Kitchener, Smitchener

Well, I’m sure both of you have done Kitchener stitch, or grafting, in the usual way:  it involves a tapestry needle, at least one reference book, and some quiet time alone — not to mention gnashing of teeth.

Wanna try another way?

But first, a warning:  for those who openly mock my habit of collecting of old Vogue Knitting magazines, read no further! — because I’d hate for you to get any benefit out of a 24 year old VK article.

This all starts with VK Spring/Summer ’84, and an article written by Elizabeth Zimmerman — wherein she seems to be introducing the idea of doing grafting with a tapestry needle.  She refers to the "classic" method of

"place stitches on two needles, wrong sides together, knit first st on front needle, pull wool through, slip stitch off needle" routine.

and she states that this is how most knitters graft stitches.

Well.  That piqued my interest, frankly.  My knitting career is just a couple of years shy of 24, and thus I’ve only ever seen directions for grafting with a tapestry needle.  Hmmmmm.

So the other evening, I was repairing one of DH’s pathetically few pairs of hand-knit socks by reknitting the toe.  (I am incredibly lucky — he wears out all of his socks at the toe, a marvelously easy thing to fix.  You’d think, somehow, that this might encourage me to knit more of them, but apparently you’d be wrong.)

Anyway, when I was done, I thought I’d give this idea a whirl.

It turned out to be pretty slick, IMHO, and I didn’t have to haul my butt up off the couch to get a tapestry needle, either.  Not that it was all that far away — there’s one that has a permanent home in the drawer of the end table — but it’s the principle of the thing, you know.

And, in thinking about it after the fact, I realized that there just had to be another way to do this without a gadget — because you know those colonial women almost certainly didn’t have Chibi bent-tip needles just lying around, and it would have been damned impossible for the pioneer women to Kitchener with a tapestry needle by firelight, let alone in the covered wagon bouncing along the prairies. 

Well, to be more accurate, they wouldn’t have called it "Kitchener" — because (according to the same article), that name only got attached to it around WWI.  They would have been muttering to themselves about "effing grafting", not "effing Kitchener".  But it’s the same thing.

(Yes, I am aware that most references refer to this as a "new" technique that jolly ol’ Lord Kitchener "introduced".  I refuse to believe that not ONE SINGLE KNITTER figured this out until the 20th century.  And for that matter, I doubt that he knew how to knit, let alone that he invented grafting.  He just had better marketing — also known as the British War Department.)

So anyway, if you’d like to give it a shot as well, here’s what I did:

Break the yarn, leaving a couple of feet to work with — about the same amount as when you graft with a tapestry needle.

Arrange your stitches the same way as for regular ol’ Kitchener — wrong sides together, same number on each needle, working yarn coming out of the right-most st on the back needle.  All set?

OK, now pick up your knitting needle, not your tapestry needle!

Step 1:  Knit the first st on the front needle, and yank on your RH needle to pull the yarn end all the way through the st.  Leave this st on the front needle.

Step 2:  The yarn end is now hanging out to the front of your work.  Take the working yarn under both needle tips, all the way to the back of the work — to the back side of the sts on the back needle — and knit the first st on the back needle.  Again, pull the yarn end completely through the st.  Drop this st off the back needle.

Step 3:  The working yarn is now in between the needles.  Purl the next st on the back needle and pull the yarn through.  Leave this st on the back needle.

Step 4:  Bring the working yarn under both needle tips, all the way around to the front of the work, and purl the first st on the front needle.  Pull the yarn through, and drop this st off the front needle.

Lather, rinse, repeat these 4 steps.

After a while, it becomes a rather simple, pleasant mantra of

"Knit front, knit back, drop —

Purl back, purl front, drop"

Et le voilà!  A perfect little row of grafted stitches.

I’m not saying it’s super-revolutionary, or anything — after all, this is how "most knitters graft stitches", at least a quarter of a century ago.  It’s different from any reference I’ve seen, though.  (And handy.  Personally, I doubt I’ll ever again bother to dig up a tapestry needle at the end of a sock.)

And I offer it up here to the general knitting public because, in 5 years of teaching, I see time and again how different people respond to different ways of doing things — or even just to the use of different words to explain the same concept.

So, I am hopeful that this forgotten method will resonate with someone who struggles with her little yellow Chibi needle at the end of every sock, but stubbornly refuses to try toe-up ones, Patricia.  And if it helps out that one frustrated person, I figure I’ve done my job.

Happy Grafting!

  4 comments for “Kitchener, Smitchener

  1. Sheryl
    11/01/2008 at 9:04 AM

    Hey, would you demo that in class? It sounds really cool, but I need to see it done.

  2. 11/01/2008 at 10:05 AM

    welll… ok, if you’re REEALLY well-behaved. 🙂

  3. Patricia
    11/03/2008 at 11:04 AM

    OMG OMG OMG. You’re doing as you would with a tapestry needle, but this makes much more sense!! Boy that EZ could have used better marketing as well!
    We’ll behave on Friday!

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