A step by step tutorial on knitting edges neatly and how to prevent the most common mistakes
A lot of beginners, but sometimes even advanced knitters, struggle with their edges. They are often a bit too loose and not especially uniform. So, how do you knit edges neatly? What’s the secret?
I could say practice or check out my free knitting school but that’s only half of the story. There are also special techniques you can employ to instantly improve your selvage stitches. So in this tutorial, I will not only show you how you can fix those mistakes step-by-step, but I will also explain why your edges may not look as neat. Because once you understand the cause of your problems, you will be able to avoid them very easily.
Tip: Don’t forget to read my list of the 10 best edge stitch knitting techniques.
How to knit edges neatly
As you might imagine, there are probably a million ways to mess up your edge stitches. If your overall tension and technique are still no refined enough, then that’s where you need to start. But even if you learned to execute your knits and purls quite perfectly, there are still three reasons why your edges might not look neat at all.
Here’s the good news: There are very simple solutions for all of them. Because the reason why a lot of knitters mess up their tension has to do with the fact that this is the only spot in your project where you knit into the same position twice in a row. Let’s take a look:
1. Don’t use the edge stitch as a pivot to get more leverage
A lot of knitters use their stitches as a sort of pivot to get some leverage when they knit the first stitch in a row. And this stretches out the stitches to the side and results in very loose first edge stitch. With a normal knit stitch, this is typically not a major problem because the working yarn is not directly connected to the stitch one row below.
But if you stretch out the first stitch of a row, it can steal yarn from the stitch directly below it and there is nothing to anchor the stitch on the right side either. As a result, you will get one very loose stitch and one rather tight stitch in the row below.
To avoid this, support your work while you knit the immediate edge stitch without stretching the loop to either side. Go slowly, be gentle, and only work around your knitting needles.
Don’t pull the stitch through the loop. Rather, “push” it through with your index finger to avoid further strain on the stitch one row below.
2. Don’t create tension between two needles
When knitting, a lot of people will create tension between their two needles. This will open up the stitches, and will also make it much easier to drop the stitches. Typically, you don’t actively drop a finished stitch. It’s more of a pulling motion. Normally, that’s no problem because the adjacent stitches (and the circumference of your needles) buffer the many ways you prod and pull on those stitches.
But when you do the same for the last stitch the whole weight of your project will rest on that stitch and pull it out in the process. Because, again, it is directly connected to the stitch one row below and it can even steal a bit of yarn from the stitch to the right (one row below). As a result, you will end up with one very loose edge stitch.
To avoid this: Knit the last stitch very gently, knit very close to the needle tips, and bring the two needles very close together in general. This will also help you to knit faster, but for the edges, it’s twice as important.
3. Don’t pull too tight
And there is a third problem that may occur. A lot of people will try to get neater edges by pulling on the working yarn to tighten up the stitches. They see the loose stitches and think they need to pull tight. But this will close the stitch directly below your current edge stitch. And it will result in a really unbalanced edge where one stitch will be very tight – almost like a knot.
To avoid this, don’t pull on the working yarn before you knit the stitch, and only pull tight when you have the second stitch on your needle. This second stitch will act as a buffer. You can still tighten up the edge stitch, but there’s already too much friction to affect the last stitch of the previous row overly much.
Understanding the anatomy of a neat edge stitch
A normal knit stitch is connected to another stitch on either side on the same level. And that defines the way it looks. An edge stitch, on the other hand, is only anchored on one side. The other end of the loop always gets pulled up to the next row.
And that is the reason why an edge stitch will always look different – no matter how neatly you knit and how experienced you are. It’s very important to understand this. Now, different doesn’t mean ugly. It just means that you can never expect your edge stitches to look identical to the adjacent stitches.
To avoid this, you have to knit a so-called selvage – a self-finished edge. These are extra stitches you can add to a knitting pattern for a better finish. Here’s the easiest method:
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How to knit edges neatly
For a super easy and neat edge, you have to add a simple slip stitch selvage or chain stitch selvage. It creates a clean edge suitable for almost all knitting stitch patterns and is very easy to remember.
- Cast on 2 more stitches than you normally would. Optional: place stitch markers after and before those two edge stitch so you don't accidentally miss them.
- In every right-side row: Slip the first stitch purlwise (so the needle enters from right to left) with the yarn held in back.
- Then continue knitting according to your pattern and knit the last stitch.
- In every wrong side row: Slip the first stitch purlwise with yarn in front.
- Continue in pattern, and purl the last stitch.
- Repeat steps 2-6 to knit a super neat slip stitch edge.
As long as you are knitting stockinette stitch, it's super easy to remember: Just slip the first stitch of every row.
You can also do it the other way around. You can knit the first stitch and slip the last stitch. Which version you should prefer depends on your individual knitting technique. Some knitters have more problems with the last stitch and others tend to mess up their first stitch instead.
Knit a little swatch and check which version looks better for you. Here's the repeat for the second version.
- RS: K1,....slip the last stitch purlwise with yarn in back
- WS: P1,...., slip the last stitch purlwise with yarn in front.
