Mastering Mattress Stitch
Proper finishing is the key to beautiful knitted garments, and working a perfect mattress stitch is and important skill. In the Spring 2002 issue of Interweave Knits, technical editor Charlotte Morris authored a wonderful article about seaming knitted garments.
Properly worked, a seam should blend in with the garment’s stitch pattern, without stretching or puckering. It should be strong and durable with minimal bulk. Here’s how you can become a mattress stitcher extraordinaire.
Mattress Stitch Seam
To begin mattress seaming, work seams upward from the lower (cast-on) edge. Work the first part of the seam with the tail leftover from the cast-on row. Doing so will eliminate one end to weave in later and will help make a smooth seam join. If the tail left from the cast-on row is not long enough to work the seam, join a length of yarn about twice as long as the length to be sewn. Do not make a knot or tie ends; instead, leave a few inches of the seaming yarn hanging—when the seam is sewn, go back and tighten the end, then work the tail into the seam. Begin by catching the cast-on stitch on each piece.
If the cast-on loops are difficult to see, begin with the first row you can see clearly, and the corresponding one on the other side, then when the seam is established, go back and work the first part of the seam.
Mattress stitch, worked with a tapestry needle and with the right side of the knitting facing, is aptly called an invisible seam. Because it is worked from the right side, this is the best method for matching stitches from one side of the seam to the other. When worked correctly, the rows of stitches line up beautifully without distortion and the seaming yarn is concealed in the seam. Ideally, the two pieces to be seamed should have the same number of rows. If one piece is a row longer, begin and end the seam on the longer piece. This type of seam can be blocked flat.
At the end of a seam, secure the working yarn by darning it into the wrong side of the seam for a few inches. Do not tie a knot. If, despite efforts for perfect matching, there is a slight displacement between the two pieces at the end of the seam, take another stitch back through the top of the lower side to even them out.
Stockinette Stitch: Working with the right sides of the knitting facing you, use the threaded needle to pick up one bar between the first two stitches on one piece (Figure 1), then the corresponding bar plus the bar above it on the other piece (Figure 2). *Pick up the next two bars on the first piece, then the next two bars on the other (Figure 3). Repeat from * to the end of the seam, finishing by picking up the last bar (or pair of bars) at the top of the first piece. To reduce bulk, pick up the bars in the center of the edge stitches instead of between the last two stitches. To prevent a half-row displacement at the seam, be sure to start the seam by picking up just one bar on the first side, then alternate two bars on each side.
Garter Stitch: Working with the right sides of the knitting facing, use the threaded tapestry needle to pick up the lower purl bar between the last two stitches on one piece (Figure 1), then the upper purl bar from the stitch next to the edge stitch on same row on the other piece (Figure 2). To reduce bulk, work into the upper bar from the edge stitch (Figure 3) instead of the second-to-last stitch, but keep in mind that the seam will be less firm.
Tips for Working Mattress Stitch
- For a smooth, even seam without puckers, take care to alternate row for row from one side of the seam to the other, taking stitches of even lengths on each side.
- Work along the same column of stitches, being careful not to stray to one side or the other.
- Do not pull the seaming yarn too tight. Doing so will cause the seam to gather, alter the length of the seam, and distort the garment.
- Take care not to split the yarn of knitted stitches as you sew (or crochet). Doing so may weaken the yarn and will make the seam look sloppy.
—Charlotte Morris, Interweave Knits Spring 2002
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be a master mattress stitcher.
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