advice · ask amanda

Ask Amanda: How do I pick up stitches?

One summer when I was in high school, I knitted a little cotton vest to use in a yarn shop display. To complete it, I had to pick up stitches and work the edging in a contrasting color. I wasn’t very familiar with picking up stitches, but I understood the basic concept.

I sat at the table in the shop and carefully picked up stitches all around the edges of the vest – there were probably at least 200 stitches total. I was ready to start knitting the first row when the shop owner took a look and pointed out that I’d actually picked up stitches in the wrong direction, from the wrong side of the fabric! I had to rip out all the stitches I’d picked up and start over again. I was frustrated with myself for not realizing the error sooner, but I made a mental note to not let the same mistake happen again. I sat back down and began the process of picking up stitches once more. It took a while, but I finally got all the stitches picked up. I proudly showed my work to the shop owner. She looked at it and cast a sidelong glance at me. “Amanda,” she said, “Are you in love?”

For a moment, I was so confused that I didn’t know what to say. She laughed and held up my knitting for me to see. “You picked up the stitches on the wrong side again – have you been daydreaming about a boyfriend? I don’t think you’re concentrating very hard on your knitting!”

Even though it was especially disappointing to have to rip out my picked up stitches a second time, I definitely learned the right way to pick up stitches! My mistake lay in not realizing that I needed to pick up the stitches with the right side of the fabric facing me, and that the stitches should be picked up working from right to left. Now that I’ve done many more projects with picked up stitches, I actually enjoy the process a lot. It helps clean up potentially messy-looking edges, and it gives a nice finished look to the project (Pulina, the free pattern pictured at the above left, is a great example – the picked-up neckline adds polish). For pointers on the technique, check out our how-to video:

When they direct you to pick up stitches, most patterns will give you a specific number of stitches to pick up. To pick them up as evenly as possible, I will often use safety pins or locking stitch markers to mark the halfway point, or even divide it into quarters. That way I can be sure that my picked up stitches will be evenly distributed along the edge.

In some cases, you might discover that you’re having trouble getting the correct number of stitches picked up – maybe there are large gaps showing up between the picked up stitches, or maybe there are so many crammed together that it’s hard to squeeze in any more stitches. In situations like this, sometimes the best move is to just pick up the number of stitches that feels comfortable to you, then make adjustments with increases or decreases during the first knitted row.

It sometimes takes some practice and a little patience, but picking up stitches can be a fun and satisfying technique to master!

6 thoughts on “Ask Amanda: How do I pick up stitches?

  1. Picking up stitches is definitely still a challenge. I like the pick up 3 for every 4 stitches rule. I use a crochet hook to pick up stitches since I find it easier to manipulate the picked up stitches this way. I count 10 or 20 and slip them off the back of the hook onto the needle. This way I can count easier too.

  2. I’m really enjoying your tiny tutorials. Everyone benefits from a refresher on how we do thing. Thank you for taking the time from your fabulous knitting.

  3. After reading your post, and thinking a lot about it, I gathered my courage, ripped out the button bands on a sweater that I had finished. The “correct” number of stitches according to the pattern did not let the bands lay smoothly (too few). I followed your advice to do what feels comfortable. Now it is beautiful. I tend to distrust my instincts and do what the patterns says. Thanks!!

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