31 Mar 2021

Seeing Double: #7 – Tips and Techniques using Doubled Yarns

Hebden Gilet Jacket by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

Over the last few blogposts, I have been extolling the virtues of using two ends of yarn held together to add extra qualities to your knitting and to maximise the potential for finding interesting yarn combinations for your next project. So in this last blogpost in the series, I want to touch on some tips and techniques for working with doubled yarns.

Working with two balls of yarn - Diagram by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

So let’s turn our attention to how we can work with two ends of yarn held together – and the answer is that there are a number of different ways. The first and most obvious is to take one end of yarn from two or more balls of yarn and hold them together as you form your stitches. 

This is a simple solution and works quite well except that the balls of yarn can get tangled together as you work. Each stitch either imparts a little extra twist into the yarn or takes a small amount out, depending on your style of knitting. This change in twist makes its way down each length of yarn leading to the ball and after a while you might see the two ends tightly coiled around each other.

You then need to stop, pin the yarn end onto the ball of yarn, then hang the two balls of yarn from the work and allow them to untwizzle. I actually quite like doing that so don't see it as a major inconvenience. It's quite satisfying seeing them untwisting!

You can reduce tangling to some extent by having each ball in a separate container, or working with both strands coming from the inside of each ball. That will at least prevent the balls from rolling all over the floor.

Alternatively, you can mount each ball on a yarn dispenser so that they rotate as you work. These devices are sometimes called "Lazy Susans" or "yarn spinners." Some of these have a central vertical pin to hold the cone or ball of yarn, while others mount the balls of yarn side-by-side as in the example above from the Letto Workshop on Etsy. Rotating the yarn ball allows the yarn to unroll from the outside to keep the threads separated.

Winding a centre-pull ball of yarn using a Nostepinde, Photo by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

A second way to work with two ends of yarn is to wind a centre-pull ball. This photo shows a ball I was winding using a Nostepinne, but there are a number of ways to make a centre-pull ball of yarn. 

Once you have this wound, you can then use one end of yarn from the inside and one from the outside. Some people say their knitting is not quite so even if they do this but I haven't actually seen that myself. Perhaps it depends how you wind your centre-pull ball. Whichever way you do it though, it is simple and there is only one ball to look after, but you might still need to stop and untwist the yarn ends from time to time.

One of the key advantages of this method is that it is really good for small projects where you really only need one ball of yarn, and you are less likely to end up with more remnants to add to your stash.

However, a slight disadvantage of this method is that you will come to the end of the ball more quickly. You will then have two old ends and two new ends all to be finished at the same point. With two separate balls of yarn the balls tend to end up being slightly different lengths so the joins are staggered.

Working with two colours wound together - Diagram by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

Then the third way is to take the two or more strands of yarn and wind them together into a meta-ball. This is a good method if the two yarns are the same or very similar in composition, so it works well for two different colours of the same yarn, for example. However, it is not such a good method for yarns with a different fibre composition as one yarn might stretch more than the other.

It also takes more preparation time and is hard to undo if you decide you want to use just one of the yarns on its own later. However, it is the simplest to knit with and is probably the best if you are going to start knitting a large rug or an art project with multiple ends of yarn!

Two yarn threads side-by-side, Diagram by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

One thing to note is that when you are working with two ends of yarn held together, every stitch on your needle will show as a pair of loops. Then when you come to work the next stitch, your needle will need to go through both loops as though it were a single, thicker yarn. 

The two strands of yarn will sit next to each other in each knitted stitch. This gives quite an interesting effect as you can see in the Hebden Gilet Jacket at the top of this post.

You do need to be careful that you don't inadvertently split the stitches apart when you are working or you will change the number of stitches on the needle. Of interest, you can use this as a technique for increasing the number of stitches, but you don't want to end up doing that by mistake.

In addition, you need to make sure that both of the yarn ends wrap the needle to create the new stitch every time. If you inadvertently only use one thread to form the stitch, then that will create a thinner stitch at that point because you now only have a single strand where you should have two. However, you will usually find that you will detect this fairly quickly as the yarn ends you are working with are now a different length, so that is usually quick to fix.

I hope you have enjoyed this blogpost series and that it will give you lots of inspiration for future projects! If you would like to return to the introduction to the series, then please click here. If you would like any more information about the patterns that I have featured in this series, then please visit the pattern store on my website.

