Edited 9/21/2015: I’m not changing this post at all, just want to add this bit to say, in the 5 years since I wrote this post and designed the couple of old patterns mentioned in the post below, I’ve gone on to design MANY more patterns using this kind of technique, so here’s a list of some of my favorites if you want to check out the technique in action in different ways! Links are to the ravelry pages; all the patterns can also be found on leethalknits.com. (I may come back here every year or so and add some new patterns to the lists.)
Some form of the sideways edge cast-on technique is used in…
- these shawl patterns: the whole Betiko collection, the whole Triyang collection, Junction, Galax
- these hat patterns: Barry, Unbroken, Gentle on My Mind, What a Twist
- Twist on a Classic and Rumours fingerless mitts
- all the items in my first Adventure Knitting collection (hat, cowl, mitts, coffee cup sleeve)
- my Tionne pullover sweater design uses it for the cowl neck
- lastly, Orthogonal is a free cowl pattern, and a fun way to try out the technique
So I just released a new pattern (Swerve!) and you’ll notice how the cuffs and hands are knit in opposite directions (or, perpendicular directions really) – but hey guess what! There’s no picking up stitches and no seaming! How is that so, you might ask… well, I’m about to show you! I have been doing a ton of experimenting (ohmygosh so much) over the last several months and I want to share with you everything I’ve discovered, learned, ruled out, with all of my trials and errors…
The method – which has existed, of course, as all knitterly things have, and I have just unvented, as the great Elizabeth Zimmermann liked to say – I am calling the sideways edge cast-on, because edges (cuffs, brims, etc) are what I’ve been using it for and what it seems great for. However, if you are an experienced and clever garment knitter, you may figure out how it could be used for joining sections of sweaters (casting on the sleeve stitches as you work the body, perhaps? maybe, maybe not?) or other purposes beyond edges.
My how-to, notes, etc in this post can be used by designers, of course, but I think it spreads further than that – if you are a knitter who hates picking up stitches, you can take any pattern that involves a sideways brim/cuff/etc and calls for picking up the stitches, and convert it to a sideways edge cast-on instead!
A quick note to new knitters: since this post is going to be crazy long as it is, I will not be describing what I mean when I say things like “kfb”, “turn”, etc – you can use sites like knittinghelp.com, knitty, and just plain google, to figure out what things mean if you’re not yet familiar. Sorry, I just don’t want this post to turn into a book!
And an extra note (edited to add this): if all this that follows seems over your head, you should know that when the technique is used within a pattern (like in all the patterns listed at the top), it is not challenging at all really – it’s just increases and plain knitting, and there’s no need to understand this post first, pretty easy peasy once you get started! Remember, all knitting is is pulling loops of yarn through loops of yarn with needles!
Below is an example of a version of the method having been worked as a hat brim. While the technique can be used with any kind of stitch pattern (plenty of stockinette swatch examples coming up soon), garter stitch is an excellent fabric for the edge/brim/cuff/whatever for two major reasons: texture and stretchiness. As you’ll see soon, different kinds of bumps and things are created by the “casting-on” of new stitches as the edge is worked, so garter stitch is great at hiding those. And the stretchiness – you can achieve different effects with your edging by adding different amounts of cast-on stitches, and garter stitch will stretch to adjust to the ratio of stitches to rows that you choose….. more on that in a minute…
The “cast-on” stitches in this method are essentially taking the place of stitches which would otherwise be picked up along the side of the edge piece, with “cast-on” being in quotations there because the stitches are actually added with increases, then left behind with short rows, waiting for you to come back to them later when the edge section is finished. (I’ll stop it with the quotations now – from this point on, know that cast-on stitches are referring to the stitches you’re adding along the side.)
Now, what was up with that “ratio of stitches to rows” issue mentioned above? Well, if you’re familiar with picking up stitches along the side of knit fabric, you know that it’s usually not just 1 stitch picked up for every 1 row. It could be, but a standard ratio for stockinette knitting is 3 stitches for every 4 rows. When working the sideways edge cast-on, you’ll be adding stitches every time you turn your work, so you need to account for the row working up to it, and the row coming back down – adding 3 stitches for every 4 rows means adding 3 stitches every 2 times you turn your work (or 1.5 stitches per turn). There are different ways to deal with this, which I’ll go into later on. (If you need a ratio other than that, or 1 stitch to 1 row, or 1 stitch to 2 rows, such as 2 stitches to 3 rows, you’ll need to do the math to find that you need 4 stitches to every 3 times you turn, and adjust the increases accordingly.)
