Knitting: The Hem Debate

As we speak, I'm finishing the second sleeve on a sweater that is much like all the other sweaters that I knit with one major difference: it uses knitted-in hems (turned hems, they're sometimes called), rather than ribbing for all of the edges. While I think on the whole that it works for this sweater, I've always been rather fond of ribbings of a couple of different types. The truth of the matter is that, if knitting were perfect, if stocking stitch didn't curl or flare without special attention, this would be moot. As it is, one must do something to one's knitted hems so that garments to flare or roll (too much).

The options are actually pretty slim (these instructions are basic, they may vary a bit in actual practice). I've also included a pro-con analysis.

  • Knitted-in hem: knit the hem facing on smaller needles, purl a row/round, knit the pattern. Sew down the hem facing when you're done.
    • Pro: the pattern starts at the bottom of the sweater, the sweater's edge doesn't normally pull in unflatteringly.
    • Con: Hems can flair or gather really easily, and can be a bother to work.
  • Knitted Ribbings: alternate consistant numbers of knitted and purl stitches.
    • Pro: Looks good, often helps shaping when you want a tappered edge. Ribbings are highly elastic.
    • Con: Can pull in too much, doe not work as well for stranded work.
  • Double Sided stitches: A number of stitches look the same on the front and back, like garter and moss stitches, and won't curl.
    • Pro: easier to work than a hem and should produce the same result.
    • Con: I've never been able to mange one of these without an undesirable welt or flare. Sometimes the designs can be too much for a plain sweater.
  • Lace: This isn't technically a solution, because you'd probably still do a few rows of garter stitch, but generally open work stitches will block flat without rolling.
    • Pro: Might work, and could look nifty.
    • Con: It's lace, also not particularly suited as a cuff.

My standards operation procedure is to knit 1x1 ribbings on plain sweaters and 2x2 corrugated ribbing on stranded sweaters, and 2x2 ribbing on plain sweater cuffs.

There are of course endless variations on these themes, and this is what makes designs unique. I'm interested to learn what your preferences are. What kind of hem treatments do you prefer on your sweaters? Other sorts of garments?

Cheers, tycho

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