How to knit the three-needle bind-off

A step by step tutorial on the 3-needle bind-off for beginners including a video

Do you want to join two knitted pieces together without seaming? Then you should definitely consider learning the three-needle bind off. It’s a very smart and easy way to finish a garment and a very nice alternative to the Kitchener stitch and grafting stitches.

two swatches joined with a three needle bind off

In this tutorial, I’ll not only show you the standard technique. I’ll also provide you with some useful tips to make it much easier to knit this cast-off technique and some very surprising further applications and variations.

close-up of the almost invisible seam of a 3-needle bind-off
A close-up of the seam (in contrasting yarn so you can see it better)

You see, typically you use it to finish a project in stockinette stitch. But if you understand the guiding principle behind this method, you will be able to use it for any other kind of knitting stitch pattern as well. And wouldn’t it be a pity if you missed these opportunities and options?

close-up of the back of the three needle bind off
The little “ridge” on the backside of a 3-needle bind-off

In patterns, you will find 3-needle bind-off and 3-needle cast-off. These refer to the exact same technique – the latter being more common in the UK.

Note: I am using a contrasting yarn for instructional purposes only! I also would like to inform you that I earn a small affiliate commission for purchases made through links in this article.

Three-needle bind-off tutorial

two swatches joined with a three needle bind off

How to do the three-needle bind-off step by step for beginners (including video instructions) and a method to make it easier to knit.

Active Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Instructions

  1. Step: Align the two pieces you want to join with the knit side facing each other. The wrong side (i.e. purl side) should face outwards. There should be an equal number of stitches on both needles. You use the working yarn (if it's long enough) or a separate piece of yarn.
    aligning two knitted pieces for the three needle bind off
  2. Step: Pick up a third needle in the same size and insert it into the first stitch on the first needle as if to knit. Then, go through the first stitch on the second needle as if to knit as well.
    inserting needle through the first stitch on the front needle and back needle at the same time
  3. Step: Wrap the yarn around the needle counterclockwise and pull it through both stitches to knit them together. You can use a spare yarn or the tail from either side if it's long enough.
    wrapping the yarn around counter-clockwise to knit two stitches from seperate needles together
  4. Step: Knit together the next two stitches in the same manner.
    knitting the next two stitches on the front and back needle together for the 3-needle bind-off
  5. Step: Now you should have two stitches on your third needle. Bind off the first stitch by slipping it over the second stitch just like you normally would. This can be a bit awkward as the second needle will be in the way. Using the back needle for the slipping is easier for me.
    slipping the second stitch over the first to finish the three needle bind off
  6. Step: Knit together the next two stitches (steps 2+3) again, and bind off the next stitch.
    two stitches finished with the three needle bind off

    Keep repeating these two stitches until you only have one stitch left. Cut the tail and pull it through the loop to finish the three-needle bind off.

Notes

If you are having trouble knitting with three needles. You can slip the stitches to a separate needle before you starting knitting. Always slip one from the back needle first and then one from the front needle. It will take a bit more time, but I feel the results are neater and it's easier to knit.

slipping stitches for the three needle cast off on a seperate needle

You can also align the knitted pieces the other way round (meaning right side facing outwards). Then you will end up with a visible cast-off edge on the outside which can or cannot be what you desire. But, let's say you want to knit a pouch, then you would probably want a sharp edge that creates a clear fold line, etc.

Joining two knitted pieces with a 3-needle bind-off

joining two knitted pieces with a three needle join to knit a pocket or a double-hem

Now, here’s one important thing I want you to know. What I showed you so far is how lot of knitting books and tutorials teach you the 3-needle bind-off. I think this is wrong. It’s not one technique but two separate techniques and you’ll see shortly why this matters.

What you are actually doing is, you are joining two knitted pieces by knitting a k2tog in two stitches on separate needles. This can be a very useful technique for double hems or pockets. I even use it for my little mushroom pattern to create a more realistic cap.

Now here’s the first clue to why you should see them as separate techniques: Nothing in the world says you have to join them with k2tog. You can also p2tog, or p2tog tbl – or any other decrease technique on this planet. Pick the one that matches your stitch pattern.

There are just two things you need to adjust. If you just want to knit two pieces together, then you have to align them with the right sides facing towards you. And, you need to consider the slant of the decrease. In a K2tog, the left stitch will lay on top. But for a p2tog, the right stitch will lay on top, etc.

Three-Needle Binding off for garter stitch

swatch with three needle bind off in garter stitch

For joining garter stitch with a three-needle-bind off you need to use a little trick.

