Kitchener Stitch

How Did Grafting Get its Other Name?

Why is grafting also known as Kitchener stitch in knitting?
When Kitchener stitch is done well, you can't really see (or feel) the seam. © Sarah E. White, licensed

Sock knitters and fans of smooth knit seams with less bulk than a three-needle bind off are probably familiar with the seaming technique known as Kitchener stitch.

Also called grafting, Kitchener stitch is a way of working two sets of live stitches off their respective needles with the help of yarn and a sewing needle. The result is a smooth join that looks just like knitting.

The steps to perform Kitchener stitch are notoriously difficult to remember, prompting notions companies to print them on key chains and dog tags.

Other knitters rely on muttering the mnemonic "knit off, purl on; purl off, knit on" under their breaths to remember the basic motions. (That's what I do, not gonna lie.)

Calling this maneuver grafting makes sense because the two pieces of knitting are melded together into a whole where the seam is virtually imperceptible (if you do it well).

But why Kitchener? Was there a person named Kitchener who developed the method?

Origin of the Kitchener Name

Well, maybe. There was a person named Kitchener, Horatio Herbert Kitchener, to be precise. The First Earl Kitchener was born in 1850 and died in 1916, was a field marshal in the British Army and served or commanded troops in the Mahdist War, the Second Boer War, the Franco-Prussian War and World War I.

He also served as commander-in-chief in India from 1902-1909 and, as the Secretary of State for War, was instrumental in the recruitment of soldiers for World War I, even being featured in a famous and widely copied poster (if you've ever seen the "Uncle Sam Wants You" posters, you get the idea).

So how did this military man come to be associated with a knitting technique? Knitting lore has it that Kitchener developed a sock pattern for British and American women to use in the war knitting effort. In contrast to the typical socks of the day, which used a seam on the toe, Kitchener's sock had a grafted toe.

The technique used to close the toe became known as Kitchener stitch, which it is still called to this day.

Like many origin stories, there's not a lot of evidence this tale is true, but it's as good a theory as any about why we close the toe of a sock with the Kitchener stitch.

Whether you call it grafting or Kitchener stitch, this method of closing up knitting is an easy (once you've done it a time or two), effective way to finish your knitting without bulk.

Kitchener Stitch is used on Stockinette fabric, but it's also possible to graft other stitch patterns.

Strange but true, this is not the only knitting term said to have derived from the name of a British military man; raglan and cardigan both have origins in military history as well.