Grafting Knitting Myth 4, Part I: There Is a Universal Formula That Can Be Used to Graft Any Pattern

You’ve heard the claim regarding grafting knitting: “You can graft in any pattern by following just four easy steps!” But have you ever noticed that the four steps often change, depending on the tutorial? This is a good indication that a so-called “universal” grafting formula is as mythical as the unicorn at the top of this page.

But this doesn’t mean that a formula for grafting can’t be helpful. You just have to make sure that you’re using the correct one for your project.

For most knitters, the hardest part about grafting is keeping track of the grafting steps, particularly when it comes to stitch patterns that have a combination of knit and purl stitches on every row.

Over the years, knitters have devised different methods for remembering the grafting steps for simple patterns such as stockinette and garter stitch, usually by condensing the steps into short, repeatable mantras. But while it’s possible to memorize the four-step repeat (knit off, purl on, purl off, knit on) for grafting stockinette stitch, it’s probably not possible to do that with the massive sixteen-step repeat for grafting k2, p2 ribbing: knit off, purl on, purl off, knit on, knit off, knit on, purl off, purl on, purl off, knit on, knit off, purl on, purl off, purl on, knit off, knit on. (Just try to fit that on a keychain!)

Even if it were possible to memorize all sixteen steps for one ribbing pattern, it would still be necessary to memorize a different combination of grafting steps for all the other ribbing patterns one encountered. This is why knitters often prefer to use general “grafting formulas” when they’re grafting ribbing or cable patterns (which are basically the same thing as far as grafting is concerned).

Grafting Formulas

A grafting formula, rather than consisting of pattern-specific steps, is based on general rules that can be applied to grafting a variety of stitch patterns with knit/purl combinations. A formula for grafting is a more flexible approach than a pattern-specific string of grafting steps because it can be adapted to different stitch configurations.

But it’s important to note that, while the formulas are flexible, they still have limitations. Most grafting formulas, for example, work only with top-to-top grafting because they rely on the appearance of the stitches on the needle. And as we saw in Myth 2, the provisional cast-on stitches on the back needle will be half-knit/half-purl or half-purl/half-knit, instead of full knit and purl stitches. Moreover, if a formula that was designed for top-to-top grafting is used to graft a ribbing pattern top-to-bottom, the direction of the grafted stitches in the back needle will not be the same as the direction of the stitches on the provisional cast-on row and will result in a jog in the pattern. The other important factor you need to consider when grafting in pattern is whether the pattern on the back needle is a continuation of the pattern on the front needle (as it is for ribbing) or is a completely different pattern (as it is for seed stitch).

So there are a lot of things to consider when you’re trying to find the right formula for grafting your project. While there is no such thing as a universal formula for grafting, there are formulas that can make the grafting process more manageable. In the next two posts in this series, we’ll look at some popular grafting formulas to see how they work—and when they don’t.

You can determine exactly how many steps will be required to graft a particular stitch pattern by multiplying the number of stitches in the pattern repeat by four (this is the number of grafting steps that will be repeated), then multiplying any stitches outside the repeat by four (these steps will be worked only once).

Because each grafted stitch requires two steps and there are two sets of stitches (one on the front needle and one on the back needle), each additional stitch in the pattern repeat will add another four grafting steps. The numbers can add up pretty quickly, as we can see if we compare the grafting steps for stockinette stitch and k2, p2 ribbing:

Grafting Stockinette Stitch
A simple stitch pattern such as stockinette stitch has a pattern repeat that consists of only one stitch (but you need to use two stitches to calculate the grafting steps to accommodate the set-up and ending steps):

1 x 4 = 4 repeated steps
1 x 4 = 4 steps that are worked only once (2 set-up and 2 ending steps).
4 + 4 = 8 individual steps

Grafting K2, P2 Ribbing
The pattern repeat for 2 x 2 ribbing (beginning and ending with k2) consists of four stitches, with two stitches outside the repeat:

4 x 4 = 16 repeated steps
2 x 4 = 8 steps that are worked only once (2 set-up and 6 ending steps).
16 + 8 = 24 individual steps

Adding just three stitches to the pattern repeat and one stitch outside the repeat adds another sixteen grafting steps!

Note: I’ll be using grafting charts, in addition to written instructions and illustrations to demonstrate how grafting formulas work.

In the last post, I showed you my process for creating a chart for grafting stitches top-to-bottom. Drawing a chart for top-to-top grafting is a little different because of the half-stitch jog and the way the stitches on the back needle appear.

