In this tutorial I discuss when and why you'd need to pick up stitches in knitting, talk about pick-up ratios and what they mean, and show you my method of picking up stitches with a crochet hook. Let's start!
What the PUK?
You might have encountered the abbreviation PUK in knitting patterns. PUK is short for "pick up and knit", that is, creating new stitches with the working yarn from an edge where there are no live stitches, for example, from a bound-off edge or from a vertical edge.
Probably the most common reason for picking up stitches is to create an edging to your knitted piece, be it a button band, neck ribbing, or other finishing. While some patterns come with minimal finishing and work-as-you-go bands, I find that button or other bands added on afterwards give the garment a finished and polished look. They also add stability and structure, like I discussed in the blog post on how to use short-row shaping to improve the fit of a top-down raglan sweater.
On Pick-up Ratios and Selvedges
Picking up stitches from a bound-off edge (e.g., a neck band) is easy: usually you just pick up one new stitch for each bound-off stitch, and don't have to think about pick-up ratios.
Picking up stitches from a vertical edge (a button band, for instance) is slightly different. Because stitches are flatter than they are wide, picking up one stitch for every row would mean there are too many stitches in the button band and it would start to flare and ripple.
Pick-up ratio tells you how many stitches are picked up per how many rows. Typical pick-up ratios for vertical bands are 2:3 (2 stitches for every 3 rows) or 3:4 (3 stitches for every 4 rows). This simply means that you pick up 2 (3) stitches from 2 (3) consecutive rows and then skip a row. But doesn't that leave a gap in your button band, you might be asking. Don't worry, it won't. The surrounding stitches will fill in the space.
Garter stitch is a special case. Because garter stitch is so condensed height-wise, a typical pick-up ratio for garter stitch is 1:2, that is, 1 stitch for every 2 rows or 1 stitch for every garter ridge.
You might have now realized that in order to accurately pick up stitches from the edge, you need to be able to count the rows in your knitted piece. Some people say to slip the first stitch of every row to create neat edges for your knitting but I actually prefer to work all edge (or selvedge) stitches in stockinette. This makes it easier to count the rows and identify where to pick up stitches.
How to Pick up Stitches with a Crochet Hook
My favorite method for picking up stitches involves a crochet hook. I like to use a smaller hook for the job because it makes it easier to poke between stitches. I also like to use a smaller needle because my picked-up stitches tend to be a bit loose. Your mileage may vary.
First, identify which direction your stitches are going. The cast-on edge of this swatch is on the right so the columns of V's also point to the right. To pick up stitches, insert your hook between the first two columns of stitches.
This leaves the entire first column (which mostly looks ugly anyway) hidden on the inside of the work as a selvedge. If you were to insert your hook in the middle of a stitch, you'd only have a half-stitch selvedge which wouldn't be as structurally sound.
To pick up stitches with a crochet hook, you ...
Insert your hook between two columns of stitches.
Grab the working yarn with the hook.
Pull the yarn through.
And slide the stitch from the hook to the tip of a needle with the correct stitch mount (that is, right leg in front and left leg behind the needle).
The first couple of stitches are a little awkward but muscle memory will soon kick in. Lather, rinse, and repeat — skipping rows where appropriate — until you've picked up the total number of stitches needed.
I find it easier to pull the working yarn through with a hook than with a needle tip. If you happen to have a Tunisian crochet hook or, better yet, an interchangeable cable with a hook tip, that would be ideal!
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