Tuesday, May 8, 2007

An easier way to Kitchener Stitch (also called "grafting seams" or "weaving seams")

includes a how-to
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Lord Kitchener, a British general, was concerned about the state of his men's feet--their sock seams rubbed their toes bloody. Accordingly, he invented (or more likely, IMHO, he had an expert knitter invent, and then took the credit for) a way to finish off socks smoothly. This toe-ending maneuver is now called the Kitchener stitch. Other names for this maneuver are: "weaving" or "grafting" seams.

Kitchener stitch makes a very lovely ending--a sort of optical illusion that the knitting just kept going "around the corner." Without the red yarn picking out the weaving for you to follow (little picture) the seam in this sock toe would be completely invisible (big picture). Kitchener stitching is most often used for sock toes, but is sometimes used to graft other "live edges" together. One example of a recent high-fashion pattern which used huge amounts to Kitchener stitching to close the long seams at the top of dolman sleeves can be found here (scroll--fur trimmed wrap).

Now, the thing about Kitchener stitch is that it is usually done with a tapestry needle and a length of yarn, and typically terrifies knitters, being considered an "expert" skill. The needle goes in and out of the live stitches, following the complicated path that a row of knitting would take, and this accounts for the invisibility of the seam--the fabric is actually grafted together with a seam which is structurally identical to the fabric.

click picturebe my guinea pig?
MAKING IT EASIER

For some time, I have been nursing the theory that maybe the reason why some knitters avoid Kitchener stitch is because it is actually a species of sewing. It is my theory that if it you didn't have to dig out a tapestry needle -- if it could be done with knitting needles -- Kitchener-o-phobic knitters might find it more attractive.

After a bit of messing around, this new unvention has emerged--a way to graft seams shut with knitting needles. This TECH-unvention is now ready to spring upon the world.

This post asks you, dear readers, to fill the role of guinea pigs. My fellow blogger, kmkat, was the first guinea pig--she graciously volunteered to be a test-knitter before this post was ever published, and she found that the instructions worked for her. Now, perhaps you will try these instructions out for yourself and see whether you like this new method.

Like the traditional sewing method, this new way is still done with a length of yarn pulled through the loops, but the "stitches" are real knitting stitches (knit and purl) not sewing stitches, and the work is done only with knitting needles--you can leave the tapestry needle in the cross-stitch kit, where it belongs.

SET UP

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K st set up
When you have finished the toe of a sock, you must set up your work as follows: arrange all the front (instep) stitches on one double pointed needle, and all the back (sole) stitches on another double pointed needle--in the instructions which follow, these two needles are called the left needles, both front and rear. The yarn should be coming out of the last stitch on the rear needle--in other words, by the right hand end of the rear left needle, as illustrated above.

For a typical sock toe, about 15 inches of yarn will be more than enough--cut the yarn to that length. This 15 inch length of yarn (illustrated in red, above) is the "working yarn." The work is actually done by manipulating this working yarn, using a third double pointed needle, the "right-" or "working needle." To complete your set-up, you must take this working needle into your right hand, while holding the two left needles in your left hand.

A final note before beginning: Although this method is done with knitting needles, it is different than knitting because it is done with a CUT LENGTH OF YARN--which we are calling the "working yarn." Instead of making endless loops, you are going to do something unusual with your knitting needle--you are going to use it to draw the working yarn ALL THE WAY THROUGH each loop each time. If you look at the illustrations below, you will see that the working yarn (red) passes AS A SINGLE STRAND, through the stitch being worked. In other words, with each of the 4 steps listed below, the working yarn is to be pulled all the way through the stitch until the end of the working yarn has popped free, as illustrated.

HOW TO KITCHENER STITCH with
KNITTING NEEDLES
Step 1:
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K st step1
Wrap (bring) the working yarn around to the front of the work.  NOTE that the working yarn passes UNDER the two left needles, and UNDER the right working needle.  Insert the right working needle into the first stitch (green) on the left front needle, and use the working yarn to PURL this first stitch. Draw the working yarn backwards (away from you) all the way through this stitch until the end of the working yarn pops free. The loose end of the working yarn (red) will now be in the area between the left needles. The stitch (green) which you were working is now fully bound off.  Push this stitch off the left front needle.

Step 2:
click picturek st step2
The working yarn should now be in the area between the left front and left rear needles. Insert the right working needle into the next stitch (purple)--which is the second stitch on the left front needle. Use the working yarn to KNIT this stitch. Draw the working yarn forward (towards you) all the way through this stitch until the end of the working yarn pops free of the stitch. The loose end of the working yarn (red) will now be in the front of the work. The stitch (purple) you were working on is only half bound off--you must leave this stitch on the left front needle.

Step 3:
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Wrap the working yarn around to the back of the work. NOTE that the working yarn again passes UNDER all the needles on its trip to the back of the work.  Insert the right working needle into first stitch on the left rear needle (blue) and use the working yarn to KNIT this stitch. Draw working yarn forward all the way through this stitch until the end of the working yarn pops free. The loose end of the working yarn (red) will now be in the area between the two left needles. The stitch (blue) you were working is fully bound off--push this stitch off the left rear needle.

Step 4:
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The working yarn should be in the area between the left front and left rear needles. Insert the right working needle into the second stitch on the left rear needle (teal) and use the working yarn to PURL this stitch. Draw the working yarn backwards all the way through this stitch until the end of the working yarn pops free. The loose end of the working yarn (red) will now be at the back of the work. The stitch (teal) you were working is only half bound off--you must leave this stitch on the left rear needle.

These four steps are repeated again and again to create a Kitchener stitched seam. If you want to chant the steps to yourself as you work, here is the mantra:
  • Step 1: Purl front, push the stitch off
  • Step 2: Knit front, leave the stitch on
  • Step 3: Knit rear, push the stitch off
  • Step 4: Purl rear, leave the stitch on
(When my kids hear me chanting like this, they know to stay away until the muttering ceases.)

TENSION and SPEED
Resist the temptation to give the yarn a good yank as you pull it through. Instead be mild in your adjustment--remember, as you're drawing the working yarn through the stitches, you don't have a knitting needle around which to form your loop. Therefore, if you want your Kitchener stitch to look like the rest of your fabric, you must leave enough extra slack to approximate the loop the working yarn would otherwise make around a knitting needle. Some instructions have you adjust the tension at the end, but that is really only possible with a smooth yarn over a short span. The hairier your yarn or the longer your span, the more it pays to learn to adjust the tension as you go.

This work goes MUCH slower than you expect, because each set of 4 steps only re-creates what amounts to 1 knit stitch. In other words, even if you could do this as fast as actual knitting, it would take four times as long. Since Kitchener stitch actually takes a good deal longer than actual knitting, progress seems glacial. Persevere, however, and you will have lovely toes (or at least, your socks will).

(Many thanks again to kmkat for her behind-the-scenes willingness to test-knit these instructions before publication, and also for her valuable feedback. If you would like to volunteer to be a TECHknitting test-knitter, please contact me at "techknitting@hotmail.com" Thanks. )

--TECHknitter You have been reading TECHknitting on: A new way to Kitchener stitch, also called "grafting seams" and "weaving seams."