This method won’t work quite perfectly for stockinette stitch. So, how do you get neat edges in garter stitch? Well, in these cases you have to knit it like this:
In every row: Slip the first stitch purlwise with yarn in front, and knit to the end.
Try to keep a nice tension as you knit the edges and it will create quite the stellar edge. This method can only be used on garter stitch. For all other knitting stitch patterns, the repeat I showed you before is much better.
17 thoughts on “How to knit neat edges – essential knitting tips”
Hi Norman, I have been really enjoying your videos and articles. Can I ask you, is this the best selvedge stitch for a stockinette stitch pattern when I want to be able to pick up stitches from the edge? Thanks for your help and advice!
for picking up stitches, I would generally not do any special selvage at all. The only except are the heel of the socks.
This particular post has made an immediate and drastic difference for me (I only found it 5 days ago!) Points 1, 2 and 3 are what made the difference. The fact that you explain the anatomy of the edge stitch for those that always want to know WHY is the key. Plus, I’ve decided that by doing my best I’m going to be happy with whatever happens. I’m no longer stressing about edges!
Good morning Norman, from South Africa🙋♀️
Just a note to say thank you very much for this awesome blog‼ I can knit (somewhat), as we were taught in school way back in the ’60’s ans 70’s. But to be able to read a pattern and knit, is one thing, but to do it correctly and neatly, is something totally different. I love your blog and will be a constant visitir. Lovies, Yolinda
Thank you for the instructions. I already do this with my edge stitches. I have a problem with casting off. The last stitch always pulls up and looks ugly. How can I fix this please?
kindly know that my blog has a search function. So you can always type in your question there. It will be much faster than waiting for me to find the time to reply:
Thank you for ALL of your tutorials. I’ve used several. I started with the VERY difficult, for a virtual beginner, the p2togtbl. I decided to use your alternate, at least for the time being.
I learned the edge technique some years ago when I tried to hone my knitting skills. My current project is knit to the end & I slip the 1st stitch purlwise. My edge does NOT look like yours by any stretch. It looks like an upside-down “V”. Do you know what I’m doing wrong?
Thank you again for all of the hard work you put into helping the rest of us improve our knitting.
hm…not really. I mean, i have a video where I show how i knit that edge maybe you can compare. That being said, depending on the first and last stitch, a selvage will look different.
Thank you. I figured it out. I was slipping purlwise, but Not with the yarn in front.
Dear Norman, thank you so much for your blog and your awesome tutorials. I learned so many new techniques and it is fun to combine them for my various projects. The most invisible edge (in my opinion) for stockinette stitch is to do a couple of stitches in double stockinette stitch twice. I use Carol Sunday’s ingenious short row technique using a hairpin for this. So the stitches at the edge have the same gauge as the main fabric and nothing curls 🙂
Kedves Normann !!
Egyszerűen hihetetlen,hogy mennyi mindent tanultam Öntől!
Csodálatos oktató anyagai vannak , amik lényegre törők, érthetőek ,imádom a videóit is !
Mindent nagyon köszönök ,egy kötni,horgolni szerető nagymama !
So lovely to read some Hungarian here on my blog. Happy that I was able to help you. Sorry, my Hungarian is a little bit too rusty (haven’t really spoken a word in 20 years!).
Thank you so much for these tips! Your garter stitch neat edge advice is the one that finally clicked for me out of all the advice I’ve been Googling lately and will definitely help me get this scarf done for my sister, hopefully in time for her birthday. I recently relearned (and learned some new) knitting skills and terms after being out of practice for almost 20 years.
Hello from Canada Norman!
I absolutely love your YouTube channel and your blog. I knit exactly one project as a kid and I had to learn from books. I picked up my knitting needles three years ago and quickly figured out that learning from YouTube was so much easier. You have taught me so much and I will forever be grateful to you.
I actually learned to do selvage stitches a bit differently than you teach and I am wondering how they still look like yours. I slip the first stitch purl wise with the yarn in back and I purl the last stitch on every row. Have you ever used this type of selvage?
I try to understand the anatomy of stitches as best as I can, but I still do not understand how doing this trick on every row works and looks like your edges which are different on the right and wrong sides.
Sincere thanks for all that you do! Mille mercis!
selvage stitches can be mirrored. Plus, depending on the next stitch, they will typically look different yet. So, you will notice that there are actually quite a couple of combinations to achieve the exact same thing.
off my hat, I can’t answer you that question. Would have to tinker around myself and right now i don’t have the time. sorry.
No need to apologize! You have taught me so much and improved my knitting so much already that I no longer consider my knitting skills to be mediocre! 😊
Thank you for taking the time to reply nonetheless. 💕🧶
last night, I’ve been looking for your knitting page in my bookmarks for hours but I couldn’t find it. I was sure to bookmark it as you have excellent pedagogical tutorials. So I turned the computer upside down but couldn’t find it. Luckily I found it by accident today. I’m very new to knitting but still have looked at many tutorials, none as good as yours. Thank you so much Norman!..