Finessing the Three-Needle Bind-Off

The three-needle bind-off is a popular method of joining the live stitches of two pieces of fabric. The resulting seam is both attractive and sturdy, which makes it particularly suitable for shoulder seams. The join is less bulky than if each edge were bound off separately and seamed, but it still forms an obvious ridge on one side. This ridge is usually hidden on the wrong side of the work, but it can also be used as a decorative element on the right side of the work.

If you don’t want a ridge at all, there is a way to finesse the three-needle bind-off to create a chain that lies completely flat on the surface of the fabric, regardless of the stitch pattern. On the reverse side, this join produces a row of purl stitches rather than a seam ditch, as the standard three-needle bind-off does.

HOW TO WORK THE STANDARD THREE-NEEDLE BIND-OFF

The two pieces to be joined are each on their own needles, held parallel in the left hand. Hold the working needle in your right hand. If three needles of the same size are not available, move the live stitches to needles a size or two smaller. Right sides face each other if the chain will go on the wrong side; wrong sides face each other if a decorative bind-off chain is desired on the right side.

The general process for any version of the three-needle bind-off:
Step 1 Join together the first stitch of each needle in the left hand by working a decrease. This produces one new stitch on the right-hand needle.

Step 2 Repeat Step 1. You now have two stitches on the right-hand needle.

Step 3 Pass the first stitch on the right-hand needle over the second stitch (the one closest to the needle tip), binding off one stitch.

Step 4 Alternate between Step 2 and Step 3 (joining two stitches and then binding off one stitch) until all stitches have been joined and bound off, with the exception of the final joined stitch, which remains on the right-hand needle.

Step 5 Cut the yarn, leaving a 4–6″ tail. Use the working needle to enlarge the final loop until the tail pulls out of the stitch below.

The standard three-needle bind-off uses a k2tog decrease to join stitches in Step 1 (although a p2tog is also sometimes used). The finessed version of the three-needle bind-off joins the two stitches by knitting off the front needle and purling off the back needle, using the same loop of working yarn.

The photo below shows a standard three-needle bind-off, with the working needle inserted as if to knit through both stitches, preparing for a k2tog. The pronounced decorative ridge of the standard method can be seen, with the bind-off chain rolling forward and the heads of the two joined stitches lying on the surface of the fabric, behind the chain.

The next photo shows the results of the knit/purl technique, using contrast yarn to work the bind-off. Notice how flat the chain lies on the surface of the fabric.

It’s a little easier to work the knit/purl version using the Continental knitting method because the yarn is always positioned correctly between the two left needles. For the English knitting method, the position of the yarn changes after each knit or purl maneuver, and the yarn must be adjusted for the next step. In this article, I’ll demonstrate both methods.

HOW TO DO THE KNIT/PURL JOIN

Continental-style knitters
Step 1 Position the working yarn between the front and back needles in the left hand.

Step 2 Insert the working needle knitwise through the first stitch on the front needle. Make sure to always keep the working yarn to the left of the working needle:

Step 3 Insert the working needle purlwise through the first stitch on the back needle and pick the yarn in preparation for working the purl stitch:

Step 4 Pull the yarn back through the stitch to complete the purl stitch, allowing the old stitch to come off the needle. Use the finger of your left hand to prevent the next stitch on the needle from sliding off:

Step 5 Pull this same loop through the stitch on the front needle to complete the knit stitch, allowing the old stitch to come off the needle. You will now have one stitch on the right needle:

English-style knitters
Step 1 With the yarn in back, insert the working needle knitwise through the first stitch on the front needle:

Step 2 Bring the yarn to the front of the working needle and insert the needle purlwise through the first stitch on the back needle:

Step 3 Wrap the yarn and pull the loop of yarn back through the stitch to complete the purl stitch. Use your left finger to prevent the next stitch on the needle from sliding off:

Step 4 Bring the yarn to the back and pull this same loop through the stitch on the front needle to complete the knit stitch and slide both of the old stitches off the needles. You will now have one stitch on the right needle:

In summary: Work the first half of a knit stitch in the first stitch on the front needle; work a complete purl stitch on the back needle; then, using the same loop of yarn, complete the second half of the knit stitch on the front needle. At each stage, the working yarn should be positioned as necessary to work that stage of the stitch.

IF YOU FORGET TO BIND OFF AFTER JOINING TWO STITCHES

It’s easy to get engrossed in joining stitches and forget to bind off. To remedy this, slip the extra joined stitches from the right needle to one of the left needles until only two joined stitches remain on the right needle. Pass the first stitch over. Alternate between slipping a joined stitch from the left needle to the right needle and binding off one stitch until you have just one joined stitch remaining, then continue with the join/bind-off process.

GARTER STITCH

The knit/purl join creates a row of purl stitches on one side that blends in perfectly with garter stitch. Complete a right-side row on each needle prior to working the three-needle bind-off. If working the bind-off on the right side of fabric, the bind-off chain will sit nicely between garter ridges. If the bind-off is worked on the wrong side of the fabric, the resulting right-side purl row creates the illusion of a garter-stitch grafted join:

While the knit/purl join may seem like a bit of a juggling act at first, the results are well worth it.


Roxanne Richardson is a certified master handknitter living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she designs and teaches. Find her weekly videos on YouTube at www.youtube.com/user/roxmpls.


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