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One of the things I have always, always, always hated to do in knitting is picking up stitches.
I was never sure if I was doing it "right" — whatever right might mean. I'd see a bumpy selvedge edge, and not be sure where each stitch should go; if I was getting too many, or too few, stitches picked up in a section; I'd hit the end and find that I had a half dozen too many or too few stitches to do what I wanted.
It's that damned "evenly" part, right?
So along the way I've learned a couple of tricks that make it a lot easier.
The first trick is: avoid it!
It occurred to me that it was really, really stupid to be picking up stitches along a bound off edge — if you're going to need those live stitches later, why the hell bind them off?
Instead, I started putting the stitches onto a stitch holder so they'd be there, ready to use, when the time came.
Then I figured out that when you have sequentially bound off stitches, such as when shaping an armhole or neckline, you can also keep those stitches live by using short row shaping. The beauty of this is that, not only do you get to avoid picking up stitches, you also get a better result with beautiful, seamless joins (and avoid having to sew parts together to finish your sweater).
But there are those instances where you absolutely cannot avoid picking up stitches, such as putting a button band on a cardigan, or as I so often do, pick up along the sides of the center of a Shetland shawl, to knit the border in the round.
Now, part of the problem is that lumpy bumpy selvage edge, especially when working in a garter-stitch background pattern, as one does with Shetland lace. The way around that is to use a "chained" or "slipped stitch" selvage— all that means is that you slip the first stitch of each row without knitting it. If your next row is a knit row, slip the stitch as if to purl, draw the yarn between the slipped stitch and the next stitch to the back, and continue on knitting. If the next row is a purl row, slip the first stitch as if to purl, then go ahead and purl.
You'll end up with an edge which is a smooth, neat chain of v's — very easy to see exactly where the pick up will take place.
The next trick is to not worry — yet — about how many stitches you need to end up with. With the chained selvedge, you'll have one stitch for every two knit rows. I've always found it difficult to try and just hook the new stitches through the selvedge using a knitting needle, and awkward to juggle a crochet hook to pull the stitch through, then transfer it to the working needle. Instead, I use a spare needle to go in from the wrong side to the right side, and gather up all the selvedge stitches — for a stronger join go under both legs of the "v", for a more delicate and invisible join, go under only one leg. After you've gathered all the selvedge stitches onto the needle, just go ahead and knit them off, creating the "picked up" stitches. If you have a large number of stitches, place a marker every 10th or 20th stitch to help you keep track of where you are for the next step…
…which is adjusting the final number of stitches. The beauty of doing the adjustment in the first row of knitting, rather than as you pick up the stitches, is that the adjustment becomes unnoticeable — you really can not see where it happens. Because you only have stitches from every-other row, you'll almost certainly need to increase the number of stitches.
I use a simple make one (or running stitch) increase — slip the left needle from back to front under the yarn which runs between the stitch on the left and the stitch on the right needle; knit through the front leg to twist the stitch so it doesn't gap.
As an example, the most recent join I did, for the Queen Susan Shetland shawl. I had worked a 46 row pattern repeat 11 times for the shawl center, plus a 2 row garter stitch ground at each end, for a total of 510 rows. I divided that number in half, meaning I had picked up 257 stitches along each edge — which needed to be increased to 301 stitches for the border, or 46 more stitches. That meant I needed to increase 4 stitches in each of the 11 pattern repeats, plus one at each end.
And here's what it looks like.
I hope these tricks work for other knitters; they surely have removed a lot of angst from my projects.