The Beginner’s Guide to Picking Up Stitches

Guide to Picking Up Stitches

So your pattern is telling you to “pick up stitches” or maybe “pick up and knit,” and you have no idea what it means? Craftsy to the rescue! Picking up stitches is a lot easier than it seems.

You don’t need any special tools or skills to do it, either. If you can wrap yarn around your needle, then you have already mastered picking up stitches. The trick is just knowing where to pick up those stitches.

Our complete guide to picking up stitches will show you a few scenarios when you’ll need this technique. Then we’ll share a how-to along with tips and tricks.

Picking up stitches on sock gusset

When to pick up stitches

There are many different scenarios in which you’d need to pick up stitches. Let’s take a look at a few of them:

1. Sock gussets

If you’ve ever knit socks with a heel before, you’ll remember that you have to pick up stitches along the sides of the heel to create the gusset.

2. Creating shape

Projects like drawstring bags often have you knit the bottom circle, then pick up stitches around the circle. This gives the bag shape and sometimes even helps bags sit up without falling over.

3. Knitting necklines

Some sweater patterns ask you to pick up stitches around necklines. Picking up stitches makes the neckline more smooth and even, and it’s also great for unifying pieces that you’ve seamed together.

4. Button bands

If you’re knitting a cardigan, occasionally you’ll need to add a button band as part of finishing. This requires picking up stitches along the edges of the cardigan.

5. Adding sleeves or hems

You can pick up stitches around armholes to add sleeves, and you can also pick up stitches around hems to add length to your sweaters.

How to pick up stitches

Horizontal edges

Here’s how to pick up stitches from a bind-off or cast-on edge. (Note that I’m using a contrasting color yarn so that you can more easily see the picked-up stitches.) You’ll be working from right to left across the edge.

Picking up stitches from a horizontal edge

1. Place your work right side up. Insert your needle into the first stitch from front to back. For a bind-off edge, the needle will go inside the V of the stitch just below the bind-off edge. For a cast-on edge, the needle will go inside the V of the stitch just above the cast-on edge. (Here, I’m showing picking up stitches from the bind-off edge.)

Picking up stitches from a horizontal edge

2. Grab the new yarn that you’re going to attach. Leaving a long tail for weaving in later, wrap the new yarn around the needle.

Picking up stitches from a horizontal edge

3. Pull the new yarn through the stitch.

Picking up stitches from a horizontal edge

4. Insert the needle through the next stitch. Make sure you’re inserting the needle into the center of the next V so that the stitches are spaced evenly.

Picking up stitches from a horizontal edge

5. Wrap the new yarn around the needle, and pull the new yarn through the stitch.

Continue picking up stitches evenly across the entire edge (or as your pattern instructs).

Picking up stitches from a horizontal edge

When you look at the edge of the work just behind your picked-up stitches, you’ll notice that there’s a neat little chain or braid running across the top.

Vertical edges

Here’s how to pick up stitches from the edge of the piece. (Note that I’m using a contrasting color yarn so that you can more easily see the picked-up stitches.) Just like with the horizontal edge, you’ll be working from right to left.

Picking up stitches from a vertical edge

1. Place your work right side up. Insert the needle into the first space on the edge of the piece. Notice how the edge forms a little braid or chain. You’ll be inserting the needle right through one of those chain links.

Picking up stitches from a vertical edge

2. Grab the new yarn that you’re going to attach. Leaving a long tail for weaving in later, wrap the new yarn around the needle.

Picking up stitches from a vertical edge

3. Pull it through the stitch.

Picking up stitches from a vertical edge

4. Insert the needle into the next stitch, wrap the new yarn, and pull the new yarn through the stitch.

Repeat this across the edge (or as your pattern instructs).

Picking up stitches from a vertical edge

Notice here that because this is a vertical edge, I did not pick up a stitch in each and every chain. I’ll explain why in the next section.

Tips & tricks

Use the 1-2-3-Skip ratio for vertical edges

Since the number of stitches per inch and the number of rows per inch are often different in gauge, it’s a good idea to use a ratio to make up for the extra stitches. Instead of picking up every stitch on the vertical edge, you can use Chris Bylsma’s 1-2-3-Skip ratio to get the right amount of stitches.

The technique is simple: Pick up three stitches, then skip a stitch. Skipping that stitch will make sure that you don’t have too many stitches packed onto that vertical edge.

Changing needle size

When you’re picking up from a vertical edge, you have to account for the fact that stitches may take up less room vertically due to gauge. To make up for this, use a needle that’s about two sizes smaller than the needle you used in the project. This will make the stitches look more even along the vertical edge.

Using a crochet hook

It’s sometimes tricky to get the yarn through the stitch since a knitting needle gives you no grip. If you can’t seem to get the yarn through the stitch, try picking up stitches with a crochet hook, then place them on the knitting needle.

Right hand vs. left hand

You can use either your right hand or left hand to wrap the yarn around the needle. Experiment to figure out which way is best for you!

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