Kitchener Stitch, Untangled

Don’t you hate it when you search for directions only to find a long, drawn-out story of the blogger’s life experiences with the thing in question? Me too, so directions and video first, then an epic tragedy starring none other than the infamous Kitchener.

What is the Kitchener Stitch?

The Kitchener stitch is a graft used to attach two pieces of knitted fabric seamlessly. When done perfectly, the graft is invisible because it mimics the appearance of knitted stitches. While the Kitchener can be modified to work for garter stitch, these directions are specific to joining two pieces of Stockinette stitch.

Without further ado, here goes.

Kitchener in a Nutshell

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re at the toe of a sock, or maybe an afterthought heel, with about 20 stitches left on your double-pointed needles (DPNs), looking at directions that say something along the lines of “graft toe closed using the Kitchener stitch,” and a quick internet search (or your love of all things Nomadic Knits) has led you here.

First things first:

Step 1: divide your remaining stitches between 2 DPNs, making sure to have stitches from the top of the foot on 1 needle and the stitches from the sole of the foot on another. If you have trouble orienting the stitches, hold the sock up to your foot to make sure the “seam” will be where it needs to be.

Step 2: cut your working yarn, leaving about 24”/ 60cm for a tail. Thread the tail through your tapestry needle.

Step 3: holding your DPNs parallel and close together in your left hand, with the stitches near the tips of the needles, use your tapestry needle to thread the tail through the stitches as follows, pulling gently to match these new stitches to the tension of the stitches in your sock. Bring the needle:

  • a. through the first stitch on the front needle (the one closest to you) as if to PURL. Pull the yarn gently through, leaving the stitch on the needle.
  • b. through the first stitch on the back needle as if to KNIT. Pull the yarn gently through, leaving the stitch on the needle.
  • c. through the first stitch on the front needle as if to KNIT, pulling the yarn gently through and dropping the stitch off the needle.
  • d. through the second stitch on the front needle as if to PURL, pulling the yarn gently through and leaving the stitch on the needle.
  • e. through the first stitch on the back needle as if to PURL, pulling the yarn gently through and dropping the stitch off the needle.
  • f. through the second stitch on the back needle as if to KNIT, pulling the yarn gently through and leaving the stitch on the needle.

Repeat steps c – f until you have just 1 stitch left on each DPN, then work just steps c and e.

I recite under my breath, “knit off, purl on; purl off, knit on,” the whole time so I don’t lose track of where I am. As you work, pause every other time you finish step f to check the tension of your graft. Use your tapestry needle to tug and adjust the stitches as necessary to get an even look (this is shown clearly in the video).

knit off, purl on; purl off, knit on”

Once you get to the end, bring the yarn to the inside of the sock and weave in the ends.

Now for the good stuff…

As promised, here is my Kitchener calamity.

The first time I ever Kitchenered (yep, I just turned it into a verb) was on my very first sock. I was 24 and not at all new to knitting, but I was new to local yarn shops and very good yarn. And needles; I only had cheap metal ones from a big old craft store. You know the kind I mean. So many fiber artists talk about graduating from acrylics to hand-dyed Merino, but rarely do they mention the tools! Taking the leap from big box store needles to polished bamboo or smooth stainless steel and truly flexible cords is like bypassing McDonald’s and going to a steakhouse for a cheeseburger.

I had avoided sock knitting like the plague because I absolutely hated double-pointed needles and magic loop. Ugh. I still hate them, but that’s a blog topic for another day.

So anyway, a friend of mine (Hi Nancy!) was a bit of a knitting mentor to me at the time, and she had recently discovered 12” circular needles. Talk about a game-changer! Nowadays there are 9”, which are pretty close to miraculous, but this was 16 years ago, back in the dark ages (yes, I’m about to turn 40, but we don’t like to talk about that).

It was a bit of a challenge to get the sock stitches to stretch all the way around the 12” needle, but casting on and knocking out the first few rounds on DPNs first was an easy fix. No more poking myself for the days and days it took me just to get to the heel! Not to mention the fact that I couldn’t keep the fabric from laddering to save my life.

