Grafting In Pattern, Part 2: Top-To-Top

Dec 15, 2011

In Part 1 of my post on grafting in pattern, I focused on top-to-bottom grafting. In Part 2, I'll look at top-to-top grafting.

Knitters employ various methods for remembering the correct sequence of steps when using Kitchener stitch to join two sets of live stitches together. The most popular methods involve chanting phrases such as, "Knit off, purl on, purl off, knit on."


The center back seam (from the underarm to the neck) in Sarah Fama's Manuscript Vest was joined with top-to-top grafting. Joining the seam with three-needle bind-off would have left a very visible (and bulky) seam in a place where a seam would detract from the
look of the garment.

 

But have you ever wondered how these methods work---or why, in some cases they don't? (Perhaps you've found yourself getting frustrated because the same formula that you've used countless times for grafting the toe of a sock doesn't work as well when you use it to graft two garter or seed stitch pieces together.)

It all comes down to knitting structure and how it can be duplicated by drawing yarn through live loops, using a tapestry needle, while at the same time joining the live loops on two different needles together.

First, let's take a brief look at knitting structure and how stitches are created using a knitting needle. To create a knit stitch, you insert the knitting needle into a loop from front to back and draw another loop through from back to front. A purl stitch is created by inserting the knitting needle into a loop from back to front and drawing another loop through from front to back.

To recreate a single knit or purl stitch using a tapestry needle and a strand of yarn requires two steps. A knit stitch is created by drawing the yarn through an existing loop first from back to front (purlwise), then from front to back (knitwise). A purl stitch is created by drawing the yarn through a loop first from front to back (knitwise), then from back to front (purlwise).


For Katya Frankel's Quatrefoil Cups, the live stitches on the front needle were grafted to the provisional cast-on stitches, using a garter stitch graft. With stitch patterns such as stockinette stitch or garter stitch, you can use either the top-to-bottom grafting method I described in Part 1, or the top-to-top method. The only difference between the two is that there will be a slight jog at the sides with the top-to-top method.  

When you graft live stitches on the front needle to live stitches on the back needle top-to-top, you are creating two distinct pattern rows simultaneously, one on each needle. Moreover, because the wrong side of the work on the back needle is facing you as you graft the stitches from right to left (assuming that you are grafting right-handed), the pattern row on this needle is being grafted in reverse. And, if that's not enough to make your brain start hurting, there's one more thing: the pattern stitches on the back needle are upside down and shifted a half stitch to the left in relation to the pattern stitches on the front needle!

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Let's back up a few steps.

As I said earlier, when the live stitches on the front needle are grafted to the live stitches on the back needle, two pattern rows (one on each needle) are created simultaneously. What makes this possible is the serpentine structure of the knitted row (or, in this case, the grafted row).

Illustration 1

Illustration 1 shows a row of four grafted stitches, with the rows above and below it omitted. The four X's at the top of the row indicate the top loops of the grafted stitches that are a continuation of the pattern on the front needle. There is another row of loops that runs along the bottom of the row and faces in the opposite direction. These four loops, also marked by X's, are a continuation of the pattern on the back needle. The tops of the loops grafted on the front needle form the running threads between the loops grafted on the back needle, and the running threads between the loops grafted on the front needle form the tops of the loops grafted on the back needle.

Illustration 2

It helps to look at each pattern row first individually, then show how the two rows fit together into one grafted row. In traditional Kitchener stitch, the type of grafting you might use to close the toe of sock, the stockinette stitch pattern is continued on each of the stitches on the front needle (illustration 2) by drawing the yarn through the loop on the needle first purlwise (leaving the stitch on the needle because the yarn needs to go through each stitch twice) and knitwise (removing the stitch from the needle because the stitch is now complete). I like to use chart symbols to represent the loops on the needle.   

The grafted stockinette stitch pattern on the back needle (illustration 3) looks identical to the pattern on the front needle (and is), but it's achieved in an entirely different way.

