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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- 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.