We knitters enjoy our craft so much we often focus on the middle (and most time consuming) part of it more than anything else - the part where we get to make a piece of fabric with knit and purl stitches and other exciting patterns. The very beginning and very end of the project can sometimes get neglected as a result. Casting on and binding off are just as important as the actual knitting, as they can be crucial to a project's stability and the appearance of those final edges.
Many of us start out as knitters learning the cast on and bind off techniques most familiar or comfortable to the person who teaches us how to knit. As a new knitter I remember being surprised to discover how many different variations there are on these steps! Some are "all-purpose" and useful for a variety of edges, others are intended to be "stretchy" or flexible for an edge that needs to expand or move (such as the bind off for the cuff of a sock worked toe-up), and others are used as decorative embellishments. Whether you prefer all-purpose, stretchy, or decorative touches to your final edge, it's worth taking the time to familiarize yourself with one or two different techniques for each.
In this article I'll demonstrate two basic methods of how to bind-off. Hats worked from the brim up, mittens, gloves, or shawls worked from the bottom up, on the other hand, will likely require you to finish your project by simply sewing closed the remaining handful of stitches left at the top of the hat, tips of fingers, and so forth. Most garments, scarves, and shawls will require some kind of bind-off, however, and frequent practice will help you to achieve a neat and tidy final edge.
The first bind-off is the standard knitwise bind-off, which produces a neat, even edge appropriate for a versatile number of projects. It is not very flexible, however, which is the main downside.
1. Begin by inserting your needle through the first stitch on the work, with the right side facing. Work this stitch as a regular knit stitch.
2. Next, knit the 2nd stitch on the needle, and pull the 1st knitted stitch over the 2nd one.
You have now bound off one stitch.
Continue the steps in Part 2 until all stitches have been bound off. When there is just the final stitch remaining on the right hand needle, cut the working yarn and pull it through the final stitch, completing the edge.
This is a versatile bind off and easy to remember once you get the hang of it!
The three-needle bind-off is a popular one for edges that need some stability, since the alternative of grafting live stitches would prove too stretchy and saggy over time. It is also useful for edges that involve a combination of knit and purl stitches, since the bind-off work occurs on the inside of the work and does not get noticed when the garment is worn. You will commonly find three-needle bind-off in use on shoulder seams, the top of hoods on hooded sweaters, or to fasten together two ends of a neckline that meet at the back of a collar.
1. First, arrange your stitches on two needles or at either end of the same circular needle, and then turn each one so that the wrong side is facing. This might take a bit of fiddling around or rearranging of stitches. Ideally, you will have the working yarn still attached to one of the pieces of work, but if not, you can start with a fresh length of yarn and weave in the end later.
2. Next, with a third needle, insert your needle knitwise through the first stitch on each needle. Then, wrap the yarn as if to knit and knit these two stitches together.
3. Then, with one of the left hand needles, pull the 1st stitch over top of the 2nd stitch as in the regular knitwise bind-off.
You have now bound off one stitch.
Continue these last 2 steps until all stitches have been bound off. As you can see, this method works when there is an equal number of stitches on each piece of fabric involved! The finished result is very neat from the outside.
Some tips to watch out for:
Be aware of your tension. No matter what technique you are using, if you find your bind-off edge is starting to tighten up and make the fabric pucker, it is too snug and you should move up at least one needle size in order to execute your bind-off. This is particularly important on your shawl edges if you are executing the bind-off on the outside edge.
Take your time. A rushed bind-off can end up leaving a stitch or two behind, and there's nothing quite so harrowing as a loose stitch left out of a bind-off! Make sure your final work gets the time and attention it deserves.
For more bind-off tips, check out the Knitter's Handbook right here on Craftsy, or one of these fabulous resources: