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rkr4cds Creative Design Studio (RKR4CDS)
suburban Chicago
Posts: 2,044
rkr4cds Creative Design Studio (RKR4CDS)
suburban Chicago
Posts: 2,044

Text for Mattress - Ladder St

As promised last week:
It might help to print this out so you can match the explanation with the numbered Images in the Album Sorry - I got the Drawing posted twice.

Steps in Mattress/Ladder Stitch (st), as used in closing seams or sewing 2 pieces together:
©2000 RKR4CDS

This looks very wordy; once you establish the rhythm of stitching, it is very simple.
A picture is worth 1000 word, so I've taken a series of images to describe the process

'Drawing' is the last image in the Photo Album: Mattress - Ladder St
Image 1- Left Side of Drawing: how it's been taught in the Bear World in the past 2 decades
Right Side: as it's always been taught in the Sewing/Knitting/Crochet world.

It doesn't make any difference if you're sewing knitted fabric or woven fabric  - it can all be reduced down to horizontal (weft) and vertical (warp) threads, just the same as the empty wave of Needlepoint Canvas or the mesh used for Rug/Latch-Hooking.

In fact, that's what I demonstrate this stitch on with students and then have them repeat it on their own. It's one thing to understand it 'in principle', but nothing sets it in your mind like performing the actions yourself.
Just picture every material as having a warp & weft woven (North to South & East to West) set-up.

As you will be sewing this set of stitches from the front side of my drawings, you won't be as able to see the warp & weft lines in woven fabric as easily as you can with knitted fabric. where you can spread the rows (vertical/warp) apart and see the individual sts (weft/rows), but 'picture' them there and repeat the same actions. After all, isn't (most of) our bear fabric on a woven-backed fabric?

To really understand the path of the needle and thread, it's an easy exercise to work this on large/meshed needlepoint fabric, where you can see both the outside & inside of your work-piece from the front/outside.

As the mattress/ladder stitch has been taught and passed on to most bear makers, the needle's path is to start on one side, take a small stitch, go across to the opposite side, take another small stitch, go back to the first side and repeat until you've finished.
This is a Factoid: which by definition is something seen in print, accepted as fact and repeated. In many instances, that's how myths and rumors begin; innocently have seen a misconstrued fact and continued to spread it.

There are several problems inherent in this method, which disappear when sewing the st as if seaming knitted pieces together.

1 - there is no regularity of the length of the sts and it's impossible to match up fabric unless the st length is known & controlled.
2 - unless the needle is re-inserted into the same spot with each subsequent st on each side, the fabric tends to pucker between insertion spots, because some of the edge material has been missed in bringing the 2 edges together.
3 - when matching features like horizontal printed/woven/knit fabric lines (as in stripes), the stripes will match exactly (not be 1/2 row off) when using the system on the right.

This can be used for sewing up garments (knit or woven,) closing seams and is used where there is both the same lengths on both sides and uneven lengths to be sewn together, with no darts or puckers showing. If puckers appear, your sts were too long: pull the thread out and repeat, making much smaller sts through each side of the fabrics.

Fig. 39 - right side Drawing:

Working from bottom to top, can be done left or right handed.

Horizontal lines in the drawings represent the woven backing of fabric.

In Knitting, these would represent rows of stitches, worked from the front side.

For simplicity, I'll call the horizontal rows/stitches/weft threads  - 'Bars'.

Solid, diagonal lines are the seam thread you'll see on the top, the dotted lines are the thread traveling underneath the fabric, usually unseen from the front.

I recommend practicing this Stitch on needlepoint canvas or a similar fabric that has large holes without much substance to the fabric itself. These types most clearly show you the correct positioning of the needle and its cause & effect.

Beginning at #1, insert needle from reverse (under) side and come out to the front side ONE row/bar up from bottom edge.
Go across to opposite fabric piece and entering from the front, insert needle into corresponding level, one row up from bottom edge.

Pick up/go under TWO bars and bring needle out on the front side. (In the last stitch, performed on the original side, you'll have 1 weft thread/bar left. That's what will balance out the 1, first bar on this edge to the 2 taken into the second/opposite edge.

Going back to first piece of fabric, INSERT THE NEEDLE INTO THE SAME HOLE, but RIGHT NEXT TO & JUST ABOVE the stitching thread so you don't split it or sew through it.

Move up TWO bars and exit to the top/front side of the fabric again.

Going back to second piece of fabric, again INSERT THE NEEDLE INTO THE SAME HOLE, but just above the stitching thread so you don't split or sew through it.

