Pick Up Lines

Hey gang – time for yet another thoughtful and informative post about the vocabulary foibles of the knitting world!

I was considering writing about my experiences at Flock and Fiber, but I seem to have come down with some sort of cold since the weekend.  And while I’m starting to feel better, poor DH got it the day after I did, and consequently neither of us slept well last night.  So I am just too lazy and tired to get my camera right now and take pictures of all the insignificant amount of new yarn and stuff I got.  Maybe in a day or so…

So, I looked through my list of Important Knitting Stuff I Haven’t Written About Yet, and came across this one:  the difference between "pick up" and "pick up and knit".

What?  There’s a difference?

Well, yes, there is — although I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it spelled out 100% clearly.  It took me a while to figure out that there was a difference, and what it was.  Attached I-cord is what brought me to my senses.

Unfortunately, this little point of knitting confusion seems to be about as clearly understood as "slip, slip, purl" now, because the two terms have been used all-but-interchangeably — to the point where even if you know about the difference, there is a chance that the writer of the pattern didn’t.  So we might have to use our noggins anyway.


"Pick up" means this:  to run a needle (usually a spare one) through existing loops of yarn to create new sts, without using the working yarn to form the new sts.  The loops that are picked up can be anywhere on the edge or the surface of the fabric.

For example, you can run a needle through some sts across the fronts of your cardigan, tie on some yarn, work a few rows, and voila!  you have faux pocket flaps, a la Chanel.

Or, you can run a needle through a few sts on either side of the bottom of your hat, tie on some yarn, work a few rows with some decreases thrown in, and poof!  earflaps!

If your pattern tells you to "pick up" some sts, and the working yarn is still nearby, usually the next thing that happens is that the working yarn is used to work those picked-up sts in some form or fashion.

An example is when you are attaching I-cord to an existing piece of fabric:  you will be "picking up" loops of the base fabric (color A) on a spare needle — then you will be working an I-cord, perhaps in color B, that will be attached to those A loops by working a loop of color A and a st of color B together.

BTW, if you are using a different color for your cord, you can’t just work your cord sts and then k2tog the last cord st with one of the base fabric sts:  k2tog leans to the right, which means the loop from the base fabric will lie on top of the st from your cord, and it will look icky.  (Well, maybe "icky" is too strong a word — knitter’s choice, after all — but it will have a different effect.)

On, say, a felted bag, it may not be such a big deal — but on anything else, at the very least, you’ll probably want to SSK or SKP those two different color loops.  If that doesn’t do the trick, start googling:  I’m still too tired to go look for myself right now, but I know I’ve seen some pretty weird maneuvers that inventive knitters have thought up, involving YO’s and I don’t know what all else, in order to camouflage color A loops adequately behind color B cord sts.

In any event, when working attached I-cord, if you mistakenly use the working yarn to "pick up and knit" sts along your fabric instead of just picking them up on a spare needle, then your working yarn is going to be at the wrong end of the piece, and you’ll have to break it and return back to where you ought to be.  (OTOH, if you are having a really hard time hiding color A with color B, this could be a pretty slick solution!)

FInally, when picking up sts, it is almost always helpful to use a slightly smaller needle to do the "picking up" part.  Oh, and make sure you pick them up with the correct st mount, or correct the st mount on all the sts when you’re done picking them up.


"Pick up and knit" means this:  to use a needle to pull new loops of the working yarn through an existing piece of fabric, usually along an edge.

"Picking up and knitting" is more commonly done than plain ol’  "picking up".

But this opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms.  Specifically, exactly where to pick the sts up, and how often — especially when you are creating new sts along the side edge of an existing piece, so you are doing sts to rows.

The subject of picking-up-and-knitting sts is covered thoroughly in many good knitting books, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here.  I’ll just throw out some purls of wisdom.  (Get it?  purls of wisdom.  I crack me up.)

Update:  I forgot one important tip:  use a smaller needle when picking up and knitting, also.  The picked-up sts are usually waaaaay too loose if you use the same needle as for the body of the fabric.  I’d go so far as to say, use the smallest needle with which you can comfortably handle the yarn, and still be able to work the next row.  It’s almost impossible to get these sts too tight, although I bet Rock Star could do it.

The two biggest problems I see here are:  1) picking up too few or too many sts, so that the new edge either puckers, or flares; and 2) picking up sts inconsistently along the edge, i.e. not staying in a straight line but meandering back and forth. 

For the first issue:  a decent-sized gauge swatch is a really good vehicle for testing how many sts to pick up for a given number of rows.  And the ratio for sts-to-rows in stockinette st is usually 3 sts to every 4 rows, which I teach my students to do like this:  1, 2, 3, skip, 1, 2, 3, skip.

And speaking of gauge swatches, doing a separate gauge swatch for your ribbing or any other kind of trim can help, too, especially if it’s something funky from Nicky Epstein.  If you know that your seed st trim wants to be about 3 sts per inch, then it’s easy to keep an eye on how many sts you are picking up for every inch of fabric.

If you know you’re going to pick up and knit sts along an edge, give some thought to your choice of selvedge (edge st).  Using a selvedge that produces only 1 st for every 2 rows — for example, a slip-the-first-st type of selvedge — is going to make it a lot harder to pick up 3 sts for every 4 rows later on, if there are only 2 sts on the edge of those 4 rows to do it in.  (Go ahead, ask me how I know this.)

For the second issue:  keep in mind that exactly which horizontal line you work along is less important than staying on it once you pick one.

In other words:  you may have dived into the fabric a bit too far from the edge, and thus there may be a bit of extra bulk in the back of your picked-up sts — but that’s a lot less noticeable from the outside than if the pick-up line goes all over creation when it ought not to.


Finally, the nomenclature problem.  (You knew there would be one, didn’t you?)  You’ll notice that even though I’m writing specifically about the difference in terminology, when it comes to talking about "picking-up-and-knitting" sts, I — like most pattern writers — revert to saying "picking up".  Mainly because it gets pretty awkward not to.

For example, suppose I try to rewrite the line above that says, "Specifically, exactly where to pick the sts up…"  Should I instead have written, "Specifically, exactly where to pick and knit the sts up"?  "Specifically, exactly where to pick the sts up and knit"? 

The best option here would probably be, "Specifically, exactly where to pick up and knit the sts".  But you see how it can get messy, and it doesn’t necessarily add much to the discussion — as long as we all know what we really mean, ha ha, everything will be fine and I’m sure no one could possibly get confused.

So, even if your instructions are talking about "picking up" — and even if I wrote them — they may still mean "picking up and knitting."  And unfortunately, there’s not really any way to tell, except to read a bit further on and hope it becomes clear with additional explanation.  Assuming you are given additional explanation…

Geez, that was exhausting.  I think I need something medicinal now.

Happy Knitting!

  1 comment for “Pick Up Lines

  1. Nancy H
    04/07/2010 at 6:18 AM

    Thank You! I think I knew this once upon a time but since most pattern writers lately seem to imply “pick up and knit (or work)” when they say “pick up” I lost sight of the plain ol’ “pick up”. This has caused me some grief on the new Knit Picks kit, the Yvette Entrelac Beret and Mittens. So I did what I thought needed to be done. Since I’m close to the end of the hat I’ll motor on and do the right thing with the next hat! Now I just have to figure out how to graft live stitches to the side of a worked square…. Again, thanks for the very clear explanation of these pickup lines!

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