Knitting how-to: 7 tips for finishing knitting (+giveaway!)

Martingale's Knit & Crochet Friday

If you’ve knitted one too many sweaters that scream “I’m homemade!” you’re not alone. Finishing knitting can be one of the most challenging parts of completing a garment. Sometimes if you don’t get it right, it can all go wrong.

Nancie WisemanWhen it comes to teaching how to finish knitting, Nancie Wiseman’s got the magic touch. A lifelong knitter and a contributor to such publications as Martha Stewart Living, Knitter’s Magazine, and Piecework, Nancie has owned her own knitting shop and designed for yarn companies including Prism, Trendsetter, Brown Sheep, and Tilli Tomas. She’s also published several books—and her most popular book is newly available in paperback. What is Nancie’s bestselling book (which has sold more than 100,000 copies) all about? You guessed it. How to finish knitting!

Along with clear, detailed knitting how-to for a range of finishing skills, The Knitter’s Book of Finishing Techniques offers sharp advice from Nancie—and she shares a lot. Her chapters cover:

  • cast ons and bind offs
  • increases and decreases
  • seams, selvages, and picking up stitches
  • borders, bands, and buttonholes
  • odds and ends like joining yarns, weaving in ends, reinforcing shoulders, blocking, and storing finished knits

It’s a truly comprehensive resource. But what I’ll bet those 100,000+ knitters who own Nancie’s book like best is her candor. Nancie offers both the advantages and disadvantages for the techniques she presents, so you can make informed choices about which finishing methods will best fit the knitting you’re working on at any given time. Take a look at this example from The Knitter’s Book of Finishing Techniques about a cast on that most knitters are familiar with: the long-tail cast on.

Long-tail cast on--benefits and drawbacks
In this chapter, you can read through Nancie’s pros and cons for several more cast-on methods and find the one that fits the design you’re working on to a T.

On top of how-to techniques and honest evaluations of them, Nancie includes scores of other tips for finishing knitting. Here are seven gems that apply to almost any project:

Tools for finishing knitting1) If you absolutely hate finishing, don’t wait to start until all the pieces are knit. When the body is done, work the shoulder seams and the front or neck bands before you start the sleeves. It will let you begin to see what the finished product is going to look like. Small rewards in small steps bring instant gratification and success.

2) Make your swatches large, at least eight inches square. That way, you can use them to experiment with finishing techniques, such as picking up stitches, or to decide the type of band you want to work at garment edges. Be sure to bind off your swatches and keep them. You can also carry them with you when looking for buttons if needed.

3) Leave long ends when you cast on, so you can later use them for seaming. Never trim an end until you’re sure you’re not going to use it somewhere for a seam.

4) If you always work all of your finishing in the same order, you’ll know exactly where to go to find the ends if you ever have to rip part of the garment out for some reason.

5) Steam and moisture are your best friends for blocking. Don’t be afraid to use them.

6) In general, when stitches are knit over and over, they stretch out and look very loose. If you’ve had to work a stitch or two over and over to get a technique correct, and the yarn is wool or a wool blend, drop some water on the stitch when done to shrink it back up.

7) When you discover an error in a stitch pattern a few rows back in your knitting and you think that it will be okay, or that no one will notice it, don’t leave it. You’re probably going to wish you had ripped it out the further away you get from it. Go back and fix it when you find it. You’ll never like the sweater if you don’t.

I love her straight-talk approach, don’t you? And Nancie’s last tip surely rings true: when your project’s seamed, blocked, and ready to wear, knowing that you did it well—down to the final finishing touch—makes all the difference.

Browse Nancie’s pattern books.


The Knitters Book of Finishing Techniques
So, what finishing techniques trip up your knitting? (And how many projects are waiting in the wings for you to finish?) Share your story in the comments and you could win an eBook version of The Knitter’s Book of Finishing Techniques! We’ll choose a random winner one week from today and let you know by email if you’ve won.

You can also purchase Nancie’s book here, download the eBook for free right away, and finish the project that’s been patiently waiting.


You could win a free eBook of your choice when you answer our Quirky Question on Ravelry! If you’re not a member of Ravelry, it’s free to join.