I'll be back soon with updates on the knitting I am currently working on for spring and summer.

Until then - enjoy the lovely Spring weather!


Photo credits: Many thanks to the Letto Workshop on Etsy for their photo of a wooden yarn holder.

24 Mar 2021

Seeing Double: #6 - Mix 'n Match Sets


Trevarren Placemat Set by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

If you have been following this "Seeing Double" series of blogposts, you will know that I am a fan of using two ends of yarn for all kinds of reasons – it can add warmth to your winter knitting, expand your range of yarn choices, and produce beautiful tonal effects. It also allows you to incorporate additional fibres into your work to add drape, texture and visibility. 

However, there is another really good reason to use doubled yarns, and that is to create sets of items – all perfectly co-ordinated because the same yarns have been used throughout.

Trevarren Placemat Set by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

This is what I have done in the Trevarren Placemat Set pictured above. The placemats and coasters have been worked using a single strand of yarn while the hot pads and central tablemat use two strands of yarn held together. 

The yarn is Paintbox Yarns Cotton Aran, which gives a lovely surface for the placemats and coasters even when used with just one strand of yarn. However, putting two strands together creates a sturdy hot pad that will protect your table top from hot, heavy casserole dishes.

In this set I have used the same colour throughout but of course you could bring in a range of colours for the placemats, then combine different colours for the tablemats to give a different look for the centre-of-table items.

Northstowe Beanie Hat by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

Here's another idea for knitting a set of items: thick hats, scarves or cowls worked with doubled yarns, then matching gloves, mittens and socks using a single strand of the same yarn.

Some years ago I found myself at the end of a long flight with no knitting yarn to hand. I know! Shudder... It came about because a full cup of airline tea had soaked into a large amount of cotton-yak yarn and if you want to read the whole sorry tale, then please click here

Needless to say, there are multiple reasons why I give thanks for having such a beautiful daughter (and I am of course only marginally biased) but that day it was because she is a knitter with a large and diverse yarn stash! She soon found me some suitable yarn and I started casting on for the cowl I was planning. The next day we visited a lovely yarn store in Faversham, Kent and found the yarn for the Northstowe Hat pictured above.

The yarn we found was a gorgeous DK wool mix by Coopworth Yarns called Socks Yeah DK and it worked beautifully with two ends of yarn held together. The Teversham Cowl  that I made first with this yarn was so soft and warm that I went on to make a headwarmer, then a whole range of hats including the Northstowe Hat for men and the Madingley Beanie Hat for ladies.

Druidstone Socks by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

I could, of course, have used a thicker yarn if I had found one, but I just loved the colours and feel of this yarn.  Working with two ends of the DK-weight proved to be an excellent choice, too. Not only did it make some super-warm items, but I could also mix the colours as in the Teversham Cowl I featured here

It also had another great advantage – that I could then use just a single strand of the yarn to make thinner items such as gloves and socks to give a wonderfully co-ordinated set of items. 

You can also use this idea to co-ordinate a glove and scarf set with different fibres as I was describing last time. So if, for example, you have a wonderfully fluffy mohair-and-wool scarf, you could then work a thin strand of mohair into the cuff of a glove to echo the soft look of the scarf. The glove "hand" would be in plain wool, but the trimmed cuff would tie the two items together. 

Alternatively, you could work a pair of mittens in a single plain colour with a two-colour cuff to match a thicker two-colour cowl or hat worked with doubled strands. 

As a side note, you can also use this same concept within a single item to reinforce a key area or to add extra padding. For example, you could work the sole of a knitted slipper with an extra strand of yarn to give a lovely cushy surface to walk on. 

 Fishermen's sweaters could have an extra-dense area at the elbows to save wear, or an additional strand could be added at the shoulders for warmth. The same is true for ski socks where a thicker boot cuff could be formed using a second strand of yarn to give extra cushioning and insulation.

Next time, I'll be back for the final blogpost in this series, where I will look at tips and techniques for working with doubled yarns. In the meantime, if you would like to read the introduction to the series, then please click here

Until then - keep safe and happy!


12 Mar 2021

Seeing Double: #5 – Mixing it up

Aelwen Baby Dress by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

Last week I had the fun of knitting a new Aelwen Baby Dress as I had decided to expand the pattern size range from the original baby sizes to now include little girls' dresses too. So I dug through my yarn stash and found a good quantity of the yarn I needed to knit a new dress. I do love summer pinafore dresses for little girls and this one has such a delightful drape and flow because the yarn is not just cotton but a cotton/rayon mix.

