Sunday, December 2, 2012

Grafting ribbing without the 1/2 stitch offset--two tricks

This is part 3 of a 4-part series on grafting (Kitchener stitching) hand knits with a sewing needle. The first two parts are already on line (part 1, part 2).

Because this is part of a series, the numbering of the illustrations is sequential.  This post starts with illustration 7.  Illustrations 1-6 are in previous installments. 

* * *

Ribbing: Grafting ribbing head-to-head is problematic. You see, the head and the tail of any knitted stitch are 1/2 stitch offset. For row-structured fabrics such as stockinette or reverse stockinette, or garter stitch (row-structured = same stitch all the way down any given row) this 1/2 stitch offset only shows at the beginning and end of the graft.  In other words, in row-structured fabrics, there IS a 1/2 stitch offset, but it only shows along the very edge of the fabric, where it can easily be hidden in a seam. By contrast, in a column-structured fabric like ribbing, the 1/2 stitch offset caused by grafting live stitches head to head shows at every transition from knit to purl—in other words, at every rib. Not pretty, as you can see from the closeup in illustration 7 (red yarn = the graft).

half-stitch offset in ribbing
In truth, there is no way to actually solve this problem: it is a structural problem inherent in the knitting itself.  However, there are two pretty good tricks to disguise the offset, and those are the subject of today's post. 

First trick: the double knitting method
Ribbing and double knitting are actually close cousins. If you've ever done a tubular cast on for ribbing, you've worked a set-up tube of double knitting topped by a ribbed fabric. Same thing with a tubular bind off: that’s a ribbed fabric topped with a double-knitted tube, then grafted shut.

We can use this handy relationship to graft ribbing. The downside: it’s not stretchy. The upside: it’s easy and visually excellent--in fact, if you maintain a good tension so the graft looks like the surrounding stitches, this graft is completely undetectable--until you try to stretch the fabric, that is.

To work this trick, you re-arrange all knit stitches of the first piece onto a knitting needle, while all the purl stitches get put onto a holder held at the back. Repeat on the second piece. Here's the trick: Ignore the purls on their holders!  Instead, simply graft all the knit stitches on both needles together as for ordinary stockinette fabric.  If you already know how to graft (Kitchener stitch) great: if not, try this method using knitting needles, or this method using a sewing needle.

When you get to the end of the row, turn the fabric over, and slip the used-to-be-purl stitches from their holders (they'll now look like knits since you flipped the fabric).  Slip these held stitches onto knitting needles and again graft as for a stockinette fabric.

Although this "one-side, then the other-side" trick is not stretchy, its actually a good choice for the top of a ribbed mitten, the top of a ribbed hat or the back of a ribbed collar where the ribbing comes together head-to-head. This is also a good choice for a shoulder seam where stretchiness is not wanted. However, check the width on a swatch first: ribbing grafted this way is frozen into its fully-retracted, most 3-d position, which may be narrower than you expect.

This trick is usually used on a 1/1 (k1, p1) ribbing.  In 2/2 ribbing (k2, p2) try this on a swatch before you commit your sweater: you might think the resulting graft stiff and unpleasant. 

Second trick: grafting to a bound-off fabric
The downside of this next trick is that it’s not reversible, and not as visually good-looking as the double knitting trick. The upside: it’s reasonably stretchy, and it looks a LOT better than grafting with a 1/2 stitch offset.

This trick takes Kitchener stitch back to its duplicate stitch roots (the relationship between Kitchener and duplicate stitch is discussed in this first post of this series). However, instead of using the threaded grafting needle to duplicate the path of a fabric which could exist, here we’re going to lie with our grafting yarn, and make up a path which could never exist in real life.  This new path will disguise the offset. 

Per illustration 8, the purl and knit columns will line up with no offset.

Here's how:
  • Bind off one of the fabrics to be grafted using the chain bind off.
  • Keep the other fabric to be grafted as live loops on a knitting needle
  • Lay the fabrics on a table, the bound off one upside-down and further from you than the one with the live stitches, as shown in illustration 8. Cut the running yarn of the bottom fabric (red) to a usable length and thread it onto a tapestry needle.
  • *Thread into the first bottom loop the OPPOSITE to how that stitch lays on the needle (PURLwise if a KNIT stitch, KNITwise if a PURL stitch--if this confuses you, click here
  • Switch the yarn up to the bound-off fabric, and work the tapestry needle under the two bind-off arms of the last stitch in the corresponding column, as shown in orange on the illustration.
  • Bring the bind off yarn back to the lower fabric, to the same live loop you’ve already worked once, and thread the grafting yarn the SAME as that stitch lies on the needle (KNITwise if a KNIT stitch, PURLwise if a purl stitch).
  • Repeat from * to end of row.
In short, you're Kitchener-stitching the bottom fabric--the one with the live stitches--normally, but for the top fabric--the bound off one--you're merely inserting the needle under the bound-off arms.