After several stitches are completed, GENTLY pull on the sewing thread to draw the two sides together.
In knitting, the seam allowances (the first st in each row) will curl naturally towards the back and tuck to the back side and the seam line will disappear into the general pattern.
In fabric, the two sides will come together without puckering. As you draw the thread snugly, you may have to encourage the seam allowances to turn under with your needle tip.

If the two pieces to be joined were exactly matched in length, you'll end with ONE single bar on the original beginning side.
This balances out the number of rows in 2 pieces of the same length, as the first side you stitched into was under ONE bar, then TWO on the opposite edge, leaving 1/2 of the original stitch not included on the first side. Balance this off by sewing under the remaining bar/row on the first side.

Stripes and other patterned fabrics will be perfectly matched using these steps.

Have you gotten off your bar/row count somewhere? Have 2 uneven lengths to sew together? Here's the solution!

If you have two uneven lengths to be sewn together, using a combination less bars on the shorter side and more bars on the longer piece will smoothly bring the differing lengths into the seam line:
1 - going under 1 bar on shorter side to 2 on the longer length will gently and evenly ease in the excess, without puckering.
2 - You may set up any combination that works: e.g., repeating under 1 bar by 2 bars and then 2 by 2 and again 1 by 2
3 - OR 2 by 2, 2 by 3, 2 by 2, etc.. to whatever routine will evenly bring both pieces if fabric together at the top edges.

On fabric: after practicing this on needlepoint canvas, knitted swatches, on the reverse side of scraps of mohair or anything that clearly shows the warp & weft threads, you'll know exactly how far apart the stitches should be placed and exactly where to place your needle and its stitches from the front side of any two materials to be joined together, even though you cannot see the rows/bars from the front - you will see them in your mind's eye!.

In comparison to the usual way that the Ladder stitch is illustrated and taught (first illustration in Fig 39), you can now see that it can create small puckers along the seam, as there are alternating spots along the seam that are not being matched to the opposite side.

1 - 2 pcs fabric (knit) uneven lengths
2 - Where's the seam?
3 - Needle goes UNDER TWO bars/rows
4 - Under 2 bars on opposite side
5 - Gently pull together every few sts
6 - Needle going back into EXACT exit hole on each side
7 - Drawn line show path of threaded needle
8 - Pulled together
9 - Needle going back into EXACT exit hole on each side
10 - Begin to ease in extra length from top piece
11 - After entering exact hole, needle goes under THREE bars/rows on longer side
    Sew under TWO bars as usual on shorter fabric
12 - After several sts, extra length is see on right. GENTLY pull thread snug and the extra length is eased in smoothly.
13 - Back of finished seam: below line - evenly matched lengths
Above line - longer left side is evenly eased in. In knitting this is done to ease in fabric for bust-lines and rounded shoulders (dowager's hump) which causes the hems of jackets and sweaters to rise up in the center back and the side seams & front hang longer
14 - Eased in smoothly from the Front
15 - You need to really pull firmly apart to detect that a very bright color was used to sew with - image how well the join disappears with matching or slightly darker thread!

Nina Maryland
Posts: 37

That's a great set of diagrams, pictures, and explanations on how to do a ladder stitch. When I first started making bears, I had no idea on how to do a ladder stitch and couldn't find any detailed explanations in any of the "how to make bears" books that I read. I did my ladder stitches incorrectly until one day I finally figured it out.


MerBear MerBear Originals
Brockville, Ontario
Posts: 1,540

I've always liked to finish my knitted seams like that - if done properly you just can't tell there is a seam there.


bumblebearies Bumblebearies
Calgary, Alberta
Posts: 436

Okay.... I am back to look at this for the umpteenth time Bobbie.   This time I am getting smart...I am copying it and going to print it for my files of info....  haven't quite got it figure yet..but haven't tried two pieces of fabric either.  I am sure once I try will be fine.  Tx for all the detailed info....

lbsl0 Whittier, California
Posts: 30

Thanks so much for your drawings and directions!  It really does make a huge difference!!!

Thanks again

rkr4cds Creative Design Studio (RKR4CDS)
suburban Chicago
Posts: 2,044

Thx Girls,
It is rather wordy but once to take up your needle & 2 pcs of fabric, you'll develop a rhythm and it will become more natural.

The 2 most important points are:
Keep your sts short
Go back into the same hole you last exited from.

The thread forms a Z rather than an H.

Jare Hares & Bears Jare Hares & Bears
Polo, IL
Posts: 983

Bobbi has done it again.   By the by, did anyone catch the wonderful article that she wrote in TB&F????

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