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The Mechanics of Knitting (And How to Graft Two Circular Pieces Together)

Mar 24, 2011

In my last post, I mentioned that my brother Patrick, a mechanical engineer, once referred to me as a "fabric engineer," after I had described a knitting technique to him (a non-knitter), using some of my knitting illustrations.

It's funny, but until that time I never realized my brother and I had so much in common. After all, I went to art school and he to engineering school.

As a knitting illustrator, I was fortunate enough to be able to combine two loves: drawing and knitting. But looking back,  I can see that my interest has always been in the mechanics of knitting, more than anything else. I want to understand how knitting works. In order to make the most accurate drawings, I've had to knit and dissect hundreds of swatches. And after years of scrutinizing knitted stitches, I've come to a deep understanding of the elements that make up the structure of the knitted fabric. And sometimes this understanding comes in handy when I encounter problems in my personal knitting projects.    

Not long ago, I was working on a cowl that required grafting two circular pieces together. Usually, when instructions tell you to graft stitches, they're referring to the grafting most commonly used to graft the toes of socks. But the set-up of the stitches was completely different from that of sock toes, so why use the same grafting technique?

For example, when you knit circularly, you are actually creating a spiral. When you graft the toes of socks, you are joining one half of the spiral to the other half (illustration 1). 

Illustration 1

But with the cowl, I needed to join two separate spirals (illustration 2).

Illustration 2
In the illustrations, I made the circular pieces different colors so that it would be easier to tell them apart. I've also drawn the pieces off the needles to make it easier to see what's happening with the stitches. The green piece represents the stitches on the front needle (FN) as you're grafting, and the blue piece represents the stitches on the back needle (BN). The grafted row (shown in dark green in illustration 3) forms another spiraled row between the two pieces.

Illustration 3

Cut the yarn on the FN stitches, leaving a tail about four times the circumference of the piece, and use this for the grafting. The tail coming from the BN stitches should be long enough that it can be woven in, but not so long that it gets in the way when you're grafting. (In illustration 4, I've drawn the tails shorter than they actually are so that they don't obscure the stitches.)

Illustration 4

Illustration 5

Place a removable marker in the stitch in the row below the last stitch of the round on the BN stitches (marked with an asterisk in the illustrations). This stitch will come into play at the end of the grafting. 

Hold the circular needles together, holding the piece with the longer tail in front. Thread the grafting yarn through a tapestry needle and follow these steps (illustration 5):

Step 1
Insert the tapestry needle purlwise (from WS to RS) into the first stitch on the FN, pull the yarn through, leaving the stitch on the knitting needle.

Step 2
Insert the tapestry needle purlwise (from RS to WS) into the first stitch on the BN, remove the stitch from the knitting needle but don't pull the yarn through; just leave it on the tapestry needle until the next step.

 Step 3
Insert the tapestry needle knitwise (from WS to RS) into the next stitch on the BN, pull the yarn through, leaving the stitch on the knitting needle.

Step 4
Insert the tapestry needle knitwise (from RS to WS) into the first stitch on the FN, remove the stitch from the knitting needle but don't pull the yarn through; just leave it on the tapestry needle until the next step.

One knit stitch has been grafted, which is shown in dark green in the illustration.

Repeat Steps 1-4 for every knit stitch around (illustration 6) until you have one stitch remaining on each needle.

Illustration 6

Place a removable marker in the stitch on the FN, then remove the stitch from the needle (you need to secure it first with the marker or it will unravel). Place a marker in the stitch on the BN and remove the stitch from the needle. This stitch won't unravel because the yarn has already passed through it once in Step 3 of the previous grafted stitch, but the marker will help to identify it in the next step.

On the BN stitches, remove the tail from the stitch marked by the asterisk (illustration 7).

Illustration 7

Then with the tapestry needle and grafting yarn, go purlwise (from WS to RS) through the FN stitch, removing the marker; purlwise (from RS to WS) through the BN stitch, removing the marker; knitwise (from WS to RS) through the stitch with the asterisk, removing the marker; and knitwise (from RS to WS) through the FN stitch.

The grafted row is now complete (illustration 8).

Illustration 8

To weave in the tails, I work duplicate stitch over a couple of stitches, taking each tail to the opposite side of the gap, then run the tail through to the inside of the tube. 

What I've described above is top-to-top grafting, or grafting the last round of one piece to the last round of another piece. But if you are grafting the last round of one piece to the provisional cast-on of another piece, you must first create a stitch with the cast-on tail as shown in illustrations 9 and 10. The stitch created by the cast-on tail will be the same as the last stitch of the round in the top-to-top grafting example (compare illustrations 4 and 10).

By the way, if you are grafting in a ribbing pattern to a provisional cast-on row, simply substitute "knitwise" for "purlwise," and vice versa, in Steps 1-4 for every purl stitch. The stitch on the front needle will tell you which four steps you need to work at any given time.

Illustration 9 Illustration 10

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Inside Knits wrote
on Dec 16, 2014 5:21 PM

Today I'm pleased to be able to continue my exploration of what I believe may be one of the most

on Mar 28, 2011 9:50 PM


Joining two flat circular pieces is actually something I hadn't considered, but now I'm going to have to give it a try. I don't see why it wouldn't work the same way as grafting two tubes. And it does bring up some interesting possibilities!

kylev wrote
on Mar 28, 2011 8:45 PM

wow..amazing instructions and graphics.  makes it all very clear.  thank you

on Mar 28, 2011 3:09 PM

When you wrote "two circular" pieces, I envisioned a pair of dish-shaped forms, and thought maybe you'd join them to make a pillow. However, your diagrams make clear that you're showing how to join two TUBLAR pieces! Now I get it. Possibly you would change the title of your post, to avoid confusion?

on Mar 25, 2011 6:33 PM


I'm glad you liked the article. By the way, this technique also works when you want to join ends of I-cord (which is really just a small piece of circular knitting).


on Mar 25, 2011 6:28 PM


I hope it helps! Let me know how it goes.


dlounrod33 wrote
on Mar 25, 2011 9:26 AM

Thank you for this article. The illustrations are great in the understanding of the mechanics. I work in a knitting store in CA and am making copies to show to everyone at the chop.

Dolores Rodriguez (

TwilaN wrote
on Mar 24, 2011 1:08 PM

I love you!  I can't tell you how timely this is.  I have two pieces of sock cuff (making it longer) that need grafting and I've been putting it off because I wasn't quite sure how to do it--well, I'm sure now!  Thanks so much for this tutorial and the excellent drawings.