When you're knitting a sweater that has shoulder seams, there are several options for joining them at the top.
The two most common joining methods are the 3-needle bind-off and good old mattress stitch. There are some limitations of choices, depending on how you finish the shoulder sections. For example, if you have stepped shoulder sections, where you bind off a few stitches at the beginning or end of each row (or use short-row shaping to achieve the steps), you end up with bound off stitches, so you need to use mattress stitch to join the back of the sweater to the front(s).
If your shoulders aren't stepped and you en up with a single row of stitches, this is the place to use the 3-needle bind-off or the lesser-known slip-stitch bind-off.
The 3-needle bind-off
Kelley demonstrated the slip-stitch bind-off in this week's Technique Tuesday.
Kelley is knitting her second Jones Cardigan by tincanknits, which calls for a 3-needle bind-off worked with wrong sides together. This makes a visible seam on the right-side of the sweater and Kelley wasn't crazy about that. She decided to try two different options, the Kitchener Stitch and the aforementioned crochet-chain bind-off.
The Kitchener stitch method makes nice looking shoulders because it doesn't show up as a seam, per se; the shoulder is smooth and flows in pattern from front to back. The advantage here is definitely the appearance. This method doesn't provide much stability, however, because there's no seam to stabilize the shoulders. The fabric could stretch out with Kitchener stitch shoulder finishing, especially in an adult-sized sweater knit with a heavy yarn. On a baby sweater, this stitch would probably be fine because babies aren't putting a lot of wear and tear on their sweaters. But for an adult sweater, I wouldn't use it on anything but the lightest yarn.
The Kitchener stitch shoulder join
The slip-stitch bind-off is sturdy and it looks nice on both sides. It works for any sweater, and the only crochet skill you need is the slip-stitch. This bind-off provides the same stability as the 3-needle bind-off, and it makes a nice curve over the shoulder. When working this bind-off, make sure your crochet stitches aren't too tight or your seam will pull in at the edges. Use a crochet hook one size larger than your knitting needles, and don't pull too tight when you slip stitch. You don't want it to be overly loose or "loopy"; just make sure your slip stitches don't make the seam pull in at all.
The slip-stitch bind-off
The slip-stitch bind-off was Kelley's winner!
We hope our information about these three techniques—the 3-needle bind-off, the Kitchener Stitch, and the slip-stitch bind-off—will help you choose the best finishing option for your shoulder seams.
If you're new to sweater knitting, try the Jones Cardigan. It's a really well-written pattern, and it comes in sizes for the whole family.
Kelley has been sharing lots of great sweater knitting tips lately, including some cable knitting advice for the Jones Cardigan; knowing skills like this will help you perfect your sweater knitting skills.