16 November 2014

Grafting Heresy

First off, I must apologize for being offline for so long. I had a fabulous time teaching ten classes at Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair. I met lots of wonderful students. I even had 17 people in one class! I've never had that happen before. Unfortunately, somewhere in all the fun I picked up a nasty intestinal virus and have been sick for three weeks. The first two weeks consisted of very little eating and as much drinking of water as I could manage. I even ended up in the emergency room at one point. In weeks two and three my stomach started to get better, but then my head got worse and I had to fight migraines. This third week I've been able to eat and drink more comfortably, so I'm working my way back up to my regular diet. I eat something close to Paleo diet, so lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and some meat in appropriate (4 ounce) portions. Of course, all that roughage is harder to digest, so it is taking me awhile. Being nauseated for days on end has greatly improved my empathy for anyone going through chemotherapy. I've never used marihuana, but I have to admit that by the second week, I was wondering if I had any “trashy” friends who could help and wishing Colorado were within driving distance, especially after I failed to keep down the over-the-counter anti-nausea medication. After several days, you just want to feel confident you can drink plenty of water or juice and eat something. It is hard to heal if you can't attain proper hydration and nutrition.

I was well enough to teach two classes yesterday at The Whole Nine Yarns. Hurray! Granted, I then slept 14 hours last night. I'm not healed yet, but I think I'll at least be able to eat Thanksgiving dinner in ten days. One of the classes I taught yesterday is an old standard -- “Now How Do I Finish?” Because I've taught it recently at bigger shows, I've improved it by making lots of little swatches to demonstrate different ways various seams can be put together. One of the sections of class covers three-needle bind-offs and Kitchener stitch (grafting). I've made an assortment of sock toes bound off various ways.

Three-needle bind-off worked inside-out so the ridge is inside the sock:

Three-needle bind-off worked with the ridge on the outside:
 Notice the back side of this technique has a prominent purl ridge:

Flat (Japanese) three-needle bind-off worked with the ridge on the outside:

While Japanese three-needle bind-off looks similar to regular three-needle bind off from the front, it is tidier on the back:
If you are working a sock toe or mitten tip and want the ridge to be a decorative element, consider the flat version of three-needle bind off. (I posted video of it here some years back when I used it on a double-knitted scarf.)

Most people do not work three-needle bind-off for sock toes. Knitters commonly graft toes together, when working cuff-down socks. I think it is useful to know that, depending on how sensitive your toes are, you may or may not need to graft. And if the socks are for someone who has hard, sharp toenails, the extra yarn in the three-needle bind-off might make for better wear at the toes. If you are someone who has almost made socks and you feel you just don't want to conquer Kitchener stitch in order to finish the socks, turn the work inside-out and join with three-needle bind-off instead. You might not like it, but you might be surprised and decide it is just fine for your needs. And if you leave a long-enough tail, you have the option of unraveling the bind off and trying Kitchener grafting later.

The heresy I want to share with you is in the grafting (Kitchener stitch). Here's the first swatch, which is a standard graft of ten stitches to ten stitches.

Knitting books tell us you must graft equal numbers of stitches. Except, it isn't true. Here's a graft of nine stitches to ten.


First off, why would you do this? If you've worked grafted toes, you may have ended up with “ears,” slightly bumpy or messy bits at the ends of the graft. This happens because a graft of equal numbers of stitches will end up off by half a stitch if both sets of stitches are “tops.” You end up with partial stitches that don't behave as well as whole stitches.

Here's a flat swatch that illustrates why a nine to ten graft can be worked perfectly.
This swatch was made using Elizabeth Zimmermann's “thumb trick.” I knit across ten stitches in the middle of my swatch using the brown waste yarn. Then I slid those stitches back on my left needle and worked across them with the white working yarn as if nothing had happened. The working yarn is never cut; rather there are ten wales (columns) of stitches that have an extra stitch in the middle of the stack. If I remove the waste yarn, what do I get?:

Behold! The bottom side has ten stitches. I've marked their centers in green. The top side has nine “Australian cousins” as Lucy Neatby calls them. I've marked those in magenta. And there are half stitches at each end, which I've marked in blue. Notice the half stitches each have one stitch leg coming out of them, rather than having two legs or zero.

If I want a better sock toe graft, I should be grafting two sides together over an odd total of stitches rather than over an even total of stitches. For a thumb trick, the partial stitches are in locations where they can be grafted with whole stitches. A sock toe in the round will not have the partial stitches. So, if you want to change a sock pattern, what should you do?

When working toe decreases, work one extra decrease on the first half of the round. Or you could possibly change your stitch number when coming out of the heel turn. The important thing is to have an odd total in the round with the first half of the round being one stitch short. When you are ready to graft:
Divide the stitches on two needles so the first half of the round is one stitch fewer than the second half of the round.
Break the yarn, leaving enough tail (about 3 times the length of the toe opening, plus a little extra) to sew the graft.
Thread the tail into a blunt tapestry needle.
Yarn up in the first stitch on the first needle.
Yarn down in the first stitch on the second needle. Drop that stitch off the needle.
Yarn up in what was the second stitch on the second needle.
Yarn down in the first stitch on the first needle. Drop that stitch off the needle.
At this point, you've grafted one stitch.
Continue as established. You will end with yarn down in the last stitch on the first needle. Every stitch that was live on the first needle at the beginning will have a proper whole stitch in it by the end.