That combination illustrates just how different fibres mixed together can bring out the best qualities of each of them. Here the cotton base layer has provided strength and structure while the rayon has give a cool fluidity and sheen. It is a lovely fibre mix and just shows what can be achieved either by finding the perfect yarn or by using two or more thinner yarns at the same time.

So in today’s blogpost in the “Seeing Double” series I am going to look at some possibilities for combining fibres to add texture, drape, strength, visibility and other attributes to your next project.

Getting Ideas

Somertide Placemats by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

So what makes a good fibre combination? Well, one idea is to look at commercially available yarns and see how they have used fibres together. For example, the Somertide Placemats pictured above have been worked in a yarn called “Cotlin”, which is a combination of 40% linen with 60% cotton. Linen is an amazingly strong fibre and can produce wonderfully firm, resilient items. It is a good choice for placemats, shopping bags and rugs. However, it can be a little rough to work with and the end result can be harsh too.

Cotton is also quite strong but is a much softer fibre. The combination of the cotton with the linen retains the strength of the linen but makes the yarn much softer and easier to work.

However, there are three problems with relying on yarn companies to provide the right fibre mixes:

1 – that yarn may not be available in your locality,
2 – it might not be in the colour that you were wanting,
and shock, horror: 3 – it might have been discontinued….

I used to love the Rowan wool/cotton 4-ply. It was a perfect blend, with a lovely combination of cool summer cotton and warm merino wool. The mixture leant itself to Spring-time knitting, when winter is lifting but you still need a bit of warmth in the evenings. I was really sorry when it was discontinued, but the good news is that I know I can achieve a very similar result using a thin cotton yarn combined with a fine merino wool held together.

As I've said before: it’s good to have options – and there are definitely more choices for single-fibre yarns than there are for combinations.

Becoming a fibre critic

Flax Drying, Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina USA - photo by Tim Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

Looking at commercial mixtures is one way of finding good fibre combinations, but another is to think about the qualities of each fibre and, more importantly, their weaknesses. We have already touched on this when talking about some of the commercially available yarns, so to reprise:

Linen is a strong, resilient fibre but is hard on the hands to work and can give a rough surface. Adding a softer fibre such as cotton can make this easier to knit with. Alternatively, a fibre with extra drape such as bamboo could be added to make the final item less stiff and starchy.

Cotton is good for the summer but lacks warmth for the Spring and Autumn, so adding a touch of wool can give a good combination. Cotton is also quite a heavy fibre so wool adds lightness and body.

That probably gives you the idea and of course you can apply this “critical” approach to other fibres too by looking at their attributes and the reason you’d like to use the fibre. Then think about the negatives and see if a second (or third) fibre would give a better combination. For example:

Alpaca is beautifully soft and fluffy but items made from alpaca can stretch horribly. Adding wool to the mix can give a garment that retains its shape to a greater degree.

Wool is warm and the fibre of choice for winter but some breeds can be itchy to wear. Adding a softer breed such as merino can improve the “handle”, or you could add a baby alpaca yarn instead. This would not only give a softer result but also a beautiful “halo” to the finished item.

Cashmere or qiviut are both as warm as toast but sooooo expensive. Running them alongside a soft wool such as Blue-Faced Leicester or merino would make your project easier on the pocket while still benefiting from the luxury of the base yarn.

Adding a special feature

Reflective yarn, photo by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

Then there are situations where you would like to add an extra “something” to your knitting. Here are some options:

Visibility – Our daughter Anna lives in Sweden where the winter nights are long and dark. Having garments or even a pocket or an armband worked in a reflective yarn can mean the difference between being visible to oncoming cars or being a darker shadow on a dark road. You can embroider reflective yarn onto your knitting after the event as I mentioned in an earlier blogpost but another approach is to hold the reflective yarn alongside your current yarn to knit a high-vis hat or add a reflective band to a sweater.

Texting – It is difficult to text and keep your hands warm in the winter. Fingerless gloves are one possibility, but another is to incorporate a conductive yarn to the fingertips of your gloves so that you can text with fully covered fingers instead.

