Double Knitting

During the COVID lockdown, many of us chose to learn something new. For me, it was double knitting — the technique where you knit two sides of an object at once, ending up with negative images of each other that each look like the front side.

I started modestly, knitting 12 cm by 12 cm squares. I used the patterns published by Norwegian knitting icons Arne and Carlos. When they started their COVID knit-along, they said they wanted it to be accessible to everyone. It didn’t require any special skills like double-knitting. They didn’t say you couldn’t double knit. Down the rabbit hole I went.

The technique is simple: you knit and purl each pair of stitches. It works best in colour work, since changing colours binds the sides together. Without this binding, you end up with an envelope that could be sloppy.

The knit stitch is the main colour of the side you’re working on, or the pattern colour as the chart demands. The purl stitch is the other colour. In the bear baby blanket pictured above, I consider the blue to be the main colour and the white to be the pattern colour on the side that is showing most. To make the pattern, you switch colours like in any stranded colour work.

In trying to show others how to double knit, I’ve learned a few things. First, it’s important to carry your other yarn between the two layers. I knit Continental/Eastern/Pick and this style makes it easier to hold your yarns so that the carried yarn is behind your work when you knit a stitch. The English/Western/Throw knitters that I’ve worked with found it harder to figure out where that other strand of yarn should go. Because I had trouble figuring out how they were holding their yarn, I found it hard to show them a better way.

Next trick up my sleeve is that I hold both yarns in my left hand, and feed my needles by choosing the yarn that I want to use in the stitch. In the bird-and-flower baby blanket above, the dark purple is the main colour, and I’d hold it above the light purple (motif colour). I hold the threads about two millimetres apart on my index finger to keep their tension even, and to make it easy to choose the one I wanted to use for each knit or purl stitch.

When I started to double knit, I would talk out loud. I’d tell myself whether I was on a light or dark stitch (knit light, purl dark, knit light, purl dark, knit dark, purl light). After a while, I can get in the groove and knit silently. I cannot emphasise enough how much easier it is to talk out loud. I still talk out loud when trying to establish a pattern. I hardly ever have to go back and repair a mistake when I start by vocally telling myself what to do.

Let’s move to borders and edges. I like to edge my baby blankets with by alternating light and dark in a one-to-one pattern. The row above moves over a stitch, so that what was dark is light, and what was light is dark. This cements the edges of the blanket, and minimizes the possibility that it will fall apart when a baby turns into a toddler and drags their blanket around. I like to make by borders about one inch/2.5 cm deep and wide.

I started double knitting from patterns that had worked out the math. The Moominblanket above was my first big project. It was also the first baby blanket that I enjoyed knitting. It is a mirror image along both its vertical and horizontal axis. A parent can put the blanket over the baby any which way, and it will still look nice. One less thing to think about when they’re trying to go for a walk.

So when I saw the pattern for the Vintage Valentine (the purple birds, hearts and lattice blanket), I thought it would make a nice baby blanket. The graph was 72 stitches wide; the MoominBlanket is 144 stitches wide, plus 10 stitches for borders. Easy peasy.

Similarly, I spotted a pattern called Canadian Wild Cowl on Ravelry. I liked the moose, bear and trees. The moose-and-tree graph and the bear-and-trees graph were both 72 stitches wide. Perfect. I played mix-and-match with the filler patterns, and enjoyed constructing blankets that would take babies through toddlerhood and to adventures in the wilds of their imaginations as they grow.

Like most of my knitting, a project captures my interest when it changes. I have learned that I prefer pictures to graphic designs. At the same time, graphic designs serve as a wonderful frame for the pictures. Too much of either spoils the impact. I’ve been knitting a simple summer linen sweater to bring on a vacation to a hot country. It’s taken me longer to knit this sweater than it took to make the green and grey elk blanket. The plain stitching on the body has been sending me around the bend.

I tell people that double knitting is easy once you get the hang of it: it’s just knitting and purling. I acknowledge that it isn’t as simple as a rib. Close though, if you make things easy for yourself by knitting Continental style and holding both yarns in your left hand.