On picking up stitches left-handed and the button band blues

I have just returned from a quick trip to South Africa, where I was teaching in Johannesburg.  As always, I put considerable thought into which knitting project(s) to take with me; unfortunately on this trip I was too busy to get much done.  (I also didn’t knit on the plane, despite having my knitting with me!)  I always put a lot of effort into my teaching and it left me tired out at the end of the day.

I did, however, work on the button bands of the lovely spring cardigan I am making for Leah (see here for more details).  And thus begins a tale of button band blues.  Warning: Those of you who have no interest in the technicalities of knitting and only read this for the pretty photos, you may wish to stop reading right now before your eyes glaze over.  For the rest of you, you may recall that the cardigan (designed by Amy Herzog) has a very pretty textured panel on the waistband and cuffs.  You can see the edging in the below photo:


This pattern is made with an 8-row repeat.  There are twisted stitches on rows 1 and 5.  The instructions for the button band say to pick up and knit stitches along the front edge and then to knit in pattern beginning with Row 2.  I thought about this awhile: why would she begin with Row 2?  I decided that this was because Row 1 involved twisting every other pair of stitches.  Perhaps, I speculated, twisting stitches on the first row would draw in the fabric along the edge of the button band and result in an uneven and non-stretchy edge. That makes sense, no?  So, I duly picked up the requisite amount of stitches and started knitting the button band.  After a few rows, I actually paid attention to what I was doing and realized that I was knitting it backwards: the pattern right-side rows were being knit on the wrong side of the garment.

I realized that this was due to the way that I pick up stitches.  The pattern asks that you hold the garment with the right side facing you, and then, starting at the right edge, pick up and knit across to the left edge.   (This is a fairly standard instruction.)  This means that the very next row will be on the wrong side of the fabric.  With this 8-row repeat, Rows 1, 3, 5, and 7 are on the right side (RS) and Rows 2, 4, 6, and 8 on the wrong side (WS).  Since the first row to be knitted after the pick-up row is on the wrong side, Herzog starts the pattern with Row 2.  This makes perfect sense if that is how you pick up stitches. However, this is not how I pick up stitches.

I am not sure how I learned to pick up stitches along an edge.  Perhaps my grandmother or mother taught me, perhaps I taught myself using trial and error and intuition.  However, although I mostly knit in a right-handed fashion, despite being left-handed,  I absolutely cannot pick up stitches with my right hand.  Furthermore, I have never executed a “pick up and knit”, but rather just “pick up” stitches.  I do this by holding the right side of the fabric facing me, and start from the left-hand edge.  I wrap the yarn around my right index finger, and then simply insert the tip of the needle into the fabric, pick up the yarn, and bring it through.  I have made a little video to show you what I do:

I have always picked up stitches this way.  I don’t know whether others do it like this or not.  It works for me.  Once I realized that this is not the standard method, I tried really hard to pick up and knit with my right hand moving across the edge from right to left.  I failed miserably, and really my method works well for me; why should I quit?  There is a problem with this, however – the very next row after picking up the stitches is on the right side of the fabric, not the wrong side.

So, I ripped out the button band, and decided to start with Row 1 since I was starting on the right side of the fabric.  But now, I thought, there was a potential problem – Row 1 has twisted stitches.  You see, I had convinced myself that Herzog started with Row 2 in order to avoid having twisted stitches all the way across the first row of the button band.  Even though I now realized that she started on Row 2 because in fact she needed to start with a WS row, I didn’t re-think this misconception.  As a result, I started the button band again with a Row 1, but without twisting the stitches (thus with a K2P2).  This really didn’t look right to me.  But I convinced myself that starting with twisted stitches would be wrong so I kept going, while slowing down more and more as I stopped to frown at the button band frequently.  This is what it looked like:


I tried very hard to convince myself that no one would notice this on a button band.  However, my perfectionist came to the fore and I couldn’t bear it, so I ripped it out (again!) and started over with a proper Row 1, including the twists.  The result is very subtle, but, to me at least, made a big difference in the feel of the piece.  Here is a close-up without the twists:


and here is the corrected band with the twists:


Much happier now, I continued to knit the button band.  I did this while watching an amazing tennis match being played at Wimbledon (on the telly, of course).  This was the finals of the Men’s Wheelchair Doubles, in which Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett eventually managed to win the title against Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer.  It was a beautiful tennis match, in which all four players displayed incredible athleticism.  It was both lovely to watch and a nail-biter as both pairs were in contention throughout.  At the end of the match, I looked down and discovered that on Row 5 (quite a few rows down at this point) I had twisted all of the stitches the wrong way.  So, once again, I had to rip.

