Have you ever looked at a knitted garment and thought to yourself, “How do the stitches on the collar face in a different direction like that?” The answer is that the knitter picked up stitches. Any more advanced knitter will tell you that practicing the technique of picking up stitches will take your knitting to the next level; when you can add stitches in any direction, you can make anything at all, and you can make it more interesting.
Picking up stitches is a common technique when knitting garments and socks in particular. The heel gusset of a cuff-down sock requires picking up stitches, as do many collars and button bands of sweaters. Sometimes, the instructions do not call for picking up stitches, but the knitter wants to extend the length of a piece at the cast-on edge, and it may be easier to pick up stitches than to unravel the cast-on one stitch at a time.
There are actually three ways patterns will call for picking up stitches. One is just “pick up,” or pick-up-and-go, and the other is “pick up and knit.” The difference between the two is that one way goes left to right and the other goes right to left; neither is better than the other, but different patterns may call for a specific technique. The third way is to use the selvedge, or edge, stitch as your pickup stitch, and you can use the yarn already on your piece. Knit Picks offers a comprehensive video using this technique, found here.
To pick up and go, take your left needle oriented on the left edge of your work, with the right side facing. Place the tip of the needle under the edge of the work, through the first stitch, and draw up a loop with your working yarn. Give the yarn a small tug so your picked up row is not too loose, and make sure your loop is facing the correct direction; be sure the front leg is forward and that the loop is open. Move on to the next stitch and do the same thing all the way across the edge. You should have a row of stitches on your left needle, ready to work. Knit or purl them normally. The Knit Witch shows a video tutorial of picking up stitches and then turning your work to purl the pickups here, and The Drops Cardigan on the DROPS website offers a solid example of this direction for the button band.
To pick up and knit, orient your left needle along the right edge, instead of the left edge, still with the right side facing. Go through the same procedure of using the left needle to draw up a loop, but then knit that stitch before moving onto the next stitch to the left of it. After each stitch, you will have a blank left needle and one more knitted stitch on the right needle. This Moment’s Notice Cardigan, found on the Red Heart website, is a good example of picking up and knitting a button band. Lion Brand’s Custom Classic Pullover is an example of how to pick up and knit a collar band.
Picking up stitches evenly can be tricky. If you are picking up where you left off on a horizontal edge, it is easy to just know that you pick up the same number of stitches in the row. On vertical edges, or edges that are facing the opposite direction (like button bands on cardigans), the general rule of thumb is to pick up three stitches for every four rows. Even though it can be tedious to pick up stitches, the great attribute of them is that you can rip them out without worrying about ruining the rest of your piece or garment, since it is either a separate piece of yarn or there is only one common stitch from the garment to the pick-up.
When practicing picking up stitches, do not despair. Yes, it can be a difficult process at first, but after the first few attempts, your collars and bands will be coming together in no time flat.
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