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"Pick up and knit" — Go boldly where no knitting was before!

"Pick up and knit" — Go boldly where no knitting was before!

Ramona Cardigan with ribbing for neck

Create new stitches on your knitted edge?! It’s really like magic. 

This is a technique that’s handy for making button bands on cardigans, for a ribbed neckline, or for certain types of modular knitting. You pick up stitches from one knitted edge, and knit them onto your needle as you go, resulting in a new section of “live” stitches. 

In our Ramona KAL, we’ll all be picking up stitches for our neckline ribbing, and those of us knitting cardigans will also be picking up stitches for our button bands.

It might sound daunting, but we’ve got some tips and tricks to make this manageable so you’ll be picking up stitches like a champ in no time!

Read your pattern. (Yes, again!)

We keep saying it, but it’s important. Especially now, as you go into new territory, your pattern is a roadmap to pay close attention to.

Does your pattern specify a needle change at this point? 

A needle change is fairly common when you’re working a collar or button band — and it’s easy to overlook. Yep, it’s happened to the best of us.

Your pattern will also tell you how many stitches you’ll be picking up.

 In a neckline, this might sound something like, “Pick up and knit 10 sts along the shoulder, 32 sts along the back, 10 sts along the shoulder, etc.” Pretty straightforward, right? You’re simply picking up a certain number of stitches around each section of your sweater’s neck.

In a button band, you might see something like, “Pick up and knit 3 sts for every 4 rows along the edge, making sure the total number picked up is divisible by 2+1.” Let’s break this down.

If you pick up one stitch for every row on your button band, your band will ripple. 

If you pick up too few stitches your button band will be too tight and pull the knitted fabric of your garment. 

This is because your vertical gauge (how tall each stitch is) is different from your horizontal gauge (how wide each stitch is). So that’s why you don’t pick up a stitch for every row.

When your pattern says to make sure your total number of stitches is divisible by a number, that’s more to do with the stitch pattern for the button band (1x1 ribbing or 2x2 ribbing, etc). So if you picked up 100 stitches (divisible by 2) for your button band, using the example above, you’d need to either pick up one more to make 101, or one less to make 99.

Gather your tools.

Locking stitch markers are really helpful as you’re dividing your segments into smaller chunks, but you can use safety pins too.

A small crochet hook (size D or E), or tool like this one, makes it easy to pull your loop through as you’re picking up and knitting your stitches onto your needle. 

Divide and conquer.

Patty Lyons is our guru for tips and techniques to make your knitting polished, but she’s also fantastic at explaining the “why” of our knitting — why things work the way they do, and what to do to remedy mistakes. 

There’s a really helpful section in her book Patty Lyons’ Knitting Bag of Tricks about picking up stitches, and how to calculate how many stitches to pick up — because not all patterns specify this. She includes two “mathy” ways and then her own favorite, non-mathy way to do this.

One of Patty’s recommendations is to divide and conquer before you pick up and knit. Divide your space into smaller sections by simply folding the section in half, placing a marker, and repeating this as many times as you like.

These smaller segments make it easier to “see” the space where you’ll need to pick up your stitches. So instead of 30 stitches across the whole back, you’ve segmented it into two sections of 15 sts each, or three sections of 10 sts each. 

Dividing with stitch markers is optional, and as you gain confidence, you may find you need less segmentation to guide you.


A few DOs — and one don’t.

Don’t pick up stitches too far into your knitted fabric or your neckline or button band won’t lie flat.

Do pick up a stitch right at the very edge of your knitting to prevent a jog in the edge of your work. This will make a beautiful finished edge.

Do pick up both Vs of that cast on edge — this little snippet of a video shows you how to do this.

Do be patient with yourself. It’s not uncommon even for experienced knitters to pick up and knit stitches, realize they’re too squished or spread out, then decide to redo the section.

Boldly knit into unchartered territory!

It may seem scary the first time you do this, but it’s thrilling to realize you can take your knitting in new directions — literally. 

If you have questions, or need help walking through this part, we’re here to help. Stop in the shop on Wednesdays for Knit Night from 4–7 p.m. when we have extra staff to support you. And in the winter, mornings are a quiet time to pop in for some knitting assistance as well!
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