Knitting and Crochet: A Marriage Made in History
by Donna Druchunas
Originally published in Black Purl Magazine 2005
In 2002, I had an idea for a book that combined knitting and crochet. I submitted a proposal to a publisher in North Carolina, and the acquisitions editor loved it. The publisher had recently been acquired by a larger New York house, however, so the editor had to take my idea to New York City for approval. The team in New York thought my idea — combining two different crafts — would fall in the cracks and not find enough readers. So that was the end of that.
Combining crochet and knitting is not a new idea at all. The two crafts have been used together for centuries, and many knitting books published in United States during the first half 20th century also included crochet instructions. In many other countries, knitting books still include crochet projects to this day, and the two crafts have been used together in several places around the world to produce unique and beautiful garments that would be impossible to create using only one or the other.
The location perhaps the most well-known for its knit-crochet sweaters is Korsnäs, Finland.
Korsnäs is a municipality with a population of about 2300 on the western edge of Finland. There are several small villages within the municipality. Unlike most Finns, the people of Korsnäs speak Swedish, revealing their place of origin. Some Finnish place names seem to indicate that Finnish-speaking people inhabited the region until the thirteenth or fourteenth century, when Swedish-speaking people moved into the area. Today over 96 percent of the inhabitants speak Swedish.
The Korsnäs local museum houses a large collection of beautiful sweaters and accessories made with a technique that is sometimes known as Korsnäs crochet. Some of the items are on display, and many others are hidden away in the archives. If you ever deice to visit this museum, plan ahead and try to make an appointment to see the items stored in the archives as well as the public displays.
What is Korsnäs Crochet?
The type of crochet used in Korsnäs is called tapestry crochet or Bosnian crochet. It differs from standard European crochet in that the stitches are worked through the back loop only (BLO). In the past, this technique was quite common in Eastern Europe as well as in Turkey, where the technique may have originated to make socks. In Finland, it is often combined with knitting, especially in larger projects such as sweaters.
Based on slip stitch crochet, with some single crochet, you might be tempted to think that this simple technique, or the end results it produces, would be boring. But that’s not the case at all. By combining bright colors in elaborate combinations, the finished garments, whether they are sweaters or small accessories such as suspenders, bags, mittens, or cuffs, are spectacular and rival – or exceed – the beauty of anything being designed by contemporary fiber artists.
Although Korsnäs crochet is used for making a variety of accessories and garments, it is the sweaters made with this technique that are most spectacular.
If I designed a sweater with knit and crochet areas, I would work colorwork portions in knitting and plain areas in crochet, giving both parts of the fabric similar weight and texture. But the Finnish sweaters made with these techniques use crochet for the elaborately patterned portions of the garment and knitting for the simpler areas, usually a small diamond strip and a large central area of colorwork stripes made by alternating one row of a single color and one row of the main color and contrasting color being used on every other stitch. The knitted portion is worked in Stockinette stitch. The main color of the crochet section is normally red and the background of the knitting section is white, with both areas accented with small amounts of purple, green, yellow, orange, and blue.
The bottom edge of the sweater and the yoke are made with crochet, which does not have much give or stretch, making it a good match for the stranded knitting sections which also have less stretch than solid color knitting would. The entire sweater body is worked in the round, and the neck and armholes are cut open after being secured with machine sewing.
The sleeves are also worked in the round with crochet at the top and bottom and a band of knitting in the middle, where the slight extra give provides more flexibility in the elbow.
The neckband and, for cardigans, button and buttonhole bands are traditionally worked in single crochet to provide extra body, but they can also be worked in knitting.
Because of the way crochet is constructed, there are no floats on the back of the crochet sections. The unused color is naturally woven in as you go.
In most cases, you would use knitting needles and a crochet hook of the same diameter when working both techniques together in the same piece. However, many people knit and crochet at different tensions, so it is very important to test your gauge on both knitting and crochet to make sure that all sections of the garment come out the same circumference and you don’t have to rip. (It’s much easier to rip out crochet than knitting, by the way.)
I hope this short introduction to these techniques will inspire you to learn more and to try your hand at combining knitting with crochet. Here are a few places to look for further inspiration and information.
Knitting in the Old Way (Nomad Press Edition) by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts includes a section on Crochet-Enhanced Knits and discusses Eastern and Western crochet styles, and has charts and general instructions for making a Korsnäs sweater (there are no step-by-step patterns). Knitting in the Old Way is available at many bookstores, yarn shops and online booksellers.
Decorative Crocheting by Marketta Luutonen includes crochet instructions, basic instructions for making a Korsnäs sweater, and several patterns. Decorative Crocheting is available from Nordic Fiber Arts.