This afternoon when I opened my emails there was a query about an issue that is probably quite familiar to many knitters, and because it is something so familiar I thought, "Ha, that's probably something I should share with blog readers or add to my list of Frequently Asked Questions."
The email read like this:
"Hi, I just finished my 2nd Gidday. It seems I always have a problem with the bottom laying flat and mine curls up between the stockinette and the garter rows. Do you have any suggestion besides making the garter section longer? It is fine on the sleeves, just does it around the bottom. I looked at other projects and no one else seems to have that problem."
The thing that really struck me about this email was the last sentence. I suspect sometimes we all think a little like this, that perhaps the answer is so obvious that we should already know it. Why does it seem other knitters don't have this problem? What have I missed? What am I doing that's so obviously wrong? How do they get that to sit so neatly?
I know I've felt like this at times when it comes to knitting; traditional short rows used to drive me completely batty as I could never get them to be invisible enough for my liking, particularly when knitting in the round and closing off the final short row.
The thing with garter hem flip is it's not a problem that every knitter has. That doesn't mean that those that do have it are doing something wrong, it just means that as knitters we are all individual, and the little quirks and annoyances we each experience are going to be different for different knitters.
The key to solving garter hem flip is knowing how you knit; knowing your own personal idiosyncrasies. And while that may seem pretty obvious, we probably all think we know how we knit but by being more conscious of the characteristics of our personal tension (yeah, I said it!) we can solve a lot of little niggles like garter stitch flip.
Garter stitch flip occurs basically because the tension in the fabric has changed between the stocking stitch and the garter stitch. AND also because stocking stitch fabric has a natural tendency to curl. Garter stitch is a thicker fabric, but if the tension changes between the two fabrics it means also that either the garter stitch or the stocking stitch fabric is going to be wider; and in most cases it's the garter stitch fabric. Sometimes this will appear as a flare and sometimes it will be more pronounced and flip up. How extreme this is can also be dependent on the type of fibre and even the number of plies in and the weight of the yarn you are working with. Basically, that extra width beneath a fabric that wants to curl, is just pure encouragement.
Of course, this flipping issue is not just limited to garter stitch. You may find you experience a similar issue with ribbing or even seed or moss stitch. I generally don't have any issues with flipping garter stitch hems (except with lighter weight low plied yarns interestingly enough - ) but with seed stitch I do. Go figure.*
So how do you fix it?
Sometimes the problem will resolve itself with wet blocking. I always recommend wet blocking any garment you have knit. Not only does it resolve small issues like this but it also evens out your knitting making it look much neater and more finished. You may want to pin the hemline flat while it's drying.
Unfortunately, for some knitters this is a short term fix, as once the yarn relaxes the hem may flip again.
So what else can you do?
Well, it would seem that if the issues arises out of a difference in tension between the two fabrics, making the tension the same would be the best way to fix it, right?
THIS is where knowing your own knitting idiosyncrasies comes in; knowing how your tension changes between different stitches.
Let's look at a pattern that has a tension of 22 stitches over 4inches in stocking stitch as an example.
If we want the tension between the two fabrics to be the same, then our garter stitch needs to be the same tension.
Some knitters DO achieve a similar tension in garter stitch as they do in stocking stitch; some - but not all. In fact, I'd warrant a guess and say the majority don't. And if you're experience hem flip, you're probably going to fall into that latter camp.
And here's where the power of knowing your personal tension helps out, if you KNOW that you need to go down one, two or even three needles sizes to achieve that same tension in garter stitch, then you can automatically do it. You can just ignore the pattern instructions for the hem needle size and knit in the needle size that you know works for you.
Another approach is to decrease so that the fabric is the same width. Elizabeth Zimmermann typically has a 10% difference in her hem stitch count and her body stitch count, and as with anything EZ this is a pretty good guide. To achieve this, work (k8, k2tog) around the final stocking stitch row/round of the body.
Note that this will not necessary fix the issue for your individual tension, you may need to alter the rate of your decrease. Again, this is why knowing how your knitting style varies gives you power.
Ahh, it's still not working!
Sometimes, it's just simply that the garter hemline is not long enough to counter the natural curling tendency of the stocking stitch. Not enough length in a garter stitch hem is like trying to run wavy hair through a pair of feathers to straighten it. Again, the particular characteristics of the yarn you're using may even contribute to this.
So how do I get this knowledge and power?
Simple. And I'm going to use a dirty word here, but you need to swatch and experiment.
When you knit that swatch before the garment, swatch in the edging and hemline stitch too, measure the tension there and adjust your needles accordingly. Once you've done this a few times, you will probably see a pattern developing and KNOW that you need to go down two needle sizes for the garter hem. Use that knowledge for future knits.
I know, I know. There are some of you out there who just won't swatch no matter how much I wax lyrically about it, and how fun it can be to swatch for the sake of switching and how you learn so much about your own knitting style, blah, blah, blah. I get it. I really do. You just want to knit.
Then, you really have no option but to experiment away while you're knitting. Go down a needle size the next time you knit the hemline. Doesn't work? Rip and reknit two needle sizes smaller. It will be more time consuming than if you swatched to begin with, but you'll still get there and as you experiment you'll soon get an idea of what's going to work for you.
* As for my seed stitch flipping, it's again because of fabric width and my individual knitting tension. I knit seed stitch looser than stocking or garter stitch.
My looser seed stitch tension, along with the extra fabric created by swapping the yarn from back to front, means the piece is wider and is going to work with the natural curl of stocking stitch to flip up. Seed stitch doesn't have the elasticity created by ribbing, which naturally draws the fabric in and works against that curl. However, the same curl or flip may happen in ribbing if the hem is particularly short or the fibre in the yarn lacks elasticity.
P.S. If your problem is flipping button bands, you may want to read this post here . If you've knit more recent patterns of mine, you'll notice I've tweaked this technique slightly for mostly aesthetics.
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