31 Comments (leave a comment)

  • I mostly knit items that don’t require a lot of finishing. Perhaps if I had this book, I might be more inclined to branch out in my knitting.

    —DebrafromMD on September 28, 2012
  • I hate burying ends. I have a sweater that I made two years ago that has not be worn because I used a slipper fiber to knit it and I know it will involve more that just running the ends through a rib.

    —arlene ritz on September 28, 2012
  • I hate seaming. I avoid it like crazy! I’m also not super great at Kitchener stitch, it always gets weird pointy bits at the edges..

    —Crystal on September 28, 2012
  • I don’t knit a lot, mostly socks but I did finish a few baby sweaters recently. What trips me up the most is picking up stitches for a band or, in the case of socks, for the gusset. It never looks as smooth as I think it should.

    —Susan C on September 28, 2012
  • I hate sewing the pieces together, that’s why I use circular needles. I have one sweater to finish and three more to start.

    —Kathrynn on September 28, 2012
  • The long tail cast is always my favorite. My problems happen with estimating the amount of "tail" I will need and then adding a WS row to get it on the right side.

    I also hate casting on with the backward loop in the middle of a project, never comes out looking nice.

    I would love to get some ideas on better solutions from Nancy’s book!

    —TrailerTrash on September 28, 2012
  • Buttonholes are the bane of my existence. Hate them. My sweaters either hang open or close with a shawl pin or stick. Though that is not a bad look, it would be nice to be able to master the buttonhole.

    —Marilyn on September 28, 2012
  • When I’m assembling the pieces of a sweater, I’m not sure if my technique is the proper way to do it.

    —MoeWest on September 28, 2012
  • I use the long tail cast on but sometimes have to start over because I didn’t leave enough. But the more you knit the more confident you get on your finishing. Would love to get more ideas and techniques from the book.

    —Connie on September 28, 2012
  • I love to knit but hate the "finishing" so I try to knit as seamlessly as possible. (Or get someone else to sew it up and put on the buttons!) It would be wonderful to have a "finishing" reference book!

    —Patty T on September 28, 2012
  • My worst problem is picking up stitches around the neckline or armhole. I wind up doing wierd things to close the holes I always get. I’d like to learn to pick up these stitches in a more graceful manner, so my neckbands and armholes don’t scream "HOMEMADE"!

    —MizPat on September 28, 2012
  • I never know exactly what they mean when they say to weave in the ends. I’m always afraid that they will come unwoven, and then all my hard work will have gone to waste!

    —Barb Johnson on September 28, 2012
  • Well, I am going to find out. My first sweater is getting close to completion and then I will need to finish with seaming. Wish me luck! Lynn

    —Lynn on September 28, 2012
  • This book looks wonderful! I am new-ish to knitting, so finishing in general is daunting. I actually have many projects still on needles, beacause of the fact that I’m not quite sure how to get many projects to the point of being ready to "finish". Perhaps a book like this could encourage me to get things done!!

    Rebecca on September 28, 2012
  • I have a hard time binding off loose enough.
    I have two projects going right now – a seven panel afghan (4 panels done), and my third of six one-skein scarves. It would be great to win a reference book for knitting! Thanks for the chance.

    —Kathy on September 28, 2012
  • I can knit scarves from here to forever, but beyond that I’m lost. I stick with crochet when I make anything else. Have made many sweaters from newborn to x-large without a problem. Now if knitting were as easy for me. I think it has to do with coordinating two hands at once. Always dropping stitches and don’t notice until several rows later. I’ll take any help I can get, winning one of these wonderful books would be great!

    —Cindy R. on September 29, 2012
  • "Lions and Tigers and Bears, OH MY!"

    "Whipstitch and 3-Needle Bind Off and Single Crochet, OH MY!"

    "Boxes and Bags and Baggies, OH MY!" LOL…

    "How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways…"

    Finishing Techniques? What are THOSE? Like the dreaded word "Swatches", Finishing Techniques are one of those things that most knitters and crocheters despise. We all seem to have boxes, bags and baggies filled with ‘pieces parts’ of things we’ve had every intention of ‘finishing’ but never did. I think I have almost as many ‘UFO’s’ as I do my total ‘stash’! And don’t even ASK me about my stash!!!! Having a book to help get all those UFO’s turned into FO’s would be a God-send for most of us. I know a couple of knitters who absolutely LOVE ‘finishing’ their ‘works of heart’. However, those types are few and far between. The rest of us NEED this wonderful book to help us find the best way to finish our lovely objects, so they ARE lovely objects.

