For pretty much all of my knitting life I have lived in fear of one thing: grafting, also known by that menacing name, kitchener stitch. The only time I didn't fear this thing was during the first few months I was knitting and I didn't know it existed. Then I read about it while trying to finish something. I don't even remember what anymore, but it was bad. Really bad.
It looked like I had given the yarn needle to my yet to exist except as a little thought of egg in my ovaries son, and said, "Go for it! It's cool. It's not like I spent any real time on it and don't really care how it turns out. Just make sure you don't drop any of those stitches. Have fun! What? Oh, yeah. You use the pointy end."
Here's the worst part. I didn't even know it was wrong. I remember looking at it at the time and thinking, "Huh, well that's sort of weird. Why do people get all excited about this? It looks kind of crappy there at the end of the knitting. You'd think it would look nicer." But, the book I was using said that pictures were not useful in describing kitchener stitch. That instead you should just read and follow the directions. I figured they must know, and I'm pretty good at reading in general, so figured I must have been doing it right.
Then I saw the toe of some socks a friend of mine finished. They were beautiful. You couldn't even tell where she'd stopped knitting. I asked her how she had finished the toe.
She casually destroyed my world boy tossing out, "Oh, I just kitchener stitched it."
There was this sort of quietly dominating roar in my ears as I realized that my kitchener stitch had nothing in common with hers except that we used yarn on a needle.
For a while I tried to quietly fix the problem. I would secretly look it up in the back of pattern and technique books. I learned other ways to finish edges that, if not as pretty, were finished. Then I would come up with ridiculous reasons I had chosen to bind off that way. I questioned other knitters about it in very unobtrusive ways so they wouldn't know about my shortcoming. "Oh, that scarf looks really interesting. If you were to choose a different bind off, say maybe, I don't know a kitchener stitch perhaps, how would you go about doing that?" or "Cool hat! You decreased down to two stitches and then tied to pom-pom to those ends? How clever! Had you thought of kitchener stitching those two stitches?"
Needless to say, it didn't work out so well. I resorted to avoiding any pattern that called for it like the plague.
I did manage to eventually ferret out two pieces of advice when I mentioned that my stitches always seemed "uneven": 1) do it really loose and tighten it up later and 2) always stay on top of the needles. So, with renewed vigor I tried that out on the underarms of Bobby's sweater. It did not work at all. All of the stitches were either twisted, looked like purls instead of knits, or were surround by random strands of yarn, or some combination of those three. It was very disappointing.
I kept hearing that it was really easy if you just read and followed the directions. I began to doubt my ability to read. Maybe it was a conspiracy. I redoubled my avoidance efforts, but started to be more public about my shortcoming. All in jokes of course. It was too painful to be serious about. Maybe someone would come up with a solution, maybe not, but until then I was getting better at avoiding it.
I got into knitting socks. I love them, but there's the messy problem of the toes needing to be kitchener stitched. I just drew the tail through the remaining stitches and was mollified, if not exactly, satisfied. Then I thought I had found the answer to knitting socks, but not having to kitchener stitch the toes: toe-up socks!
Excellent! I signed up and started with gusto. I managed the short-row toe and heel pattern and then got to the end of the cuff where, the directions said, a sewn bind-off was the best way to ensure a cuff that would stretch enough while you pulled the sock over your foot. I started reading the directions and was interested when it told me how to set up the stitches on two needles. Then I was only a little uneasy when it said to grab a yarn needle and cut your thread.
Then I read the directions and had a horrible sinking feeling as I read those words that had become the bane of my knitting education's existence. They were the same directions as kitchener stitch. Like a bad movie that realization dawned on me right as someone in the class made the same observation out loud, but really slow. I looked at my friend with misery and asked if I could watch her.
With sympathy she said I could and when she got to the cuff she asked if I was ready. I don't know what I thought would happen. But I expected to learn that I actually didn't know what "as if to knit" or "as if to purl" meant, but that the language of knitting had been flipped while I wasn't looking. Or that new lines in the directions would magically appear making everything suddenly transparent and easy.
None of those happened. Instead she pulled the yarn through the front stitch as if to purl and I stopped her.
"How do you go back to the back needle?"
She just took it around the right side of the needle and went into that stitch as if to knit.
"But how do you get back to the front needle? Do you go on top of the needle? It's getting all messy over there."
Her reply, "No, I just keep working from the right, going around to the back and the front on the side and it all lays flat as the stitches come off the needle."
It was that moment of epiphany I was waiting for. I had been trying all these ways of keeping the yarn straight by going over the needle, to the side, but nothing consistent. Now I just worked from the right and it was wonderfully stressless. I finished the top of the cuff and got the thumbs up from the teacher.
Then I went home and gave it the true test: what would it look like at the end of a sock?
It was beautiful, and the kitchener stitch and I rode off into the sunset of last night when I managed all 64 of the bottom of this sock. I think our love is only going to grow.
At the End(s)
5 days ago