How to Pick Up and Knit

Many garment patterns use the technique “pick up and knit” to create finished edges and button bands. In the following videos, I’ll demonstrate how to pick up and knit on a stockinette stitch edge, cast on edge, and garter stitch edge. These are the most common edges that you will encounter for this technique, and you can easily adapt these techniques for other edges.

The difference between “pick up” and “pick up and knit”…

  • Pick up is just picking up a strand from the existing work – not knitting into it. You will not use your working yarn – just the needle and your piece. Then the next instruction in the pattern will then be to knit (or purl or work in pattern) the next row. That’s when you will use your working yarn.
  • This is the essentially the same as pick up and knit except you’ll be knitting on the opposite side of the work from what you would if you had done it all in one step, and you’ll be at the opposite end of the row.
  • I think many pattern authors really mean “pick up and knit” when they say “pick up”. You might be able to determine their intent by reading the step(s) following the “pick up” instruction.

Pick up one strand or 2?

  • I generally pick up 2 strands for a stronger seam.
  • On a garter stitch edge, I sometimes pick up one.
  • On the cast on edge, you may pick up more strands, depending on the cast on you used.

Holding the working yarn

You can hold the working yarn in your left or right hand. If you hold your yarn in your right hand to knit, but you hold the yarn in your left hand to crochet, you might find it easier to pick up stitches holding your yarn like you do when you crochet.

Speaking of crochet, if you are having a hard time picking up stitches with your knitting needle, you can use a crochet hook to draw a loop through the fabric, then place it on your knitting needle.  

How many stitches to pick up

Your pattern will tell you how many stitches to pick up.

  • On cast on edges, you usually pick up one stitch for each cast on stitch.
  • On side edges, it is often 2 stitches every 3 rows. So, you would pick up in 2 consecutive rows, then skip one. But it’s not always 2/3, so this is how to figure out how many to pick up:

When picking up on the side, the number of stitches you pick up is usually less than the number of rows you’ve knit. To figure out how many stitches to pick up before skipping a row requires a little math.

Pick Up Math

Divide the number of stitches you need to pick up by the number of rows you have. That gives you the pick up percentage. Then convert that percentage to a fraction. Don’t worry, there’s a table of common conversions below.

The numerator (top number) gives you how many stitches to pick up, the denominator (bottom number) gives you how many rows you should use to pick up those stitches in.

So if your pick up percentage is 0.75, that converts to ¾, which means you pick up 3 stitches in 4 rows. You would pick up one stitch in each of 3 rows, then skip a row. Repeat this across the edge.

Common percentages converted to fractions:

0.50 = 1/2
0.67 = 2/3
0.75 = 3/4
0.80 = 4/5
0.83 = 5/6
0.86 = 6/7

If your percentage doesn’t exactly match one of these, round up or down to to the closest one and squeeze or spread out your pick ups to make up the difference. Squeeze extra stitch(es) in if you round down. If you round up, skip extra row(s). Don’t worry – you won’t have to “fudge” it too much and no one will notice.

If you are a perfectionist and uncomfortable with rounding, Kelbourne Woolens explains how to pick up the exact right number of stitches, spaced evenly (without using decimals) here.

This lesson is continued below the videos.

Pick Up and Knit on a Stockinette Stitch Edge

Stockinette Stitch Edge Video Notes:

  • The first stitch looks wonky
  • Work between the first and 2nd stitch
  • There is a strand of yarn between each row

Picking Up and Knit on a Garter Stitch Edge

Garter Stitch Edge Video Notes:

  • Notice the garter bumps
  • The bumps are on every other row
  • Quick “cheat” to pick up every other row…
  • To pick up 2 stitches for every 3 rows, *work a bump, work between the bumps, skip a bump, work between the bumps, work a bump, skip between the bumps, repeat from *

Picking Up and Knit on a Cast On Edge

Cast on Edge Video Notes:

  • Looking at the work upside down
  • The spots that look like knit stitches are actually the space between knit stitches
  • Working into these spaces will give you a nearly imperceptible seam on the right side

Final thoughts on picking up stitches

You can change the number of stitches you pick up as long as the total number of stitches you pick up will work for the stitch pattern you are going to do.

For example, the Alice in Wonderland sweater (which is a project in the Knit Along Club) has a low neckline and calls for picking up 2 stitches every 3 rows. To draw up the neckline you can pick up every other stitch. Since the neckline trim is garter stitch, the number of stitches picked up does not affect the stitch pattern.

If there was a pattern repeat, say for example of 5 stitches, you would have to pick up a multiple of 5 stitches. You can squeeze or spread out some of your picked up stitches a bit to accommodate the pattern repeat and it won’t be noticeable in your finished garment.

I do not recommend picking up less than every other stitch, as your work might pucker. To clarify, picking up 1 stitch every 3rd or 4th row could make your work pucker.

Did you like this lesson? Do you want to learn even more? Consider joining the Knit Along Club to become a better, faster, more confident knitter today. Our detailed online lessons guide you through every step of the pattern so you can knit each project at your own pace with ease and confidence.

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