Grafting Knitting, Myth 1: It’s Easier to Graft a Knit Stitch Than a Purl Stitch

In 2013 (continuing into 2014), I wrote a series of blog posts that focused on five of the most common misconceptions people had about grafting knitting. In the years since the series debuted, I’ve received a lot of great comments from readers saying that they found the information very helpful, so we decided to republish the entire series with a few minor updates.


Grafting is a seaming technique in which a tapestry needle and a strand of yarn are used to join two sets of live stitches in such a way that the stitch pattern is maintained. When properly executed, the resulting seam is undetectable, which greatly enhances the look (and feel) of the knitted garment.

But grafting is a complex skill that can take time to master, particularly when it comes to grafting stitch patterns such as ribbing, cables, or lace. Despite its complexity, however, it’s a technique that’s growing in popularity. More and more designers are constructing garments that call for at least some grafting (in a variety of stitch patterns).

As a result, the number of tutorials that attempt to explain the intricacies of grafting has increased dramatically in the last few years. On the one hand, this is a very good thing because there’s more information available now than ever before, but it also has a downside. Not all tutorials are the same, and the information from one tutorial to the next is often inconsistent.

So, how does one go about determining which grafting information is correct, or which tutorial is appropriate for a particular situation? Sometimes it can be helpful to look at the misinformation (the myths) about a subject in order to separate fact from fiction. In this series, we’ll take a close look at five of the more common myths about grafting.

FIVE MYTHS ABOUT GRAFTING KNITTING

Myth #1: It’s much easier to graft knit stitches than purl stitches.
Myth #2: Grafted ribbing will always have a half-stitch jog.
Myth #3: A grafted row is the equivalent of one pattern row.
Myth #4: There is a universal formula that can be applied to grafting any pattern.
Myth #5: The grafting yarn must come from the back needle.


Let’s kick this off with Myth #1: It’s much easier to graft knit stitches than purl stitches.

Almost any stitch that can be created using knitting needles can be recreated using a tapestry needle and a strand of yarn.

Take the simple knit stitch, for example. During the knitting process, a knitting needle is inserted into a loop from front to back, or “knitwise” (Figure 1) to draw a new loop of yarn through from back to front (Figure 2). Both “legs” of the new knit stitch are in front of the old loop (Figure 3).

To recreate a knit stitch using a tapestry needle, the needle is inserted into a loop from back to front, or “purlwise” (Figure 4) and then knitwise into the same loop (Figure 5). The resulting knit stitch is identical to the stitch created by knitting using knitting needles (Figure 6).

To purl a stitch using knitting needles, a knitting needle is inserted into a loop purlwise (Figure 7) to draw a new loop through from front to back (Figure 8). Both “legs” of the new purl stitch are behind the old loop (Figure 9), and the top of the old loop forms a purl “bump.”

To recreate a purl stitch using a tapestry needle, the needle is inserted into a loop knitwise (Figure 10) and then purlwise into the same loop (Figure 11). The resulting purl stitch is identical to the stitch created by purling using knitting needles (Figure 12).

Note: Some slight adjustments will need to be made when creating knit and purl stitches with a tapestry needle using the bottoms of stitches (when grafting live stitches to a provisional cast-on row, for example). In Figures 6 and 12, the white stitch would represent the grafted stitch and the gray stitch would represent a stitch on the provisional cast-on row. We’ll talk more about that later in the series, but for now we’ll confine our discussion to top-to-top grafting.

As we’ve seen, it’s just as easy to create a purl stitch using a tapestry needle as it is to create a knit stitch. In fact, if you’ve ever grafted the toes of socks using Kitchener stitch, you may be surprised to learn that you are already very adept at creating purl stitches.

How is that possible, when Kitchener stitch creates a single row of knit stitches? Well, that’s where grafting is a little bit like performing a magic trick. And, as with all magic tricks, there is a logical explanation. We’ll go into more detail about this when we get to Myth #3, but here’s how it works when grafting stockinette stitch top-to-top (a.k.a., Kitchener stitch).

Kitchener Stitch

When stitches are grafted together using Kitchener stitch, the right side of the work (the knit side) faces you on the front needle and the wrong side of the work (the purl side) faces you on the back needle (Figure 13).

For demonstration purposes, I’ve removed the knitting needles from the following illustrations. I’ve also separated the grafted stitches on each needle to make it easier to see how the knit and purl stitches are formed as the Kitchener stitch progresses across the row. At the end, I’ll show how the both the knit and purl stitches are actually part of a single grafted row.

