The other day I posted a reel of me grafting a sock toe together and it prompted some discussion about 'Kitchener stitch'. Kitchener is the guy on those well-known army posters where he's pointing at you and text reads "Britons want you". Let me tell you why I do not call it that. It doesn't take much digging to find this information by the way if you want to read up on it yourself.
Kitchener was high up in the British army during the Boer War and is responsible for concentration camps which were used as part of the 'Scorched Earth Policy' which he employed and expanded. That is a policy where the land and its inhabitants are utterly destroyed - wells are poisoned, land is salted, buildings burned, people slaughtered.
To quote: "This policy included the incarceration of tens of thousands of women and children, who were forcibly moved into 45 concentration camps throughout the Transvaal. There were another 64 concentration camps for black Africans who had made the serious error of supporting the Boers. More than 26,000 Afrikaans women and children died in these camps. We do not have any figure for the similar number of black Africans who died, as the British army did not regard them as important enough to keep records."
In all honesty there are some things that put him in a more positive light, but with a lifetime of - and a reputation for - brutality and war atrocities the scales are very heavily weighted on the negative side (understatement!).
Grafting as a technique was already in use before WW1 which is when it seems to have been named in honour of him instead - it seems socks for the troops used this technique to help prevent blisters from sock seams, and from what I've read I think it was so-called in order to spur on home production of the socks.
So... as Karie Westermann said earlier on twitter: language matters.


  • WOW. Thank you for sharing this! As an American, I really had no idea.

    Jody Richards on

  • This is awful! Happy to know. Will share with my knit group! I am assuming the process is the same but called grafting.

    Catherine Wojewoda on

  • Yes, I’ve always called ‘grafting’ grafting. What about brioche? Always thought that was bread.

    Barbara Goodyear on

  • Thank you for this ! I’ve always called it grafting – couldn’t see why his name should be associated with a technique much older than him!
    I did see, somewhere an interesting piece by Stephanie Pearl McPhee on the possibility that the name actually came from a town in Canada called Kitchener !! But its grafting, and shall remain so !!

    Lynne Litchfield on

  • Thank you so much for the history lesson. I will always now graft my socks – unless of course I’m knitting toe-up!

    Julia Targett on

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published