Kitchener Stitch and Other Dirty Words

So many times when talking to other knitters, I hear comments like, “I only do toe-up socks so I don’t have to do Kitchener stitch,” or “I hate Kitchener stitch, I can never do it right!” I’ve heard similar comments about color work, duplicate stitch, sewing up garments, short-rows, knitting in the round and even purling. If you’re a crafter who’s ever talked to another crafter, I’m sure you’ve heard (or even said) the same sorts of things.

It’s funny, and a little embarrassing to me now, how many really great patterns I have avoided knitting because they required some terribly scary technique. Sewing up seams is time-consuming, for sure, but isn’t it so worth it when you have a finished sweater you can wear?! Duplicate stitch is also time-consuming, since you’re sewing yarn over stitches you’ve already knit, but it can make a small patch of color work really pop. There’s steeking, which involves CUTTING your knitted fabric. Then there’s dreaded Kitchener stitch, also called grafting.

When I started knitting, I was in awe of gorgeous lace shawls. I was determined to make a pi shawl. I bought all the yarn and bought the needles and got started. And failed. And tried again and failed again. I couldn’t even get past the first three rounds before I just gave up. I tried the sheep shawl as a knit along with a group of people and failed miserably (nevermind about my pet rabbits deciding the wool was a tasty snack.) I decided it was too hard and I just wasn’t going able to knit beautiful lace.

The more I talked to other knitters, the more I kept hearing how hard Kitchener stitch was. I would hear that making sweaters in the round was the only way to go because there were no seams to sew up. Use self-striping yarn so you can have an evenly striped garment without all those dreaded ends to weave in. The trouble is, when you start ruling out projects you would love to make and wear simply because they have a technique you’re not good at, you limit yourself to the same types of projects over and over again.

I think this comes down to two issues. The first is process vs. project. I think this is a huge factor. Some people really enjoy the process of making things. Others really enjoy having a finished project.  Project people can become process people and vice versa, depending on what their goal is for a particular item, but I think most people tend to lean one way or the other. I think (and this is in no way based on fact) that process people enjoy learning new techniques more than project people. For me, I usually really enjoy the process of making something, especially if I’m learning a new technique.

Then there’s fear. Some are unwilling to do a different technique because they’re afraid it won’t work right. A woman in the knitting group I used to meet with made a wool sweater with gorgeous color work and a steeked front. It’s amazing and she wears it often. Would you believe it’s one of her first knitting projects? She had no idea that color work or steeking should have been scary, so she dove right in and went to work. Is it perfect? I don’t know. I’ve never gotten close enough to inspect the symmetry of each stitch, but I doubt it’s perfect. Here’s the thing, though: It. Doesn’t. Matter. It’s beautiful, she loves it and if there are mistakes, she’s the only one who knows about them. If anyone had told her how scary that project should have been, she might have never even started it.

All of these fearsome techniques are just that – they’re techniques. Some, like knitting lace in the round from the center, are very fiddly and take a lot of patience and starting over and over and over. Others, like Kitchener, really aren’t that difficult to do, it’s just that it’s probably not going to look very good the first dozen times you do it. It’s that 13th time, when everything clicks and you realize, “Hey! I finally got it right!!” It’s exhilarating!

Even just knitting can sometimes be tricky. When I picked up the needles after a long hiatus, I re-taught myself how to knit. Only, I taught myself wrong. For several years, every single knit stitch I made was twisted. When making the stitch, I was wrapping the yarn around the needle backwards. For some reason, I purled just fine, it was only the knit stitches. I discovered it when I took a class to learn to  make socks. When you’re knitting in the round, a mistake like that becomes really obvious. I finished those socks, though, and decided I’d learn to knit right on the next project. (They still work as socks, by the way.)

I still haven’t made that pi shawl, but I do so love lace knitting. I made a lovely lace stole that I wore at my wedding. And now I’ve discovered lots and lots of very pretty pi shawl patterns. (I want to knit them all!) So my delay is now more of an analysis paralysis issue rather than a fear-of-screwing-it-up issue.

Like so many things in life, knitting is simple to do, but mastery isn’t necessarily swift. It takes practice, determination, and a willingness to occasionally scrap it all and start over. Whether you’re a project or a process person, don’t let the fear of a new technique (or a few mistakes)  stop you from what you love.

1 Comment

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One Response to Kitchener Stitch and Other Dirty Words

  1. Very wise words. They apply to all aspects of life.

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