A white square represents a grafted knit stitch and a gray square represents a grafted purl stitch (as viewed from the right side of the work):

grafting knitting

Just as for the top-to-bottom charts from the last post, the number of boxes drawn will depend on the stitch pattern multiple, plus any stitches outside the repeat. And there needs to be two rows of boxes, one for the stitches on the front needle and one for the stitches on the back needle. For top-to-top grafting, however, the boxes that represent the stitches on the back needle are shifted a half stitch to the left, to represent the half-stitch jog in the pattern:

The letters “K” and “P” indicate the knitwise or purlwise direction in which the grafting yarn is drawn through each loop to create a certain type of stitch. Reading from right to left, the first letter in the box represents the first pass through the loop (the loop remains on the needle after this pass) and the second letter represents the second pass through the loop (the loop is removed from the needle after this pass):

The relative position of the letters inside each box will determine whether it’s a grafted knit stitch or purl stitch. In stockinette stitch grafting, a knit stitch is created on the front needle when the grafting yarn is drawn through a stitch purlwise, then knitwise.

The grafted stitches on the back needle will create purl stitches on the wrong side of the work and knit stitches on the right side of the work. Because the wrong side of the work is facing you when the stitches are being grafted, the steps for grafting each stitch are the reverse of the stitches on the front needle. So, on the back needle, the grafting yarn is drawn through each loop knitwise, then purlwise:

To follow the chart, start at the right-hand side of the lower (front needle) row and alternate between the front and back needle:

Two set-up steps:
Step 1 Front needle: Purlwise, on.
Step 2 Back needle: Knitwise, on.

Repeated sequence:
Step 1 Front needle: Knitwise, off.
Step 2 Front needle: Purlwise, on.
Step 3 Back needle: Purlwise, off.
Step 4 Back needle: Knitwise, on.
Repeat Steps 1–4 until 1 stitch remains on each needle.

Ending steps:
Step 1 Front needle: Knitwise, off.
Step 2 Back needle: Purlwise, off.

This illustration shows the stitches as they appear on the front and back needles, with the right side of the front needle and the wrong side of the back needle facing. The gray yarn shows the path of the grafting yarn through each stitch on the front and back needle:

The grafting results in a knit row on the front needle (with the right side facing) and a purl row on the back needle (with the wrong side facing). (See the third post of this series for more information about how grafting creates two pattern rows.)

This illustration shows what the grafted row looks like when it’s laid out flat:

grafting knitting

Here’s a grafting chart for k1, p1 ribbing (top-to-top):

grafting knitting

The pattern is a multiple of two stitches, plus one, so there are three boxes. Notice that the letters that represent knit and purl stitches on the back needle are the reverse of the stitches on the front needle, but create the same stitch as it’s viewed from the right side.

Two set-up steps:
Step 1 Front needle: Purlwise, on.
Step 2 Back needle: Knitwise, on.

Repeated sequence:
Step 1 Front needle: Knitwise, off.
Step 2 Front needle: Knitwise, on.
Step 3 Back needle: Purlwise, off.
Step 4 Back needle: Purlwise, on.
Step 5 Front needle: Purlwise, off.
Step 6 Front needle: Purlwise, on.
Step 7 Back needle: Knitwise, off.
Step 8 Back needle: Knitwise, on.
Repeat Steps 1–8 until 1 stitch remains on each needle.

grafting knitting

Ending steps:
Step 1 Front needle: Knitwise, off.
Step 2 Back needle: Purlwise, off.

grafting knitting

This is what the grafted stitches look like when the stitches are on the needles. On the back needle, the knit stitch columns appear as purl stitch columns and the purl stitch columns appear as knit columns:

grafting knitting

Here’s what the work would look like when it’s laid out flat:

Three Grafting Formulas

1. SAME OFF, OPPOSITE ON
With this formula, the grafting steps are determined by the way the stitches present themselves on the needles as the work is facing you (from the right side on the front needle and the wrong side on the back needle). It’s the equivalent of “knitting the knit stitches and purling the purl stitches.” The mantra, “same off, opposite on,” refers to the repeated sequence. The set-up steps are the “opposite on” part of the mantra and the ending steps are the “same off” part.

Use for:
Ribbing/cable patterns grafted top-to-top.

