Everything you need to know about grafting stitches in knitting and creating invisible seams
Do you want to learn how to join two pieces of knitting together without a visible transition? Maybe you are knitting a cowl that needs to be joined in the round or want to close the toes of a pair of socks, and now you are wondering how to graft knitting stitches? Then you came to the right place because this tutorial is all about it.
Elizabeth Zimmermann called it “simple in the extreme” in her famous Knitter’s Almanac and yet a lot of knitters are scared of grafting stitches. So, I hope I will be able to take away your fears and show you a couple of very simple techniques you can use in so many different circumstances – and not only to graft knitted pieces together.
I often get the impression that most knitters don’t like to approach techniques that are done off the needles. Weaving in ends, doing seams, inserting sleeves – the ideal knitting pattern seems to be a one-piece project without any tails.
While I certainly can understand that sentiment I also want to make you aware of its limitations. A raglan or yoked sweater just doesn’t have the perfect body-hugging fit, and finishing your socks without a graft always leaves a little pointy pocket before your toes.
That’s why I will try to break down the process into a couple of very simple steps. First, I want you to understand the theory and then I’ll show you quite a couple of different examples.
So, let’s dive right into it!
so What is grafting?
In knitting, grafting (or weaving) describes the process of recreating knitting stitches with a tapestry needle and some spare yarn (can often be the cast-on or bind-off tail). With that needle, you are tracing the course of a row of knit stitches (or any other stitch) to create seamless joins and transitions.
You can graft stitches to finish the toes of socks, to join a flat project in the round (if you use a provisional cast-on) but you can also use it to create seamless cast-off edges or even attach pockets on a cardigan or when knitting toys.
In some old books, grafting is referred to as a way to mock knitting. But it’s not mocking – it’s doing the exact same thing just with a different tool.
The anatomy of a knit stitch
Before I show you the basic knit stitch grafting technique, I want you to take a look at a single column of knit stitches and what you are actually creating with every pass of your needles.
A knit stitch is a simple loop and you stack these loops upon each other. If you know how to crochet a chain stitch, then that’s already the full picture. In fact, if you ever dropped a stitch, then you should already know that you can fix things with a crochet hook.
So, as long as we are talking about stockinette stitch (and let’s keep things simple at the start), all you have to do with your needle is go into the loop from behind, create a loop (meaning you leave a short length of yarn behind and don’t pull tight).
And then, go out coming from the front. And this creates a single extra loop, aka a knit stitch.
And, if you think about it – why should grafting be more complicated? When you are knitting a stitch you are also just pulling through one loop. I mean, why would it be more complex if you do it with a different tool, eh?
And all the different techniques I will be showing you below do exactly this – only with different orientations and maybe a couple of more repeats. But they are all really as simple as going in and out of a stitch.
Obviously, when you want to join two pieces, you have to go through these motions twice. So, you have to go in and out on the bottom and then OUT and IN on the bottom. That’s because the part you join is upside down, and hence you need to do everything the other way round for a seamless join (see below for the step-by-step instructions).
But again, if you take a very close look at the picture above where I highlighted one single row of knit stitches, then you should already be able to see how and where you need to insert your needle to graft knitting. Just try to trace the meandering line of that single grafted row in your mind.
And I promise you, once you understand the underlying principle, grafting knitting stitches will be much easier. A lot of people have very big problems remembering grafting repeats. And it can become really confusing. But if you KNOW what you are actually doing, then you don’t need to remember repeats. You just look at your knitting and do what it tells you.
Note: And if it’s a purl stitch, you do it exactly the other way round. You go in from the front…
…And out through the back. And again, if you think about it, it’s probably not a big surprise. Because when you are knitting flat stockinette stitch, you purl the return row but the stitches all will look like knit stitches on the right side.
So, these two stitches are mirror-inverted and that means you also have to do the graft mirror-inverted. It also means that you can do every graft from the wrong side as well – whatever you prefer and seems easier in that situation.
Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.
#1 The Kitchener stitch
The most popular grafting technique is certainly the Kitchener stitch. If you click on the link you can see my full tutorial, so I’ll keep it to the basics here. Typically, you keep your stitches on the needle and my full tutorial will show you exactly how to do that (there’s a video included as well).
But you could also secure the stitches with a lifeline or a bit of scrap yarn, and that’s the technique I will show you right here.
Align the two pieces you want to graft together so the stitches end up head to head, and thread the tail or a bit of scrap yarn on a tapestry needle.
- Go through the first loop on the bottom from behind.
- Next, pull the yarn through the first loop on the opposite side going in from the front.
- And then, go through the adjacent stitch coming from the back.
Note: You can easily combine steps 2+3 and I will do exactly that henceforth.
- From here, go out through the first stitch on the bottom part coming from the front and pull the needle through the adjacent stitch coming from behind at the same time.
- Next, switch to the opposite side again, and go through the second stitch from the front and through the adjacent stitch (third) coming from the back.
- Repeat steps 4+5 until you finished grafting all stitches in your row
- Every couple of stitches, tighten up the stitches to close the seam.
What's important here (and that's something you always have to remember when you graft knitted pieces together): Never pull tight. Your stitches need room to breathe. The circumference of your needle usually defines the size of your stitches. But when you are grafting knitting stitches, you don't have a needle where you wrap the yarn around. So, you have to pull on the working yarn just so much that your loops end up at approximately the same size as your natural knitting.
If your stitches are too loose, you can easily fix things with a tapestry needle. Just go into each stitch and pull out a bit of yarn, move to the next stitch, pull on that as well, and carry any excess yarn slowly to the sides in that manner.
#2 The cast-off & Cast-On edge
Have you ever finished a sock or a hat knit in the round? Well, then you probably know that there is often an annoying little gap there at the end/start of your bind-off edge. And you can graft knitting stitches, or rather just one stitch, to bridge that gap as well.
Now, here’s the next thing you need to know about grafting stitches: When you are dealing with stitches that are attached to stitches on both sides, going in and out can be reduced to going underneath the two legs of the knit stitch (the little “V”).
Step 1: So, go underneath the two legs of the first stitch of your bind-off edge coming from below.
Step 2: And then bring the yarn around and go underneath the two legs of the last stitch coming from above. And just like that, you grafted a knit stitch to bridge that gap.
Step 3: Now, you only need to weave in the tail and on the backside.
Of course, the exact same technique can be used for the cast-on edge as well. Go underneath the first stitch, go underneath the second stitch and hide the tail on the wrong side.
You do, however, need to consider that you probably started your cast on with a slipknot. And that little knot will always be a bit visible.
#3 Finishing a Mattress stitch
You are probably also aware of the mattress stitch. It’s a great vertical seaming technique for stockinette stitch. It’s not grafting because you are not recreating stitches. Rather, you are joining stitches in a way so they fold in half and form a new stitch with another half on the other side.
That being said, you always end up with a little gap at the very end (and start) of your mattress stitch. Often, this is not a big problem because you are hiding that part of the seam anyway. But sometimes (like for my easy fingerless gloves for beginners) those gaps are quite visible.
And in this case, you can do exactly the same. So, use the tail and go underneath the knit stitch on the right side coming from above, and then go underneath the knit stitch on the other side of the seam coming from below.
It depends a bit on which side your tail comes out but I guess the theory is so simple that I’m very positive you can figure things out. Basically, you have to go around one full time, and always start on the other side and never cross the actual edge.
#4 Attaching things in the middle of a project
The logical next step, once you figured out how to close a one stitch gap, is grafting a whole seam. So, imagine you want to join in the arm/legs of a little bear or knitted doll. Or take my newest crocus pattern where you have to attach the stamen to the flower. Or the pocket on a cardigan.
