Seven Tips for Seaming Mojo

I'll admit: I truly love seaming my sweaters. (Does this make me a freak?) I actually enjoy the finishing steps of a big knitting project. I've been happily sewing up the pockets on my Farmer's Market Cardigan, and am looking forward to seaming the sleeves when I finally finish them. And as you can see from the photo below, there'll be lots more seaming ahead after I finish the edging for the pockets and collar. (Why yes, thank you, I do use rather a lot of stitch markers.)

A lot of you have shared your knitting stories with me over the years, both the triumphant and the not-so-triumphant (or, as I prefer to think of them, the not-yet-triumphant). Many of you, it would seem, actually dislike seaming your sweaters. Yours is not a minor dislike, of the I-dislike-doing-the-laundry sort, because despite a collective dislike of laundry-doing, most of us are able to get past it and wander about with (mostly) clean clothing on our bodies.

Those of you who dislike the finishing steps of a big sweater project are more of the I Hate Seaming With A Fierce Growling  sort of dislike, more akin to what most of us associate with full-on tax audits. Seam-haters admit that they love the knitting bits, but would rather ring up the auditor themselves and brew them some tea than seam up the sides and sleeves of a cardigan. Just imagine it: Secret confessions have been made to me of baskets, closets, and drawers full-to-brim of unfinished objects…the infamous and discussed-in-whispers Objects Without Seams.

How many thousands of these gorgeous handknit OWS (oh, GREAT acronym, didn't even try for that one) are out there? The very thought makes me shiver. All those poor sweater parts, longing to be made whole, yearning to be worn and enjoyed. (OWS, indeed.)

I feel sad for all those OWS lurking in closets and drawers and bins. I also feel sad for all you knitters who have fewer pretty things to wear because of this sorry state of affairs.

I want the world to have more happy knitters clad in beautiful sweaters. Therefore, I hereby offer these Seven Aids to Seaming Mojo to help those of you who haven't yet conquered your seam-shudders. The tips fall into two categories, Mental Preparation and Skill Preparation.

Three Tips for Mental Mojo

One of the most common anti-seaming comments I hear is: "I love to knit, but I hate to sew." This is a strong mental block to seaming, one that can be gently addressed in the name of being able to actually wear the sweaters we knit.

It's true. Knitting and sewing are two different sorts of crafts. Knitting involves sitting in your comfy chair, getting into a rhythm, and being able to do other things whilst you knit (carry on a conversation or watch TV). Sewing involves having to look at your work, often having to concentrate on each stitch, and being able to listen to (but probably not watch) a TV show.

Since the two crafts–knitting and sewing–are different, it is important to treat them differently, and to give them each their due. Like this, perhaps:
Mental Mojo Tip #1: Set aside a special day and time for seaming up your knits. I pick a morning when I know the house will be relatively quiet. (Relatively. Key word there.)

Mental Mojo Tip #2: Find a designated Stitching Place in your home for seaming your sweaters. You have a special knitting chair, right? Don't sit in your knitting chair and try to stitch; rather, look for somewhere more comfortable for the task at hand. I clear the dining table (OK, I clear part of the dining table, sheesh) and work there, where the light is good and there is space to spread out sleeves and sweater bodies.

Mental Mojo Tip #3: Assemble a Stitch Kit that has all the things you need in it for seaming. You have a special knitting bag with all your knitting tools in it, why not have a Stitch Kit ready to go? The key here is not to rob your knitting toolkit, but to have a separate, dedicated Stitch Kit so everything will be right where you need it and you won't have to go hunting for where you last left things. If you need to, go find a second tape measure (look in the sofa, that's where they have their little tape-measure guild meetings), as well as a second set of scissors (Oh Pluuueeeze. You do so have a second pair. You just don't know where they are right now. Pay your kids to find them.). I keep a little basket on the shelf next to my dining table that contains all the basics: a tape measure, a pair of scissors, a pen, a crochet hook, a set of yarn needles, a tin of stitch markers (the locking kind, useful for "basting" seams), and a little skeinlet of smooth cotton yarn in a light color.

