How to join knitting seamlessly
Grafting is used to make an invisible join between two sets of live stitches (still on the knitting needles). It is worked using a tapestry needle and yarn, and although it is sewn, it looks like a row of knitting.
Grafting is one of several techniques used in seamless knitting. Others include:
- Provisional cast-on.
- Knitting in the round.
- Picking up stitches along an edge.
- Three-needle cast-off.
In this blog post, I’m going to show you how to graft two pieces of stocking stitch together.
The following explanations and images are for those who knit left-handed, that is, your working hand is your left hand (regardless of which hand you use to hold the yarn) and the stitches move from your right-hand needle to your left-hand needle as you knit. If you knit right-handed read this tutorial!
NB: if you’re left-handed and knit right-handed, you may find it easier to do graft the left-handed way.
I’m going to break grafting down into the following stages:
- Set-up: two steps.
- Stitching: four steps.
- Finishing: two steps.
Preparation for grafting
If you are working in rows, place the two pieces of knitting purl sides together with the needles pointing to the left. Make sure that the yarn end attached to the knitting is on the left at the back. Finish each piece of knitting with a right side row.
If you are working in rounds, divide your stitches between two needles. Make sure there is the same number of stitches on each needle. For example, if you are finishing the toe of a sock, place the stitches for the sole on one needle and the stitches for the top of the foot on another needle. The yarn end attached to the knitting should be on the left at the back.
Use the yarn end to thread your yarn needle.
Hold the two knitting needles in your right hand and the yarn needle in your left. From now on I’ll refer to the knitting needles as the front or the back needle.
I’m going to use bright pink yarn for grafting to make it easy for you to follow each step.
Setting up for grafting
Set-up step 1
Insert the yarn needle into the first stitch on the front needle as if to purl (purlwise or from left to right) and pull it through, leaving the stitch on the needle.
Set-up step 2
Insert the yarn needle into the first stitch on the back needle as if to knit (knitwise or from right to left) and pull it through, leaving the stitch on the needle.
Insert the yarn needle into the first stitch on the front needle as if to knit and pull it through, slipping the stitch off the needle.
Stitching step 1
You can see the first stitch in pink!
Stitching step 2
Insert the yarn needle into the next stitch on the front needle as if to purl, leaving the stitch on the needle.
Stitching step 3
Insert the yarn needle into the first stitch on the back needle as if to purl and pull it through, slipping the stitch off the needle.
Stitching step 4
Insert the yarn needle into the next stitch on the back needle as if to knit, leaving the stitch on the needle.
Repeat steps 1–4 until you have grafted all stitches. You may find that chanting “knit, purl, purl, knit” helps. Keep the tension of your sewn stitches slightly loose; you’ll adjust it later to match the tension of your knitted stitches.
You may be able to combine steps 1 and 2 into a single movement, and steps 3 and 4 as well.
If you need to stop make sure that you have completed step 4 so you know where to start again.
Finishing step 1
At the end of the row, you’ll have one stitch remaining on each needle. Repeat stitching step 1: Insert the yarn needle into the first stitch on the front needle as if to knit and pull it through, slipping the stitch off the needle.
Finishing step 2
Repeat stitching step 3: Insert the yarn needle into the first stitch on the back needle as if to purl and pull it through, slipping the stitch off the needle.
You’ll now look at your stitching and probably think: ugh! Some stitches will be too loose, some too tight and some just right. It’s tricky to graft with the same tension as your knitted stitches. Your stitches may be too tight or too loose! However, have no fear; this is easy to sort out!
Use your yarn needle to ease the yarn along the row, one stitch at a time, so that the tension of your sewn stitches matches that of your knitted stitches.
That looks better, doesn’t it!
Where to use grafting?
Use grafting to join two pieces of knitting where a seam might be uncomfortable or where you would like an invisible seam. Here are some examples:
- Finishing sock toes, e.g. Sweet Dreams socks.
- Joining the two ends of a cowl knit in rows from a provisional cast-on, e.g. Cymru cowl.
- Knitting a scarf with matching ends, e.g. knit two pieces from the middle (starting with a provisional cast-on), then remove the waste yarn and graft together the two sets of live stitches.
- Knitting a scarf with matching ends. e.g. knit two pieces from the cast-on edge to the middle, then graft together the two sets of live stitches.
- Making a seamless cushion, e.g. Fair Isle lavender bags.
However, don’t use grafting where a bound-off edge is needed to stabilise a seam, for example, shoulder seams on heavy garments.
Why is grafting known as Kitchener stitch?
The story is that Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener (who was featured on the “Your Country Needs You” poster from World War I), was concerned about soldiers getting blisters on their feet due to the seams over the top of the toe or at the tip of the toe rubbing. It is said that he invented a smooth way to finish the toe seam which therefore was named Kitchener stitch after him.
Of course, Kitchener stitch is just grafting, which was in use long before WW1. Richard Rudd (A History of Hand Knitting) states that the earliest known reference, in the Oxford English Dictionary, to grafting was in 1880, somewhat before World War I. Furthermore, Rudd doesn’t mention Kitchener stitch at all. So, maybe Kitchener helped this technique become more widely known and used.