Not every knitter needs these skills; not every knitter makes garments. Indeed, more than one knitter has confessed to me that she avoids making garments precisely because of these things.
But there’s one pesky finishing task that you simply can’t avoid: weaving in ends.
There are as many different opinions about this as there are knitters. Ask twenty knitting teachers, and each will offer a different “best” method.
There’s two main reasons for this.
One: the method required differs by yarn, fabric and project. Stockinette, garter, ribbing, lace—are all different. Will both sides of the fabric will be visible? And even then there’s no agreement on which method is best for which situation. Many methods exist, and many methods work well.
Two: as evidenced by a couple of responses to a picture of my hand-sewing in a previous column, we all have different levels of tolerance for untidiness on the wrong side of the work. There’s no wrong answer here—it’s purely a preference. (Ask me about the discussions in my house about whether it’s ok to leave a dirty tea cup on the counter in the kitchen overnight.)
I will cheerfully admit to being a pragmatist. That is, I am more interested in finishing a project than having the inside be perfect. As long as the ends aren’t visible on the right side, and they don’t come out, I’m happy. That’s my preference. Yours might be different.
All of this is to say this is not a lesson on couture-quality finishing. And if you’re the sort of person who learned to embroider or cross-stitch at the school of “the inside should be just as neat as the outside,” then aspects of this column are not for you.
However, if you’re just starting out with knitting, if handsewing is not one of your talents, if you’re desperate to wear the thing, if you have to leave for the baby shower in an hour—then keep reading!
I hereby offer up:
Kate’s Quick-and-Competent Tail-Weaving Solutions (Some Of Which May Contradict What You Have Read Or Been Told But They Work Nicely For Me And So I Figure They Might Help You)
Do note that I used a contrasting color yarn, slightly thicker than the one I knitted with, for demonstration purposes. Things will be tidier and less visible in the project yarn, of course.
When casting on or binding off, and when joining new yarn, make sure you have a tail of at least 4 inches. Any shorter and it’s hard to weave in.
A decent end.
A bent-tip darning needle is really helpful.
Wash and block the pieces before you sew in. (Oooh … I can feel some of you shaking your heads.) Here’s my rationale: you need to wash and block pieces before you sew up, and since—see below—a seam is my favorite place to weave in an end, you need to have seamed the garment. Also, if you weave before washing and blocking, and the fabric relaxes, it can result in a pucker or bunch in the fabric.
I don’t disagree that washing and blocking after the ends are woven, on a felty sort of yarn, help the ends to grab onto the fabric and stay put. But: I don’t feel confident enough to anticipate the change in the fabric that might result from washing and blocking to weave in beforehand. If I really want to make sure the ends stay put, I might wash again after I’ve woven. Or, heck, unless you’ve done something disastrously wrong, they’re not coming out in the first few wears, so just let that get taken care of it in the first post-wearing wash.
Also, also—cue gasps of horror—I like to seam with my cast-on and bind-off tails, where I can. It’s true that it’s harder to take the pieces apart and reuse the yarn if you do this, but chances are you’re not going to be undoing the thing. Are you?
If you’re working a piece with seams, join a ball of yarn at the edge to be seamed. A seam allowance is the best place to hide an end.
If you’re working a piece in the round, if possible try to join the yarn in a part of the garment that’s less visible—for example, under the arm or on the back of seamless garment, rather than front and center. This takes off some of the pressure to make it perfect.
If you’re working a piece flat that will not be seamed (for example, a scarf), join the yarn in the middle of the row, not at the end. It’s harder to keep tidy edges if you’ve an end to weave in.
Change direction as you weave. Knit fabric stretches and moves, so if you’ve worked in the end in a couple of different directions it’s less likely to worm its way out.
Before you snip the end, wiggle the fabric a little and look at it from the right side to make sure it’s not visible, and that the weaving is not affecting the fabric.
When you snip, leave a short end sticking out. It’s less likely to come out that way.
A visual on what I mean by “a short end sticking out.”
Places to Weave Ends: A Seam Allowance
The seam allowance is my favorite method and place to weave in ends. Work up for a bit, and then back down again, willy-nilly.
No precision required, just catch the end into every stitch of the seam.
If the wrong side will not be visible, weave the end into the bumps (the heads) of the purl stitches, on the diagonal. Weave in one direction for about half the tail length, and then change direction and weave back.
Weaving vertically can result in the end being visible; weaving horizontally puts one row under pressure and can create a pucker in the fabric.
If both sides will be visible, see Duplicate Stitch, below.
If only one side is visible, weave horizontally under every other “leg,” just tucked under a ridge, and then come back around in the other direction, under a neighboring ridge.
If both sides will be visible, see Duplicate Stitch, below.
My personal favorite. Up and down in a knit column on the wrong side.
Bonus: If you’re weaving in the end of a sock or mitten cuff, use the end to close up the gap—first go across and then down.
If there’s a section of plain garter or stockinette, and the wrong side isn’t likely to show, see above.
If it’s more holes than fabric, or both sides will show, use duplicate stitch, working over 4 or 5 stitches, on the wrong side (if there is one). Ultimately, working duplicate stitch on the wrong side or otherwise in lace fabrics is a bit more freeform: the key is to follow the path of stitches as well as you can, over 4 or 5 stitches. It doesn’t have to be precise or correct. The frequent ups-and-downs are what’s important.
Here’s how it looks on the wrong side.
And it’s barely visible on the right side.
Duplicate stitch (also known as Swiss darning), is called that because you duplicate the path of the stitches with the yarn you are weaving. Simple. It does, obviously, bulk up the stitches that you’re weaving around, so try to choose a less-conspicuous area, but it’s not as easily detected as you might expect. Again, leave a bit of an end when you snip.
If both sides of the fabric are likely to show, use duplicate stitch as above. Some examples:
Duplicate stitch on stockinette (right side).
Duplicate stitch on stockinette (wrong side).
Duplicate stitch on garter stitch (one side).
Duplicate stitch on garter stitch (the other side).
Or save yourself all this weaving, add a lot more ends to the edges, and call it a fringe.