How to knit neat edges – essential knitting tips

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?

someone holding up a super neat edge on a swatch in stockinette stitch

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

weird edge stitches that are too loose and look wonky
That’s how the edge stitches may look like when you don’t pay attention

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

stretching out the edge stitch too far because you leverage against it
See how the stitch is getting pulled out if you don’t pay attention?

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.

knitting the very first stitch carefuly and only around the knitting needle to create a neat edge
That’s how I knit my edge stitches.

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.

pushing the first edge stitch through rater than pulling
Using the index finger to push the stitch through

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

someone knitting and keeping the left and right needle quite far apart to make it easier to knit
A normal way to hold the knitting 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.

pulling loose the last stitch of a row because there's too much tension between the two needles
This is what happens when you do the same at the edges

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.

knitting the last edge stitch neatly by working super close to the tips of the needles
I knit the last stitch of every row very close to the tips

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

pulling tight the first stitch too tight will prevent you from knitting neat edges

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.

pulling tight the edge stitch after you knit the second stitch

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 close-up of a standard edge created by knitting stockinette stitch
Close-up of a standard stockinette stitch edge

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.

the standard edge you create when knitting stockinette stitch
The way a normal edge will look like – even if you try to knit it super neatly

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

someone holding up a super neat edge on a swatch in stockinette stitch

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.

Active Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Instructions

  1. 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.
    casting on two additional stitches to knit neater edges and placing stitch markers before and after them for easy recognition
  2. In every right-side row: Slip the first stitch purlwise (so the needle enters from right to left) with the yarn held in back.

    slipping the first edge stitch purlwise with yarn in back on the right side
  3. Then continue knitting according to your pattern and knit the last stitch.

    knitting the last stitch of the return row as normal
  4. In every wrong side row: Slip the first stitch purlwise with yarn in front.

    slipping the first stitch of the return row purlwise with yarn in front
  5. Continue in pattern, and purl the last stitch.

    purling the last stitch as normal
  6. Repeat steps 2-6 to knit a super neat slip stitch edge.

    continuing to repeat these steps to knit a neat edge

Notes

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.

close up of a garter stitch chain stitch selvage
Close-up of a garter stitch chain stitch edge

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.

Anyway, that’s how to knit neat edges. Comment below in case you still have any questions

how to knit neat edges for beginners

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