Four Tips for Skill Mojo

The other comment I hear most often about seam-hate is: "My knitting looks great, and then when I stitch it up, the seams look horrible."

I'm going to make a wild guess here and say that this may be because you know how to knit really well, but you don't know how to seam really well. That's all it is. Remember the first few things you knit? They didn't look so hot either, I suspect. Well, if you don't know how to seam properly, then of course things will look wonky and you'll get discouraged and think that seaming sucks. It doesn't suck. The particular technique you used for seaming sucks. There are better, non-sucky techniques. Techniques which I am about to show you, so you can learn to Suck Less (and therefore, Get Better) At Seaming. But first, two important Factoids of Life:

    Factoid of Life and Sewing: Hand-knit fabric is not denim, cotton, lycra, or woven wool fabric. You can't use the same sewing techniques on a hand-knit sweater seam as you would use stitching up two pieces of cotton for a quilt. A lot of knitters try applying what they learned in sewing class to their knits only to end up with something that looks homemade, instead of handmade. 
    Factoid of Life and Knitted Fabric: When you sew up a handknit, you sew one stitch to another, hand to hand and heart to heart, so that the result looks like one continuous piece of knitted fabric. You will always be able to see the place where the seam is. But the stitches ought to match up–much like the designs on wallpaper ought to match up when you are adding a new strip of paper to the wall.

Now, on to the Mojo Tips:

Skill Mojo Tip #1: Learn to read your knitting. Sit down with a piece of knitting under good lighting and really look at it. This is the first and most important step to good seaming. You have to know what the stitches look like, how the yarn goes around itself in each row and column, in order to be able to "match up" the stitches on either side of a seam.

Skill Mojo Tip #2: Baste along the "seamline" on each knitted piece.
It's much more awkward (not to mention frustrating) if you have to stop and figure out where each and every stitch goes as you are seaming things up. There lies madness, as well as plenty of opportunities to make mistakes. So take a contrasting piece of smooth waste yarn, and baste along the column/row of stitches you will use as your seamline. It only takes a minute or two, and can save you a lot of frustration, especially for tricksy seams like armholes and necklines.

Skill Mojo Tip #3: Match Legs to Legs in Horizontal Seaming: See the curved loops that form each stitch along a row? Each side of a stitch is called an arm (sometimes) or a leg (other times–are you confused yet?). Same difference. When you stitch a horizontal seam, row-to-row, like a shoulder seam, you match the legs of stitches on a row on one piece of your sweater to the legs of stitches on a row on the other piece, making the alternating stitch legs interlock like zipper teeth. Catch two legs on one side with your needle, go to the other piece on the other side of the seam, catch two legs with your needle, and repeat. That's it. Want a photo tutorial? Sure you do.

Skill Mojo Tip #4: Match Bar to Bar in Vertical Seaming: Look at the columns, up and down. Spread the knitting apart a bit–see the bars that are between columns? It's almost like there are little ladders between the columns. When you stitch a vertical seam, like the side seam of a sweater, you match up a bar on one side of the seam to a bar on the other side of the seam, and voila. Mattress stitch. And of course, there's a tutorial for this, too. Yay! 

And there you are! I hope these hints help your seaming mojo, and maybe even cause you to dig out some Objects Without Seams from your closet and stitch them up to wear with pride.

Anyone have any more useful hints for successful seaming? Any tricks you use to help your seams come out beautifully? Share your tip with us in the comments!

Well, it's time for me to get back to working on that collar edging. I want to be able to wear this sweater this weekend, so I'd better keep knitting!

P.S. Special thanks to all those who sent in well-wishes while I was ill last week. You people are so sweet! And no, I haven't ripped out that darn evil second left sleeve yet…but I will.

Wishing you much knitting mojo this week!

– Sandi

Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. You can find her blogging here on Knitting Daily every Thursday. Want more? Visit Sandi's personal blog, wiseheart knits. Or, if you're on Twitter, follow her tweets: alpacasandi.

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