You’ll note that this method grafts a knit stitch in every purl column. This is not ideal, but neither is it fatal—an all-knit row in a ribbed fabric is a common technique used to prevent the little dots (I call 'em "icky dots") which would otherwise show in the purl columns when changing colors between ribbing stripes. The results hardly show.

Don't know which trick to use where?
  • If perfection of graft is important, use the first trick--the double knitting graft.  Also, this first trick is reversible--looks great from either side.
  • If stretch is important, choose the second trick--grafting to a bound-off fabric
Good knitting, TK


  1. Wow! What would we knitters do without you?
    Julie D.

  2. Thank you for this series and this post! I'd figured out the anatomy of a graft by doing it enough times... If I'd seen this series of posts when I started grafting, it would have been much clearer much sooner!

    I really like the handy tricks on this post. The second method is one of those "Why didn't I think of that!" things that I'm sure will come in handy.

  3. I love your blog! I learn so much every time I read it.

    I once knit a sweater bottom-up, and realized at the end that I should have made the ribbing section at the bottom longer. I will have to experiment and see if the second technique works with a cast-on-edge as well as a bind-off edge. Then I could knit some more ribbing and graft on.

    Thank you so much for all the work you put into your blog! Clear instructions and great illustrations. You rock!

  4. Hi Tove--Thanks for the kind words. As to your sweater, you can do what you wrote about, but it's probably not the best way to go, bcause you'll have an obvious line in your ribbing, plus, it will be stiff. Better would be to nip off ALL the ribbing and re-knit it going "down." Here's a post telling how:

    (Cut and paste into your browser window).

    Best regards, TK

  5. That does sound a lot smarter. Thanks so much for the tip!

  6. Love TK! You post methods, tips and tricks you'll never find anywhere else. Thanks for all the time and expertise you put into this website. You're a knitting genius! SS

  7. Wow. Thank you so much for your "engineer-like" brain and this marvellous post! I have been knitting an infinity cowl with a Barbara Walker "double knit" stitch (not double knitting), and the result is a brioche-like puffy stitch. To complicate matters, I reverse the pattern 2/3 of the way around so the ends facing me are reversed. To this point I have been doing a 3-needle bind off, because all the grafting I tried was too flat. I just tried your double-knitting method and it works! There is no perceptible change in the denseness at the join, and it seems to be invisible! Wow!

  8. okay, I feel totally stupid. I'm trying to graft 2x2 shoulder seams. When I kitchener first time through, all is good...until I 'turn it around', I have some stitches on the front of my partially grafted fabric, and the other half on the back...aren't they supposed to be on the same side so I can graft them?

  9. Hi Anon--not really sure how this is happeneing? Perhaps consider posting your problem to the techniques forum of Ravelry with a photo? That would make it a lot easier to see what's going on. Best, TK

  10. Thanks so much for this! For the first method, I'm not actually able to get a ribbing on either side. Unless I'm doing something wrong? I do a regular kitchener on my knit stitches with the purls held on a stitch holder. Doing this closes up the spaces where the purls should be. Then I flip over and kitchener the purls (which are now knits because of the flip) and my kitchener stitches kind of stretch over the spaces where the purl stitches are. So the knit stitches made by the kitchener seaming stretch over the purls rather than being incorporated into them if that make sense. Is it normal or am I doing something wrong?

  11. You are amazing, I couldn't find these ideas anywhere else. Thank you!

  12. Thank you! I'm going to use the double-knitting method to close the top of a hood for the Yoked Heartbeat Cape. It works perfectly -- and is still a little stretchy. Will reference your page, of course!

  13. Adding this. Using a waste yarn to separate the knits and purls makes it a lot easier: thread waste yarn through the purls and then slide just the knits onto the other end of the [circular] needle, dropping the purls (which are on the waste yarn).


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Thanks, TK