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Fake seams

Ganseys don’t have seams. But fake, or mock seam stitches are incorporated into the pattern in most ganseys, and are used to differentiate the front and back sides from each other. They will run up either side of the body, round the gussets, and down each sleeve to the cuff in an unbroken, continuous line. Normally they are just a single purl stitch on each side.

Many of the books have strict principles when it comes to seam stitches. Rae Compton, for example, on page 25 of The Complete Book of Traditional Guernsey and Jersey Knitting, sternly declares, “At best, the seam stitches should flow upwards out of the welt, not simply being increased at the top of the welt as a last-minute addition.” (And she’s right. This is why I’ve stressed how important it is to calculate for the seam stitches all the way through.)

I agree that it looks best if the seam stitches emerge naturally from the ribbing. If you are following a knit 2/purl 2 ribbing, simply continue the very last purl stitch on each side up the body as the seam stitch and the Seam Stitch Police will be satisfied.

I mentioned in another section how easy I find it to miss the seam stitches when I’m not paying attention, and use stitch markers to overcome this. My stitch markers are just a couple of short lengths of a differently-coloured wool, each tied into a loop and secured with a knot or two, with the ends trimmed to stop them getting in the way. I slip them onto the needle immediately after the purl “seam” stitch.

I haven’t missed a seam since I started using them.

16 comments to Fake seams

  • Dorothy Hunter-Talbot

    Do you always only use 1 purl stitch on each side? A couple of articles I have read say to do 2 purl stitches on each side.

    • Gordon

      Hi Dorothy, I pretty much do always use one stitch, but I don’t think it’s a “rule”—I think the old knitters did whatever they felt like, and while most of them do seem to have used just one, there are plenty of variations. I just happen to like the one-stitch seam and think it looks neat.

      But I did once, when I was young and reckless, knit a seam in a 3-stitch seed stitch (1st row: K P K; 2nd row: P K P; etc.) and very nice it looked too!

  • Dorothy Hunter-Talbot

    Thanks for the quick answer. I am just about ready to start knitting my swatch for my first Gansey. Your web site is a fantastic resource of information.

    • Gordon

      Hi again, Dorothy—obviously it’s hit and miss how quick I am to respond! Thanks, and best of luck with your swatching and ganseying, and don’t hesitate to get back to us if we can be of any help.

      All the best,

  • Lulynn Foster

    When adding the 2 stitches each side are these part of the cast on or do they become part of the increases for the body? I plan to knit my Gansey in the round.
    Thank you!

    • Gordon

      Hi Lulynn, I tend to start the fake seams after the welt when I increase to start the body, but I’ve read in books people say that they should form part of the welt from the cast on. (I don’t think it matters, myself.) So it’s up to you!

      The thing to remember is to factor them in to your overall stitch count, i.e.,to subtract 2 stitches for the fake seams before doing any maths for the pattern.

      So, if I increase my total stitches after the welt to 368 stitches for the body, I subtract 2 stitches for the fake seams next (368 – 2 = 366). Therefore I have 183 stitches for the front and for the back (366 / 2 =183). I also like to have a plain stitch either side of the fake seams, partly so the pattern doesn’t run into the seams, and also so that I have a stitch ready to use when I pick up stitches round the armhole later without chopping it out the pattern.

      Hope this makes sense!

  • Lulynn Foster

    Thank you so much Gordon!

    Yes perfectly! I can now cast on without anymore problems! It was confusing me!


    Very helpful to my first gansey seam stitch. Thank you.

  • Roger Hine

    Hi Gordon
    This is a mine of useful information. Thank you so much.
    I have just been reading about the fake seam, and in beginning my first gansey, I have used a fake seam of one purl stitch. I noticed in your last comment (to Lulynn), that you mention using one plain stich either side of the fake seam so that the pattern doesn’t run into the seams. Does that mean that I will have to allow two extra stitches per side?

    • Gordon

      Hi Roger, and thank you.

      There’s no absolute right or wrong, so you can do more or less whatever you think works best. I like to leave a plain stitch either side of the seam for two reasons: firstly because it makes a clean delineation between the pattern and the seam, and secondly because when you come to pick up stitches around the armhole later you use the last stitch either side of the body as part of that process—so if you already have a “spare” stitch you can use as a pick-up stitch, you don’t lose any of your pattern.

      All of which is I guess just a long-winded way of saying “yes”! But remember, this is just what I do. You may prefer otherwise.


  • Jenny in Victoria

    Hi Gordon,

    If my gansey side pattern is a moss stitch repeat, what would you recommend for stitches to establish the fake seam and how many should I have? Thank you.


    • Gordon

      Hi Jenny, sorry not to get back to you sooner – you caught us in transit driving south for a few days.

      There’s no right or wrong here. When I’ve had a moss stitch panel flanking the seam I’ve tended to leave a border of one or two stitches either side of the fake seam, which I normally knit in purl.

      But I have experimented with a fake seam of moss stitch too, and it was fine. I do think it’s important to make the fake seam distinct, though – it’s there to mark the separation of the front and back, so I like it to be clear. But it’s your Gansey – this Liberty Hall.

      Best of luck with whatever you decide and please get back to me if you’d like to talk anything over.

      Best wishes, Gordon

  • Jenny in Victoria

    Thanks, Gordon. This makes sense. I did some swatches and stopped the moss stitch pattern 2 stitches before the fake seam. I knitted the 2 then added a purl stitch (fake seam) and knitted 2 after, then re-started the moss stitch pattern again. Having 3 purl stitches together with the middle as the fake seam is also and maybe better looking than K2, P1, K2.


  • Lynne Bilton

    Just started my 1st gansey
    I’m doing a “seam” of 3 sts, p, k tbl, p
    The first purl is looking loose and holey, almost like lace. Any suggestions please? Thanks

    • Gordon

      Hi Lynne, I don’t have much to suggest other than to make the tension a little tighter as you purl. Though in my experience these sorts of irregularities tend to get evened out at the washing and blocking stage; and while they loom large at the moment you knit them – you can’t help but see them looming large – by the time the rest of the gansey is done you hardly notice them, there’s so much else to draw the eye!

  • Lynne Bilton

    Ah! Thankyou for the reassurance. I’ll keep going then, I was dreading the idea of pulling it all out.

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