  1. Align the two pieces so the tail comes out on the right side. The last row facing you should appear like it’s all purl stitches (with those little bumps)
  2. Then, slip the first stitch of the front needle with yarn in front
  3. Then purl the first stitch on the second needle
  4. Slip the slipped stitch over stitch you purled
  5. Repeat steps 2+3
  6. Slip the second stitch on the left needle over the first one.

Repeat these steps until you bound off all stitches.

This method will not be completely invisible, but I found it to be the best approximation of a garter stitch. I also found a technique where you go purlwise through the backstitch and knitwise through the front stitch as you knit them together. But that will leave two elongated knit stitch on both sides of the purl “ridge”.

As the garter stitch is reversible, you could also try a Kitchener stitch purlwise joining the two pieces with knit rows facing towards you as the last row.

Other variations

three needle bind off for 2x2 rib

Just like you can join with the technique you like, you can also bind off with the bind-off technique of your choice.

For example, you can easily also join a 2×2 rib stitch with this method. In this case, you would have to k2tog the first two stitches, then p2tog the second two stitches, before you bind them off.

Another thing you absolutely need to consider is that you can combine the joining with any bind-off technique you like. You could even align the two pieces with the right side facing outwards and finish with an i-cord bind off – the possibilities are sheer endless once you understand what this technique is all about.

Three-needle bind off with provisional cast on

Last, but not least, I want you to be aware of another very fascinating possibility. Just like you can bind-off two separate knitted pieces, you can also bind off with a provisional cast on. Say, you want to knit a loop shawl or a cowl (vertically).

Simply slip the provisional cast-on stitches on a spare needle (like you normally would) and then follow the steps above. It’s exactly the same technique – you are just using a different portion of your knitting. Though, I feel a Kitchener Stitch might yield better results in these cases.

provisional cast on with a three needle bind off
I attached the double-hem of these socks by doing a provisional cast on and then joining them to the other side with the three needle method

I always use this method to create a double hem (like for my cashmere hat or my reversible headband pattern). Here are some socks that I knit using this technique. So I start with a provisional cast-on, knit a bit of ribbing, then one purl row, then the hem, and when I knit exactly the same amount of rows on each side I knit them together (but not bind them off).

In a similar manner, you can also attach pockets to a sweater without seaming. In the above swatch, I joined the blue patch to the teal one by knitting them together like above. And if you add a provision cast on to the edge, you could join it one more time to the teal knitting to create a tubular front pocket as a hoodie has.

Anyway, this was my 3-needle bind-off tutorial. Feel free to comment below in case you still got any questions.

how to knit a three-needle bind off - easy tutorial for beginners

2 thoughts on “How to knit the three-needle bind-off”

  1. Hi, Norman! Thanks for your very clear (as always) instructions for the three-needle bind-off, as well as the theory behind it (always helpful). I am getting ready to seam the left and front panels to the back panel for a ruana and had a few questions I was hoping you could answer:

    1) On which end of each shoulder seam should I start? In other words, should I start at the outside ends of the seams and work inward toward the neck, or start at the neck ends and work outward toward the outer ends? I assume one would want to do the same on each side, whichever direction one chooses, but I was wondering if working inward is better than outward, or vice versa — or perhaps it does not matter, as long as one is consistent!

    2) If I use k2togs on one seam, should I use p2togs on the other, or does it not really matter? I know the ridge of the seam will be hidden under the work, on the private side, but I am thinking of comfort, and whether the seam will tend to turn more toward the front or more toward the back depending on which decrease is used. I would want them to be consistent (mirror each other), so if I’m working, say, from the outside ends of the seams inward, should I choose opposite directions for the bind off decreases, so they mirror each other when done?

    3) Finally, I have heard different opinions on what size the third needle should be. Since it’s basically a standard bind off once the decrease has been done, and since knit and purl stitches are wider than they are long, and since the bind off edge will be laying horizontal to the fabric in my pattern (like most normal bind offs), shouldn’t I go up 1-2 needle sizes, as I would for a normal bind off, so that the seams are not too tight and don’t get drawn in, bunching up the fabric at the shoulders?

    Thanks so much for any advice you can give on these questions!

    Yours truly,
    Allison B.

    Reply
    • Hey Allison,

      quite honestly, I don’t have an answer for you there. I typically don’t close my shoulder seams with a three needle bind off (I graft them). However, I think you are approaching it from the wrong way. Your knitting direction is always right to left, so to get both seams to look the same, you kinda have to stick to the same knitting direction. That’s how I would see it.
      As for the size of the third needle. Well, that entirely depends on your intention. Typically you don’t want your shoulder seams to be very stretchy (or they wear out very fast).

      Reply

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