A Little Tutorial on Picking Up Stitches
Yesterday I got a comment from Yarndude asking how I've been picking up stitches for the Franket. We ended up emailing back and forth several times yesterday and I realized that this would be a great blog post to do because I think picking up stitches is something most books breeze over and don't really cover. I can't remember where I learned how to do it, but I'm guessing I learned from the Vogue Knitting book (it's upstairs right now though, I'm downstairs, and I'm too lazy to double check that right now). First of all, I'd like to give a disclaimer - there is more than one way to do this and I'm not saying my way is the only right way. What you're going for is a nicely picked up edge that goes in a straight line, is secure, and looks good. If you do it another way and you're happy with the way your technique looks, by all means keep doing it your way. This is my way and I'm happy with it, but use what works for you.
I've used the Franket to demonstrate, but for the most part the techniques are the same on the Franket as they would be on a non garter stitch sweater when you pick up for neck or front bands. The only difference would be the ratio of stitches when you pick up in a perpendicular direction from the original knitted section. If I were picking up for button bands on a non garter stitch cardigan (knitted either top down or bottom up) I would pick up 3 stitches for every 4 rows UNLESS the gauge of the knitting was 4 stitches per inch or less. Then I'd pick up 2 stitches for every 3 rows. For garter stitch, because it compresses so much vertically, I pick up one stitch for each ridge (1 stitch for every 2 rows).
I use the same size needle that I will use to knit the next square of the Franket, or in the case of a sweater, the same size needle that I'll use to knit the bands (which is smaller than the needle size I used to knit the sweater). I do not twist the stitches (knit through the back loops) on the first row of knitting.
Some patterns/books differentiate between "pick up" and "pick up and knit." Theoretically, "pick up" means to pick up the stitches already worked and put them back on your needle so you can then knit them. If you've ever tried this, you know that it gets very tight very fast and is a pain to do. Also, once you have them picked up, you're going to knit them anyway so why not go ahead and just "pick up and knit" in the first place and save yourself some time and sanity. Even if you're going to work a rib for your bands or any stitch other than stockinette, working the first pick up row the way I show below won't show on subsequent rows.
OK, let's get started. In the picture above, you see the joint of two blocks from the Franket. The blue block on the right has been knit paralell to the top edge. The beige block on the left has been knit perpindicular to the top edge. We'll be picking up and knitting along the top edge so what we want to do is make sure we pick up stitches evenly and in a straight line so we don't get a jog where the original knitting changes directions. Since the blue section is going the same direction as the new section we're picking up stitches for, we will pick up one stitch for each stitch.
Above, you can see the black arrows pointing to where I'll pick up each stitch. Note that I'm not picking up stitches in the bind off row. I'm picking up stitches on the last row of knitting. This will give me a little seam on the back side, but it also means I'm getting enough of the original knitted section for my new section (whether Franket block or neckband/hood) to be attached firmly. If this were a sweater, you might wonder why you'd have to pick up stitches for a neck band (or hood) in the first place. Why not just short row the neck shaping and then work the band from that? Well, by binding off the neckline before doing the band, you've created an edge that is more stable and less elastic than live stitches are. This gives the neck the stability it needs to stay neck-shaped and not get stretched out of whack. Even if the directions don't say to bind off the neckline (this happens more on hoodies than on neckbands), I still like to bind off, just to add that extra stability to the neck area.
Using my needle and yarn (I've used a bright turquoise just to make things easier to see in the photos), with the right side of the knitting facing me, I work from right to left. I leave an 8 inch tail just dangling from the back side and weave it in later.
With the needle in my right hand, I poke it through the first stitch from front to back (poke it through where the arrows are in one of the previous pictures), wrap the yarn around the needle in the same direction you would make a yarn over, and pull the needle with the loop of yarn back to the front of the work. Then poke the needle through the next stitch from front to back and repeat. See? It's pretty easy!
OK, so now I've picked up along an edge that was knitted in the same direction as I'll be going on my new section - that's pretty easy. How do you pick up an edge that was knitted perpendicular to your new section? This isn't really much harder once you figure out where to stick the needle. (The poking the needle through, wrapping the new yarn around the needle and pulling it back through is still the same, the only new thing to learn is where to poke the needle through.) The picture above shows where I like pick up on garter stitch. Since garter stitch gives you a ridge every two rows, picking up one stitch for each ridge is pretty easy to do. I like to poke my needle through just to the right of each ridge, between the last stitch of the row (the edge stitch) and the second to last stitch. This means I go under two bits of yarn when I poke the needle through.
Again, I'll have a little seam on the wrong side, but the new section is firmly attached to the previously knitted section. On a non garter stitch project, like front sweater bands, I don't have ridges to help me out, but I still poke the needle through between the edge stitch and the second to last stitch on the rows that get stitches picked up. (See above for the ratio I use.) I just have to count as I go - usually a 1, 2, 3, skip, 1, 2, 3, skip, and so on, until I've picked up what I need for the new section.
As you can see above, whether I'm picking up stitches parallel to the previous work or perpendicular to it, I get a nice, straight line with the new stitches for the next section to grow on. There is no jog where the two previous blocks join and everything is firmly attached to it's neighbor. Once I've picked up stitches, I can then work back on the wrong side beginning in whatever stitch pattern the band/new section requires.
I'd like to add an extra note about front bands for cardigans. Most patterns will tell you how many stitches to pick up for bands. There are a couple of reasons for this: people tend to freak out if you don't tell them exactly what to do in a pattern, and depending on the stitch pattern, you may need a certain number of stitches to get the repeat just right. The problem with this is that many times we get our stitch gauge correct and then don't necessarily get our row gauge correct with the pattern. Most patterns tell us to "continue until piece measures X inches from cast on/beginning of armhole shaping/last decrease" and they don't really concern themselves with row gauge until you get to the bands. If your row gauge is off and you pick up the exact number of stitches that the pattern tells you to, your front bands aren't going to fit. Here's what I do and it's always worked perfectly. First, look at the sweater's gauge - if it's more than 4 stitches per inch, I'll pick up 3 stitches for every 4; 4 stitches or less per inch, I'll pick up 2 for every 3. Before I start picking up stitches, I'll check the stitch repeat for the bands. For instance 2x2 rib (K2, P2) is a 4 stitch repeat + 2 - if I begin with a K2, I want to end with a K2 so things look nice. Seed Stitch is a 2 stitch repeat + 1. Knowing this, I can adjust stitch numbers as I pick up. Then I start picking up stitches - I always pick up the first stitch and I always pick up the last stitch - even if it means I pick up an extra stitch beyond my ideal ratio. If you've ever had bands that didn't quite reach the bottom of your cardi, this is where you went wrong. While I'm picking up stitches, I'm counting them as well. If it looks like I'm going to come up one or two stitches short, I'll frog my picked up stitches a little bit and pick up an extra stitch or two somewhere in the middle (not too close to each other though). If it looks like I'll have an extra stitch or two, instead of skipping one (and chancing bands that are too tight), I'll work a K stitch on the first row as a K2tog (evenly space them somewhere in the middle of the band if you have more than one to decrease). It will get lost being right next to the pick up row and no one will ever see it.
I hope this helps anyone who's had trouble picking up stitches in the past (or even finding directions for picking up stitches). It's not difficult to pick up stitches once you figure out where to pick them and hopefully this cleared up some of those questions.