A math-free method for picking up stitches evenly

Last time, I showed a rigorous, mathematical method for evenly spacing out increases, beads, pattern motifs etc. in your knitting. But when it comes to picking up stitches for a neckline or button-band, I throw all caution to the wind and take a decidedly unmathematical approach. With a little bit of vigilance, however, I find that I can avoid rippling button bands and necklines too small to slip over my head.

My typical approach to picking up stitches involves inserting a crochet hook into the fabric, drawing up a loop, and knitting it off the crochet hook onto a knitting needle. Instead of knitting, it is also possible to draw up a second loop from the fabric and crochet the two loops together (e.g. by single crochet). While I’m using the crochet-loop-and-knit method in the following examples, the principles will work equally well for other methods of picking up and knitting or crocheting.


Here I’ve shown stitches in blue picked up and knit along a cast-off edge. The blue yarn I’m using is much lighter than the yellow yarn used for the body of the knitting, and so a ratio of 1 picked up stitch per bound-off stitch works well. Typically if I’m picking up stitches with the same yarn as the bind-off, I end up picking up 3 stitches per 4 bound-off stitches, or 5 per 6. Regardless of your yarn combos, if the stitches are evenly picked up, you will notice one important feature, which is that the “stitch axis” and the “loop axis” lie in pretty much a straight line for every stitch, and are parallel for adjacent stitches, as seen here:


In the next example, I have picked up 1 stitch per 2 bound-off stitches. A huge ripple in the fabric immediately becomes obvious, indicating that there is too much space between the picked-up stitches, necessitating that the yellow fabric buckle to allow the stitches to slide close together. The stitch axes tend to angle towards each other rather than lying parallel.


In the next example, I have picked up 2 sts per bound-off stitch, which I might reasonably have attempted given the discrepancy in yarn weights. If you begin to pick up too many stitches, you will soon notice that the stitch and loop axes don’t line up well, and are not parallel for adjacent stitches. This effect occurs because the stitches made into the fabric are smushed close together, while the loops on the needle, which are more free to move than the stitches made in the fabric, tend to splay apart. Consequently, a line connecting the ten loops on the needle is wider than a line connecting the corresponding stitches in the fabric.


My solution to this problem is to watch diligently for splaying loops on the needle and/ or unaligned or non-parallel stitch and loop axes. At the first sign of any of these occurrences, I create one stitch less than I normally would. I then continue at my usual rate until the problem occurs again. I watch to see how many stitches I can create at my usual rate until the loops start to splay. In this case, it’s clear that even two stitches at this rate is too many, as they begin to splay instantly. I would figure out pretty quickly that a ratio of 3:2 or 1:1 (rather than 2:1) might be good to try.


And now that I’ve shown all my examples, I’m going to admit to being a little less than forthcoming at the start. While it’s true that a 1:1 ratio looks the best (with all the stitch and loop axes aligned and parallel), if I were proceeding with this project, I might actually opt for a 3:2 ratio. The reason is that the loops generated by a 1:1 ratio are a little further apart than I would normally knit for this yarn weight. At the 3:2 ratio, the loops are packed at the density I would expect for this yarn, and it is clear that a line connecting 10 loops at this ratio would be the same length as a line connecting the corresponding stitches in the fabric. Whether I’d select a 1:1 ratio or 3:2 would be largely dependent on the stitch pattern I planned to work with the picked up stitches. For garter stitch, which tends to be wider than stockinette for a given yarn and needle size, I might stick with the 1:1 ratio. For ribbing, which pulls in, I’d select the 3:2 ratio.

Although I picked up stitches without any pre-calculations , it is important to keep track of how many stitches were picked up, and the ratio of fabric stitches to picked-up stitches. If picking up along a neckline or other symmetric piece, the same number of stitches (plus/ minus a couple) should be picked up from each shoulder seam to center front, and again from each shoulder seam to center back (the front and back stitch counts don’t have to be identical to each other, of course). If the pattern requires a given number of stitches (e.g. an even number for ribbing), it is important to keep this value in mind from the start so you can squeeze in or omit the necessary number of stitches. Otherwise you will get to the end of the pick-ups and realize you have entirely the wrong number of stitches!

By paying careful attention to the stitches and loops as I’m picking up, I’ve managed to avoid rippling fabrics or stretched-out bands, and have not had to spend a lot of time ripping out stitches. I recently took this approach when working a row of single crochet stitches around the neckline of my A Little Lace V-Neck sweater, and I’m very pleased with the results.

Do you have other tips and tricks for picking up stitches evenly? I’d love to hear them!

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