Working Kitchener stitch is viewed as a rite of passage for the accomplished knitter, and Kitchener stitch is also called grafting or weaving.
It is ideal for shoulder seams (so long as the garment is not too bulky or heavy, where the lack of structure can cause shoulders to sag) and is the best way to deal with the toe end of socks.
The technique was developed by the British secretary of state for war, Lord Kitchener, during the First World War (it is his face on the famous 'Your Country Needs You' poster). He associated himself with a Red Cross plan to encourage British, American and Canadian women to knit various ‘comforts’ for his troops in the form of hats, gloves, mittens, scarves and socks. Lord Kitchener is said to have contributed his own sock design to this campaign.
The knitted sock patterns of the day used a seam up the toe, which could rub uncomfortably. His design included an invisible grafted toe seam to make the socks more comfortable to wear. This finishing technique later became known as Kitchener stitch.
Here we're going to show you how to work Kitchener stitch on open or live stitches (left on the knitting needles) and on knitted pieces that have an area of knitted waste yarn.
Working on live stitches
It is a good idea to practise any sewing-up techniques before executing them on a garment or finished knitted piece (perhaps you could try it out on some old tension squares). Kitchener stitch is usually used on stocking stitch; it is possible to use it on garter stitch and ribs, although it is less common. In our example we have used pieces knitted in stocking stitch.
When working Kitchener stitch, your aim is to recreate a knitted row using a sewing needle and yarn that will join two pieces together. Before you start, take a little time to examine just how a knitted fabric works: follow one row of knitting across the knitted piece, looking at how the strand of yarn weaves its way from the beginning to the end of the row.
1. When your knitted piece is complete, do not cast off. Leave the stitches on the needles, ensuring that both needles hold the same number of stitches and that the needle points face to the right with one needle sitting just below the other. Make sure that the working yarn leads from the back needle. Cut the yarn, leaving a long enough tail to complete one row of knitting on your number of stitches plus a little extra
2. Thread a large sewing needle with your yarn and bring it through the centre of the first stitch on the lower needle from right to left, as if you are purling.
3. Insert the needle through the first stitch on the back needle as if knitting, leaving this stitch on the knitting needle.
4. Bringing the yarn under the knitting needles each time, insert the sewing needle through the first stitch on the lower needle as if to knit, dropping it from the needle as you do so.
5. Insert the sewing needle through the next stitch along to the left as if to purl, leaving it on the knitting needle.
6. Insert the sewing needle through the first stitch on the back needle as if purling, dropping it from the knitting needle as you do so.
7. Insert the sewing needle through the next stitch along to the left as if to knit, leaving it on the knitting needle.
Repeat in this manner, working stitches from the lower needle then the back needle, while making sure you achieve a good tension.
When you reach the end of the row and have just one stitch left on each needle, insert the sewing needle through the stitch on the lower knitting needle as if to knit, dropping it from the needle as you do so. Insert the sewing needle through the final stitch on the remaining needle as if purling, dropping it from the knitting needle as you do so.
8. Once the seam is complete, work along the seam to create an even tension for the stitches by teasing any slack along from the start to end of the seam.
Working invisible stitches to join cast-on/cast-off seams
When joining the seams on my Exotic Flower cushion (see our StashBuster pattern in The Knitter issue 19, page 84), it is important that you create an invisible seam. However, in this case, you are not required to join two pieces of identical knitting as in the previous example, but are instead required to join a cast-on edge to a cast-off edge.
To do this effectively and without running the risk of dropping stitches, I have suggested that an area of waste yarn is knitted at the beginning and end of the piece. This makes it easy to identify where the piece is to be joined. As with Kitchener stitch, you will need to sew in an extra row of knitted stitches.
In the case of my cushion cover you will need to follow row 2 of Chart (A) and will need to change yarn colour accordingly. 9. Line up the knitted piece so that the cast-on edge and cast-off edge sit horizontally with the cast-on edge above the cast-off edge.
10. Thread a large sewing needle with the correct colour yarn, making sure you allow plenty of length. Working into the knitted row beneath the waste yarn, insert the needle through the centre of the first stitch on the lower knitted piece from back to front, leaving a tail end of yarn approximately 10cm long.
11. Working into the first knitted row above the waste yarn on the upper piece of knitting, from the front, insert the needle through the knitted piece to the right side of the first stitch and thread the needle back through to the front one complete stitch along to the left.
12. From the front, insert the needle back into the centre of the first stitch on the lower piece, along to the left by one complete stitch and back up through the centre of the next stitch to the left, making sure that the sewn stitch matches the tension and size of the knitted stitches.
13. Follow the path of the waste yarn, alternating between top and bottom pieces.
14. Continue in this way to the end, making sure that you have exactly mimicked a knitted row and that you have accounted for every stitch on each piece and, of course, changing yarn colour where necessary. Unravel the waste yarn and you will have achieved an invisible join between your two knitted pieces.
About our expert
Jane Crowfoot is one of the UK’s leading knitting experts and author of the book Finishing Techniques for Hand Knitters (Search Press, £9.99) Find out more about Jane at janeknits.blogspot.com and www.janiecrow.co.uk
Have you tried this technique? Let us know by emailing us at TheKnitter@immediate.co.uk