The Breaker Cowl: How to Graft Garter Stitch Without a Jog at the Selvedges

Knitting garter stitch can be very relaxing—perfect for those times when you want to give your brain a rest from more-complex stitch patterns and let your hands rely solely on muscle memory.

Eventually, however, knitting plain garter stitch gets a little boring, so I like to add interest by combining garter stitch with a simple lace pattern, such as the one I used for the Breaker Cowl in knitscene Accents 2018. The 12-row repeat of the garter-lace pattern has only 4 lace rows—just enough to break the monotony of all that garter stitch, while still allowing you to binge-watch your favorite TV series as you knit.

Grafting the Breaker Cowl

The cowl starts with a provisional cast-on so that the two ends of the cowl can be grafted together in garter stitch for a seamless finish. It’s worth noting that the instructions are for grafting garter stitch top-to-bottom (grafting live stitches to a provisional cast-on row) rather than top-to-top (grafting the tops of live stitches together).

Using a top-to-top grafting method when joining live stitches to a provisional cast-on row will result in a half-stitch jog at the selvedges (and possibly in the pattern, depending on what it is). The jog can easily be avoided by using a grafting method designed specifically for grafting stitches top-to-bottom.

What Causes the Jog?

When stitches are grafted together, the stitches on the two needles don’t meet directly. Instead, the stitches on the back needle fall between the stitches on the front needle. In top-to-top grafting, the entire piece on the back needle shifts to the left a half stitch because the stitches on the back needle are upside down in relation to the stitches on the front needle and there are an equal number of stitches on each needle.

The chart below is a two-dimensional representation of what happens when stitches are grafted top-to-top in garter stitch. Each loop on the front and back needles is represented by a square. The arrows and letters (K for knitwise and P for purlwise) show the path that the grafting yarn takes through each loop on the front and back needles to create a row of knit stitches on the front needle and a row of purl stitches on the back needle.

With a stitch pattern such as garter stitch that doesn’t vary across a row, the jog will only be noticeable at the selvedges.

The jog will be much more noticeable with a pattern such as k1, p1 rib that has alternating knit and purl stitches across each row.

In instructions for top-to-top grafting, the repeated sequence follows the jog in the stitches and pattern. This can clearly be seen by outlining each sequence on the grafting chart. The stitches outside the red boxes are the setup and ending steps.

Here are the written instructions for grafting garter stitch top-to-top:

Setup Steps
Step 1: (Front needle) Purlwise on.
Step 2: (Back needle) Purlwise on.

Repeated Sequence
Step 3: (Front needle) Knitwise off, purlwise on.
Step 4: (Back needle) Knitwise off, purlwise on.
Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until 1 stitch remains on each needle.

Ending Steps
Step 5: (Front needle) Knitwise off.
Step 6: (Back needle) Knitwise off.

No Jog with Top-to-Bottom Grafting

When live stitches on the front needle are grafted to the stitches from a provisional cast-on row, the cast-on stitches that are placed on the back needle (which sit between the stitches on the front needle) are the running threads between the cast-on stitches and not the tops of the stitches. This means that the tops of all the stitches, including those on the grafted row, face the same direction and align vertically rather than being offset by a half stitch. In other words, the grafting should look as if the piece had been knit continuously, with no jog in the pattern or at the selvedges.

Because the live stitches on the front needle are joined to the bottom of the cast-on row, there are structural differences between the 2 rows of stitches that must be taken into account. For one thing, there is 1 fewer whole loop at the bottom of a row than at the top. And the bottom of a row begins and ends with a half loop (the loop that connects a row to the one above it), unlike the top of a row, which has only full loops. When picking up the stitches of the provisional cast-on row, the half loops at the edges must be included because they help to anchor the first and last grafted stitches and keep the selvedges straight. One of the half loops is the last stitch remaining on the waste yarn when the crocheted chain is removed and the other half loop must be created using the cast-on tail.

The dotted lines on the upper row of the chart below represent the spaces between the loops on the back needle. The chart shows 5 full loops on the front needle and 4 full loops plus a half loop at each side on the back needle.

When stitches are grafted top-to-bottom, the grafting sequences align vertically with the stitches on both needles. On the chart below, the repeated sequences are outlined in red.

There is no need to work setup or ending steps when grafting garter stitch top-to-bottom because the grafting consists of just 4 steps that are repeated across the entire row.

Here are the written instructions for grafting garter stitch top-to-bottom:

Step 1: (Front needle) Purlwise on.
Step 2: (Back needle) Knitwise off.
Step 3: (Back needle) Purlwise on.
Step 4: (Front needle) Knitwise off.
Repeat Steps 1–4 to the end.

Note that Steps 2 and 3 are aligned directly above Steps 1 and 4.

Working a Jogged Repeat with Top-to-Bottom Grafting

If you want to work the same repeated sequence as you would for grafting garter stitch top-to-top—maybe because you have memorized the steps and feel comfortable with them—but you still want to avoid the jog, you’ll need to work Steps 1–3 above as setup steps, then repeat Steps 4, 1, 2, 3 across the row, ending with Step 4.

Here are the written instructions for grafting garter stitch top-to-top with a jogged repeat:

Setup Steps
Step 1: (Front needle) Purlwise on.
Step 2: (Back needle) Knitwise off.
Step 3: (Back needle) Purlwise on.

Grafting Sequence for Garter Stitch
Step 4: (Front needle) Knitwise off, purlwise on.
Step 5: (Back needle) Knitwise off, purlwise on.
Repeat Steps 4 and 5 until 1 stitch remains on front needle.

Ending Step
Step 6: (Front needle) Knitwise off.

Either approach will work, but the first approach is a little simpler because it doesn’t require setup or ending steps. And grafting stitches top-to-bottom with vertical repeats instead of jogged repeats will make it easier to graft other types of patterns (including lace).

For my second version of the Breaker Cowl, I used Sugar Bush Yarns Bold (affiliate link) in color #3015 plumtastic.

Here, the 35 stitches of the provisional cast-on row have been placed on the back needle, plus the extra stitch created using the cast-on tail, for a total of 36 stitches.

The stitches are grafted in garter stitch with the wrong side of the work facing.

Here is the completed graft as viewed from the right side of the work.


Make your own Breaker Cowl!

 

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