A few years ago, when I was re-learning to knit, my friend Corrine, who was my Emergency Dropped Stitch Fixer, told me you should always slip the first stitch of a row. I did, for a while, but I didn’t end up with the nice even Selvedge edge that she always had. She wasn’t really able to explain why not, so I just gave up on the idea after a while.
ETA: My brother asks in the comments, what’s a selvedge? It’s basically the edge of the fabric, a “finished” edge. When referring to sewing fabric, it’s the “side” edges of the fabric as opposed to the “raw” top and bottom edges. In knitting, it refers to the side edges.
Later, after I had learned about stitch anatomy and orientation, I finally figured it out. The slipped selvedge edge is really an elongated stockinette stitch, and you can’t simply slip the first stitch to get it. What you do depends on what kind of fabric you’re making. Here’s a quick overview:
If you’re knitting stockinette stitch, on the KNIT rows, you’ll slip the first stitch KNITWISE–this is the opposite of how stitches are normally slipped. Slipping knitwise means that the needle goes from front to back as if to knit. On the PURL rows, you bring the yarn to the front FIRST, then slip the first stitch KNITWISE.
Slip the first stitch knitwise, purl the last stitch of the row. Here you’re essentially creating that one stitch of stockinette on each edge.
All other stitch patterns work pretty much the same way. You can easily convert the first and last stitch of the row to stockinette, making sure to slip the stitch on the public side of the fabric and purl it on the wrong side. How you knit into these slipped stitches will depend on how they’re hanging on the needle. If you want an open stockinette chain, just make sure you’re not twisting your stitches.
Should you add 2 stitches for the selvedge? I would say it depends. If it’s a scarf, you probably want to add the stitches so the rest of the stitch pattern remains intact. If it’s a garment with seams, there’s more of a judgement call. The designer has most likely taken the seaming into account with her stitch count, nonetheless, if your gauge is worsted or lighter, a stitch on each end shouldn’t change much.
There are a few web sites that have other tutorials abut selvedge edges, some with nice pictures or drawings. All of these instructions vary slightly in style and technique, so as with all knitting, I recommend–do what works for you!
Just to provide a contrary point of view: I don’t slip edge stitches. On a scarf, etc. It’s strictly an aesthetic choice and I prefer the sameness of stitches over the slipped, doubletall stitches on the edges almost always. Any wonkiness in my edge stitch is that much more apparent when it’s twice as big! More recently I’ve tried Annie Modesitt’s slip-stitch edging which makes a nice edge, if you need something that behaves itself and doesn’t have a super splashy presence. You can find it in her “Alison’s Scarf” — essentially you’re making a very skinny border of double-knitting.
On garments that will be seamed I don’t like slipping stitches either. I like a plain ol’ stockinette edge. Slipped edge stitches cut my choices for seaming in half and I like the results better when I have more options on where to stick the needle.
Thanks for sharing your techniques, Kristy!