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I love to knit. I’ve always loved to knit, yet I used to have bags of completed sweater pieces just waiting to be finished.

I suffered from a common knitting ailment: fear of finishing. From your questions that range from weaving in ends to picking up stitches, I can see that I was not alone.

When I learned to love finishing, my knitting world changed forever.

Weaving in Ends: Three Words

Hello Patty,

My question is about running in yarn ends. When I’m working with a wool yarn I feel confident that the ends will gradually “felt” themselves into the fabric with age and use. With cotton yarn, though, I worry that there’s no good way to fasten those ends. Do you have any advice or tricks for this situation?



Dear Ruth,

The first time I wove in ends, I had no idea how to keep them in place, so I (hold for laughs) put a drop of super glue on them.

Don’t do that. Just don’t.

When it comes to cotton, I focus on what is going to hold it in place on the wrong side and look good on the right side. For me that means three words: skim, reverse, smoosh.

Skim.  I start with skimming, which is splitting the plies on the wrong side row.

Here’s a cotton sweater I knit. Using my tapestry needle, I split the plies of the purl bumps for a couple of inches before pulling the tail through.

Reverse. Next, I  reverse directions and start skimming a row above or below.

Smoosh.  Finally there’s the highly technical term, smoosh. If you clip the tail too close to the fabric, it just pops right out.

Instead, clip it leaving a bit of a nubbin. Then with the tip of your scissors, fray up the ends and smoosh. It sort of acts like a barbed fishhook that won’t pull out of your fabric.

If all else fails, there’s always the staple gun.

In the MDK Shop
Rowan Handknit Cotton is Smoosh-worthy. Thanks for shopping with us—your purchases keep everything humming here at MDK.

After the Steeking (I’m Still Afraid of Something)

Hi Patty,

Last winter I began knitting a beautiful colorwork cardigan, with my very first steek. The steek was a piece of cake, but I cannot for the life of me pick up the correct number of stitches to match the pattern numbers. My row gauge is obviously off. Someone told me that it doesn’t matter if the numbers match the pattern as long as you have the same number of stitches on each side. Is that true?

Do you know an easy way to pick up button band stitches so that they are even on both sides? Counting them is also quite difficult. I am so frustrated. 

Everyone is afraid of the steek, but it is nothing.  Picking up stitches for the button band is what people should really be afraid of!

Please help!

Stuck on Button Band Island

Dear Stuck,

No need to fear either one! My favorite thing to ignore in a pattern is how many stitches to pick up.

Back in the day, a pattern might say something like “pick up the appropriate number of stitches for your stitch and row gauge, must be a multiple of 2 +1.”

But now we designers have to prescribe how many stitches to pick up. How the heck am I supposed to know how many you should pick up! That assumes I know the length of your finished sweater and your stitch and row gauge.

You will need to know what the stitch multiple of the band is (for example, a multiple of 4 +2), and what the stitch gauge of your button band is. You can either swatch it and measure it, or often the button band is the same stitch as the hem of the sweater. If this is so, you can measure the gauge of hem (for example, 5 sts per inch).

Now, measure the button band opening.

Say it’s 17 inches.

17 x 5 (st / inch) = 85

The nearest multiple of 4 + 2 is 86

From here you can get fancy and figure your stitch to row gauge ratio, but simpler still, Patty’s recipe for success:

1. Divide and Conquer

2. Stab it Out to Plan It Out

Divide and Conquer

Instead of starting on one end and trying to magically pick up 86 st evenly across the 17 inches, divide the opening up into four smaller sections. Take the button band length and fold it in half and place a locking stitch marker at the halfway point. Then take each half section, fold it in half, and place a locking stitch marker at the new halfway point. Now you have 4 sections: Pick up 22 stitches in two sections, and 21 stitches in each of the other two sections.

Stab it Out to Plan it Out

Stab your needle into every row of a section to count them. For instance, if you count 28 rows in a section to pick up 21 stitches, just pick up 3 stitches in 3 rows, then skip one row, and repeat.

Sure, there are all sorts of fancy equations to figure this stuff out, but I prefer to kick it old school.