Do not use for:
Garter stitch or seed stitch (any patterns that change from row to row)
Top-to-bottom grafting

Two set-up steps: OPPOSITE ON
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch facing) Purlwise, on.
Step 2 Back needle:
(purl stitch facing) Knitwise, on.

grafting knitting

Repeated sequence: SAME OFF, OPPOSITE ON
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch facing) Knitwise, off.
Step 2 Front needle: (knit stitch facing) Purlwise, on.
Step 3 Back needle: (purl stitch facing) Purlwise, off.
Step 4 Back needle: (purl stitch facing) Knitwise, on.
Repeat Steps 1–4 until 1 stitch remains on each needle.

Ending steps: SAME OFF
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch facing) Knitwise, off.
Step 2 Back needle: (purl stitch facing) Purlwise, off.

grafting knitting

The same formula can be used for k1, p1 ribbing:

Two set-up steps: OPPOSITE ON
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch facing) Purlwise, on.
Step 2 Back needle: (purl stitch facing) Knitwise, on.

grafting knitting

Repeated sequence: SAME OFF, OPPOSITE ON
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch facing) Knitwise, off.
Step 2 Front needle: (purl stitch facing) Knitwise, on.
Step 3 Back needle: (purl stitch facing) Purlwise, off.
Step 4 Back needle: (knit stitch facing) Purlwise, on.
Step 5 Front needle: (purl stitch facing) Purlwise, off.
Step 6 Front needle: (knit stitch facing) Purlwise, on.
Step 7 Back needle: (knit stitch facing) Knitwise, off.
Step 8 Back needle: (purl stitch facing) Knitwise, on.
Repeat Steps 1–8 until 1 stitch remains on each needle.

Ending steps: SAME OFF
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch facing) Knitwise, off.
Step 2 Back needle: (purl stitch facing) Purlwise, off.

Since this formula depends on matching the stitch as it appears on the needle, it cannot be used for stitch patterns such as garter stitch or seed stitch that change from row to row. For those stitch patterns, the grafting formula must be reversed.

For the following examples of garter stitch grafting, I’ve included the last row worked on each needle to show that the stitches that are being grafted are the opposite of the stitches as they appear on the needle. Notice that the steps for grafting on both needles are the same because you’re actually creating the exact same row on both needles, one on the right side of the work and one on the wrong side.

2. OPPOSITE OFF, SAME ON

Garter Stitch (knit stitches created on the front needle with the right side facing, and knit stitches created on the back needle with the wrong side facing)

Two set-up steps: SAME ON
Step 1 Front needle: (purl stitch facing) Purlwise, on.
Step 2 Back needle: (purl stitch facing) Purlwise, on.

grafting knitting

Repeated sequence: OPPOSITE OFF, SAME ON
Step 1 Front needle: (purl stitch facing) Knitwise, off.
Step 2 Front needle: (purl stitch facing) Purlwise, on.
Step 3 Back needle: (purl stitch facing) Knitwise, off.
Step 4 Back needle: (purl stitch facing) Purlwise, on.
Repeat Steps 1–4 until 1 stitch remains on each needle.

Ending steps: OPPOSITE OFF
Step 1 Front needle: (purl stitch facing) Knitwise, off.
Step 2 Back needle: (purl stitch facing) Knitwise, off.

The gray yarn in this illustration shows the grafted stitches as they appear on the needles. A knit row is created on each needle by going through each stitch purlwise and knitwise.

Here is the completed sequence as it would appear when the work is laid flat (and as it appears on the grafting chart). Grafting a knit row on each needle results in a continuation of the garter stitch pattern.

grafting knitting

Garter Stitch (purl stitches created on the front needle with the right side facing, and purl stitches created on the back needle with the wrong side facing)

Two set-up steps: SAME ON
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch facing) Knitwise, on.
Step 2 Back needle: (knit stitch facing) Knitwise, on.

Repeated sequence: OPPOSITE OFF, SAME ON
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch facing) Purlwise, off.
Step 2 Front needle: (knit stitch facing) Knitwise, on.
Step 3 Back needle: (knit stitch facing) Purlwise, off.
Step 4 Back needle: (knit stitch facing) Knitwise, on.
Repeat Steps 1–4 until 1 stitch remains on each needle.

Ending steps: OPPOSITE OFF
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch facing) Purlwise, off.
Step 2 Back needle: (knit stitch facing) Purlwise, off.

