Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Step-by-step Kitchener stitching with a sewing needle
stockinette, reverse stockinette and garter stitch

This is the second post in a four-part series on Kitchener-stitching with a sewing needle.

NOTE:  The illustrations are numbered sequentially across the entire series.  This post begins with illustration 3: illustrations 1 and 2 are found in the first post.

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Kitchener stitch: knitting with a sewing needle

As we saw in the first post of this series, when you unite two fabrics by the contrasting-color ("cc" or "chimney") method, you are actually making a row of knitted fabric with a sewing needle. Odd but true: you’re knitting with a sewing needle. Knitting, as you know, really has only two stitches, the knit and the purl. Because it is possible to duplicate both of these with a sewing needle, this means that many different knitted fabrics can be seamed head-to-head by the Kitchener stitch, and we’ll go to fabric-specific instructions later in this post. Yet, regardless of what fabric we want to graft, there are some techniques common to most Kitchener-stitching, so we’ll look at those, first.

Set up, switching, cycle-sequence and passing

For almost all types of Kitchener-stitching, the live loops to be grafted are set up on two needles. The fabrics to be grafted are held back to back. The yarn to be used for grafting is the running yarn of the back piece, cut to a workable length and threaded onto a tapestry needle, the yarn from the front fabric is dropped and not used.

The Kitchener stitch is performed in a four-stitch cycle: per illustration 3, the four stitches are called Front-1 (F1, orange), Front-2 (F2, green), Rear-1 (R1, blue) and Rear-2 (R2, tan).

Each four-stitch cycle of Kitchener-stitching consists of a six-step sequence:
1) The grafting yarn is switched forward
2) The grafting yarn is passed through the first live loop on the front needle, F1, and F1 is dropped off the front needle.
3) The grafting yarn next passes through neighboring front loop, F2, which is retained on the needle.
4) The grafting yarn is then switched to the rear.
5) Next, the grafting yarn passes through the first live loop on the rear needle, R1, which is dropped from the needle.
6) The 4-stitch cycle ends when the grating yarn passes through the neighboring loop, R2, which is retained on the knitting needle. The cycle begins anew when the yarn is again switched forward.

In sum, the 6 steps are: switch, pass, pass, switch, pass, pass.

We’ll soon get to the details of passing (how and which way) but first, a few trouble spots to nip in the bud.
  • In your set-up, learn to hold the front needle below the rear needle. This gives a clear view of the rear loop to be grafted.
  • Regarding the cycle: every four-stitch cycle starts with a switch forward. If called away during Kitchener stitching, always work through to the nearest R2 so you’ll know where to start again.
  • As to sequence: During each cycle, F1 and R1 are dropped from their respective knitting needles. Therefore, when the cycle begins anew, the old F2 will have moved up in the sequence to the F1 position. Similarly, old R2 will have moved up in the sequence to the R1 position. This sequencing rotation has an confusing consequence, as we’ll discuss below.
  • Regarding switching: experience shows that improper switching is the number one cause of Kitchener-stitch failure. Whether switching from front to rear or from rear to front, the grafting yarn is taken around the RIGHT side of the work, in other words, UNDER the knitting needle tips. Do NOT switch over the top of the knitting needles, or you will make a royal mess. Illustration 4.

Direction of passing and the “opposite/same rule”

To emulate the action of a knitting needle, a threaded sewing needle can pass through a live loop either KNITWISE (inserting the sewing needle as you would insert a knitting needle to make a knit stitch) or PURLWISE (inserting the sewing needle as you would insert a knitting needle make a purl stitch) (illustration 5)

Kitchener stitch is based on a simple application of these two possibilities:
If the threaded sewing needle first passes through a live loop in a PURLWISE direction, and then returns in a second pass through that same live loop in a KNITWISE direction, the new stitch thus created by the grafting yarn will be a KNIT stitch.

If the grafting yarn first passes through a live loop in a KNITWISE direction, and then returns in a second pass through that same loop in a PURLWISE directions, the new stitch thus created by the grafting yarn will be a PURL stitch.

The rule to extract is that to regardless of whether you want to make a knit stitch or a purl stitch, the first pass goes the loop in the OPPOSITE direction to the resulting final stitch desired, and the second pass goes through that same loop in the SAME direction as the resulting final stitch desired.

Under this analysis, the 4 combinations of needle insertions of interest for the Kitchener stitch are:

1) First pass: INSERTING THE OPPOSITE, which means
c) insert PURLwise into a KNIT stitch OR
d) insert KNITwise into a PURL stitch.

2) Second pass: INSERTING THE SAME which means
a) insert KNITwise into a KNIT stitch OR
b) insert PURLwise into a PURL stitch

The first pass-opposite/second pass-same rule is simple, but, like many simple things, it gets complicated quickly.

