Getting Stitches Off Your Needle – Binding Off

image of bound off edge

Once your knit fabric is the desired length, you have to get the stitches off the needle by finishing the edge. This is referred to as binding off (BO). Some books and magazines use the term “casting off (CO)” instead of binding off. Binding off secures the last row of stitches to prevent them from unraveling. The resulting edge can stand on its own, like the edge of a scarf, or be connected to other pieces of knitting, such as two shoulder edges which will be sewn together. Binding off stitches is also used to shape armholes, necklines and shoulders. Other uses include a method for making buttonholes, and three dimensional stitch patterns like bobbles.

There are a variety of techniques used to bind off stitches to create different edges. The bind off that is used most often, is a basic knit or purl bind off. A 3-needle bind off is excellent for joining two straight edges that have the same number of stitches. Let’s take a closer look at these bind off methods.

Basic Bind Off (BO)

  • Knit bind off – At the beginning of a knit row, knit two stitches loosely. *Insert the tip of the left needle into the front of the first stitch on the right needle. Lift this stitch over the second stitch and off the right needle. One stitch remains on the right needle. Continue by knitting the next stitch on left needle, and repeat from * until you have bound off the required number of stitches. When a row is completely bound off, there will be one stitch remaining on the needle. To fasten off, cut the yarn leaving a tail 6 inches or longer, then pull this yarn tail through the last loop to secure the stitch and gently tighten. 
  • Purl bind off – At the beginning of a purl row, purl two stitches loosely. *While your yarn is still in front, insert the tip of left needle through the back of the first stitch on the right needle. Lift this stitch over the second stitch and off the right needle. Purl the next stitch and repeat from * across the row and fasten off as for a knit bind off. Note that the edge of a purl bind off looks slightly different from a knit bind off.

basic knit bind off how-to

purl bind off how-to
Basic Purl BO
from The Knitter’s Book of Knowledge, Debbie Bliss, p.51

Unless otherwise stated in the instructions, the stitches should be bound off in the main stitch pattern or last stitch pattern used. Doing so is useful in maintaining the elasticity of ribbed edges. This means that for stockinette stitch bind off knitwise on a knit row, and purlwise on a purl row. Casting off rib patterns should always be done as if you are continuing to rib, and most pattern stitches can be followed as set during the course of binding off. Fasten off as for a knit bind off.

I learned something new from my research for this post. For as long as I have been knitting, I do a purl bind off differently from what’s written above. I have never inserted the needle tip through the back of the first stitch on the right needle, followed by lifting it over the purl stitch. Instead I go through the front of the purl loop,  as for the knit bind off. I did find a resource that does it like me. From now on I’m going to experiment and see which way I like better.

Tips For Better Bind Offs

  • Loosely bind off stitches so the edge is elastic. Beginners tend to bind off tightly, resulting in a puckered edge. The bound off edge should be elastic and firm, but not too loose or tight. To prevent a tight bind off, you can try a needle one size larger.
  • As you bind off, frequently check the edge to make sure it’s elastic enough. It’s especially important that any neckband is bound off loose enough, so that you can easily pull the sweater over your head.
  • For allover cable patterns, try to bind off stitches in the row following the cable twist. This helps to prevent flaring of the finished edge.
  • If the bound off edge is to stand alone, like the edge of a scarf, try to bind off at the same tension as the rest of the knit piece, so the edge doesn’t flare and look wider than the cast on edge.
  • Depending on the piece, I sometimes leave a longer yarn tail after binding off to use for seaming. I often do this after shoulder shaping, so I can use this yarn to sew the seam.
  • Here’s a great tip for neatening the last loop of a bind off row. Bind off until one stitch remains on left needle. Slip this last stitch to right needle. With the left needle pick up the left loop of the stitch one row below slipped stitch. Return slipped stitch to left needle and knit these two stitches together. Bind off the last stitch and pull the yarn through to finish.

The 3-Needle Bind Off

The 3-needle bind off is a method that joins two edges of live stitches together. It’s used primarily for joining shoulders to form a seam. You won’t have to sew! Place an equal number of stitches on two separate needles. Hold these needles in your left hand with the right sides of the knit fabric together. Insert a third needle knitwise into the first stitch on the front needle, and knitwise through the first stitch on the back needle; knit them together as one stitch. *Knit the next stitch in the same way, so there are 2 stitches on right needle. Using the tip of left needle, pass the first stitch over the second stitch, and drop the stitch off the needle as if you are binding off knitwise. Repeat from * until one stitch remains; cut the yarn and draw through the last stitch.

how to do 3-needle bind off
Reader’s Digest
Complete Guide to Needlework, p. 283

Binding off links your stitches and prevents them from unraveling;  finishing the edges. There are a variety of ways to bind off, but the basic knit or purl bind off is used most often. And if you don’t like sewing, the 3-needle bind off is an excellent method to join shoulder seams.