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picking up stitches

November 22nd, 2010

Last night, I cast on for a second Watershed. I’m teaching a class in St. Charles next weekend, and because I sold my sample out to Lettuce Knit, I need a finished one that we can try on and investigate, as we work through the introduction to the pattern.

You may think that knitting from my patterns comes second nature. After all, I designed it. And yes, I know where the pattern will challenge my skills. I know how the garment will come together. And I know which parts I’ll love knitting, and those that I’ll find a bit more onerous.

But a funny thing happens to me when I work from my patterns, especially when it’s been some time. I want to… well… IMPROVE it. My pattern is now covered with notes, some of which will make it into future versions, some of which are just for my reference.

As of bedtime, I’d just finished the bottom band and was beginning to pick up those stitches that will become the body. I’m working the size L and need 142 of them.

Now, I know a few things about picking up stitches. You need to figure out the right proportion of rows to stitches, then be as consistent as possible. You don’t want all the stitches bunched at one side, and spread out too far on the other.

Figuring out that ratio is just a matter of simple math.

Yes. Math.

Just divide the number of rows you have by the number of stitches you need.

In this case, I have a total of 216 rows. I need to pick up 142 stitches.

216 / 142 = 1.52112676

That means I pick up one stitch every 1.52112676 rows.

Easy.

Right?

Yeah, not so much.

This never works out with a round number – like 2 – because then your knitting wouldn’t work out. When picking up stitches, the ratio between your stitch and row gauge is key. In stockinette, and for many yarns, that ratio tends to be approximately 3 stitches for every 4 rows.

Many aran-weight yarns recommend a stockinette gauge of 18 stitches and 24 rows – or 3 for 4. Do the division for this gauge, and you’ll see a ratio of 1 1/3.

24 rows / 18 stitches = 1.333333 (or 1 1/3)

In terms of picking up stitches, a ratio of 1 1/3 means you’d want to pick up one stitch for every 1 1/3 rows.

But how do you actually use that ratio when picking up stitches?

The first step is to make it into a round number. This one is kind of obvious because of the fraction – we just need to multiply by 3.

(1 stitch for every 1 1/3 row) times 3 = 3 stitches for every 4 rows

And there is our ratio for this particular aran-weight yarn. If working in stockinette, I would do this by picking up one stitch for every row 3 times, then skipping the next row. Easy.

Now, 1.33 is pretty different from earlier example ratio of 1.52.

Picking up every row and a half instead of every row and a third means we’ll be picking up slightly fewer stitches. In the case of Watershed, it’s because the lower lace band is worked in garter stitch. We could pick up 3 stitches for every 4 rows, but it would stretch the garter out way too much or cause the stockinette portion to bunch and gather.

Multiplying the ratio of one stitch for every 1.52 rows by 2 tells us that instead, we need to pick up about 2 stitches for every 3 rows.

To check the math a little, divide the total number of rows you have by the row ratio.

In this case:

216 rows / 3 = 72

Then multiply the result by the stitch ratio:

72 times 2 = 144

Compare that with the number of stitches you need. In the case of the L Watershed, I need 142. And you know what? That’s plenty close to the 144 I’d get if I picked up 2 for every 3 rows.


With garter stitch, it can be tougher to see where to pick up. I like to think of picking up a certain number of stitches for every few garter stitch ridges. Since there are 2 rows per garter ridge, I can pick up 4 stitches for every 3 RIDGES.

Clear as mud, right?

Well, I know all this stuff, and yet last night, I just dove in and started picking up what “looked right”. I did that three times, each time COMPLETELY off from the number of stitches I needed. But I was tired. And I didn’t want to pull out my calculator, much less pause and think it through.

So now, this morning, I thought it would be good to blog it all, as a lesson to myself (and hopefully to help you a bit), before I picked them up again, hopefully for the last time.

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3 Responses to “picking up stitches”

  1. Jeanie Babbage Says:

    I love math so I’ve never had much trouble figuring things out. But I have friends who run screaming from the room if you present them with your ‘story problem’. I can’t help but giggle. But I am also not patient trying to explain it to them. You did so very well.

  2. Tall Kate Says:

    What a great tutorial. I am printing this for future reference!!

  3. Marilyn Says:

    I am working on the Watershed cardie & I just finished the bottom lower edging & worked the sawtooth section on the right side, but am having problems with the left side because when I finish it there is a chain look on the front which I think should be on the back side. It happens on row 2, 4, 6, & 8 (page 3) when I slip 1, it leaves a chain look on the front. How do I slip this stitch to make it chain on the backside like the right side end? Please help!!! I have done this over & over 4 times now & it doesn’t look nice like I want it to.

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