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What to do with Ends?

A Q&A on hiding yarn ends in lace knitting
by Jackie E-S

Knitters ask –

This is such a basic question, but I'm having problems weaving in the ends on my lace projects.

I've been posed with this question before, and have come to realize that the question of "what to do with ends" is one thing that stops knitters from attempting lace! Many of the following tips and techniques discussed are applicable to knitting in general, so I hope that some of this may be valuable to you even if you are not (yet) a lace knitter.

A continuous yarn

My preferred scenario is not to have ends except at beginning and end of the knitting. (also see End-less Knitting) Weaving in the ends usually constitutes hiding within the cast on and bind off stitches.

If there is not a continuous length of yarn for the project, then a first strategy is to make the yarn a continuous length. Splitting plies and re-twisting is one method for doing this. You can find a stepwise description with pictures on my joining yarn web page.

The "stitching together" join

Another method for joining yarn, especially useful when the yarn is not plied, or for slippery or non-feltable yarns, is what I will refer to as "stitching together".

Thread the new yarn end into a tapestry or sewing needle, and stitch into the old yarn end so that the new yarn is sort of buried inside the old yarn for 3 to 6 inches (or enough to span about an inch worth of stitches – up to 2 inches worth of stitches if really slippery yarn).
There is little likelihood of the joined yarn pulling out after being knitted because of the looped path through the stitches (whereas if pulling on the two joined yarns before being knitted, the ends may come apart relatively easily).
You will have a slight thickness at the join, but much less than if just holding the new and old yarns side by side and working them that way (which can *really* show up in lace, and isn't as secure either). You can leave a little bit of the tails sticking out and trim them later (at an angle to the thread will show less, rather than just blunt cut) – they will usually just sort of disappear inside of the yarn later.

A variation of the "stitching together" join is one I've heard referred to as a Russian Join. I am not sure where the name comes from, and probably would name it "interlocking loops" to be more descriptive. If I were to use the Russian Join, it would usually be when I wanted to join yarn in two colors (so that the colors did not overlap as would happen with the "stitching together" method). But you can use it to join yarn in the same color, too. You can find a stepwise description with pictures on my Russian Join web page.

Planning ahead

If you have actual ends that will need to be woven in, then plan ahead by ending and starting in a somewhat solid section of the pattern that also has a decrease stitch or line of decrease stitches nearby if possible. When weaving in later, hide your ends within the decrease area as much as possible. The additional layer of the woven-in end is far less noticeable in an area that already has some thickness, than in a skimpy or open area.

Weaving in

When weaving in ends, I usually semi-follow the stitches already in place by doing a similar trick to the "bury on the inside of the old thread" described above. (you basically are just doing this after rather than before.) In following the stitches around, you will only be taking small dives in and out of the old yarn though, since the stitches will be twisting and turning.

Seems the best thing to do is … avoid them!

Yes, avoid whenever possible. The fewer ends to deal with, the less of a hassle and fewer steps later to make things look neat.

Knitters ask –

I have read some patterns which indicate the ends should be woven in before blocking, and others which indicate it should be done after blocking. I can see benefits and disadvantages in both methods.

That is a good question. I think that this a personal preference, based on experience and confidence level, fiber/yarn, etc.

For an inexperienced knitter, or any knitter who is not sure of their blocked tension, I would advise to weave in ends afterwards.

Most of the time I weave the ends in beforehand – of course that means that I have allowed for similar tension to my knitting so that I don't get distortion in the area that I wove in ends. The method I teach and described makes that almost failsafe for most people, even the beginner, as it will be immediately obvious if the tension is too tight.

For an ultra-slippery yarn, on the other hand, even I have weighed risk vs. reward, and woven in ends afterwards in those cases. (and double-insured with the merest touch of fray-check judiciously applied from the point of a toothpick while I had my extra-high magnification lenses in front of my eyes which would otherwise not be able to see the plies of the thread!)

The reasons I like to weave in ends beforehand:

  • when the piece comes off the blocking surface, it's done!
  • I like the crisp finish of a newly blocked article. If I need to go back and work in ends, the "crispness" can be lost in that area without a lot of fragile handling (or worse yet, I need to reblock). This is not a big deal for normal day-to-day stuff if I were only doing it for myself. But since I do articles for show and sale, I want them to look as perfect as possible.
  • I also find that if the ends are woven in beforehand and trimmed an appropriate distance from the surface (depending on experience gained during the planning stage in sample blocking), the blocking process will ever-so-slightly hide the yarn end. Again, a minor detail, but something that could make a difference to the discerning eye.

Sometimes I hesitate to get into all these details, because I don't want to dissuade anyone from just diving in and doing the best they can. Some of these ultra-details just aren't going to be apparent from a galloping horse.

So, most of all, enjoy your lace knitting!

This is continuing article series about making the finishing steps of your knitting project easier and seem effortless. Check the Index of Jackie E-S Articles & Tips for more articles you may have missed.

Thank you for interest. I am here to serve you and help keep your knitting a pleasurable experience. If you have questions or need assistance with purchasing or knitting my HeartStrings patterns, let me know. Sincerely, Jackie E-S

Email address: jackie@heartstringsfiberarts.com
Phone: 678-262-6338 or 877-764-2747 (toll-free in US)
Postal address: HeartStrings, Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer, 53 Parlange Drive, Destrehan LA 70047-2133 USA

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Last revised Thursday, 11-Jul-2013 08:29:27 CDT