Two set-up steps

Step 1: Insert the tapestry needle purlwise into the first stitch on the front needle and draw the yarn through, leave the stitch on the needle (Figure 14).
Step 2: Insert the tapestry needle knitwise into the first stitch on the back needle and draw the yarn through, leave the stitch on the needle (Figure 15).

Repeated sequence

Step 1: Insert the tapestry needle knitwise into the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle, then insert the tapestry needle purlwise into the next stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle (Figure 16).
Step 2: Insert the tapestry needle purlwise into the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle, then insert the tapestry needle knitwise into the next stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle (Figure 17).

Notice how a stitch is removed from the knitting needle once the grafting yarn has passed through it two times (when a grafted knit or purl stitch is completed).

Repeat Steps 1 and 2 of the repeated sequence until one stitch remains on each needle and the grafting yarn has passed through each of the last two stitches once (Figure 18). The ending steps will complete each stitch.

Ending steps

Step 1: Insert the tapestry needle knitwise into the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
Step 2: Insert the tapestry needle purlwise into the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle (Figure 19).

As you can see, a knit (RS) row has been created on the front needle and a purl (WS) row has been created on the back needle. Now we’ll draw back the curtain to reveal the trick of how both rows can be created with only one grafted row:

Notice in Figure 19 how the grafted stitches on the back needle sit between the grafted stitches on the front needle. In top-to-top grafting, the grafted stitches on the back needle form the running threads between the grafted stitches on the front needle, and the grafted stitches on the front needle form the running threads between the grafted stitches on the back needle. We can see how this works if we lay the work out flat and view it from the knit side (Figure 20).

The arrows that point up indicate the stitches that were on the front needle when the stitches were grafted, and the arrows that point down indicate the stitches that were on the back needle. Each knit stitch on the front needle was created with the right side facing by inserting the tapestry needle into a stitch purlwise, then knitwise. Conversely, each purl stitch on the back needle was created with the wrong side facing by inserting the tapestry needle into a stitch knitwise, then purlwise. Both rows of grafted stitches look like knit stitches when they’re viewed from the right side of the work.

Is it possible to create purl stitches on the front needle with the right side facing, or to create knit stitches on the back needle with the wrong side facing? Of course! That’s exactly how k1, p1 ribbing is grafted (top-to-top), as we can see in Figure 21 below.

In this illustration, grafted knit stitches alternate with grafted purl stitches on each needle. The stitches on the front needle begin and end with a knit stitch, while the stitches on the back needle (which are seen from the wrong side) begin and end with a purl stitch.

The written instructions for grafting k1, p1 ribbing top-to-top would look like this:

Two set-up steps

Step 1: Insert the tapestry needle purlwise into the first stitch on the front needle and draw the yarn through, leave the stitch on the needle.
Step 2: Insert the tapestry needle knitwise into the first stitch on the back needle and draw the yarn through, leave the stitch on the needle.

Repeated sequence

Step 1: Insert the tapestry needle knitwise into the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle, then insert the tapestry needle knitwise into the next stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
Step 2: Insert the tapestry needle purlwise into the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle, then insert the tapestry needle purlwise into the next stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
Step 3: Insert the tapestry needle purlwise into the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle, then insert the tapestry needle purlwise into the next stitch on the front needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
Step 4: Insert the tapestry needle knitwise into the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle, then insert the tapestry needle knitwise into the next stitch on the back needle, leave the stitch on the needle.
Repeat Steps 1–4 of the repeated sequence until one stitch remains on each needle.

Ending steps

Step 1: Insert the tapestry needle knitwise into the stitch on the front needle, remove the stitch from the needle.
Step 2: Insert the tapestry needle purlwise into the stitch on the back needle, remove the stitch from the needle.

There are more steps in the repeated sequence than for Kitchener stitch because the number of stitches in the pattern repeat for k1, p1 ribbing is two (instead of one) and two steps are needed to create each stitch on each needle.

Figure 22 below shows what the grafted ribbing looks like with the work laid out flat and viewed from the right side. There is a half-stitch jog in the pattern where the two pieces meet. This jog exists when stockinette stitch is grafted, as well, but it’s more noticeable with ribbing.

And that leads us to our next myth, which we’ll talk about in the next post:

Myth #2: Grafted ribbing will always have a half-stitch jog.

Happy Grafting,

Joni Coniglio


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