Of course, you can just sew these pieces to the body with a couple of stitches. But you can also graft knitting stitches to form a more seamless transition (note: please don’t do this if you want a movable arm or legs). Here’s what you need to do:
Step 1: Align the two pieces you want to join.
Step 2: Then go underneath the V of a knit stitch on the body.
Step 3: Go underneath the V of a knit stitch on the piece you want to attach.
Step 4: Go underneath the knit stitch on the body directly next to the one you just went through (so the same row).
Step 5: Go underneath the adjacent knit stitch on the other side.
Repeat steps 4+5 until you finished your seam.
Note: Don’t pull too tightly and sew with a bit of slack. You can use the tip of your tapestry needle and tighten things up later on if your seam ends up a bit too loosely.
This technique will not be totally invisible. The edge of the part you want to join will always peek through a bit – especially if you are doing it in two colors as I did here (so you can see things a bit better). Still, it will form a very regular line that will look much better than almost all other methods.
#5 Grafting ribbing
So far, all my examples were really easy. Mainly because it was all knit stitches and this means you always have to do the exact same thing. But what happens when you move on to more complicated patterns and you need to graft purl stitches as well?
Just to repeat: Purl stitches are mirror-inverted knit stitches and this means you have to graft them exactly the other way round.
So for grafting ribbing you have to do the exact same thing as before but you need to pay attention that you go in and out exactly the other way round for the purl stitches.
Also, this is the abbreviated version. Click here for the full tutorial on grafting 2×2 ribbing which also includes a video.
Step 1: Align the two pieces you want to join. The ribs on the right side of each part should form one continuous line. In this case, as the wrong side of the back part is facing you, this means the first two stitches should be purl stitches.
Step 2: Graft 2 knit stitches the way you usually would with a standard Kitchener Stitch (note: if your ribbing doesn’t start with knit stitches, you’d have to start with step 3). Your last step should be dropping the second knit stitch of the 2×2 rib.
Step 3: Go into the adjacent purl stitch knitwise. If you look closely at the picture below, then you see how I’m actually going into the front of that purl stitch, just the way you have to graft a single purl stitch.
Step 4: Drop the stitch on the back needle purlwise like you usually would.
Step 5: Go into the adjacent stitch purlwise as well (aka from the back). That’s because, when you hold the two pieces like that, the purl stitch you want to graft/join on the other side appears like a knit stitch from your point of view.
So, essentially you are combing a Kitchener Stitch knitwise and a Kitchener stitch purlwise. If you think about it that’s probably not a big surprise. So, you really need to pay close attention and switch the way you go in and drop stitches every 2 stitches.
You can of course graft ribbing around a lifeline as well. I just feel it’s much easier to do when the stitches are on the needle.
That’s because it’s so much more stable and if the stitches are on the needle, you cannot accidentally pull an adjacent loop too tight, etc.
Grafting decreases and increases
Once you understand the basic grafting technique, you should be able to graft any other knitting stitch pattern as well. Because here is the thing: Almost all decreases are based on either the knit stitch or the purl stitch (e.g: here’s a complete list of purl decreases).
So, when you want to graft k2tog, you follow the exact same steps as when you are grafting a knit stitch.
The only difference is that you go into two loops at the same time. You go in from behind.
And then and go out coming from the front. And for a p2tog it’s exactly the other way around.
As these are really advanced techniques, I’m not going into great detail here. Kindly comment below if I should expand this section a bit further.
Grafting Brioche Stitch
The holy grail or the purgatory – depending on your perspective – of grafting knitting stitches are joining brioche stitch projects together. It seems like an incredibly complicated technique few would like to tackle. But if you know one little trick it isn’t even all that complicated.
Most knitters are not really aware that a brioche stitch is a form of double knitting. But you are actually knitting each row twice. So, whenever you are trying to do any kind of brioche grafting, you also have to graft the join twice.
So first, you will graft all stitches that appear like purl stitches (the brks), and in the second pass, you graft all knit stitches. Again, I just wanted you to be aware of the possibility. Comment below if you want me to expand on this topic.