Learn It: Double-Knitting Colorwork

Fir-Cone Sachet

In the 2014 issue of Interweave Knits Gifts, double-knitting designer extraordinaire Alasdair Post-Quinn goes in-depth about colorwork double-knitting, using one of my favorite patterns as his teaching tool!

Alasdair's Fir-Cone Sachet was one of my picks for my holiday decor newsletter, and it keeps popping into my life, whether it's in the Knitting Daily Shop, this issue of Knits Gifts, or the actual cones on the fir trees in my back yard!

Here's an excerpt from the 2014 issue of Knits Gifts, about the fascinating knitting technique of colorwork double-knitting.

The Double-Knit Fir Cone Sachet

A few years ago, as I was touring around with my Extreme Double-Knitting trunk show, I had a strange string of experiences at one particular show. People would come up to my table, fondle the reversible hats and scarves, ooh and ahh—and then say "Oh, but I could never do that." Then they'd walk away. Even if I begged to differ, they'd persist—they felt the technique was just beyond them.

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, and at the same time, creates a flexible fabric, similar to stockinette. And there's no wrong side: the opposite side mirrors the facing side in opposite colors. But at its simplest, it's no more complicated than 1×1 ribbing.

Fir-Cone Sachet, ready to fill with fresh balsam fir needles

Over a decade of teaching this "esoteric" technique, I've striven to find ways to help people understand that double knitting need not be frightening. For a long time, I assumed that the best way to impart that knowledge was to begin by explaining the structure of the fabric and how it's constructed. That way, when you started double knitting, you'd understand as much of what you were doing as possible. But that method of learning may not work for everyone. After all, you don't need to understand how a fuel-injection system works in order to drive a car. Sometimes, it's enough to sit behind the wheel, turn the key, put it in drive, and go forward.

To start, I'm going to boil standard double knitting down to simpler terms. If you remember these tips, you need never be afraid of this technique again.

Alasdair's Double-Knitting Tips for Beginners

• Start with a double-knitting project that's in the round. In the round, the side of the work facing you is always going to look like the chart you're working from and the opposite side will create itself. When you work flat, every other row is reversed in color and orientation, not to mention the challenge of clean edges. You can work plenty of things, large and small, in double knitting in the round—cowls, headbands, wrist warmers, cup cozies, and the sachet pillow shown here, for example.

• Begin with whatever cast-on you like best, holding both yarns together. This way, you'll end up with twice as many stitches as required, but they'll be in pairs. You want them in alternating colors, so by pulling the occasional pair one through the other, you can rearrange any pairs that are out of order as you work the next round. Once you start working in double knitting, half the stitches will create the front fabric and half will create the back fabric—the doubled fabric that makes it double knitting!

• To join in the round, just bring the ends together and begin double knitting. There's no need to switch first and last stitches or do any other special preparation.

• Every stitch is a component of a k1, p1 pair; the purl is always the opposite color from the knit. Each square in the chart signifies one pair, but only shows you the color of the knit stitch.

How to Read the Chart

As you read the chart, when you come to a square in MC, bring both yarn ends to the back and k1 with MC; then bring both ends to the front and p1 with CC. Similarly, when you come to a square in CC, bring both ends to the back and k1 with CC; then bring both ends to the front and p1 with MC.

Below there's an example from the Fir-Cone Sachet, with a newly worked row held up against its corresponding chart row. If you look carefully, you can see that the chart squares always correspond to the live knit stitches on the needle—and that the purl stitch is always the opposite color from the knit stitch that immediately precedes it.

To bind off, you can use the standard method, except instead of knitting all stitches, you'll continue with a double-knit row, knitting and purling in alternate colors as you did on the final charted row while binding off. When you have one pair left on the needle, break your ends and pass both ends through both loops.

Hide your ends inside your fabric. Double knitting is mostly hollow, except where the faces lock together at a color change. Especially when your yarn is grippy, you'll be able to weave your ends inside your fabric with very little effort.

As with any other new skill, double-knitting proficiency is partly about building muscle memory. As you work, you may find that your hands sometimes remember what to do before your mind does, and once your mind catches up, you'll get that "aha!" moment. After you have that foundation, you'll find it much easier to learn flat double knitting, shaping, and more advanced colorwork concepts.

—Alasdair Post-Quinn, from Interweave Knits Gifts

I think this technique is well worth learning. The applications are endless—think pockets, as just one idea. Since the front and back are knit at the same time, double-knitting is a wonderful method for knitting kanga-style pockets on pullovers. I love those.

The lovely little Fir-Cone Sachet is the perfect starter project for learning how to knit colorwork double-knitting. Get your copy of Interweave Knits Gifts today; I'm sure there are several people on your gift list who would enjoy this little sachet. And by adding a loop to one of the corners, you've got a perfect tree ornament!


P.S. Have you used the double-knitting technique? Share your projects with us in the comments below.

Other Things You May Like to Check Out:


Colorwork, Knitting Daily Blog
Kathleen Cubley

About Kathleen Cubley

Hello daily knitters! I'm the editor of Knitting Daily. I've been obsessed with knitting for about ten years now and my favorite projects are sweaters. I like the occasional smaller project, but there's nothing like yards of stockinette with a well-placed cable or a subtle stitch pattern here and there. I crochet a bit now and then—especially when I need to produce a baby blanket in time for the baby shower. I've been in publishing for 20 years and I'm finally exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of knitting and communication. I live in Spokane, Washington and when I'm not knitting I enjoy gardening, snuggling with my dogs, swimming, reading, and playing in the snow in the winter. But, really, I'm pretty much always knitting!

7 thoughts on “Learn It: Double-Knitting Colorwork

  1. I double knit a scarf for a baby. Did not want it to drag for him to trip over so with three little buttons IT is a double sided cowl. Needed much less wool to complete and very warm since its double knit. Also still had enough yarn left for a pair of matching mittens.

  2. I double knit a scarf for a baby. Did not want it to drag for him to trip over so with three little buttons IT is a double sided cowl. Needed much less wool to complete and very warm since its double knit. Also still had enough yarn left for a pair of matching mittens.

  3. Twenty years ago I made a king sized bedspread for my son and his new wife using this method and a chart pattern from a crochet book. It took 45 minutes to knit one row and I ripped mistakes out numerous times. I’m still recovering from the experience.

  4. I am currently nearing the bind off for my first ever double knitting project. La Toupie shawl. The hardest part for this first timer was how to hold the two separate yarns. Videos I watched show the knitter holding both yarns in one hand – I tried it but the yarns twisted together and I couldn’t pick them separately to knit. Then I tried holding the yarns in both hands – one color in each. At first keeping tension in my right hard was difficult. I am a continental knitter and used to holding my yarn in my left hand. Finally I mastered the tension, but it was so time consuming to switch from knit to purl as I would bring one yarn to the front with my left hand, then the other yarn to the front with my right hand, then purl, then move each yarn to the back. I then purchased a fancy little spring type gadget to put on finger to separate each yarn, but they wouldn’t load the same way – it just didn’t work for me. Finally I purchased a cheap little plastic ring with a separator at the top. And it worked! I was able to knit my continental method (pick), and keep the two yarn strands separated. With that, double knitting became a fun thing to master.

  5. I enjoy double knitting and have used it over the years for a number of projects that I wanted to be reversible. Some of my favorites were scarves I made for Special Olympics participants and a pretty bag based on a vintage pattern. I am a continental knitter and knit with the front yarn over my left thumb, the back yarn over my left forefinger and use my left pinkie for tensioning. I also developed my own method of binding off to match my preferred cast-on edge. With regard to this post, I recently purchased Alasdair Post-Quinn’s “Extreme Double-Knitting” after borrowing it from the library. The book includes detailed instruction with pictures for everything from casting on, basic stitches and casting off to more complex techniques such as cabling. I look forward to incorporating some of these new techniques into future projects.