The grafting yarn in this illustration shows the grafted stitches as they appear on the needles. A purl row is created on each needle by going through each stitch knitwise and purlwise.

grafting knitting

Here is the completed sequence as it would appear when the work is laid flat (and as it appears on the grafting chart). Grafting a purl row on each needle results in a continuation of the garter stitch pattern.

grafting knitting

3. SAME, OPPOSITE, OPPOSITE, SAME
This formula comes closer to being universal than the other two formulas because it’s not dependent on how the stitches appear on the needles. Rather, it’s based on the type of stitch that will be created (as viewed from the right side) when the stitches are grafted (which may or may not be the same as the stitches on the needles).

Although this formula is pretty adaptable, I find it confusing to use because there is no visual reference that helps me to know what to do at any given step along the way. You just have to remember what type of stitch needs to be created and adjust the steps accordingly. The instructions don’t include removing or leaving the stitch on the needle, simply directions for inserting the tapestry needle into each stitch on both passes, which will either be the same as or the opposite of the stitch that is being created.

Two set-up steps: OPPOSITE, SAME
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch created) Purlwise.
Step 2 Back needle: (knit stitch created) Knitwise.

Repeated sequence: SAME, OPPOSITE, OPPOSITE, SAME
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch created) Knitwise.
Step 2 Front needle: (knit stitch created) Purlwise.
Step 3 Back needle: (knit stitch created) Purlwise.
Step 4 Back needle: (knit stitch created) Knitwise.
Repeat Steps 1–4 until 1 stitch remains on each needle.

grafting knitting

Ending steps: SAME, OPPOSITE
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch created) Knitwise.
Step 2 Back needle: (knit stitch created) Purlwise.

grafting knitting

The same formula can be used to graft k1, p1 ribbing and garter stitch.

K1, P1 Ribbing
Two set-up steps: OPPOSITE, SAME
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch created) Purlwise.
Step 2 Back needle: (knit stitch created) Knitwise.

grafting knitting

Repeated sequence: SAME, OPPOSITE, OPPOSITE, SAME
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch created) Knitwise.
Step 2 Front needle: (purl stitch created) Knitwise.
Step 3 Back needle: (knit stitch created) Purlwise.
Step 4 Back needle: (purl stitch created) Purlwise.
Step 5 Front needle: (purl stitch created) Purlwise.
Step 6 Front needle: (knit stitch created) Purlwise.
Step 7 Back needle: (purl stitch created) Knitwise.
Step 8 Back needle: (knit stitch created) Knitwise.
Repeat Steps 1-8 until 1 stitch remains on each needle.

grafting knitting

Ending steps: SAME, OPPOSITE
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch created) Knitwise.
Step 2 Back needle: (knit stitch created) Purlwise.

grafting knitting

Garter Stitch (knit stitches created on the front needle, purl stitches created on the back needle)

Two set-up steps: OPPOSITE, SAME
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch created) Purlwise.
Step 2 Back needle: (purl stitch created) Purlwise.

grafting knitting

Repeated sequence: SAME, OPPOSITE, OPPOSITE, SAME
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch created) Knitwise.
Step 2 Front needle: (knit stitch created) Purlwise.
Step 3 Back needle: (purl stitch created) Knitwise.
Step 4 Back needle: (purl stitch created) Purlwise.
Repeat Steps 1–4 until 1 stitch remains on each needle.

grafting knitting

Ending steps: SAME, OPPOSITE:
Step 1 Front needle: (knit stitch created) Knitwise.
Step 2 Back needle: (purl stitch created) Knitwise.

Garter Stitch (purl stitches created on the front needle, knit stitches created on the back needle)

Two set-up steps: OPPOSITE, SAME
Step 1 Front needle: (purl stitch created) Knitwise.
Step 2 Back needle: (knit stitch created) Knitwise.

grafting knitting

Repeated sequence: SAME, OPPOSITE, OPPOSITE, SAME
Step 1 Front needle: (purl stitch created) Purlwise.
Step 2 Front needle: (purl stitch created) Knitwise.
Step 3 Back needle: (knit stitch created) Purlwise.
Step 4 Back needle: (knit stitch created) Knitwise.
Repeat Steps 1–4 until 1 stitch remains on each needle.

grafting knitting

Ending steps: SAME, OPPOSITE
Step 1 Front needle: (purl stitch created) Purlwise.
Step 2 Back needle: (knit stitch created) Purlwise.

grafting knitting

In Grafting Knitting Myth 4, Part II, we’ll look at the grafting formula that uses only the next two stitches on the front needle as a guide to working the grafting steps, and we’ll see why you need two different formulas, one for grafting top-to-top and another for grafting top-to-bottom.


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