All this chatter about seamless knitting leaves me feeling a need to defend the humble seam. I know, I know, you either knit or you sew but not both. Knitters generally don't like to sew. A cast on or bind off with a tapestry needle leaves many knitters shaking their heads NO. We all know how to Kitchener, but how many knitters say, YIPPEE, I get to Kitchener!
Frankly, knitters go out of their way to avoid sewing. So when a flat piece can be worked in the round, it is. When working a baby cardigan, many knitters cast on the left front, place a marker, cast on the back, place another marker and cast on the right front, all to avoid stitching a seam.
But there are benefits to seams! They provide stability, keep the garment in place and give it a nice shape. A pullover knitted in the round can take on a barrel shape around the middle, which is not the look we want. A seamed sweater tends to hang flatter, giving a more flattering look.
One of the most important areas to seam is the neckline. So many of us place the back and front neck stitches on a holder instead of binding them off, then pick them up again when working the collar. Why go through the trouble of binding off 40 stitches if you need 40 sts back on the needle to continue knitting. The reason... is that it provides stability.
A seam holds the garment place. It keeps the neckline the width it's supposed to be. Stitches that continue from the back into the neckline are stretchy and will expand outward. A nice, high turtleneck will quickly slip down into a crew neck that runs down into your collar bone. If a sweater stretches down your shoulder and takes on a shape of it's own, it is most likely due to the absence of a sturdy, seam. The few minutes that you save by putting the stitches on the holder will cause disappointment later when the garment is worn. To keep your sweater squarely on your shoulders, with your lovely collar in place, bind off the front and back entirely. Sew the shoulder seams in place, then pick up your stitches and work the neck.
Next is the shoulder. This join can take on a lot of stress with heavy garments made from cotton or longer tunic length sweaters and dresses. Heavily cabled sweaters also add weight which tests the shoulder seams. This is where you'll likely need extra reinforcement to keep the garment from stretching out too much. Heavy fronts and backs that are joined with the 3-needle bind off will often exhibit stitches that are stretched out of shape and add extra length at this junction. When dealing with a heavier fabric, it's best to bind off the shoulder stitches then seam them together. For fine fabrics, and lightweight, cropped garments, or children's sweaters, the 3-needle bind off works just fine.
Seams done properly look neat, finished and professional. They enhance the garments and give it a polished look. They are also wonderfully slimming on skirts. A solid piece of skirt fabric has little to distract the eye. Two or more pieces seamed together break up the width, create slimming panels. Seams can be turned inside out and worked with a different color yarn to create a whimsical, accent especially fun on children's sweaters.
There are many seaming methods to chose from depending on your needs. The versatile Mattress Stitch allows the benefit of working with the Right Side of the fabric facing you, so you can match up color work, patterns, and cables. It is virtually invisible and can be used to join many different types of stitches. If you learn only one seaming method, learn the Mattress Stitch. The backstitch is fast. The crochet method is easier on the hands/arms and doesn't require the same length of yarn to constantly move in and out of the fabric, which is good for yarns that pull apart easily like Icelandic yarns. Whichever seaming method you chose, do consider the function of the particular seam. If you don't want a bulky ridge, you might want to pass on the crochet method.
When you bind off that last stitch, think of the knitting phase finished, and the fun "finishing" phase is next. Put the work down for the night, wait until the next morning when you're fresh and have new light streaming in the windows, and embrace the finishing technique of seaming. You'll thank yourself later with garments that just wear better.
Hello! I'm Donna. I knit every day and enjoy designing knitwear that is artistic, intricate and comfortable. I specialize in women's sweaters with a contemporary silhouette.