Seams main

Midweek Masterclass: Seaming for a perfect finish, part one

Many of us dread sewing up our knits, but achieving neat results is easier than you think, as Jen Arnall-Culliford shows in this week's Midweek Masterclass.

21st September 2016

I have a confession to make. I’m not a big fan of seaming, although I’m perfectly proficient at it. I prefer to knit designs that minimise the need for sewing, and if you browse my recent projects on, you’ll see that I gravitate to seamless designs. However, there are many, many designs where seams are an important feature. They add structure to a piece, and can help to give a tailored finish to a garment. With a seamed garment you can tweak your fit if you discover your sweater is a little too generous. In the same situation with a seamless design, you would be faced with reknitting the whole thing. There is a strong case for overcoming my feelings and finding peace with seams!

The finishing stages of a knitting project are make or break time, and in my experience it is all about your state of mind. If you rush through the sewing up, the chances are that you won’t do the best possible job, and your sweater will be the worse for it. When I cast off, in my head the project is finished, so time spent on seaming and final finishing is an obstacle in the way of my enjoyment. Instead, I ought to embrace the finishing, and take equal pride in it. The secret for me is to complete as much finishing as possible before the final casting-off. So, ends are woven in as I go, and shoulder seams are joined while I knit the final stages of the second sleeve. If there are bands to be picked up along the fronts of your cardigan, consider doing it before you start knitting the final sleeve pieces. Anything I can do to spread out the work, and get me closer to my dream of casting off and instantly wearing, is a big bonus.

Seaming for a perfect finish

So now that you’re in the right frame of mind, and you’ve spread out the jobs, how do you get the best possible finish? I shall break down the techniques you may require, and work through each section of a project.

Preparing for success

Block all of your pieces before you start to sew them together. This enables you to check that all pieces are the correct size (block them to the measurements given in the sizing information for your pattern), and to do a bit of gentle stretching if required. Blocking also has the added bonus of helping to flatten the edges of your knitting, which will help considerably when you come to join them. 

I usually block knitwear by soaking it in tepid water for 20-30 minutes to allow all the fibres to fully relax. Excess water is then gently removed by a combination of squeezing (not wringing), and pressing between towels. Next, the pieces are laid flat on a large, dry towel and shaped as required. Some stitch patterns require more stretching than others. The flatter you can get the sides of pieces to lie, the easier the sewing will be later. Allow the knitting to dry completely.

Choose a suitable yarn for seaming. This will usually be the same yarn as your garment. However, if your yarn was made from a single ply, or a novelty yarn, or from something particularly fragile or bulky, it may not be ideal for sewing seams. In this case, it would be preferable to choose a smooth DK or 4ply yarn in a similar shade.

When sewing seams, try to avoid splitting the knitted stitches. Always pass the needle through between strands of yarn. It helps to use a blunt tapestry needle, since sharper points are more likely to skim through adjacent threads. This is particularly important if you need to unpick your seam for any reason.

Joining shoulder seams

A standard set-in sleeved garment will generally have each shoulder cast off in two or more steps. This gives some slope to the shoulder, but can prove tricky to sew together if you’re not careful. Place the two shoulder pieces with right sides together, and pin or clip them in place, being sure to line up any stitch patterning from one side to the other. Work a straight back stitch line from the top of the shoulder, down to the armhole edge, so that the finished seam makes a sloped shoulder (Fig. A).

Fig A.

Back stitch is especially good for shoulder seams since it is sturdy and will hold the weight of the garment well.

Back stitch

1 Thread a tapestry needle with a length of yarn for seaming (the yarn used here is a contrasting shade to make the stitching more visible). Secure the end of your yarn in your fabric by weaving it in.


2 Pass the needle through both layers of fabric from front to back along your intended seam line, twice as far as your desired stitch length. So if you are aiming for stitches 0.5cm long, your first stitch should be 1cm from the start. 


3 Pass the needle from back to front, through the fabric halfway between the start and your previous stitch (0.5cm backwards).


4 Pass the needle from front to back, working along your seam line, again twice as long as your intended stitch (1cm forwards in this example).


5 Pass the needle from back to front, so that it meets the end of the previous stitch (0.5cm backwards).


6 Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you reach the end of the shoulder seam. Weave in your yarn end and trim.


Join us again next week for part two of this masterclass, where we'll cover setting in sleeves, and mattress stitch.

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