    I know "I" would love to get a copy of this e-book for free so I could empty out my ‘boxes and bags and baggies, OH MY!’ And make room for even MORE ‘works of heart’ that I could more easily finish when the time came so that the lovely little baby sweater or ‘tween’ sweater doesn’t sit in pieces parts in a baggie, waiting to be finished for the intended person to FINALLY get it for their grandson or granddaughter to wear! LOL! PICK ME!

    —Gabrielle Martin on September 29, 2012
  • I just can’t seem to do Kitchener stitich. It’s to the point that I will only knit toe up socks to avoid it. I need this book to help me!

    —Debbie H on September 29, 2012
  • I have 3 different pairs of socks going right now in 3 different methods. Also I have yarn for a few other projects on my to do list. Just not enough time.

    —Sue Goodin on September 29, 2012
  • I find sewing the sleeves onto the body of the sweater impossible to do well.

    —M J Moriarty on September 29, 2012
  • When I started knitting again, I made a sweater out of inexpensive yarn and I had forgotten how to purl, or possibly I never did purl correctly. My stitches are twisted. It is ok but I know it it is wrong. So the pieces are done but I need to do the placket and sew it together. I just can’t make the time. I always want to work on something with sumptuous yarn I love to touch and I now purl correctly or at least compensate for the easy purl. It would be a good utilitarian sweater if I could only finish it.

    —christine olson on September 29, 2012
  • Would love to win the book!

    —Judy Allen on September 29, 2012
  • I’m a mess when it comes to finishing items. I still have the first sleeveless sweater I knit a few years ago waiting in the wings to be assembled (in a beautiful purple color, my favorite!). Then I knit a long sleeve cardigan, in lavendar…..yet unfinished. I have knit several hooded baby blankets…..hoods need to be attached. Are you beginning to see the pattern here? I also knitted squares to assemble into a blanket – even worked out the layout…..kind of like a patchwork quilt….but haven’t attached any of the squares yet. I have two sets of wrist warmers…..yet to be transformed from a rectangle into a tube and two pillow cases yet to be wrapped around a pillow form. I am curently making a hooded baby sweater that needs to be assembled right after I wrap up the sleeves! Would be nice to get that one in the mail now that fall is here. I knitted a boot shaped slipper yeaterday and now it requires a seam….and a mate (so that provides my excuse to not attempt the seaming just yet since I have to pick up another skein of yarn to knit the other foot). Help please!

    —Jill on September 30, 2012
  • adding stitches, New to knitting but still trying. My mom done it all,I’m still learning!

    Jeanette on September 30, 2012
  • I’ve been knitting for five decades and I’ve never made a sweater because I’m afraid the seams would come out dorky. I really need this book!
    At least I know how to finish socks – got three pairs on the needles right now but that’s not too bad after I completed ten pairs over the summer.

    —hotshoe on September 30, 2012
  • I would love this book!

    —MaryRose on September 30, 2012
  • Since I am self-taught I stick to basic items like scarves and caps. My finishing techniques are desperately in need of help. This book would be a blessing.

    —Evelyn on October 2, 2012
  • I have trouble making sure my last stitches have the same or tighter tension than the rest of the piece.

    —Carmen on October 3, 2012
  • I’ve made only a few projects, and my challenge is still to cast off loosely enough and neatly.

    —Lyn on October 4, 2012
  • Kitchener is absolutely my nemesis.

    —chocpiemom on January 5, 2013
  • How could I join an already knitted trim to an already knitted top body? There are live stitches on both pieces. I would love to simply join/knit them together. I began a top from the bottom but the top part–yoke didn’t work, so I ripped it out to the lacy-trim (saving it for later) and then I re-knit from the top down and now I am at my impasse!! Hope you can help. Thanks

    —Rita on March 15, 2014

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