Sweet Seams

  Spot the seam: Back detail from my  Four Score  sweater pattern.

Spot the seam: Back detail from my Four Score sweater pattern.

I have to confess something, a terrible secret. I only learned how to properly seam my knits about six months ago.

Since I've been knitting for about 20 (!!!) years, you may ask how I've been finishing my knits up until now, and this is where is gets even more terrible. Reader, I've been machine sewing my sweaters.

I'll give you a minute to recover.

Actually, before I started in with the sewing machine, I used to use an overcast stitch on the wrong side, which might be even more horrifying. When I think of the gorgeous items I've knit that were finished so poorly, I could weep. No wonder many of them came apart over the years.

My seaming was so terrible that I only submitted in-the-round designs to magazines because I feared having the sample set on fire and returned to me as a pile of ash. It was all mittens and stranded sweaters for me.

  Veronika knit in Brooklyn Tweed Shelter, colourway Thistle. Image courtesy  Espace Tricot .

Veronika knit in Brooklyn Tweed Shelter, colourway Thistle. Image courtesy Espace Tricot.

What finally convinced me to learn how to seam properly was being asked to knit a sample for Espace Tricot. I knit the Veronika cocoon cardigan by Shannon Cook, and the finishing called for two tiny little seams. I knew I could never turn it into the store with my usual workmanship, so I got my Google on and prepared for the worst. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that invisible mattress stitch is the easiest thing in the world. This is where the weeping came in, wondering why on earth I waited so long.

Probably because I learned a lot of my knitting from my copy of Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book which offers no fewer than eight different seaming techniques, each described by whether they are vertical or horizontal and by what stitch they are joining (garter, stockinette, etc). I didn't read long enough to realize they were all essentially the same thing. (This is otherwise an excellent book, and still a staple of my library.)

I'm telling you how recent my conversion to seaming is to demonstrate just how easy it really is. I'm a total newbie at this, and I've already incorporated it into my two most recent designs.

There are lots of good reasons to have seams in your knitting, and better knitters than I have explained them. They add stability, durability and can be an essential design element. For me, the best part about seaming is avoiding two tasks I dislike:

1. Carrying an entire sweater around when I'm just knitting the sleeves
2. Small circumference circular knitting

When 1 & 2 are combined, you do the sweater heave - you know this move, when you turn an entire garment 1/4 of the way around every time you switch from one DPN to the next. Now, if I'm working a top down circular sweater, I'm inclined to knit the sleeves flat, adding a stitch at each end for seaming up later.

  My  favourite mattress stitch tutorial  is from Purl Soho - both video and photos provided.

My favourite mattress stitch tutorial is from Purl Soho - both video and photos provided.

I know a lot of knitters prefer circular methods - I can almost hear my colleague Mona right now saying "The last thing I want to do when I'm finished knitting a sweater is sew it up!" And there's no question working in the round has its benefits. But the next time you read a pattern that asks you for four different pairs of needles because you have to change the length of your circular, think about how much easier it would be to knit it flat.

The other day I brought my latest design to the store to get some advice on the neck shaping, and my colleague Amalia offered me some ideas. As she pinned the neck for me, she suggested I rip back a few rows and change my rate of decrease.

"I'll have to unpick the seams first," I said.
"What seams?" she asked.

I felt like a knitting - nay, a seaming - superhero!