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

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