A Good Turn: Mastering the Tubular Bind-off
By Marnie MacLean
Last season, we looked at the Tubular Cast-On. One of the reasons I love tubular cast-ons is that they give garments a professional appearance and produce an edge that is tidy and flexible. It’s suitable for so many types of projects and with a little practice it can be as quick to work as a long-tail or knitted cast-on. But what about the bound-off edges? Whether you are working a toe-up sock or binding off a ribbed collar, having the option to produce professional-quality results is as important at the start of the project as it is for the end.
We learned in the cast-on article that tubular cast-ons are a length of stockinette, half the desired final stitch count, where the base of the stitches are alternated with the live stitches to achieve the desired stitch count. With this understanding, we can construct a bind-off that produces the same results.
For a tubular bind-off we graft alternating stitches together so that odd-numbered stitches will function as the front piece of fabric and even-numbered stitches will function as the back piece. If you’ve grafted a toe or shoulder seam in the past, this method will be familiar. If you haven’t grafted before don’t worry—this article will guide you step-by-step through the process.
The Basic Method: Knit-one, Purl-one Patterns
This method is ideal for basic ribbing, seed stitch, linen stitch, and a variety of other textured and cabled patterns.
A note for my fellow combination knitters: Before beginning, orient all your stitches with the front leg forward. While this is not strictly required, this step will simplify following the instructions.
Begin by ensuring that the next row of the pattern will start with a knit stitch to maintain the stitch pattern. If you are working seed stitch, this may require working one more row in pattern or cutting the yarn and joining it at the other end of your work.
Cut a tail at least three times the width of the edge to be bound off. Use a blunt tapestry needle to work the bind-off.
Note: Tubular bind-offs can abrade the yarn tail over time, to the point where the integrity of the yarn is compromised. If you have loosely-spun yarn or a particularly long bind-off as for a long button-band or shawl collar, you may wish to work the bind-off in increments with shorter lengths of yarn, overlapping a few stitches when you join the new yarn.
Draw the yarn all the way through, so that it is snug but not tight.
Draw the yarn all the way through, pulling it snug but not tight.
Step 6: Bring the needle behind the next stitch and insert the needle knit-wise (left to right) into the following stitch.
Draw the yarn all the way through, pulling the yarn snug but not tight.
Repeat steps 3-6 until only two stitches remain.
Variation: Knit-two, Purl-two Patterns
I have a lot of books on knitting technique, not all but probably most, that were available in print over the past 20 years or so. There are very few that even mention tubular bind-offs for knit-two, purl-two patterns. The one I could find looked questionable in the photos and was worse when I attempted to execute it. But a beautiful bind-off can be worked identically to the basic method, above, once a little prep work has been done.
When we worked the knit-two, purl-two tubular cast-on, our last step was to re-orient the stitches in a knit-one, purl-one configuration. For the bind-off, we’ll simply reverse the process.
When you are ready to bind off be sure the first stitch required to maintain the stitch pattern is a knit stitch. This example assumes the pattern starts with a knit 1, followed by the purl 2, knit 2 pattern. Using a circular needle of a suitable length to hold all your stitches, work as follows:
Slip the next two stitches purl-wise.
Cross the next two stitches with the knit stitch in front and slip them to the right-hand needle.
Continue in this manner, forming a knit-one, purl-one pattern. If your ribbing pattern is different, change which stitches are crossed, so that you produce a knit-one, purl-one ribbing, always crossing the knit stitch in front of the purl stitch.
You can now work the bind-off as shown in the first method, but you can expect those crossed stitches to be under a considerable amount of strain. Since the knit-two, purl-two tubular cast-on has a couple of rows of knitting at its base, we can mimic that effect by working a round of double-knitting before grafting.
This produces a lovely rounded edge that will perfectly match the equivalent cast-on.
Row 2: Knit the stitches that were slipped and, with the yarn in front, slip the stitches that were knit on the previous row. Whether the first stitch is slipped or knit will depend on whether you have an even or odd number of stitches.
Now work the bind-off as for the first method.
Use tubular bind-offs for all the same sorts of projects we discussed in the tubular cast-on article. Your hat brims, sock cuffs, hems and collars will look polished and wear well. Tubular bind-offs are most suitable for ribbed, cabled and textured stitches. It may pull in too much for lace, garter or edges meant to be blocked out aggressively or seamed to another piece. I hope you’ll give tubular bind-offs a try on your next suitable project.
Marnie MacLean lives in Oregon with her husband and three rescued dogs. She holds a desk job by day and she designs and works as a production coordinator for Twist Collective by night. Find all her patterns and blathering at http://MarnieMacLean.com