Elasticity – When I used to do a lot of machine knitting, I found it very difficult to get enough stretch into the machine-knit rib at the base of a sweater. One approach was to graft the garment onto a hand-knit rib, but another was to run a thin elastic yarn alongside the main yarn in the rib to give added stretchiness.

Texture – There is quite a fashion trend right now to add a thin strand of mohair or alpaca to your main yarn to give extra fluffiness and texture. This can be for the whole garment or just in bands to give a contrast between smooth and fluffy areas. The same would hold true for a bouclĂ© yarn to run alongside a smoother one, or for a thick-and-thin yarn to give a country look to a sweater. There are also many other interesting yarns you could use to add texture to your work such as fur, ribbon or eyelash yarn for a retro look.

Shine – I mentioned above that both bamboo and rayon can add shine and drape to a cotton yarn, but there are some fun yarns in the shops which can really add “bling” to your finished item. For example, Plymouth Gold-Rush is available in a range of metallic colours such as copper or electric blue to add glitz to an evening dress or wrap.

Added elements – You can also choose to add beads, feathers and other items by using a smooth base yarn alongside one which has been spun with mini pom-poms, beads, sequins or other ancillary items. The shops are full of these fancy yarns or you could have fun hand-spinning some novelty yarns yourself. Again, these could be used in just one area by sometimes working with two smooth yarns and then occasionally replacing one of the strands with your novelty yarn for a fun change.

Changing Gauge – This is not strictly a fibre issue but you could create a gauge gradient by working heavier yarns at the bottom of an item and then gradually moving to lighter yarns towards the top. This is a great technique for items such as curtains and room dividers. However, if the fibres and colours also vary as you move through the piece that can create an interesting look.

Mentmore Socks by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

Longevity – A well-knit garment can last for many years, but there are always areas that are under stress. Socks are a great example, where the tops continue seemingly the same year after year, long after the heels and toes have worn through. To avoid this you can add a strand of a thin, strong yarn at the heel to provide a bit of support for the main yarn. This can be a wool with a longer staple length such as Blue-Faced Leicester but mohair, nettle yarn and silk also work well. I personally don’t like using silk because I feel sorry for the poor little moths, but I’m probably in a minority of one there when it comes to considering moths and knitting!

The Mentmore Socks pictured above were worked in a 100% merino wool yarn – beautifully soft but really not suitable for socks. However, the yarn was just too lovely to resist! I knew the heels wouldn’t last with merino alone, so I reinforced them with a 2nd strand of a laceweight yarn at the same time and I haven’t needed to darn them yet.

Yarn weights when combining fibres

Combining yarns – Diagram by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

In the third blogpost in this series, I touched upon how to choose yarns to use together and the weights you might expect when combining yarns. The same principles apply when making up a fibre combination to work with. So for a 50:50 cotton/linen mix, you could use two medium yarns together, one of linen and one of cotton or you could opt for four thinner yarns in the same proportion.

However, using different weights of yarns can open up further options. For example, one nice mixture is to combine wool with a little touch of cotton and linen. As you can see in the diagram above, this is easy to achieve using different weights of yarn, so a thicker wool yarn is balanced by thinner strands in the other fibres. The diagram shows a cotton, linen and wool combination, but the same ideas can be used for any fibre/texture mix.

Alpaca and wool hat, by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

That is what I have done in the hat photographed above. This combined a lovely soft alpaca DK yarn in a mid-brown tweedy colour with a deeper brown fingering weight yarn. The combination gave me the just the thickness I wanted, while adding to the complexity of colours and giving extra warmth and elasticity. I made that hat 18 years ago and it is still my go-to hat for excursions into snowy landscapes!

I hope that has given you lots of ideas for combining fibres for your next project and of course, you can also use these ideas with the colour notes from my last blogpost as the two strands of yarn might not only contribute different fibres to the mix but also different colours too. So you could plan a tweedy mix from different coloured bamboo and cotton yarns, or a heathery combination of very similar coloured merino and alpaca.

We are approaching the end of this current series of blogposts and next time I will be looking at how we can use the technique of working with two ends of yarn held together to produce sets of items.

Until then – keep happy & healthy!


Anna's Website: www.kikuknits.com

Photo credits: 
Many thanks to my husband, Tim Ravenscroft, for his photo of flax drying against an old split-rail fence in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, USA. If you'd like to see some more of his photos, please visit his Flickr site.


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