Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Kitchener stitching (grafting) with a sewing needle, the contrasting color way (also called the "chimney" method of grafting)

TECHknitting blog has shown how to graft (Kitchener stitch) without a sewing needle.  This all-knitting graft is one of the most popular posts on this site.

Today, however, TECHknitting blog is starting a retro series--going old-school to look at grafting with a sewing needle.  

  • The first post (today's) gives background on the Kitchener stitch, and shows how to graft in an incredibly simple way--the contrast color way. (When applied to sock-toes, this trick is sometimes called the "chimney method" of grafting.)
  • The second post  shows a system for grafting stockinette, reverse stockinette or garter stitch.  
  • The third post shows two tricks for grafting ribbing WITHOUT the half-stitch offset--yes it can be done! The graft isn't completely perfect, but these two tricks make grafting ribbing a whole lot better than the offset mess which usually results. 
  • The fourth and final post shows how to shape during grafting--for sock knitters, this translates into getting rid of the "donkey ears" at the corners of the toe-graft.
So, here we go, starting with...

History of the Kitchener stitch
The British general, Lord Kitchener, was concerned how his soldiers’ seamed socks maimed their toes. The smooth grafting technique which bears his name solved the problem. Today, Kitchener stitching (also called “weaving” and “grafting”) has risen far above its utilitarian sock-toe origins to become a star technique of mainstream knitting. Yet, like many stars, it has a reputation for being temperamental, difficult, or (in the case of ribbing) impossible. This series of posts present a systematized approach: step-by-step, the Kitchener stitch will be demystified, ribbing and all.

Kitchener stitch and duplicate stitch

Kitchener stitch is a sewn seam where the path of the seaming yarn follows the path a row of knitting would take. Done properly, the two fabrics are literally grafted into one longer fabric—a fabric nearly indistinguishable from one knitted all-at-once. Although it seems magical, its roots are in the humble duplicate stitch.

Per illustration 1, in duplicate stitch, a threaded tapestry needle (blunt tip, large eye) is drawn along the face of the fabric. As you see, in order to duplicate each underlying purple stitch, the red yarn must pass twice through each stitch.

Contrast-color (cc) method of Kitchener stitch

Kitchener stitch is so very related to duplicate stitch that we can actually Kitchener-stitch BY duplicate-stitching, a technique called the “cc (contrasting color) method.” Here’s how:
  • End each piece of fabric with a cc row. In illustration 2, the bottom piece has a blue cc, the top a green. These cc yarns provide a visual path for the grafting yarn to follow.
  • Bind off each piece. The illustration shows a simple looped bind-off in tan, but any bind off is OK. For ease of handling, you may choose to add a few rows past the cc row before you bind off.
  • Fold the cc rows under, then hold them close, as on the right side of illustration 2.
  • With the threaded tapestry needle (red in illustration) follow the path traced by the TOP of the blue stitches, and the BOTTOM of the green stitches, as shown.
  • When done, pull or snip out your cc yarn (the bind-off yarn will come away, also). What remains is a single length of fabric, grafted together by the Kitchener stitch. Of course, in real life, you would use a yarn of the same color to do the grafting—the red is only for illustration purposes.

Illustration 2 shows stockinette Kitchener stitching, but the cc method works for other fabrics also, such as garter stitch and reverse stockinette.

This cc method is sometimes called the "chimney method," and this is because you can work a variant of this trick to graft sock toe.  Let's say you are at the end of the sock, and the only stitches on your needles are the ones which are to be grafted together. Arrange matters so that the running yarn comes out of the right side of the back needle.  Cut the running yarn to about 10 inches and thread it onto a tapestry needle.  Let that yarn hang on the outside of the sock.

Now, instead of grafting directly, switch yarns to a contrasting color, and knit a few more rounds on the toe-stitches, going around and around with no decreasing or other shaping.  You are knitting a sort of a tube--a contrasting color "chimney."  Once you've gotten five or six rounds done, simply pull your needles right out of the work, no need to bind off, even. 

Next, tuck the chimney rounds down INSIDE the sock toe and hold the two sides tightly together.  At the very fold where the sock yarn meets the contrasting color yarn, you will be all set up to contrast-color graft as shown above.  In other words, by taking in hand the threaded needle previously prepared, and using it to follow a path along the TOP of the folded-back top cc stitches, and the BOTTOM of the folded-back bottom cc stitches, you'll have a guide for grafting, just as shown above. 

When the graft is finished, you can unravel and pick out the contrasting color chimney stitches.  What remains is a beautifully grafted toe.

The cc method is easy to understand and works great.  If you like this method, there's no reason to use any other, and you can simply skip the rest of the posts in this series.  However, for those who like theory and complication, stay tuned for the next post, which analyzes the Kitchener stitch is all its gory detail, and presents a method which works for grafting stockinette, reverse stockinette and garter stitch, too. 

'til next time --TK