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There are few things more frustrating for a knitter than finishing a project and finding:

A. It doesn't fit like it was supposed to (or like it would have when you began)
and/or
B. Your finishing skills are not up to par with your knitting skills.

For a long time I fell into this latter category, and in many ways am still learning all the tricks of the trade, so to speak.  What is important to remember, I think, is that there are a number of different types of seams possible for any garment, and that different pieces of the garment (obviously) require different kinds of seams.

In this, our vintage magazines can be of little to no help, as they unanimously advise you to simply "sew" seams.  Those magazines that do offer suggestions invariably suggest the backstitch, which, we will see below, may or may not be entirely appropriate.  So I thought I'd do a wee series on seams - my on-again/off-again love affair with the mattress stitch; my confusion and headaches over the kitchener stitch; the revelation of the three-needle bind-off; and my continued adoration of Barbara Walker, this time specifically for her inset sleeve instructions.

But to begin, our modern knitter must ask him/herself whether they actually care to seam at all!  I have a somewhat unusual opinion about this, so I oughtta let the cat out of the bag with it upfront:
I seam, and don't seam.  On the same sweater (gasp!)

Ok, it's neither that unusual, nor that big of a deal, but here's where I'm comin' from:

1. I am good at side seams.  The mattress stitch takes me forever , and I maintain that it is nowhere near as easy to match up "stitch for stitch" as many people would have you believe.  Nor is it all that easy to see "that little bar between the stitches" that you're supposed to work through.  I have twice been so focused on matching up stitches that I've found, at the end, that I've made a mess of the whole thing.  Two pieces that were blocked to the same size came out all wonky, with bunches and stretches along the side.   But, I digress, because the point of this bullet point is that I've gotten better at the little b*stards, and can actually complete a full mattress-stitch side seam without ruining the garment.  It takes me most of an afternoon, but it's done.
          1a. I believe the side seam is crucial to the fit of the garment.  Without that weight at the sides, it is very difficult for a garment to look fitted at all, unless you are willing to knit in the round with significant shaping and a negative ease. 

2. I am horrible at shoulder and sleeve seams. All the visible and (supposedly) invisible shoulder seams in the world have let me down time and time again.  I end up with the thickest, bulkiest, ugliest seam you can imagine.  Now, to be fair, if you follow the links above, you will see photographs of both of these techniques worked beautifully.  I am not suggesting that there is something wrong with the techniques, but there is definitely something wrong with the combination of those techniques and yours truly.

3. I am ill-acquainted with knitting on more than two needles.  Which becomes an issue when contemplating knitting everything in the round.  Sleeves will eventually have to be knit on three or four double-pointed needles, since their circumference eventually becomes too small for one set of circular needles.  I have seen this technique demonstrated, and understand how it works.  I'm fairly confident I could master it - but then again, I don't happen to own any DPNs, and I am all about making due with what you've got, rather than accumulating stores and stores of gadgets.

All of which brought me to my conclusion, which I am currently testing on my current project:
  • I use a three-needle bind-off for the shoulders
  • Pick up stitches for the sleeves, but knit them flat, instead of in the round
  • Pick up stitches for any collars or necklines (where appropriate, and not knit as part of the original garment)
  • And finally sew the side seam from sleeve cuff to waist-band.
So, having brought you along on my journey to this conclusion, I'll be bringing you the step-by-step process of my first full attempt at this finishing style, as it hits my needles.
 


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