Kitchener Stitch or Grafting – Beyond the Fear

In Knitting Without Tears, Elizabeth Zimmerman claimed that grafting or Kitchener Stitch did not count as a seam but rather magic. But almost everything I’ve ever read about how to work the Kitchener Stitch (even by EZ herself) irritates me. Why? Because they typically describe this amazingly elegant and simple concept in such complex terms with so many steps that a lot of knitters get intimidated by it and avoid it like The Plague. And those who do use it often need to keep a reference book on their lap while they do. (Some sellers of knitting notions have even apparently discovered there is a market for laminated Kitchener instruction cards and mnemonic pendants of various sorts.)

If you do not shy away from grafting but need the security of a reference tool, you still qualify as a knitting hero in my book. That was me, before I had my Aha! moment. However, the truth is that grafting is a lot easier to “see” than it is to describe in words, and once you can see it, you can do it. Independently. Consistently. Flawlessly. And even in pattern!

I am convinced that Kitchener’s problem (the stitch, I mean, not Mr. Kitchener himself) began with the fact that knitters got stuck in describing anything having to do with yarn, stitches and needles in knitting terms. Insert needle into first stitch on back needle as if to knit. Leave stitch on… But hey, people! When you are grafting, that thing in your working hand is a SEWING needle. And how does a sewing needle work? You poke the tip into a fabric, then bring the tip out of the fabric again. In, out. Two words. IN. OUT. The little section of thread left behind between those two holes is called a stitch. Let’s make that our third word: STITCH.

The essence of Kitchener Stitch is that you make a stitch into one edge to be joined, then cross over the gap and make a stitch into the other edge. You continue alternating in this fashion, drawing the edges together in the process. The only thing you need to clarify and visualize first is what counts as IN and what counts as OUT as you are making each STITCH.

Today I am only going to talk about stockinette grafting. If you never graft in pattern your whole knitting life, you will be ~oh-kay~. But the thought of any otherwise competent knitter being afraid to graft in stockinette makes me very sad. And potentially leaves a lot of open sock toes.

Hopefully you have come to understand that when you insert your knitting needle tip as if to knit, you are inserting it into the loop from the front (the surface closest to you) to the back (the surface away from you). When you insert your needle tip purlwise, you are inserting it from the back to the front. To work a basic Kitchener stitch, you go IN the last stitch you previously came out of on that side, and OUT the next stitch. (You pass through the loop of each knitting stitch twice to complete it. Once you have worked the second pass, you can move that loop off of your knitting needle.) The key to knowing which direction is IN and which is OUT comes from recognizing that the STITCH left behind is a purl bump. You want that purl bump to be left on the side of the knitted fabric that has all the other little purl bumps on it – the inside or wrong side.

So insert your needle in one stitch and out the other, and before you pull it through, notice whether it is going to leave a stitch on the knit side or the purl side. Easy to correct if you got it wrong, but before long you will do it instinctively.

The only further hitch is with the very first loop on each needle and the very last, because they don’t have a “partner” next to them. My solution is to pretend they do. Pretend there is an invisible loop before the first loop. Go IN the invisible loop and OUT the first real loop. At the end, pretend there is still another loop. Go IN the real loop and OUT the invisible loop. You’ll get it right every time.

IN and OUT to make a stitch in the loops on the back needle. IN and OUT to make a stitch in the loops on the front needle. No need for a cheat sheet to remember that!

(As I said at first, grafting is harder to describe than to visualize. Since I want to help you “see” the process, I will be posting a video tutorial.)

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. knitish
    Mar 04, 2013 @ 17:23:28

    I’m one of the knitters that carries a cheat sheet in my knitting bag because, although I can do it pretty instinctively for the most part, I’ve always been tripped up by those pesky first and last stitches. Your idea of using an “invisible” stitch is genius! Thanks! Maybe now I can get rid of that tattered old piece of paper I’ve been protecting as if it were made of solid gold.


    • Jeri Lea
      Mar 04, 2013 @ 17:33:32

      Yay! Glad I could help!

      The value you attached to your cheat sheet is another testimonial to the usefulness of this technique. Thanks to adding your voice to mine.


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