Illustration 3

In top-to-top grafting, the stitches on the back needle are oriented upside down in relation to the stitches on the front needle and are shifted a half-stitch to the left (illustration 4). In addition, they are grafted with the wrong side of the work facing the knitter, so the stockinette stitch on the back needle is achieved by working a purl graft on the purl side of the work. A purl graft is the exact opposite of a knit graft: the yarn is drawn through the loop on the needle knitwise (leaving the stitch on the needle), then purlwise (removing the stitch from the needle). Since the row is grafted from right to left (assuming you are grafting right-handed), each pattern row on each needle progresses from right to left, as well.

As the row is grafted, the grafting yarn alternates between the stitches on the two needles (illustration 5), going through the first half of a stitch on the front needle, then moving to the back needle and going through the first half of a stitch on that needle (the two set-up steps). It then moves to the front needle again and goes through the second half of the first stitch and the first half of the next stitch, then moves to the back needle where it goes through the second half of the first stitch and the first half of the next stitch. The sequence of second half/first half on each needle is repeated across the row until one stitch remains on each needle. The row ends with the yarn going through the second half of each remaining stitch. Each time the second half of a stitch is worked, it is removed from the needle.

Illustration 4

Hopefully, breaking the process down in this way will make the grafting process seem a little less mysterious. In fact, the steps follow a very logical order. Below are the written instructions for stockinette stitch grafting. By comparing each step of the instructions to the path the arrows take through the chart symbols in illustration 5, it is easy to see how the steps relate to the creation of the pattern on each needle.

Begin with two set-up steps:

  • Purlwise through the first stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Knitwise through the first stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.

Repeat four steps until 1 stitch remains on each needle:

  • Knitwise through the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Purlwise through the next stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Purlwise through the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Knitwise through the next stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
Illustration 5

End with two steps:

  • Knitwise through the last stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Purlwise through the last stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
By the way, the grafting chart could just as easily have consisted of two stitches on each row, instead of four. The chart only needs to be as large as the smallest multiple of the stitch pattern (and a minimum of two stitches).

Pretty much any pattern can be charted in similar fashion (and I usually just use a piece of graph paper and a pencil for this).

Take garter stitch, for example. In this chart (illustration 6), I use a shaded box to represent purl stitches (as viewed from the right side of the work).The last row worked on the front needle was a knit row on the wrong side, which resulted in a purl row on the right side. The last row worked on the back needle was a knit row on the right side. To continue the garter stitch pattern on the front needle, a row of knit stitches must be grafted on that needle; to continue the garter stitch pattern on the back needle, a row of knit stitches must be grafted on that needle from the wrong side of the work, resulting in purl stitches on the right side of the work. This is where the fact that you are grafting a distinct pattern row on each needle really becomes evident. You must account for the two rows when planning how to end the pattern on the front and back needle, in preparation for the grafting.

Illustration 6

GARTER STITCH

Begin with two set-up steps:

  • Purlwise through the first stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Purlwise through the first stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.

Repeat four steps until one stitch remains on each needle:

  • Knitwise through the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Purlwise through the next stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Knitwise through the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Purlwise through the next stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.

End with two steps:

  • Knitwise through the last stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Knitwise through the last stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
As the stitch pattern repeats get larger, so (obviously) do the grafting repeats. A grafting multiple will be four times the multiple of the stitch pattern, because each stitch of the pattern repeat requires four grafting steps (two on each needle). For example, the K2, P2 rib shown here is a multiple of four stitches, plus two, so the grafting will require a multiple of sixteen steps, plus eight. It's easy to see how the written instructions for grafting can get very long and complex with even the smallest changes to the stitch pattern.
Illustration 7

K2, P2 RIB

Begin with two set-up steps:

  • Purlwise through the first stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Knitwise through the first stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.