Seams Like a Problem

Dear Patty,

I’m working on a conventional bottom-up sweater. Front and back are knit separately, are nearly identical, and will be seamed later. When it comes time to start decreasing for the arm holes, usually the pattern says something like, “Bind off 10 stitches, knit to end; turn the work, bind off 10 stitches, knit to end.” This would give an extra row of knitting on one side of the piece. When it comes time to sew up, one side will have an extra row.

Do you just hide that extra row in your seam?  I have some thoughts on a work-around, but it involves cutting the yarn.


Dear Kris,

Thank you for letting me know I wasn’t the only new knitter who wondered about this. Of course, you calmly asked about this pattern oddity. I, on the other hand, had a full-on melt down in my local yarn shop when faced with the truth, insisted it couldn’t be right, and ran blindly into the night screaming, “It won’t work, it won’t work!”

Although the lovely woman in my LYS calmly explained that you can only bind off at the beginning of the row, I insisted that this would never work. I thought the instructions would end up with some kind of mismatched Frankenstein sweater, so I thought I’d outsmart it. I tried to BO at both armholes on the same row. I was then left with this loop of yarn on my needle that I didn’t know what to do with, so I cut the yarn, and attached a new ball. I did this EVERY ROW!

It is true that when seaming a sweater front to a sweater back, there is a one row difference, so how could this work?

The secret is, this disparity of one row actually helps make your seam perfect.

For years I would try to go one bar to one bar in seaming, perfectly lining up my sweater pieces.  Then, when I zipped the seam shut they never lined up at the bottom or top. It drove me nuts. I couldn’t figure it out.

You see, for mattress stitch you are actually creating a bit of a zig-zag. You come out of a bar on one sweater side and then you enter the next sweater side and jog up: back and forth creating a zig-zag. It looks like stitches lying on their side.

As you can see,  I’ve joined my two pieces, being careful to go under the first bar on one sweater side, the first bar on the other and so forth.

But look what happens when I zip it shut.

This drove me nuts, so one day I played around until I found the magic formula.

First join the two pieces by bringing the seaming yarn back to front under the lowest bar, just above the cast on braid, on the longer sweater piece (the piece on my right), and then do the same on the other side.

Next, the secret that nobody tells you: Bring your needle under two bars on the right side . . .

. . . and under only one bar on the left side.

Continue joining, picking up the same number of bars on each side. Now your sideways, zig-zag stitches look a bit like they are slanting up.

But when I zip up:

Ta-da! No more icky jog.

The moral of this knitting story: Sometimes what seems like a problem is actually the solution!


Patty in Your Pocket

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About The Author

Patty Lyons is a nationally recognized knitting teacher and technique expert. In her pursuit of training the mindful knitter, Patty is known for teaching the “why” in addition to the “how.” She specializes in sweater design and sharing her love of the much-maligned subjects of gauge and blocking.

You can find Patty at her website and on Ravelry.

Do you have a problem you’d like Patty to tackle? Write to her at



  • Thank you for your lovely sense of humour in commenting on problems which affect all of us at some stage!

  • The seaming trick is magic! How ha. I missed this after so many years of knitting??

  • I always learn something new when I read one of Patty’s columns, and I love her easy reassuring style of writing. When I pick up stitches, I use pearl headed pins as my guides – I divide in half, then into fourths and then eighths, etc to make sure I pick up evenly.

  • Thank you for your delightful responses! So helpful, and also so much fun to read.

  • I’ve been knitting for 30 years and that “splitting the purl bumps” thing never occurred to me!! Now I’m going to do it on all my non-wool seaming! Thank you, Patty!!!

    • There is no reason not to do it on your wool seaming as well.

  • Wow, just wow! This came on a day when I needed two tidbits of advice. Thanks very much!

  • Your column is pure gold!

  • How do I put my photo on the lounge ….I have 2 photos of my sweater for the contest…thank you

    • Hi Mary Ellen,

      Go to the Lounge topic that you want to post to, then hit the reply button which brings up the screen to leave a comment. At the top of that box there are symbols, you will see one that looks like a little photograph, click on it and it opens up a box where you can upload your image.

      Hope that helps.

  • Patty-I meant to respond yesterday. Thanks very much for this. Your advice and instruction are priceless.

  • OMG! All these years I’ve been sewing the hanging piece after seaming to make it look even. What a brilliant solution! Your knowledge of the why things do what they do is astounding. Thank you, Patty!

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