Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Three needle bind off (for real, this time)

A reader wrote to ask about the three needle bind-off.  (For the first TECHknitting 3-needle post published, I skipped a brain gear and got the illustrations actually backwards.  In this post, the error has--hopefully, anyhow--been eliminated.)

The three needle bind-off is a variant of the chain bind off  but with two major differences:
  1. instead of drawing the running yarn through the one live stitch, you instead hold two pieces of fabric together and draw the running yarn through two live stitches: one from each fabric. 
  2. working in this manner not only binds off both fabrics, but also connects them, thus creating a seam. 
Here's how it's done:

Each fabric is worked to the very top, then held with the live loops of the last row on its own needle.  Next, the fabrics are held together, front-to-front.  This orientation puts the seam you are creating on the inside of the garment.

In the below illustration, both fabrics to be connected are knit in stockinette, and the knit side of the fabric is meant to be seen when the garment is worn.  Accordingly, both fabrics are being held with their purl sides facing outwards, which means that their knit sides are rubbing against one another as the fabrics are being held front-to-front.

From the position of the knitter doing the seaming, the red fabric held in front shows its purl side, while the green fabric held behind shows the knit face--its purl face is showing outside on the back of the work. When the seam is finished, the fabric will be flipped open so that both knit sides show while the purl sides (and the seam) will be hidden inside the garment.

This trick is called the "three needle bind off" because, besides the two needles acting as holders for the live loops at the top of each fabric, a third needle does the actual work, as shown below.  Specifically, the third needle (silver) is inserted into BOTH first loops of the two fabrics.  You can see that the insertion is from front to back in the same way you'd insert if you were going to knit the next stitch.  The yarn doing the actual bind off--shown in blue--can be either a scrap of loose yarn, or the tail from one of the fabrics being seamed and bound off.

Using the third needle, the blue yarn is knit through both first loops, and both first loops just knit are dropped off.  Next, the third needle is again inserted into two loops, another stitch is knit with the blue yarn, and again, the two loops just knit are dropped off.  The below illustration shows two blue loops drawn through, as they rest on the working (right) needle, waiting for the bind off step. As you see, the blue loops pass through the top loops of both the red and the green fabric. 

The last step is to pass the first blue loop over the second.  This is done exactly as for the chain bind off discussed earlier.  Note that at any point in the process, there will always either be two loops on the right needle, which happens when the first loop is waiting to be drawn over the second, or there will be one loop on the right needle when, as below, the first loop has already been drawn over the second.

For a final illustration, here is an actual photo of a partially finished three-needle bind off, "in the wool."  The two shiny holder needles are being held upright, out of the way. The third--the grey working needle--has already been poked through the front (red) as well as the back (green) fabric, getting ready to catch up the next blue loop. Showing to the right is the blue chain of the seam being formed as the fabric-tops are chain bound off together.

To work the seam to completion, you would repeatedly work the insertion, the drawing up and the passing over, all the way to the end of the holder needles.  At the last stitch, cut the blue yarn, leaving a tail at least several inches long.  Draw this tail through the last loops as is done for chain bind off (scroll to the bottom of the chain bind off post for several different methods).  Then work in the tail.

Three needle bind off is often recommended for shoulder seams, but it can be used anywhere that two lines of live loops come together and require a sturdy seam to connect them.

One last thing:  usually, an equal number of stitches will be on each of the two holder needles when working a three needle bind off.  Sometimes, however, you wind up with an uneven number, either by accident or design.  In such a case, you have two choices:
  1. either work three stitches off together with the working needle and the running yarn, which is a trick to even up the numbers of stitches while seaming
  2. get rid of an extra stitch of by passing it over a neighboring stitch while the stitches are still on the holder needle.  With this second option, you are reducing the count so that equal numbers of stitches will be on both needles before seaming. 

Good knitting--TK

You have been reading TECHknitting blog on 3 needle bind off


Laura said...

Today's post ties in with a project of mine for which your previous post (on increasing and decreasing in seed stitch) turned out to be quite timely. My project was a hooded baby jacket in seed stitch. I knitted the sleeves down in the round, creating a stockinette "seam line" at the underarm as you suggested. I liked the look of it so much that I decided to seam the hood with a 3-needle bind off, holding the two wrong sides together in order to duplicate the same stockinette-chain effect. I'll blog about it once the buttons are sewn in and link to your two excellent posts. Thank you as always for the detailed explanations and first-rate illustrations.

SaraGL said...

Hi! I love all your techniques - they are written so clearly and have helped me out of trouble more times than I can count. So I thought I would point out what I think is a mistake in the last paragraph of the 3 needle bind off:

"One last thing: usually, an equal number of stitches will be on both holder needles when working a three needle bind off. However, sometimes, uneven numbers of NEEDLES [should be STITCHES, yes?] are on each holder needle..."
PS Thanks for all the hard work on all the illustrations also - they're fabulous!

TECHknitter said...

arrrrrgh. This post is cursed. But yes, of course, Sara, the word should be "stitches," not "needles", and it has now been changed. Thanks so much for your catch. --TK

Knitting-twitter said...

thank you very much for all the time to invest to give other knitters such great advice...
all the best from Switzerland,

Knitting-twitter said...

sorry..you invest... its still early morning here..ciao Christa

New York Built said...

Your illustrations are superlative! The art work gets more sophisticated every time,

TECHknitter said...

Hi NYB--thanks for noticing the new illo technique. I'm messing around all the time, and for this set of illustrations, the idea was to work on the 3-d-ness, so to speak. Happy new year.

Best, TK

Elisabeth said...

Hi Techknitter,
I've just started a really fancy jumper in DK cotton for a friend, who wanted one of those designer V_necks with the polo player logo but couldn't afford one. I'm really anxious about making it look as good as I can.

This is a great seaming method for shoulders, but do you have any tips for side-seams and sleeve-edges? Kitchener is all very well but it does need live sts, and my level of pattern-alteration-skill doesn't really allow for circular knitting.

Help me TH, you're my only hope!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Elisabeth--I would highly suggest doing some swatches just for the sake of performing seaming experiments on them. I myself usually use the slip stitch to join pieces. Initially, slip-stitching isn't as pretty as mattress stitch, BUT it has the major advantage of not pulling apart under the stress of wearing, as MS can, PLUS you can easily undo the seam if you get off the rhythm (wrong rows together) and then re-do in a flash. There is not yet a TECHknitting blog directly on point, but the link below will take you to a post showing slip stitching along a single edge--slip stitching TWO fabrics together is the same thing, but you poke the crochet hook through both layers of fabric (held right sides together) before doing the catch-and-draw-through.


Cut and paste linky into browser window. Best, TK

Elisabeth said...

Gah! If only I had a crochet hook - I shall endeavour to borrow one from my stepmother.

x Thanks so much! x

AtlantaJJ said...

I just did my first 3 needle bind-off last night! I love the way it looks. Your instructions are very detailed and helpful. But wouldn't you know that I found a dropped YO in the middle of my shawl after I completed the BO. Now I need to learn how to tink back a 2 needle BO so that I can pick up the dropped stitch. ^ hangs head^