Repeat sixteen steps until two stitches remain on each needle:

  • Knitwise through the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Purlwise through the next stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Purlwise through the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Knitwise through the next stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Knitwise through the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Knitwise through the next stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Purlwise through the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Purlwise through the next stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Purlwise through the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Knitwise through the next stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Knitwise through the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Purlwise through the next stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Purlwise through the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Purlwise through the next stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Knitwise through the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Knitwise through the next stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.

End with six steps:

  • Knitwise through the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Purlwise through the last stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Purlwise through the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Knitwise through the last stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Knitwise through the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Purlwise through the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
Illustration 8

SEED STITCH

Seed stitch is a pattern with knit and purl stitches that alternate across every row as well as from row to row. If you work it over an odd number of stitches (back and forth), you can work every row the same: *K1, p1; rep from *, end k1. The chart (illustration 8) shows the last wrong side row worked on the front needle and the last right side row worked on the back needle, with the grafted row between. The knit and purl stitches alternate even on the two pattern rows of the grafting. Since the seed stitch pattern is a multiple of two stitches, plus one, the grafting steps will be a multiple of eight, plus four.

Begin with two set-up steps:

  • Purlwise through the first stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Purlwise through the first stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.

Repeat eight steps until one stitch remains on each needle:

  • Knitwise through the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Knitwise through the next stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Knitwise through the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Knitwise through the next stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Purlwise through the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Purlwise through the next stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
  • Purlwise through the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Purlwise through the next stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.

End with two steps:

  • Knitwise through the last stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
  • Knitwise through the last stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle.

THE HALF-STITCH JOG

2 X 2 Rib swatch

As we've seen, when stitches are grafted top-to-top, the piece on the back needle shifts to the left a half-stitch in relation to the stitches on the front needle. (This always makes me think of tectonic plates!) The result of this shift will be more or less noticeable, depending on the stitch pattern being grafted. With patterns such as stockinette stitch and garter stitch, the jog will be completely invisible, except maybe at the side edges. But with patterns such as K2, P2 rib that have both knit and purl stitches on the same row the jog will be more noticeable. 

Garter Stitch Swatch

 

Seed Stitch Swatch

That is, it will be more noticeable if the rib is stretched so that the transition between knit and purl stitches is visible. If the rib is relaxed, the jog won't show quite as much.

In seed stitch, where the pattern alternates every stitch, it's more difficult to see the jog.

This may seem like a lot of information to process in one sitting---knit, purl, remove, leave on, top-to-top, top-to-bottom, right side, wrong side, upside down and half-stitch jog to the left. The best way to make sense of it all is to pick up your needles and knit a few swatches. Work through the examples and then try your hand at creating your own grafting charts.

I welcome your comments and/or questions!

Joni


 



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Comments

on Dec 27, 2011 5:01 PM

BethJ and Lidawp: Thank you, I'm glad you liked the post.

I know that I had a hard time "getting" Kitchener stitch until I understood how it worked (especially with patterns other than stockinette stitch).

For some reason, putting it into chart form made all the difference for me--like suddenly being handed a map after wandering around lost in an unfamiliar city. For the first time, I could see where I was going and how I was going to get there!

Joni C

BethJ wrote
on Dec 27, 2011 2:17 PM

Wow! that's an amazing article, beautifully explained and illustrated. That was a lot of work to write, I'm certain, because it took a lot of my brain to absorb it. I had already mastered the kitchner stitch thanks to a wonderful knitting instructor at my LYS, but this explained the mechanics down to the last detail.

Thank you for a great piece of work! I'm going to reference this in the future.

Lidawp wrote
on Dec 16, 2011 5:56 AM

The first time I seamed with the kitchener stitch, I was baffled by what I did and how beautiful the result turned out.  The second time, I paid a little more attention and by the third time I used it, I realized what I was doing to seam to rows of stitches.  It hasn't been a problem for me since, brobably because I am a very visual and mechanical person.  Your piece today verifies what I figured out, and is a real delight to read and see visually in your sketches.  Thank you so much for posting this!  You've made my day.

kame2