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How to Sew Invisible Vertical Seams in Knitting with Mattress Stitch

Anybody else here hate finishing?  Sewing up?  Yeah, me too.

Until recently, that is.

I always dreaded it because I didn’t know what to do.  And I didn’t want to mess up my beautiful knitting with crappy sewing.

The solution was staring me in the face, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it:

Learn to sew.

Now, I will be the first one to tell you that I’m a knitter, not a sewer.  But sewing with yarn?  I guess I can accept that.

I’ve learned a couple sewing techniques that have made finishing my knitting practically stress free.

Some of them can be applied in most, if not all, finishing situations.  The first and favourite of mine is Mattress Stitch.

Mattress stitch is also called Ladder stitch.  You can find it in any good knitting reference book, but they don’t always tell you when to use each stitch.

Mattress Stitch is perfect for sewing invisible side seams in sweaters, for sewing in sleeves (especially raglans), and for sewing amigurumi.  It forms a beautiful, invisible vertical seam, and it’s really easy to do.  (To connect a vertical seam to a horizontal seam, I usually use a hybrid of Mattress Stitch and Grafting, which I’ll show you in a future post.)

Because Mattress Stitch is sewn with the right side facing you, you can easily tell that your stitches are lining up — or notice quickly that they’re not and fix them.

Let’s get started.

Mattress Stitch connects running stitches.  Those are the little horizontal bars of yarn that join two knit stitches together at their feet (on the back side).  In this picture, I’ve picked up every other row of running stitches.  If you look closely, you can see they connect to the bottoms of the V-shaped knit stitches on either side.

Running stitches -- the "feet" that connect knit stitches.  How to: Mattress Stitch.

To begin Mattress Stitch, grab a running stitch from bottom to top and pull your sewing yarn through.  Make sure that you’re picking up the running stitches from the same column each time.  Notice that the running stitches are actually hiding behind and between two columns of V knit stitches.  Don’t grab the horizontal bars that are in the middles of the V’s themselves.

(You can use a tail already connected to the project, or a separate pieces of waste yarn. You’ll need it to be about 12″ longer than the seam you want to sew. If you’re using a separate piece of yarn, leave a 6″ tail at the beginning for sewing in ends later.)

With a blunt darning needle, sew through one running stitch on one side of the seam, then on the other.  Like so:

Why I Love Mattress StitchBegin by sewing into the very first running stitches in the column above the cast-on edge.

Why I Love Mattress Stitch: A How To

Continue sewing into the running stitches, alternating sides, until you’ve reached the last ones.

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You might notice that your seam is a little loose at first, like this:

Mattress Stitch: Invisible Vertical Seams! #sewknitting #finishing #knitting #tutorialsAll you need to do to fix that up is give the sewing yarn a good tug from both ends.  (If you’re sewing with the tail from the cast-on edge, then just give the one end a tug and it’ll do the same thing.)  Then, voila!  It will look like this:

2014-03-15 001 2014-03-15 011An alternative way of working Mattress Stitch is to catch two running stitches at a time on each side of the seam instead of one.  It sews up a little faster that way.  There is a small risk that it could pull the rows off a bit so they don’t line up as perfectly, but I haven’t found that to be the case so far.  Just keep an eye on it as you go, and if you’re not satisfied, switch back to picking them up one at a time.

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Mattress Stitch: An Invisible Vertical Seam for Knitting. #tutorials #knittingYou can also begin and end the seam by sewing one at a time while picking up two at a time in the middle.  It’s your knitting.  It’s your choice.

When you’re all done, the right side will look like this:

Mattress Stitch: An Invisible Vertical Seam for Knitting. #tutorials #knittingEven though I used bright coral yarn, you can’t even see it on the right side!  I would, of course, use the same colour yarn as my project if it were a sweater and not a sample swatch.

And here’s the wrong side.  Notice:  you still can’t see the coral yarn!  It’s like magic.

Mattress Stitch: An Invisible Vertical Seam for Knitting. #tutorials #knittingWhen you’re all done, just sew in your ends on the wrong side.  I use duplicate stitch to sew in all my ends now.  It looks fantastic.

What do you think?  Will this help relieve some of your finishing stress?  Feel free to pin this post or share it if you find it useful.


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8 Tips for Knitting Lace

Does lace intimidate you?  It certainly looks complicated — but the good news is that if you can follow directions, you can knit lace.

And we already know you can follow directions.  That’s how you learned to knit, right?

But there are some extra things you can do to make knitting lace easier.  So, here are my tips for knitting lace.  There happen to be eight of them.

8 Tips for Knitting Lace.


Tip 1

Use stitch markers.  Mark off the edge stitches (which lace shawls usually have), the centre stitch(es), and even mark the places where the lace patterning repeats itself in a row.  That way, if you forget a yarnover, it will be so much easier to find your mistake.

