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Picking up stitches, picking up stitches...seems like no matter where you turn, you're being asked to pick up stitches. Sock heels, button bands, neck edgings, ear flaps, glove fingers, hat bands... knitting patterns are full of places where you want to add more stitches to an existing piece of knitting in order to knit in another direction or finish it off somehow.

I get the impression that there's a bit of head scratching going on when knitters come across these instructions for the first time. And to make the matters even more confusing, some instructions say to "pick up sts" while other instructions say to "pick up and knit sts". What's the difference?

I've seen knitting patterns use the expression "pick up" a certain amount of stitches that were being held on a stitch holder or spare piece of yarn -- that's simply referring to returning them to your needles.  And I really hadn't given any thought to the difference between "pick up" and "pick up and knit" until I was helping to translate an American toe-up sock pattern for an extraordinarily talented Norwegian knitter. She (quick as a flash and without using any extra yarn) slipped her needle under each of the stitches along the heel edge, gathered them up on one needle and looked at me for the next line of instructions. And it suddenly occurred to me why the "and knit" is added -- not everyone thinks the same way.

There are, as always, several ways to pick up stitches depending on the area of knitting you're working on. Of course if it were straightforward, I wouldn't be writing about it, would I? In this issue, we'll focus on picking up stitches along a vertical straight edge, as for a sock gusset or button band. Stitches are picked up along these edges in order to start knitting again at a right angle to the direction of the main body of knitting.

Let's talk first about picking up stitches along a slipped-stitch edge, which is very common when knitting heel flaps for socks. To make a slipped-stitch edging in the first place: on the knit rows, hold the yarn in the back of the work and slip the first stitch of the row as if to knit. On purl rows, hold the yarn in front and slip the first stitch as if to purl. By doing so you're only working the edge stitch every other row. This makes an edge stitch which looks like an elongated V, resembling a large knit stitch, as you see in the picture below. And it also means that as you pick up stitches through these edge stitches, you'l be picking up 1 stitch for every 2 rows of knitting.

To "pick up and knit" along a slipped-stitch edge, insert the working needle under both sides (or one side if it suits you or the directions specify) of the V-shaped elongated edge stitch...

Then wrap the yarn around the tip of the needle...

and pull the yarn back through the loops and onto your needle.

Repeat until all the stitches you need to pick up and knit are picked up and knitted. If you're having trouble performing this little trick (and trust me, you aren't alone) it may be a good idea to use a crochet hook to pull the yarn through the loops. Work stitch by stitch, slipping each newly created stitch onto the knitting needle before moving on to the next. Trying to pick up several stitches at a time on the crochet hook isn't a terribly good idea since when you try to return the stitches back to the knitting needle they inevitably wind up being a bit looser than is ideal. Another way to correct looseness is to knit the picked up stitches through the back loop on the following row.

Now let's move on to picking up stitches for a button band on a cardigan. A slipped-stitch edge in this particular situation is neither necessary nor advisable because you'll want to pick up more stitches than just one every two rows. If you're working from a pattern, the number of stitches to be picked up will likely be specified. However, that number is entirely dependent on the fronts being exactly the length that the designer intended. If you pick up too many stitches, the band will flare or ripple. If you pick up too few, the rest of the cardigan will hang from the button band in a very unflattering way.

Since the length of button band is so crucial to a professional-looking result, you'll want to be sure all your finishing work -- sewing up and blocking -- is properly done first so the measurements you take are correct. Lay the finished garment out flat on a large work surface and measure the front edges where the button band is to be picked up. Check and see if the front edges are the same length as the designer indicates in the pattern. If it is, you'll soon be ready to start.

If it's not exactly the same but you can live with the length, don't panic! Try reading the rest of the pattern and see if your actual length is the same as one of the other sizes given in the pattern and work with the number of stitches to be picked up for a front that is of that length.

If that doesn't help, try working out the math. Imagine the pattern indicates the front is to be 16 inches long and says you're to pick up 100 stitches along those 16 inches. You block and measure and discover your front is, in fact, 18 1/4; inches long. Maybe you even tweaked the pattern for it to be that length. Now you can use the following formula to work out the number of stitches you'll need to pick up:

Multiply the actual length of your finished front by the number of stitches to be picked up as specified in the pattern. Now divide that rather large number by the length of the front given in the pattern.

Using our example, I'll multiply 18 1/4 (or 18.25) inches by 100 stitches which equals 1825. 1825 divided by 16 inches equals 114.0625 stitches that you'll need to pick up for your button band.  Make sure the number makes sense ... and in this case it does since you would be picking up more stitches for a longer front ... and round it up or down to the nearest stitch -- in our case, 114 stitches. Then sit back and be proud that you made it work

So now you know how many stitches to pick up for your button band. What's next? Grab some stitch markers and place them, evenly spaced, along the front edge where the stitches for the button band are to be picked up, like the picture on the right --->

Divide the total number of stitches to be picked up by the number of spaces between markers and you'll know how many stitches to pick up between each marker. Let's continue with the previous example. We want to pick up 114 stitches. We have 6 spaces between the markers. 114 divided by 6 = 19 stitches to be picked up between each marker. It's easier to deal with 19 stitches in a short space than 114 stitches for the entire length of the front.

Now we're ready to start to pick up the stitches. Working at least one stitch in from the edge itself or wherever the knitting is gets a tad bit neater, insert the needle through a stitch, wrap the yarn and pull it through. This is done in the same manner as shown above, only you're working through a previously made stitch rather than a special edging.

Make sure you keep working in the same vertical line of stitches for the entire length. A good rule of thumb when picking up stitches for a button band is to pick up stitches in 2 or 3 stitches, then skip 1, then pick up 2-3 more, then skip another stitch and so on...

When all the stitches are picked up, turn and begin working the button band following the directions in the pattern. Button bands can be worked in all sorts of stitch patterns... the one I've shown here is garter stitch.

Add button holes to the appropriate side...on the right side for girls and the left side for boys. Or leave off the button holes and sew in a zipper, add hooks...whatever takes your fancy!

Next issue: picking up stitches along a curved edge.



Theresa is moving house this December and will subsequently be rather out of touch until after the New Year. Happy Holidays!