Now, wait, you (hopefully) have an understanding of how this method takes the place of picking up stitches, but how does it actually work? Here’s what you do: work whatever brim, cuff, edge you want sideways (in the above examples it’s the garter stitch cuff and brim), and each time you turn at the side which will become the cast-on side, you increase 1 or 2 stitch(es) and leave it/them behind, using short rows – next time you work up the edge, turn your work before knitting (or purling) the new stitch(es) you just added. So, as you work across sideways, there is a trail of stitches remaining unworked at the edge of each row, forming a new cast-on edge. When your cuff/brim/edge is complete, join around if you want to start knitting in the round (or not if you’re working flat), either bind-off or graft/3-needle bind off the working stitches up the side, and start working across all those top cast-on stitches.
I’ll move on to a photo step-by-step, for you visual learners, but first, a couple more notes… When I say edge stitches I’ll mean the stitches in the cuff/brim/whatever (like the garter stitch stitches in the examples above) – this number of stitches always stays the same, even as you add more and more stitches along the side (which are the cast-on stitches). It’s not totally necessary, but this technique is made easier by using a stitch marker. Later on, I’ll simplify the specifics of different variations without mentioning the marker, but just know that sticking a marker in your work (before increases happen – usually at 1 stitch less than the edge stitch number, as you’ll see below) will help you keep track easily so working the edge will become somewhat mindless knitting.
Now as for these how-to photos (well, scans, actually) below – remember, this version being worked in the pictures is one of many, as the point is to show you a visual of how stitches are added along the side. After the process shots, you’ll see a bunch of different swatches which have been worked differently, but always with the same concept of adding stitches at one end, then leaving them behind.
So, start out by casting on the number of stitches in your edge – you may want to use a provisional cast-on so you can graft or 3-needle bind-off later if you’ll be working in the round. In this example, my edge number is 6 stitches, and after casting on I knit one row, then purled one row to get started (these starting rows can change depending on pattern specifics), followed by my first increase row, so the beginning goes:
- Cast-on 6 stitches.
- Knit 1 row.
- Purl 1 row.
- Kfb, place marker, k to end.
And now it looks like:
So, the marker is set up at 1 stitch before the final edge stitch (the piece will always be: 5 stitches, then marker, 1 last edge stitch, then all the cast-on stitches). Next is my first wrong side row, which will always be the same (work the edge stitches, then turn):
- WS row: Purl to marker, pass marker, p1, turn.
…followed by the right side row which increases by 2 stitches. To get a ratio of 3 stitches added for every 4 rows (that’s 2 turns), I’ll be switching between adding 2 stitches and adding 1 stitch, every other turn. The first increase was by 1, so now I’ll be knitting into the front and the back, to add 2:
- RS row1: Kfbf (below, left), pass marker, k to end.
Then repeat the wrong side row, and work an increase row which only adds 1 stitch, so the next 2 rows go:
- Repeat WS row.
- RS row2: Kfb, pass marker, k to end.
Now just repeat those four rows – WS, RS 1, WS, RS 2 – across the whole edge section. Below, right is what the piece looks like after working a kfb in a RS row2 after a couple of repeats – see how those increased stitches are becoming a cast-on row along the top:
After a little while, once completing a RS row (working to the end), the work will bunch up on the straight needle, since the stitches are going in two different directions (below, left). If you’re working on a circular needle, you can move the work up to the cord and see how the cast-on stitches line up across the top, while the edge stitches go down the side (below, right):
If working a pattern which is telling you to pick up a certain number of stitches along the edge, then you’ll want to simply count the cast-on stitches and stop with the edge when the number reaches the picked-up stitches number – example: In Alexandra Virgiel’s Coronet hat pattern in knitty, you’re told to pick up 84[90, 96] sts from edge of band, approximately 2 sts for every 3 rows. (Of course, this is a different ratio than what we’ve been working in this sample, so for this pattern you’d need to work two RS row2’s in a row, then one RS row1, so you’re adding 4 stitches for every 6 rows, or 3 turns.) So, work the edge (“band” – in the cable pattern) until the cast-on stitches reach 84[90,96] stitches, then you have your the base of the hat cast on – no picking up needed! (There’s a little more to altering a pattern than just what I’ve said – you’ll need to figure out specifics, like how to begin, yourself.)