So there I was, ready to knit my first sock, and about to leave for a trip to New Zealand! For a bit of background, I was a new physical therapist with a boss who was very supportive of continuing education. New Zealand’s Robin McKenzie was a world-renowned physical therapist who had come up with a revolutionary way to treat back pain using a patient’s body mechanics to realign the spine, and my office was a big proponent of his methods. At the time, Robin was in his eighties and in declining health which limited him from traveling. The McKenzie Institute held annual conferences around the world and decided to have the 2005 conference in Robin’s hometown in New Zealand. My boss gladly gave me the time off and my bags were packed!

I decided to bring a pretty skein of purple striped hand-dyed Merino sock yarn, a set of (still cheap and splintery at the tips) DPNs, and my brand-new 12” US 1 circular needle, along with a photocopy of the heel turn page from my sock knitting book. It feels almost archaic to do that now, but Ravelry wouldn’t emerge for another two years, and internet searches weren’t nearly as fruitful as they are now.

I was a much slower knitter then, and I had a really good novel with me, so I only got a few inches into the sock on the twelve-hour flight. Twelve hours. In the middle seat. Between two large men who both felt the need to use their armrests. Ugh.

Anyway, after four great days of lectures, I explored the south island of New Zealand, visiting beautiful yarn shops and an incredible sheep farm on the side of a breathtaking mountain, before returning home to New York with a giant bag of yarn and 2 nearly-completed socks. I had turned two heels and worked two gussets, but didn’t dare attempt an overseas, intercontinental Kitchener.

I waited until my jet lag had worn off and I was back into my regular routine before pulling my socks out again. I went to a quiet, well-lit room, sock book in hand, and slowly and carefully worked a beautiful Kitchener. It looked just like Stockinette and blended perfectly into the tiny, even stitches of the sock. I was so freaking proud of myself! I pulled the sock onto my foot, expecting to feel my foot gently encased in a shroud of Merino, but alas! It was not to be…

In my infinite wisdom, it hadn’t occurred to me to check the orientation of the sock when I rearranged my stitches onto neighboring DPNs, and instead of a perfectly smooth top-to-bottom seam, I had a side-to-side seam that vertically passed right over and down my middle toe.

It was awful. I was devastated. And nauseous. There were tears. (More background: I was a “gifted” kid in the 90s, and we grew up expecting to be awesome at everything on the first try. It’s a bit ridiculous and unhealthy, really.) I stuffed the effed up sock back in my knitting bag, tossed the unfinished sock in there too, and I never looked at them again. No lie.

I didn’t attempt another Kitchener until ten years later, and it was another year later before I knit socks again. My first successful Kitchener came about during a knitalong at the Glitter Ninja LYS (Becky’s shop before she sold everything to live in a van). We were all knitting Wilde by Melissa Schaschwary – a gorgeous hooded jacket made with super bulky yarn (Rasta! Yum!). The hood could be closed with either a three-needle bind-off or with the Kitchener. It didn’t even cross my mind not to do the three-needle bind-off, and I was perfectly happy with it, that is, until another knitter brought in her grafted hood. It looked infinitely better than mine, and I decided that I had to finally face down my past. I took a few deep breaths and frogged the bind-off. I had to buy a new enormous tapestry needle that could hold the super bulky single-ply goodness that is Rasta. This time, armed with detailed instructions from the internet, along with a cocktail for confidence, I dove in with a vengeance. I carefully worked each step, tugging gently every other stitch to keep a perfectly even tension, and I was rewarded with an invisible graft and a stunning sweater.

Let’s fast forward. I love knitting socks now, and I’ve just recently (I’d say within the last six weeks or so) been able to Kitchener without a glance at the directions. I still have to repeat “knit off, purl on; purl off, knit on” as I’m going, and I still prefer a quiet room and a cocktail for confidence, but I rock that graft now.

Tell us your Kitchener tragedies and triumphs!

While you’re here, be sure to take a look at issue nine : iowa/ nebraska – it’s filled with beautiful photographs, nine stunning knitting patterns, and a delicious hot cocktail recipe!

xo

Melissa

2 Comments. Leave new

  • Susan Ferguson
    March 17, 2021 3:08 pm

    You should have creditted why it is called the Kitchener Stitch. I have knit so many socks now that this finishing is second nature and I forget the times when I anguished over completion.

    Reply
    • Oh wow! You’re right – it has a fascinating history! “During the First World War it is said that Herbert Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War, prompted the invention of a special graft for socks to prevent chafing. It came to be known as ‘the Kitchener Stitch’.” – from Knit History website.

      Reply

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