Don’t like the feel of hard, plastic stitch markers?  I use little loops of knotted yarn in a contrasting colour.  They’re nice and soft, and I don’t freak out when I lose one because I always have more waste yarn.

Tip 2

Avoid making mistakes by counting, double counting, and triple counting.  Why count like an obsessive lunatic?  Because then you’ll notice a missed yarnover almost immediately — soon enough to fix it easily and continue knitting happily.  Remember those stitch markers from Tip 1?  If you know how many stitches should be between each one, and you double check that none are missing each time you reach a marker, your knitting will get ten times easier.

Tip 3

Look at the chart.  It should show you how the stitches will relate to each other once they’re knitted up.  See that line of stacked centre double decreases in the chart?  That means that those decreases will stack neatly in the knitting, too.  And see how those yarnovers form a diagonal line?  That means they’ll form a diagonal line in your knitting, too.

Now, some patterns are too weird to fit neatly into a chart like that.  That’s why designers sometimes have to use those weird, dark-grey “no stitch” squares.  In real life, lace curves and bends… but graph paper does not.  We do what we can with what we have.  But a good designer will always try to show you how the stitches relate to one another.

A tip about reading charts:  Think of each square as an instruction, not a stitch.  If you follow the little line of instructions across the chart, one by one, you’ll do fine.

Another bonus tip about reading charts:  Make sure you’re reading them in the right direction.  Flat charts get read from right to left on right-side rows, but from left to right on wrong-side rows.  Circular charts are read from right to left on all rows.  If in doubt, start at the side where the row number is written and work away from it.

Tip 4

If you really hate charts and absolutely refuse to use them, or if you just want to know your lace on a small scale before casting on 300 stitches, try knitting a small swatch across just one or two pattern repeats.  That way, you’ll get a feel for how the stitches will interact, and you’ll be able to spot mistakes more easily later on when you start your big project.

I did this when knitting some Estonian lace with nupps, and boy, am I glad I did.  The lace repeat was long and two-sided, and I made some mistakes the first time I tried it.  It went much better the second time.  I knew what I was doing by then, and I could spot my mistakes as I made them… instead of 3 rows later.

Tip 5

Keep looking back at your knitting to make sure the stitches are lining up consistently.  In fact, every time you knit a new row, make sure it’s lining up properly with the stitches underneath it.  Are those decreases stacking or lining up the way they should?  Are the yarnovers in the right place in relation to the ones below?

Tip 6

Knit under good lighting.

Tip 7

Don’t knit lace when you’ll be too distracted to pay attention and count your stitches.  TV and knitting groups are great, but they can wreck your lace before you notice a thing has gone wrong.  Ask me how I know this.  Now, I keep at least two projects on the go: I work on my lace shawl during quiet times or boring shows (Formula 1, anyone?), and I have a mindless project I can work away on during good shows like Call the Midwife or The Big Bang Theory.

Tip 8

Yarn matters.  Especially if this is your first lace project.  Avoid fuzzy yarn, dark yarn that’s impossible to see even under good lights, and clown-barf yarn that will draw attention away from your stitches.  Seriously, do you want to knit an intricate lace pattern that no one will notice because the ten different colours are all yelling, “Look at me!  Look at me!” ?

Just so you know, I’m currently knitting a lace shawl with black yarn, and it’s going to be gorgeous.  But on the needles?  It’s impossible to admire, I can’t get a good photo of it for my Ravelry project page, and it can be tricky to see the stitches.  I sit directly under a lamp to knit this shawl.  It’s not impossible.  I just don’t want you to knit your first lace shawl ever in black and then wail, “But Amanda didn’t warn me about this in that post of hers on lace knitting!”  So now — count yourself warned.

Also on the subject of yarn mattering, make sure you use yarn that you can block.  Acrylic yarn?  No matter what you do to it, it will always spring back into a crinkly blob.  When knitting lace, always use something lovely that has memory, like a type of wool or other natural fibre.  Merino is my favourite.  But superwash, even merino, won’t remember the blocking as well as a plain old non-superwash wool.  It’ll be okay, but not awesome.  Trust me on this one, too.

So, how about you?  Have you had troubles with lace knitting in the past?  What were they?

Are there any tips for knitting lace that I’ve missed?  If so, share them in the comments!   I’d love to hear from you.

Sea Glass Shawl by Amanda Schwabe #summerknitting #Cotlin #KnitPicks #aknitica

If you’re looking for an interesting lace shawl (not necessarily a beginner’s one), check out my newest pattern release, the Sea Glass Shawl, now available through Knit Picks!  And come join us for a knitalong over on Ravelry in the Aknitica Designs group.