When the stitches reach whatever number you’re working to, either bind-off the edge stitches, or join around (if working around) and 3-needle bind-off, or graft, or whatever you want to do with the edges of your sideways edging (below, left). Now start working those cast-on stitches – either start working in the round, or just start working across. In this case, I’m working flat, so I purled across the first row, after which my piece looked like that, below, right:
If you’re working around, there’s no purl row necessary, of course – simply join around and start knitting! (This will make some variations below much easier, as you’ll see soon.) And below is my little swatch after working several rows upwards… from this point one, now that you know the concept of working up the edge stitches, turning and increasing (or sometimes increasing and turning), and working back down to the end, I’ll be simplifying instructions to tell you different kinds of increases you can use, etc.
A different way to get a ratio other than 1 stitch to 1 row or 1 stitch to 2 rows is to add extra stitches across the top when working your first row into the cast-on stitches. This makes working the edge easier (no keeping track of whether you’re supposed to be kfb‘ing or kfbf‘ing) and makes for a different look when you’re finished, as you can see below.
Now in all my experimenting, I’ve tried this several different ways and learned – when adding stitches along the top during your first row working those cast-on stitches, using a kfb increase, or the type of m1 increase where you simply twist a backward loop onto the needle, will leave you with huge holes along the edge!
The only kind of increase I know that works when adding stitches along the top is the m1 increase where you pick up the strand going between the two stitches and knit (or purl) into the back loop. So, when I say m1, that’s what I mean, when I say m1-p, I mean to purl into the back loop.
Below is a simple and effective way to work this type of sideways edge cast-on – work the edge like the above method, except just kfb’ing after every time you turn, leaving 1 stitch behind for each turn (ratio = 1 stitch per 2 rows). Then the first time you purl across them all (if working flat), work the row like so:
- [Purl 2, m1-p] repeat across row.
If working in the round, it’s even easier, since m1’ing knit-wise is easier to do than m1-p’ing – just [Knit 2, m1] across the first round.
Here is yet another way to achieve the 3 stitches to 4 rows ratio – adding stitches on either side of the turn, before the turn every time and after the turn only half the time. The swatch below is worked like so:
- WS row: Purl edge stitches, m1-p, p1, turn.
- RS row1: Sl1, k to end.
- Repeat WS row.
- RS row2: Kfb, k to end.
Here is another way I tried, which didn’t work so well, leaving a weird loose row above the edging… It’s a variation on the example two up – the “m1-p every 2 stitches across the top” version. Since m1-p’ing is kind of annoying, I thought, if working flat, maybe I could just purl across the whole first row, then [knit 2, m1] across the next (right-side) row. Here’s the result:
A side note – when first starting, you might want to think about where you want your yarn end, depending on if you’ll be using it to sew up the seam or anything; you may choose to start with either a RS row or a WS row after casting-on, which would leave the yarn end on the opposite sides of your edge (like you might notice on the above two swatches, which started with opposite rows).
Ok another issue – in all the above examples, the row working up to the turn has been the wrong-side (WS) row, with the RS row working down from the turn. I decided this is ideal after much swatching and experimenting – when I first started playing with the concept, I was working the row up to the turn as the RS and coming back down was the WS. Here is an example, the swatch below was worked like so:
- RS: Knit edge stitches, turn.
- WS: Kfb, purl to end.
- First row working across cast-on stitches: [Knit 2, m1] repeat across.
You’ll see how all those bumps are left on the right side – and I know I kfb on the wrong side here, leaving extra bumps, but pfb’ing is not much better…
So how about trying a way with less bumpy increases? Here’s another variation I tried – looks pretty cool, I think, but still a bit busier than the methods which treat the going up row as the WS… It’s worked like so:
- RS: Knit edge stitches, m1, k1, turn.