First stitch, second pass; second stitch, first pass

The first thing which complicates the simple application of the opposite/same rule is the rotation through the sequence of the live loops in Kitchener-stitching.

Back in the note about sequence, we said there was a confusing consequence to the fact that, when every 4-stitch cycle begins anew, the old F2 will be in the F1 position and the old R2 will be in the R1 position.

You see, the first stitch, F1, has already received its first pass before it was promoted to its current position. In other words, back when it was in the F2 position, this loop already received a first pass before it was retained on the needle. Now that it has become an F1, it is getting its second pass prior to being slid off the knitting needle. Therefore, when we go to apply the opposite/same rule, we have to remember that even though F1 is the first stitch, it is getting its second pass. Same thing in the rear: although R1 is the first stitch on the rear needle, it is in position to get its second pass.  If you remember this, all of Kitchener stitching with a sewing needle gets a whole lot less confusing.

The zen of the stitches on the rear needle
the war between your eyes and your brain

This system for Kitchener stitching is based on applying the first pass-opposite/second pass-same rule. This means we must look at every stitch coming up for grafting and classify it as either a knit or a purl per illustration 6, and then work it same or opposite, as directed.

Yet, as the zen masters say, “what has a front, has a back,” and this front/back issue is the second thing complicating the application of the opposite/same rule.

In set-up, we hold the fabrics to be grafted back-to-back. If grafting stockinette, the stitches below the loops on the rear needle are going to look like purls, because we are looking at the BACK of the stockinette. So, the question arises: should these stockinette-fabric stitches be classified as knits or purls for application of the first pass-opposite/second pass-same rule? The answer is that for our system, we classify by HOW THE STITCHES LOOK FROM THE SET-UP POSITION. Therefore, the stitches on the rear needle when grafting stockinette are purls, because that’s how they look to your eye which sees the back of the rear fabric. If you sneak a peek back to illustrations 3 and 4, you will see examples: the front fabric is stockinette, and the rear fabric shows as the purls of reverse stockinette.

When you come to sort this out in practice, you may find yourself in the middle of a battle between your eye and your brain. See, your brain KNOWS you’re grafting stockinette, so it THINKS it knows those rear stitches are knits, despite the fact that, to your eye, they look like purls from the set-up position. Your brain may scream “you’re grafting stockinette, so that rear stitch is a knit, a knit, I tell you!” Ignore the screaming and trust your eye.

Fabric-by-fabric instructions for grafting by the opposite/same rule

Stockinette, reverse stockinette, ribbing grafted by the double knitting method: Stockinette and reverse stockinette look the same right side up and upside down, and from row to row. They are the easiest fabrics to graft. Ribbing will be covered in the next post of this series, but basically, when you graft ribbing by the double-knitting method (to be explained in the next post) it works the same as grafting a stockinette fabric.

The rule is: F1, same and drop it off; F2, opposite and keep it on; R1, same and drop it off; R2, opposite and keep it on.

Here it is in expanded chart form: (click illustration to greatly enlarge)

Garter stitch: Unlike stockinette, garter stitch fabric changes appearance on the fabric face from row to row, alternating rows of bumps with rows of smooth. Kitchener stitching adds a row, so you must stop knitting when the two garter fabrics to be joined lack the row that would connect them if the knitted item had been knitted all in one piece. In garter stitch, this means that both the front and the rear needles must have the same sort of row showing from the set-up position—either both must have rows of purls below the loops on the needles OR both must have a rows of knits on the loops below the needles. One additional complication: Garter stitch is a backwards application of the opposite/same rule. This is because you don’t want to make the new row you’re adding identical to the stitches in the row above and the row below. Instead, you want to make it opposite, to get the row of bumps in the right place. Therefore, for garter stitch, the rule is first pass same/second pass, opposite.

Once properly set up, the rule for garter stitch is: F1, opposite and slide it off; F2, same and keep it on; R1, opposite and slide it off; R2, same and keep it on.

Here it is in expanded chart form. (click the illustration to expand it greatly)

One last (and important!) thing

This system states that in each 4-stitch cycle, the first stitch gets the second pass-through of the grafting yarn before it is slipped off the knitting needle. This is clearly true for every cycle of Kitchener stitching except for the very first. As to that first cycle (in all fabrics except ribbing grafted to a bound-off fabric) the first F1 which is pushed off the needle has only ever had one pass—worked as a second pass. Some books seek to correct this problem with special passes done only on the very first F1 and R1. However, experience shows that this really does not make a lot of difference to the finished look. Therefore, just treat the F1 and R1 of the first cycle as if they were ordinary second-pass first stitches.

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If these charts and all this theory makes you crazy, not to worry, the contrasting color ("chimney") method (shown in the first installment) works really well, is super easy and produces the exact same result.

In the next post, we'll take up grafting ribbing--without the 1/2 stitch offset (and no complicated charts, either, I promise). 

Until then, good knitting--TK