So as I mentioned yesterday, I seamed the seamless yoke of my Amanda cardigan, and I want to talk about both how and why I did it — about the the idea of including what I’m going to refer to as a “basting stitch” in seamless sweaters to combine the best aspects of knitting seamlessly with the best aspects of seamed garments.
SEAMED VS. SEAMLESS
This is the central conflict of knitting, as far as I can tell. Knitters love seamless sweater patterns, for a multitude of arguably legitimate reasons: ease, speed, increased control over the outcome. But what’s best for the knitting process might not be best for the sweater. In most cases, a garment will wear better — hold its shape longer, and look better doing it — if it has seams to lend it structural support. A sweater without seams is sort of like a tent without poles: you can still climb in there and it will protect you from the elements, but it’s a pretty different experience. I have a beloved, much worn, navy top-down sweater in my closet that, even though it was knitted with neck shaping and the neck band was picked up and knitted from the cast-on edge (that picked-up edge being the only undergirding in that sweater), the yoke has mushed around and settled enough over time that I can now barely tell the difference between front and back. In fact, when I wore it on a flight to Seattle in November, I became convinced I had it on backwards.
As we were working our way through the Amanda knitalong, a lot of discussion arose about the relative merits of seamed vs seamless knitting and, combined with turning that navy sweater around that day before realizing it was on right the first time, I got to thinking about this conflict pretty nonstop.
I love a top-down sweater. I’ve had this debate with numerous people, and I maintain that top-down knitting is the gateway drug to sweater knitting — certainly it was for me. Top-down or bottom-up, I’m not opposed to the act of seaming; I genuinely enjoy it, and it doesn’t even take that long. When I was a brand-new knitter, though, the idea of knitting four or five large pieces (a big time investment) and seaming them together (further investment) and only then knowing how I had done — whether it fit and whether I liked it — was unimaginable. It was just never going to happen. Through top-down, I learned how shaping works, how row gauge especially factors into it … in short, how to exert control over my own sweater. Once the notion of knitting a sweater was no longer daunting, and with that gained understanding of how they basically work, I felt more comfortable tackling bottom-up and pieced sweaters, and more confident that I could get the right fit. (Although even now, I have no idea how an armscye is calculated or how to tamper with it, so set-in sleeves are still not malleable for me. Yet. And since I’m apparently incapable of simply following a pattern, malleability is important to me.) I see real value in seamless knitting, in other words, even as I see the value of seams. So what’s a knitter to do?
THE IDEA OF A BASTED SWEATER
As I was nearing the yoke of my Amanda cardigan — having chosen to knit the pattern in pieces as written, prepared to seam the sides and sleeves — I became increasingly preoccupied with the seamless yoke on the horizon. Why would I put all that effort (and seaming!) into a glorious handknit sweater and have it lack that critical underpinning of seamed shoulder construction? And I kept thinking about that trusty blue sweater and pondering the notion of reinforcing it. First I thought about adding something simple and austere like a row of single crochet along the inside of the raglan to shore it up. But it got me wondering why you couldn’t knit a seamless garment in such a way that you built in stitches that were meant to be seamed out later, the way you design steek stitches into a garment you’re going to cut open. Or like in sewing where you baste pieces together temporarily knowing you’re going to go back and add the finished seam later. And, falling more and more in love with the idea, I pondered what the right combination of stitches would be for that built-in seam allowance. But then once I started knitting the Amanda yoke, I realized the answer was right in front of me.
Amanda’s raglan “seam” is a single stitch of reverse stockinette — 1 purl stitch, in other words. It seems to me too weak a stitch to hang a whole sweater on, but it’s the ideal basting stitch. The number one benefit of seamless knitting, in my opinion, is being able to gauge and adjust fit as you go. So if you’re going to work seamlessly and then remove stitches at the end, you want to remove as few as possible, since that’s going to be an adjustment to the fit. Four stitches — one per raglan — is the smallest possible number for a yoke. One stitch per side seam is a total of only two stitches removed for the whole body. A single stitch per sleeve. All you have to do to seam this basting stitch closed is pick up the running thread on either side of that stitch and work it just like standard mattress stitch. And in doing so, you’ve just given yourself the perfect seam in which to bury the ends once you’re done. As far as I can tell, it’s flawless.
HOW TO SEAM A SEAMLESS SWEATER
Here’s the blow-by-blow:
Step 1) Take a piece of yarn about one-and-a-half times the length of your seam and thread it through a tapestry needle. Start at the first stitch at the bottom of your basted seam. (I’m using my Amanda raglan seam to illustrate, so that’s the first stitch up from the underarm seam.) Pick up the running thread to the right of the basting stitch — see upper left photo above — and pull your yarn through, leaving a tail to weave in later.
Step 2) Pick up the running thread to the left of the same stitch — see upper right photo above — and pull your yarn through, but don’t pull it tight yet. Leave it just wide enough to reach across the basting stitch.
Repeat steps 1 and 2 — lower two photos above — picking up the right and then left thread on either side of each stitch, until you’ve worked about an inch of stitches. Gently pull on both ends of the working yarn to pull the seam closed. The adjacent stitches should nestle up against each other naturally — don’t pull them too tight or they’ll bunch. This is all exactly like standard mattress stitch.
Keep working your way up the seam, pulling the stitches together every inch or so, until you reach the top of the seam. When you’re done, run both ends through to the wrong side of the work and weave them into the seam you just created. (I did it just like I do on the wrong side of ribbing.)
This took me all of eight or ten minutes per raglan, and increased the appearance and the lifespan of my sweater exponentially.
As I said, I’m certain I’m not the first person to ever add a seam to a seamless garment — likely far from it. But for me personally, this is an epiphany. I recognize the benefits of knitting in pieces — namely the portability. But since I do 95% of my knitting on my couch (and because I like to change things to suit myself, and because I dislike starting back at the bottom again for each piece) seamless knitting has undeniable appeal. But I believe wholeheartedly in seams. Now that I realize all I need to do when knitting seamlessly is insert a single column of purl stitches wherever a seam should be, and seam it up at the end, I feel like my whole knitting world may have changed.
Can it really be that easy to have it both ways? I’ll be testing the theory ASAP.
PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: FO No. 4: Karen Templer