- WS: Sl1, purl to end.
- First row working across cast-on stitches: [Knit 2, m1] repeat across.
What if you need to work at a ratio of 1 stitch to every 2 rows (maybe because your body will be a lace pattern, or something)? Awesome! That makes things much simpler and neater looking, since every turn will be identical, with no extra stitches needing to be added later. Work any kind of increase method you like, just adding 1 stitch for every turn.
If you are experienced with short rows, you may have been thinking, shouldn’t I be wrapping my stitches each time I turn? Well, I’ve played around with that, oh yes I have. In the adding 1 stitch per turn example below, wrapping the stitches (as you can see on the left half of the swatch) worked out pretty nicely, actually, though not necessary…
…but after much experimenting with normal 3 stitches to 4 rows types of patterns, I’ve concluded that wrapping stitches is no good! Below, you’ll see 4 different trials using wrapped stitches to close holes caused by using the m1 type of increase where you twist a backwards loop onto the needle (I call m1-loop) – I figured, this kind of easy increase usually leaves a hole when used in a sideways edge cast-on, so what if I close that hole by wrapping the next stitch? Well, yeah, no holes, but I think every version (working the wraps together with the wrapped stitches, or not; adding extra stitches while working the edge, or while working into the first cast-on row) looks pretty bad:
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t play around with wrapping stitches if you want to… I’ve tried it with a normal kfb increase method as well – it looks fine, but just isn’t needed, so what’s the point? I’d rather not bother wrapping if I don’t have to, you know?
Ok now I’ll move on to some garter stitch edge stuff… remember how I mentioned the stretchiness of garter being perfect for this technique? Here’s what I meant…
Adding just 1 stitch per turn (1 stitch per 2 rows) makes for a thick, unstretched, squishy edge – great for a cozy warm hat brim or cuff:
Adding 3 stitches for every 2 turns (3 stitches per 4 rows) gives you a slightly stretched garter stitch edge – perfect for an elastic-y brim or cuff that will stay put and be fitted:
And adding 2 stitches at every turn (1 stitch per 1 row) will make a very stretched edge with a flared out body/main section – excellent for a slouchy beret type hat:
The other garter stitch benefit I mentioned above is the texture – it doesn’t matter so much which variation you choose to work with garter stitch (the same would go for seed/moss stitch, or any other stitch with lots of purl bumps, etc) since those bumps you see in all the stockinette examples above will be hidden in the texture. But, the WS/RS thing will matter a little – below you can see the difference between treating the working up to the turn side as the RS or the WS. One version isn’t clearly bad, but I do much prefer the side working down from the turn as the RS (like I talked about above) – I think the join between the edge and the body is nicer looking and more seamless (that’s the version on the right):
Phew, this has been long – I hope you have a good grasp of the technique and can take it into your pattern altering and/or designing! (Be sure to comment here and show me your results! Fun!)
If you need a more hands-on way of trying it out, my new mitts pattern uses the method – with a garter stitch cuff, adding 1 stitch per turn, then m1’ing every 2 stitches around the first row into the cast-on edge. Here’s what the cuff looks like after working the edge stitches, before turning:
And below, you can see what it looks like after working down to the end (if this was a circular needle, the cast-on stitches could curve around the cord); then what the cuff looks like after seaming up the side with a 3-needle bind-off, ready to work the first row into the cast-on edge, in the round:
And, the finished mitts! (One size too big for me!)
Self-striping yarn is fun with this technique, making it super clear that the work is in different directions:
Check out the Swerve pattern details on my site or on ravelry – it’ll soon be part of Knit Picks’ Independent Designers Program. As you’ll see on the pattern pages, the price will be dropping after September 1st, but for right now, $1 of each pattern sold gets donated to the Pancreatic Craftacular, so you can feel good about your purchase! (Edited in 2015 to remove prices which are no longer applicable.)
Oh yeah I almost forgot: thanks to Mary-Heather for the great name idea! Get your swerve on!!
