Alternatives to a Ribbed Hem

We're so used to seeing ribbing at the cuffs, necklines, and hems of sweaters. But there are other choices to be made! In the new issue of knit.wear, designer Jane Howorth offers you options for hemlines.

The XO Tee by Sara Morris uses the plain hem on the sleeves.

Alternatives to a Ribbed Hem

Whether you modify an existing pattern or design your own, a unique hem brings a custom touch to any handknit. Try one of these patterns at the bottom edge of your next sweater!

If you look at a number of different knitting patterns, you'll see many examples of garments that start with the ubiquitous rib border of knit 1, purl 1, or knit 2, purl 2. This type of plain rib border provides an elastic edging at the openings of a garment and prevents curling, but it's not particularly decorative. In addition, it's not especially interesting to knit. I often feel a sense of relief when the tedious ribs are done, and I can move on to the next part of the knitting.

Why do we use plain rib so often? Knitwear manufacturers use it because it's simple and cost-effective on mass-produced garments. But when it comes to our own knitting, are we perhaps being influenced too much by this mass-production approach? We can make handknitted garments that are unique and meet our own needs by exchanging the standard rib border for another stitch pattern.

Stockinette stitch has a natural tendency to curl or roll inward onto the knit-stitch side of the work. The reason for the curl is that it takes slightly more yarn to form purl stitches than it does to form knit stitches, and that extra yarn on the purl side causes the curl. Rib-stitch patterns are made up of both knit and purl stitches, and the combination neutralizes the tendency to roll and forces the fabric to lie flat. Combined knit and purl stitches also create the other key property of a rib: its elasticity. Using rib stitch at the neck, cuff, and lower edges of a garment makes it fit closely in those areas. Here are three examples of patterns that can be used at the edges of garments.

Bobble-Stitch Rib
Mock-Cable Rib

Mock-Cable Rib
A rib with moderate elasticity, the mock-cable rib is great for all sorts of items, and it's not too heavy for baby wear. It works well on a child's cardigan, where the eyelet holes can be used as small buttonholes down the center-front band.

Cast on a multiple of 5 stitches, plus 2. Work Rows 1–4 of chart the desired number of times.

Bobble-Stitch Rib
A rib with high elasticity, the bobble-stitch rib brings a little fun to plain-rib edges by adding a row of bobbles immediately after the cast-on row. You can work this rib in one color or increase its impact by working the cast-on and bobble rows in contrasting colors, as shown. In this pattern, the bobbles have been spaced along a 3×1 rib, but that spacing could be changed to any other ratio. This rib is particularly attractive when worked on sleeve edges and on children's items.

Cast on a multiple of 4 stitches, plus 3. Work Bobble row of chart once, then work Rows 1–2 of chart the desired number of times.

Plain Hem

Plain Hem
A plain hem is a good choice when an inelastic edge is needed. It can give a sophisticated, couture look to a finished article. You can alter the depth of the hem to suit the article.

To work a plain hem, cast on the required number of stitches and work an odd number of rows in stockinette, using smaller needles and starting with a knit row. Change to larger needles. Knit one wrong-side row. Continue in stockinette, starting with a knit row, and working one fewer row as contained in hem. Next row (RS) Fold hem in half along purl row, then insert right needle into first stitch on left needle, then pick up underside of first stitch of cast-on row, and k2tog with stitch on left needle. Continue to pick up a stitch from cast-on edge and knit it with the next stitch from left needle, throughout row. Alternatively, the hem can be folded and slip-stitched into place with tapestry needle after the article is completed.

—Jane Howorth, knit.wear Spring/Summer 2014

Try on of these hems on your next sweater! For even more hem ideas, get the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of knit.wear.


P.S. What are your feelings about ribbed hems and their alternatives? Leave a comment and let us know.

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