In Stories In Stitches 3, there are three pairs of socks, each made with a different type of colorwork:
1. The Dancing Stitches Socks are made with traditional stranded colorwork
2. The Flying Fish Knee High Socks are made with intarsia in the round
3. The Hiroshima Peace Socks are made with double knitting
I’m not a double knitting expert (more on that at the end of this post), but I find the technique to be fascinating and elegant. I’ve invited Alasdair Post-Quinn, who is a double-knitting expert extraordinaire, to help us out with some tips on this cool technique.
I hope you enjoy his tips and if you want to learn more, check out his Craftsy class, Adventures in Double Knitting or come to Interweave Knitting Lab in Manchester, NH, from May 13-18 and take a live class.
Hi, I’m Alasdair Post-Quinn, author of “Extreme Double-Knitting” and various intriguing reversible patterns. Donna has invited me from my current home in Cambridge to virtually travel back to my home state to make this blog post for you.
[Alasdair, welcome back! -Donna]
Double-knitting has long been considered one of the higher peaks of advanced knitting – and why not? Even to experienced knitters, it seems like magic. It allows you to do complex colorwork using charts that would be impractical in any other colorwork technique, but keeps flexibility similar to stockinette – and there’s no wrong side: the opposite side is similar to the facing side, a mirrored image in opposite colors. But at its simplest, it’s no more complicated than 1×1 ribbing.
Some time ago, when I set out to begin documenting double-knitting techniques both undiscovered and unjustly obscure, I voiced the hope that double-knitting would become, if not the next big thing, at least better known and used throughout the knitting world. I would become a messenger for this esoteric technique – not the only one, but perhaps one of the most visible. Am I there yet? Probably not – but it always warms my heart to know that people I respect, like Donna, think of me when they hear the term “double-knitting”.
So I was happy to oblige her when she asked me to write a bit about double-knitting in the round in support of a new double-knit sock pattern she’s releasing in Stories In Stitches 3. As it turns out, I’ve recently written an article about this exact topic for an upcoming issue of Interweave Knits, so I’ve got some content I can draw from, if not actually copy and paste.
I’m glad I was asked to write about double-knitting in the round: despite the fact that I teach double-knitting in the flat, doing it in the round is actually far easier in some ways. First, there are no edges to deal with. Double-knit edges are a pain point for many new (and experienced) double-knitters. The rest of your work may be stunning, but if the edges aren’t clean it throws the whole thing off. Second, when double-knitting in the flat, every other row is worked with the opposite side facing you, so you need to mentally translate the chart into reversed colors. This isn’t hard to do once you get the hang of it, but it’s even easier not to have to do it at all – as is the case with double-knitting in the round, when all rows are worked from right to left and you never need to flip the work over.
The only drawback to double-knitting in the round is that many knitters’ gauges are different in knit vs purl. In the flat, your gauge evens out because in every other row you switch which side is worked in knit and which is worked in purl. In the round, one face is all worked in knits and the other is all worked in purls. There’s a good chance one of those faces is going to be a little bigger than the other. Depending on the pattern, this may or may not be evident. The more complex the patterning, the more the two sides will even out, because the two sides anchor each other at every color change.
So let’s get going! I’ve got some tips for you as you work on this pattern. (Nota bene: I haven’t seen the pattern yet, so I’m going to talk in general about double-knitting in the round rather than specifically about this pattern). First of all, I’m sure Donna is going to suggest a specific cast-on so I won’t go into detail about my preferred cast-on. Suffice to say, there are lots of two-color cast-ons, but fewer that give you alternating colors on the needle. However, you can adapt any cast-on you like to double-knitting by simply holding both yarns together as you cast on. You’ll need to be careful that the resulting loops end up in the right order (usually Color A then Color B alternating), and you may need to play a bit with your tension to make the edge look nice, but the simplest way to cast on is the way you already know.
Second, reading a double-knitting chart in the round is quite easy. There aren’t actually double-knitting charts for standard colorwork – you just use a regular two-color chart and follow it differently. In double-knitting, each square in the chart symbolizes a k1/p1 pair. Each pair consists of one stitch of each color. The chart shows you which color to knit, and you’ll follow it up with a purl in the opposite color before moving on to the next square. So each pair of stitches will be either A/B or B/A, never A/A or B/B. You will see A/A or B/B groupings of stitches on the needle whenever you make a color change – never fear, these are not pairs. If you look closely, you’ll see that the first is a purl and the second a knit. In other words, they’re the second stitch of one pair and the first of another. As long as you never have a group of three or more of one color in a row, you’re working the pairs correctly.
Now you just need to make sure you follow the chart correctly – and this is done the same way you’d do any other chart. Count and check your work; use the round below to guide you; and don’t be afraid to run a lifeline every now and then. Ripping out double-knitting can be a hair-raising experience.
When you reach the end, I’m guessing Donna will suggest a bind-off as well (I don’t know if these are toe-up or cuff-down socks). The simplest bind-off is always an option – work a row in pattern and every time you have two stitches on the needle, pull one over the other and off the needle. This will create a little zigzag effect; it’s easy to pull too tight so be easy with your tension as you do it.
Finally, everyone’s favorite: weaving in ends. I’ve got great news for you: double-knitting is (mostly) hollow! If your yarn is grippy enough, you’ll be able to tuck the ends inside the work and not worry about them again. If the yarn is slippery, you may want to run it in a few different directions, changing direction around an internal color change (where the yarn on the back moves forward and vice versa, there’s a natural interior turning point for your yarn)
Once you’ve got the basics of double-knitting down, don’t be afraid to try something new! Double-knit in the flat to get into the habit of considering color change locations rather than specific colors, and figure out how to get really clean edges. Try increases and decreases for shaping. Add a third color, or a fourth. Build charts that show different patterns on either side of the work. Get into the really weird stuff with double-knit lace or cables. I’d love to be the one to teach you – I’ve got a book called “Extreme Double-Knitting” and a class on Craftsy.
If you’d like some hands-on assistance, I do teach workshops around the continent. My next and final set of workshops for this season is at Interweave Knitting Lab in Manchester, NH, from May 13-18. After that, I’m off for the summer and will be scheduling Fall workshops soon. If you’ve got a shop where you’d like me to teach, have someone from your shop sign up on my workshop mailing list, and they’ll get an email when I’m ready to schedule the next season’s dates.
Thanks so much, Alasdair! I’m actually a double-knitting novice, and I had to get someone else to knit my sample socks because I was having tension problems. I understand the basic process, but I need a LOT more practice before I will be able to knit something perfect enough for photography. I’ve got more projects I want do design with double knitting, so I’d better cast on and get some more practice time in. See you in a couple of weeks at Interweave Knitting Lab!
For more information on the Hiroshima Peace Socks, check out Stories In Stitches 3.