The button-hole band started out much better.  I had to do some math-fu to get the button holes evenly spaced, and had to pay quite a bit of attention on the buttonholes themselves (Herzog uses Barbara Walker’s one-row button hole method, which has always been my favorite, even if it is quite fiddly).  I finished the band, and cast it off, and only then realized that half way through the band, I had twisted all of the stitches on the fist half of a twist row and not twisted them on the second half!  Rip!  Groan!  Clearly a glass of wine is in order!  And a good book!  Or maybe a lobotomy!

I am now happy to say that the button bands are done.  I managed to knit the back, both fronts and both sleeves of this cardigan without ever tripping up on the edging.  Why now when the end is in sight?  This is definitely a case of button band blues.


19 thoughts on “On picking up stitches left-handed and the button band blues

  1. I too suffer from the curse of the left handed knitter. I also knit mostly in right handed fashion but sometimes, as in this case, picking up right handed is necessary. What I do…I hold a crochet hook in the left hand, pick up the stitch with the crochet hook, slip it onto the right hand needle. Awkward but it’s the only way for me.

    • That sounds like a solution. I like the way I do it because it is natural and fast; the only problem is starting the next row on the right side of the fabric, which sometimes means a little pattern wizardry.

  2. I am a lefty who mostly knits in a right handed fashion, making it much easier to learn and read patterns, and most importantly, getting help from my lys. I am not sure if it is true but I have been told that we knit much faster than right handed knitters because we make good use of both hands! I too use a crochet hook to pick up stitches but still need to read the pattern closely to make sure I am going in the correct direction. Thanks for sharing your technicalities with us, I always learn something.

  3. Personally I don’t have a problem with picking up stitches with my right hand (strictly ‘picking up’ and not ‘picking up and knitting’). However I used to know somebody who would pick up stitches, like you, from the left and would then break the yarn, turn the piece and work the first row at the back. She would normally have to reverse each stitch but, first row done, there were no further problems apart from having an extra end to darn in.

    • Yes, I’ve done that too on occasion, and it does entail reversing each stitch on the first row as they are sitting backwards on the needle. This is a very good solution except for the extra ends to weave in; I suppose that I am lazy.

  4. I think all serious knitters can identify and sympathize with you on this one! Overthinking and over analyzing have been issues for me! Ripping is part of the knitting process, unfortunately! Love the finished button band pics; it looks great!

  5. oh dear. It is a shame it was so frustrating to finish the beautiful sweater! For the future – try picking up the stitches and purling them, from the wrong side. That will head you in the right direction and your next row will be a right side one. I’m a lefty who is always having to carefully think out these things. 🙂

  6. Would it have been possible to pick up (only) from left to right and then knit the first row (RS) in pattern? Then carry on from there?

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  8. So curious to see if I get a reply so many years after this post. I’m knitting a hooded cowl. I’ve finished the hood and now am to pick up & knit 70 stitches before beginning the cowl. Instructions say to begin picking up at the back seam. Being a leftie I am picking up going from the righthand side of the back seam heading to front corner and crossing over to join at the opposite front corner and around to the back seam again. My problem is that once that is done my yarn is on the wrong side of the work. Not quite sure what to do and am beginning to think I could start picking up at front corner and going around to the back seam and continuing on to the opposite front corner then join the work there but it does say that the join would happen at the back seam. I’ve never run into this problem before and it has caused me to know that even though I think I’m knitting right handed I am actually still the leftie that I am. Thanks for any help.

    • Hi Denise. I know just what you mean. I run into this problem all of the time; I pick up the stitches and my yarn is on the wrong side to continue. One thing you can try is just to pick up the stitches as you described, and then cut your yarn, turn the knitting so the right side faces you, and then join a new yarn and start knitting. It means that you will have two more ends to weave in but you will then be oriented in the right direction. I do hope this helps!

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