I won’t beat around the bush: colour work in knitting terrifies me. I have nightmares about tangled bobbins of yarn, and of spending hours on a fair isle sock, only to find out it’s too tight when I try it on because I didn’t make the floats loose enough. Double-knitting, for me, is the only exception. This technique’s virtues are too numerous to list, but I’ll give it a go anyway. First of all, you end up with a double-thick reversible fabric, which is great for potholders (I’ve designed some real nerdy ones on my blog), hats, scarves, and even jackets (M’lou Baber’s book Double Knitting: Reversible Two-Color Designs has some gorgeous ones). Next, since it’s a double-sided fabric, you don’t have an ugly wrong side where you see all the floats. Finally, the most useful aspect is that it’s still really stretchy because the yarn is always knit, and never carried behind for more than a stitch, which is especially ideal for garments.
The following is a tutorial on how to get started with double-knitting, so that you can take any knitting chart and turn it into a double-knit masterpiece. I must admit that there are alternative methods for casting on, binding off and doing the double-knitting itself, but I will present my favourite techniques, that is, the ones I think work best. Now, on to the knitting!
Step 1: Casting on
There are two ways to cast on when double-knitting. The first is to cast on with both colour yarns, and the second is to cast on with only one colour of yarn. I prefer the latter simply because it creates a neater-looking edge.
Cast on as many stitches as you’ll need for your design (or a few more if you want some extra space on the sides). Your life will be much easier knitting the next row if you cast on really loosely, so I prefer using both needles to cast on.
Step 2: Working the first row
In the first row, we introduce the second colour. This is done by working both colours into each stitch.
Keeping both strands behind your work, first knit the brown yarn in the first stitch. Then, without pulling the stitch off the left needle, move both strands of yarn to the front of your work and purl the blue yarn in the first stitch. Let the first stitch slip off your left needle.
Continue in this manner for all the stitches, bringing both yarns to the back for the knit stitches and to the front for your purl stitches. You will have alternating stitches of knits in the brown yarn and purls in the blue yarn. The knit stitches will make up the design on the side facing you, and the purl stitches will make up the design on the opposite side.
Step 3: Working the pattern
For this tutorial, I’ve chosen the above very simple diamond chart. The filled in squares represent a knit stitch in the opposite colour that you’ve been working for the background. For example, if you’re on the side where the blue stitches are knits, for the background (or white) squares on the chart, you will knit with the blue yarn and purl with the brown yarn, and when you get to the pattern (or filled in) square, then you will knit with the brown yarn and purl with the blue yarn. This can be confusing, and is probably best illustrated with a photo:
The above shows the background stitches being knit and purled, and the below shows the contrasting pattern stitch being knit and purled.
Remember to always bring both yarns to the back when knitting and both yarns to the front when purling. The first row of the pattern should look like this:
On the opposite side, brown is now the background colour and blue is the pattern colour.
Continue in this manner until you’ve knit the entire pattern. You will have a blue diamond on a brown background on one side, and a brown diamond on a blue background on the other side.
Step 4: Binding off
When you’ve completed the entire chart, it’s time to bind off. As with casting on, you can bind off either with one yarn or both yarns. Again, I prefer the look of binding off with one yarn, so that is what I’ll show you.
Begin by knitting the first knit-purl group together, and then knitting the next knit and purl stitches together. Then, simply pass the first stitch over the second as you would for a regular bind-off.
This gives a fairly clean bind-off edge, though you will have a purl ridge on the opposite side.
And you’re finished! So go forth, and fear double-knitting no longer!