I’m also currently working on a set of hat patterns, all with garter stitch brims – the plan is to have 3 different brim types (which are the three different ratios of stitches to rows that I talked about above with garter stitch) and 3 different top decrease designs, and then for all the variations to be any-gauge and interchangeable (like, choose brim type #2 worked extra wide, with top style #1, in this yarn that’s a weird weight, measuring to get the sizing all perfect as you go)! Exciting!
Update: the hat pattern set has been released! Custom Tritops!
By the way, striping between 2 colors is a fabulous way to easily keep track of your increases when switching between adding 1 stitch and adding 2 stitches at each turn along the edge – just know that color #1 always increases by one, and color #2 always increases by two!
So, you can see the whole different ratios making for different levels of stretch thing in action with these examples – that top hat was worked with 1 stitch added per turn, for a thick, squishy, unstretched brim. The hat below was worked with 2 stitches being added at each turn, causing the body of the hat to flare out above the brim, and the brim to stretch and hold on to the head, all elastic-y:
And now that I’ve said everything I can think of to say about this technique that I’m so excited about, I’ll talk a little more about the whole “unventing” of it… I had this brainstorm (“Couldn’t I use increases and short-rows to add stitches along the side of a hat brim, for a sideways edge and a round body?”) about 6 months ago, and started swatching right away, super excited about the discovery. The more I played, the more excited I got, and I started asking my knitting and designing friends if they’d ever seen it done before, everyone saying no (I even asked here on the blog awhile back)… But, I knew, it’s been done before, of course it has, it’s just not publicly known in the current knitting world, so I was pretty darn excited to share it with you!
As Elizabeth Zimmermann said, “…I can’t imagine that I alone unvented [the technique], but I certainly discovered it in my own brain single-handed.”
The maybe ironic-ish thing about that quote specifically (from page 74 of Knitter’s Almanac) is that she is talking about her sideways edging type of bind-off (don’t know if there’s an official name for this technique) which is basically the exact opposite of the sideways edge cast-on. You knit an edge onto a piece while binding off at the same time by decreasing the last 2 stitches of each row together… I feel like if I had known about this method, it would have led me right to my discovery (which, chances are, EZ herself used at some point or another, I’d guess), but I didn’t learn of this bind-off until some of you readers mentioned it back in that blog post when I asked you about the cast-on.
Aaaanyway… that’s just kind of a random side note. I want to quote EZ talking about unventing since I love her and the way she writes:
Do you mind the word ‘unvented’? I like it. Invented sounds to me rather pompous and conceited. I picture myself as a knitting inventor, in a clean white coat, sitting in a workshop full of tomes of reference, with charts and graphs on the walls. Not real knitters’ charts, which are usually scribbled on odd and dog-eared pieces of squared paper, or even ordinary paper with homemade squares on it, but charts like sales charts, and graphs like the economy. I have a thoughtful expression behind my rimless glasses and hold a neatly-shaped pencil. Who knows but that I don’t have a bevy of hand-knitters in the backroom, tirelessly toiling at the actual knit and purl of my deathless designs.
But, unvented – ahh! One un-vents something; one unearths it; one digs it up, one runs it down in whatever recesses of the eternal consciousness it has gone to ground. I very much doubt if anything is really new when one works in the prehistoric medium of wool with needles. The products of science and technology may be new, and some of them are quite horrid, but knitting? In knitting there are ancient possibilities; the earth is enriched with the dust of the millions of knitters who have held wool and needles since the beginning of sheep. Seamless sweaters and one-row buttonholes; knitted hems and phoney seams – it is unthinkable that these have, in mankind’s history, remained undiscovered and unknitted. One likes to believe that there is memory in the fingers; memory undeveloped, but still alive.
LOVE. (from Knitter’s Almanac, July chapter)
And, I want to thank the designers group on ravelry for reminding me of EZ’s term, which I’d forgotten, and pointing out some places where the sideways edge cast-on technique has, indeed, been used before. It is a method commonly used in machine knitting, it turns out, or something very similar at least; Iris Schreier used the method in her Diagonal Triangle Tank design from 2006; Lucy Neatby has used it, or something like it, and surely there are many more instances.
I am surprised that it seems most knitters (myself included) have never seen it done before, and I hate picking up stitches, so I’m so happy to have finally experimented enough to be able to share it with you! I really hope my explanations and ramblings made sense. Enjoy!!