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Putting it all together

You may be aware by now that I have a fondness for circular needles and patterns that don't require any sewing up. I've said repeatedly that seaming is not one of my strong points and I've avoided learning how to do it properly like the plague. The term "mattress stitch" has struck fear into my heart any number of times.

Nevertheless I am well aware that there are truckloads of marvelous patterns out there that are knit flat and that seaming is the key to giving them a well-made, professional finish. After all, there's waaaay too many hours involved in the knitting to have the finished object wind up a disappointment simply because the seams look sloppy. So I've bitten the bullet and learned how to do some seaming. And guess what I've found out: it wasn't as hard as I feared.

First some stuff about seaming in general:

In general, you'll want to use the same yarn for seaming that you've used for knitting.  [I've used a different color yarn for this tutorial so you can more clearly see what's happening.] If the yarn is unsuitable for sewing up, like a novelty or very loosely plied yarn, or if it's a bulky weight yarn that will make a thicker seam than you'd like, you might try using embroidery yarn. Since there's such a wide range of colors to chose from in embroidery yarns, you'll have a good chance of finding a color to match your knitting. Be sure whatever you're sewing up with can be washed in the same manner as your knitting yarn and test it before starting for colorfastness.

Block the knitted pieces before starting.

Let me repeat: Block first.

One more time: Block before you start seaming.
Your seaming experience and the finished results will be so much nicer.

Baste or pin the garment together in order to try it on before you start seaming. [Note: a basting stitch is loose, temporary running stitch you'll remove before you start the actual seaming.] It'll be easier to correct any sizing errors that you may find now rather than after you've gone to all the trouble of sewing up. By basting, you'll also be able to find out beforehand if the two pieces you're sewing together match up perfectly. If they don't, it is possible to fudge a little bit by an extra row or stitch every few inches on the longer side. For a difference of more than an inch you'll be better off doing some ripping out and reworking. Sorry.

Find a comfortable, well-lit spot with a flat working surface. Have a yarn needle ready and the yarn you're going to use to sew. By the way: use a piece of yarn no more than 18 inches long since it will start to weaken from the friction created by sewing.

Getting Started 

If the tail from your cast-on row is long enough [and you may want to leave a longish tail just for this purpose] use it to begin the seam. Thread the tail on a yarn needle and insert the needle into the lowest corner stitch on the opposite piece from back to front :

Then insert the needle from back to front in the lowest corner stitch on the piece that had the yarn attached.

Pull tightly to close the gap then continue seaming using one of the methods described below. If the cast-on tail is long enough to work with, leave it on the yarn needle and use it to seam at least the first couple of inches. If not, use another length of yarn to start your seaming, being sure to leave a tail of at least a few inches that can be securely woven in on the wrong side.

There are many types of seaming to choose from, but I'm going to focus on two here: invisible vertical seaming on stockinette stitch and garter stitch. 


Invisible vertical seaming on stockinette stitch (a.k.a. mattress stitch)

This technique joins two pieces of stockinette stitch in such a way that the knitting appears to be continuous. Mattress stitching is done in the space between the edge [selvage] stitch and the stitch next to it, so it has the added advantage of hiding that often misshapen stitch that appears at the end of every row of stockinette stitch. This also means that the seam winds up being as bulky as two stitches, since those two edge stitches wind up hiding on the back side.

Begin by laying the blocked pieces out side by side with the right side facing you.

Pull the edge stitch slightly away from the stitch next to it. You will see a horizontal bar running between the edge stitch and its neighbor. Insert your yarn needle under that bar.


Pull the yarn through the bar (it doesn't have to be pulled tightly just yet) and then insert the needle under the parallel horizontal bar on the opposite piece. Work back and forth, inserting the needle under the bar on one piece then the other piece until you've worked a few rows.


Gently but firmly pull the yarn in the direction of the seam (rather than out towards you) and the two rows of second stitches will start to cozy up to one another.


Stop pulling on the yarn before the seam starts to pucker. Adjust as necessary so that the seam lays flat and neat.

Continue until you reach the top of the pieces. Finish off by connecting the top two corner stitches like you did at the lower edge and weave the remaining yarn in securely on the wrong side.

Invisible vertical seaming on garter stitch

Okay, okay, I have a confession to make. I've known how to do this kind of seaming almost as long as I've been knitting. And I've felt just as strongly about it as I felt about mattress stitch but in the opposite direction. I find seaming on garter stitch positively fun. This is one of those things I've realized it's not too smart to go around declaiming to non-knitters.

Before you start, you'll need to inspect the edge stitch that's created when working in garter stitch. Each garter stitch ridge leaves a edge stitch with a top loop and a bottom loop. Garter stitch seaming joins these loops to create the appearance that the knitting is continuous.


Lay the blocked pieces out flat with the right sides facing you. Begin the seam as explained above. Then insert the yarn needle first into the top loop of one piece then into the corresponding bottom loop of the opposite piece.



Work back and forth, consistently using the top loop on one piece and the bottom loop of the other piece for a few inches.


Pull the yarn end, gently yet firmly in the direction of the seam, and the two pieces will come together. Adjust as necessary so the seam lays flat.


This is only a tiny sampling of the techniques that can be used to sew two pieces of knitting together. There are special techniques for sewing in sleeves, seaming techniques utilizing crochet hooks as well as techniques such as backstitching and overcasting.

I've used the following two books as guides to overcome my mattress stitch phobia and can't recommend them enough:

The Knitter's Companion by Vicki Square (Interweave Press, ISBN: 1883010136)

Vogue Knitting (Sixth&Spring Books; ISBN: 193154316X)


Coming up next issue:

Grafting : Joining two sets of "live" stitches without a seam.



If you have a suggestion for techniques to be featured in a future Knitty, please email Theresa. Be sure the technique is something that you think would be of interest to the majority of Knitty's readers! If you need individual help or have questions about a specific knitting technique, try Knitty's message board or a forum like Knitter's Review.

You can follow along on Theresa's own knitting adventures at her weblog, Bagatell :: Knitting in Norway.