I was thinking of you while you were squeezing and sniffing bales of skeins at Rhinebeck this weekend, but staved off my disappointment at missing it by trying to be virtuous. Which is to say, taking inspiration from Glennae and attacking one of those too-many WIPs that’s been in time-out for far too long.
Finishing: (n.) the art of seaming and hiding ends in a piece where the body of actual knitting has been completed. A process that demands more time than the finisher will ever estimate, owing to the attention to detail required to do the rest of the knitting justice. The critical process to making a garment look “handmade” vs. “homemade.”
I get a lot of questions about my preferred techniques for finishing, so I’ll walk you through my routine and rationale. I won’t bore you with actual instructions – there are legion tutorials out there – just what I do and why. In the case of this sweater for Darling Bebe, Action by Kim Hargreaves from her outstanding (now out of print) Pipsqueaks book, the texture IS the pattern, in the form of Charlie Brown zig-zags. Thus, attention to detail where the patterns sync up is at a premium. Begging your forgiveness for not having a tripod handy for the pix.
Disclaimer: I hereby confess that almost never do I block pieces of a garment before seaming. I prefer to use wet-blocking to pull a garment together in its whole form. Feel free to disagree and call me a heretic as you will.
Shoulders: the three-needle bindoff
Unless a garment is very fitted, I opt for a three-needle bind-off. The seam itself is invisible from the public side of the garment. See how the pattern matches up on the top and bottom?
On the inside (the horizontal seam you see with the yarn I unfortunately had to join in the middle), it lays flat yet provides enough “give” that reaching over your head to stretch doesn’t make anything go “pop.”
Setting in sleeves
The vertical seam at left is the inside of the sleeve seam. I single-crochet my sleeves into the garment. To do so, you hold the work so that the right sides are
facing each other, and the wrong side of the sleeve is facing you. This is because you are crocheting the sleeve into the garment, not vice-versa. It matters in the way your finished piece lays. I always mark the exact midpoint of the sleeve top and pin it to the shoulder seam, then use some locking pin-shaped stitch markers at a couple of intervals to hold the “ease” between the two. There is ALWAYS ease involved.
The key to doing this well is to always crochet into the same row of the garment. When you do it right, your sleeve-garment join is this beautiful straight line, especially visible in a drop-shoulder or square set-in sleeve like this one.
You do not want to crochet into every single stitch. If you do that, you’ll get a bulky, bunchy seam. Depending on the gauge of the knitting, I’ll crochet two stitches in a row then skip one, or go every other stitch for a bit. It depends on the weight of the yarn and the shape of the sleeve.
Even when you’re good at it, this takes a while. You’ll want to be flipping the garment over to make sure your line is straight and you like how it lays – especially true with a shaped sleeve cap. But when you get it right, does it ever look good.
Side/sleeve seams: Mattress stitch
I unabashedly love mattress stitch. While I am uber-unskilled with a sewing needle, mattress stitch allows me to ease and fudge as needed to make two sides join together virtually invisibly – especially in stockinette. In this sweater, it’s crucial to make the
patterned stitches match exactly. While the technique calls for one to sew underneath two “bars” at a time, the fact is, sometimes you’ll need to alternate 3:1 or 2:1 in order to make things match. Especially because we all know that the right edge and left edge of a piece of knitting are never identical, even when there are the exact same number of rows on each.
As a rule, I’ll go side to side four or five times before pulling through, then straighten the stitches out to remove puckering. Tip: Twist your yarn a bit in the direction it is spun before pulling through. This helps the yarn zip through more smoothly with less tugging.
I’ll often rip back a few stitches to change the ratio as noted. But when you get it right, it looks good – and only looks better after blocking.
One cautionary note: Be sure that your yarn can handle mattress stitch. Although I love Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool, it snaps with mattress stitch. It is no fun at all when you’re nearly finished an adult sweater side seam and the yarn breaks. When in doubt, Paternayan needlepoint wool is a great alternative and comes in every shade on the color wheel.
One neckline left to go before I can say my finishing is finished. Stay tuned.