There are several techniques for seaming garments and the method you use depends on the area of the garment that you are seaming. Generally, we seam together stitches that are situated horizontal-to-horizontal, vertical-to-vertical and vertical-to-horizontal within a garment. In addition, seams can be worked via grafting where live stitches are worked together into an invisible seam. An example of grafting is using the Kitchener stitch on a back neck band. Lastly, the three-needle bind off is sometimes used at shoulder seams but is typically categorized as a bind off technique.
It’s important to choose the right seaming method based on how the stitches are situated at the seam within the garment. For instance, at the side seams, stitches are typically lined up side-by-side vertically. So, vertical-to-vertical seaming is used. At the shoulder, we typically use horizontal-to-horizontal seaming. However, when seaming the arms, you may have to use multiple techniques if working a set-in sleeve as you will be working along a curved edge and the position of the stitches will change. Below is a general guideline for how each section of a sweater is seamed.
Horizontal-to-Horizontal Seaming: often used two join the two shoulder seams. The three-needle bind off may also be used but is typically categorized as a bind off technique.
Verticlal-to-Vertical Seaming: used most often at the side seams of a garment when the stitches line up vertically side-by-side at the seam.
Vertical-to-Horizontal Seaming: used frequently when seaming arms as we work along the curve of the armhole.
Most methods require the knitter to seam with the right side (RS) facing. However, any edges that will be turned back (sleeve cuffs, cowl neck or a turtleneck) must be seamed from the opposite side to avoid the seam from showing.
My patterns typically feature a selvedge stitch at the edge for seaming where either garter stitch or Stockinette stitch (St. st) is applied. If the pattern you are working with does not include a selvedge, be sure to add 1-2 stitches at each end in order to work the seam. I typically work St. st within the selvedge but occasionally I will work garter stitch if I need a nice firm edge. The method you choose depends on what is being seamed and also on personal preference.
Across techniques, it’s important for the two sides to be joined together smoothly with no gaps. to do this, a knitter must be able to identify a full stitch. On the right side of Stockinette stitch, look for the Vs. On the wrong side of Stockinette stitch, look for the “frowns” (downward facing half circles) and the two legs of the stitch that are hidden under the “smiles” to the left and right of the frown. This is a full stitch but many new knitters make the mistake of thinking just the “frown” or “smile” portion is the stitch. See pictures below.
Before getting started, be sure all pieces of the garment are blocked. This will ensure each piece is according to the measurements provided in the schematic. Without this step, your seams will not line up and/or your garment will not fit properly. So, as a child of PBS, I will echo the familiar mantra, “take the time to do it right!”
There is a general sequence for seaming garments as listed below but this also depends on the garment design. For instance, in a dolman style sweater that does not have separate sleeves, steps for seaming the sleeve can be skipped. Another example is knits worked in the round to the armhole that do not require side seams to be sewed. Although you may need to skip a step depending on the garment type, the list below provides a good starting point for understanding the process of seaming garments.
Sequence for Seaming Garments:
1. Seam shoulders
2. Seam both sleeves at the shoulder (I recommend working from the top of the should down on each side)
3. Seam sleeves along the side
4. Sew side seams
1. Darning needle
2. Seaming yarn (preferably the same yarn you knit with and no longer than 18 inches)
3. Optional: Tailor’s ham for seaming the arms. A ham is tightly stuffed pillow used as a curved mold when pressing curved areas of clothing like sleeves. I like using a long ham as a foundation when seaming the arms as it separates the knitted fabric.
First, start by threading your needle. There are a few options for starting – I will mention two here: 1) the figure eight which is named for its appearance and 2) Knotting On/Off which produces an edge that looks like a cast on or cast off stitch. I typically use the figure eight when beginning a seam and knot off at the end.
The Figure Eight (8)
1. Place the two sides together with RS facing.
2. Insert needle from back to front (WS to RS) into the center of the corner stitch on one side. If you are using a tail that was left in the knitting process, insert into the side without the tail first.
3. Then, insert the needle from back to front into the opposite side in the same place (center of the corner stitch).
4. Tighten to close the opening between the two sides.
1. Place the two sides together with RS facing.
2. Insert needle from back to front (WS to RS) into the center of the corner stitch on one side. Then, go back down through that stitch leaving a small loop. The loop should be about ½”.
3. Insert the needle from back to front into the opposite side in the same place (center of the corner stitch).
4. Next, draw the needle through the loop and tighten down.
For instructions on each seaming method, see blogs in Blocking, Finishing and Seaming.
Hiatt Hemmons, June. The Principles of Knitting. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.
Vogue Knitting: the Ultimate Knitting Book. New York: Sixth and Springs Books, 2002.