning knitters.
    Sandi thanks for the tip on the mattress stitch as well.

  6. Thank you, Sandi ! At last someone has explained this method of seaming so that it is clear to me. I’m also glad you did it in print and pictures – not as a video. I don’t have wireless internet and videos take forever to load.

    Barbara P.

  7. Wow! Thanks Sandi. I am usually disappointed with sew together projects. Your explanation gave me the extra boost I needed to finish that sweater and put it together.

  8. Thank you so much! Your photos have been so helpful…now I can move on with seaming without confusion and fear of ruining my hard work. I think yours is the best explanation I’ve seen on the matress stitch.

    Thanks again, Sandi! Happy Easter!

  9. Great photos! My biggest problem is seaming stitches either horizontal or vertical that follow a pattern like a seed stitch and more complex stitches. In the future I will take WinifredK’s advice and add a selvedge stitch or two to every pattern.

  10. Hi, Sandi, I really appreciate your tutorial on mattress stitch seaming! Thank you for doing it. I want to print them for my ‘how to’ file but, when I printed each the horizontal and vertical illustrations with descriptions, only the first 3 steps printed. Is there a way for you to fix this so all the steps, with the clear pictures can be printed? Thanking you, Virginia

  11. I have used this method for years and have ironed out a few problems. The first most important is; to join the back to the front you must have equal amount of rows on each piece otherwise you will finish up with odd rows on one side that will not get joined. Strongly recoment you count rows rather than measure.
    I use a matching DMC floss to join, it is stronger and much thinner than the yarn you use to knit the garment with, creating less bulk, and we don’t need more bulk!!
    Janice R.

  12. Well, I’ll be darned! (no pun intended) I never knew I could seam working from the RIGHT side of the project. My seams were always done on the back side, somewhat like working blind. I thank you for this incredible insight, I will enjoy putting the pieces together so much more now.

  13. Great tutorial! I have projects that sit in the closet like this for months… recently, I worked a piece in moss stitch and it was difficult to use these techniques for seaming. Can you do this “anatomy of the stitch” for more complicated stitches like the moss stitch, for instance? Thanks!!!

  14. Thank you for the tutorial on the blanket stitch. The front looks so nice, but how do you keep the bulky ridge out of the back of the seam? It would be wonderful to have more tutorials ( and less advertising). How to seam sleeves for instance. dja

  15. I’m confused by the vertical seam tutorial. It looks like you are using the bars between the stitches on the top piece, and the bars in the middle of the stitches on the bottom piece. Is that how you’re supposed to do it?

  16. Finishing Tip. Having an ABS from several sizes ago I appreciate the tutorial because the knitting teachers I went to for advice weren’t very helpful. I am going to finally finish the piece and fine a skinny person to wear it. It shows you there are no stupid questions and nothing is too simple. Thanks.

  17. I must tell you that this was my most popular class when I had my yarn shop! And about mistakes…the Persian people used to put a deliberate mistake in the last inch of their carpets because “only Allah was perfect”. We just call ours “Allah errors”.

  18. Thanks, Sandy, for starting a very helpful topic. I’ve noticed that questions/comments don’t usually get a reply from KD, but often readers will try to answer questions. Thanks, ladies for helping us all out! I will repeat one of the questions from above that I always have trouble with – seaming differently shaped pieces. If you are sewing together squares, it’s easy to stay in the same column, but how often does that happen? I always have trouble sewing in sleeves so they look decent.
    I have a couple of additional suggestions to reduce seam bulkiness: 1 – learn to knit in the round! It will save having to do the side seams, at least! You can usually change the pattern to knit in the round, or even simpler, for cardigans, knit sides and back in one long piece on a circular needle. 2 – to reduce bulk in shoulder seams, don’t bind off, leave the last stitches live and sew together using kitchener stitch. This is really easy for baby sweaters that won’t be getting alot of wear on the shoulder seams. (For top-down, use a provisional cast on and leave an extra-long tail to sew together.)

  19. I would like to be able to print the pictures with the written part of the
    article. I need the pictures to follow as I have not done a lot og knitting.
    I tried and tried to get the article in whole but never did. Hope you can
    help in this matter as I also keep the articles in a file for later use.

  20. I do not see an explanation as to why Sandi starts the shoulder seam about an inch in, then there isn’t any mention when she finishes, as what is done with that unfinished inch.

  21. Thank you for including left handed people! Being a beginner, and left handed, your tutorial will help me get the courage to finish a few projects and seam them together.

  22. Ah, the mattress stitch. I always put off seaming my projects until I learned the mattress stitch, which is really a MAGIC stitch. It is somewhat mindless, and I do it mostly during TV commercials.

  23. I know there are no responses in print from Sandi on the questions about printing and viewing these tutorials, but there is a response. If you click on the tutorials listed, you will be able to print out the pages either by just printing them, or by cutting and pasteing them. Thanks, Sandi. Your pictures are very clear. Sincerely, AmyS