About Woolly Wits

I am a hand-knitting designer and teacher. See and purchase my published designs on Ravelry.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mad for Plaid: Knit-Weave

The very last individual technique for creating a plaid-look fabric with knitting is knit-weave.  This falls into the category of embellishing because the fabric is first knitted and then yarn is woven across the surface to create the plaid.  

#26 Cloche with Plaid Band by Franklin Habit
from Vogue Knitting Winter 2014/15

The most popular base fabric for this technique is garter stitch.  The purl bumps of the garter ridges are easy to follow for your weaving pattern.  Also, by knitting horizontal stripes into the knitting, the weaving need only occur in the vertical direction.

Elementary Vest by Melissa Wehrle
from Interweave Knits Fall 2010

Close up of Elementary Vest 

Stockinette stitch makes a poor base for this technique.  The problem is that while the horizontal strands will lay nicely across the stitches, the vertical stripes want to sink down into it.  In the Elementary Vest, the crossing lines in the center of the boxes always have the vertical stripe on top of the horizontal to keep it up off the surface.  However, if you look hard at the close up of the knitted fabric, you will see that some of the vertical stripes connecting boxes have disappeared.

With multiple layers of yarn, especially when worked on a garter base, knit-weave creates a very thick fabric.  This makes it a poor choice for most garments, unless it is worked very, very loosely.  One of my favorite vintage plaid designs, gets around this by working in mohair.  The fabric is knit at a loose gauge with the fuzz of the mohair fiber filling in the gaps.

In the last of our plaid series we'll look at combinations of techniques.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mad for Plaid: Duplicate Stitch

#6 (no designer credit)
Vogue Knitting Winter Special 1989-90
Duplicate stitch, also historically know as Swiss darning, is another means to create plaid patterning on the surface of a finished piece of knitting.  Yarn is threaded onto a tapestry needle, and sewn onto the surface to duplicate the shape of a knit stitch.  The most popular YouTube video on the process is here, but there are plenty of others form which to choose.  

#13 (no designer credit)
Vogue Knitting Winter Special 1989-90
The only examples of this technique being used to create a plaid fabric were used in combination with another technique.  As you might imagine, duplicate stitch allover patterning would be tedious and time-consuming, so it makes sense to use it sparingly.  In these examples is it primarily used to create the vertical lines.  Duplicate stitch does work well in this application because it is easy to skip over stitches which simulates the weaving on a plaid fabric.  

(My apologies for the quality of these photos, but I had to reach deep into the archives for documentation of the technique.  Most of these appear to be scans of pattern pages.  I suppose the age of these designs speaks to the current lack of interest in the technique.)
Striven by Jennie Atkinson
Rowan #42, August 2007

The first two examples, modeled by guys, are a combination of stranded knitting and duplicate stitch.  The third pattern, a Rowan design, is slip stitch and duplicate stitch.  

I have personally only used duplicate stitch to fix mistakes (stitch over the wrong color in a stranded knitting design) or to monogram a sweater (a long-ago Harry Potter sweater for my book-loving daughter).  

Next up in our series:  knit-weave.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mad for Plaid: Applied Crochet Chain aka Surface Chain

Falkirk by Theresa Schabes
from Twist Collective, Fall 2014

Plaid Tam by Theresa Schabes
Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Hat Book
At last!  We are five posts into this series on knitted techniques to create plaid fabric, and we've finally come to my favorite, applied crochet chain.  Why do I love it?  Crocheting onto a finished piece of knitting give you easily done, crisp, even, single stitch wide vertical lines.  If you've knitted single row stripes into your fabric, then combined you get a grid, which is the basis of a plaid.

If you've handled a crochet hook before, you can conquer this technique.  Heck, you can do it even if you've never seen a crochet hook.  All you are doing is making a crochet chain - which is just pulling a loop through a loop.  Here you're doing it through the spaces of a knitted fabric.  In my plaid designs I create a column of purl stitches so there is a nice groove to show you where to put that crochet chain.  And, the recess of the purl column allows the crochet chain to sink to the level of the stockinette stitch fabric around it.

Plaid Fingerless Mitts by Laura Lamers
from The NorthCoast Knittery

If you've never worked an applied crochet chain, I've got a tutorial on my blog here.  Webs has a video tutorial here.  They refer to the technique as surface crochet.

Plaid Dog Sweater by Tara Schreyer

Applied crochet chain can be a simple but bold grid when worked in a single color on a solid background.  Increase the number of colors, either in the crochet or the background and you get a more sophisticated fabric.  I love to combine surface crochet with two-stranded intarsia, but I'll talk more about that in a later blog post covering combined techniques.

Next up:  duplicate stitch or Swiss darning.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mad for Plaid: Double-Stranded Intarsia

An unpublished design by Theresa Schabes.
Yarn: Rowan Kid Silk Haze
While I am not a fan of intarsia knitting to make plaid fabric, I am a big fan of two-stranded intarsia.  In this variation, two strands of yarn are held together and the plaid is created by dropping one of the strands and continuing on with a strand of a different color.  By both changing color across a row and by swapping out the non-changing color every few rows, you end up with a fabric that most closely simulates a finely woven plaid fabric.

#18 Checkerboard Hat by Theresa Schabes
from 60 More Quick Knits
Two-stranded intarsia works especially well with mohair or mohair blend yarns because the haze allows better blending of the colors.  Thinner yarns are recommended for this technique because you are using a doubled strand.  Put these two recommendations together, and you'll understand that Rowan Kid Silk Haze, or its equivalents from other manufacturers, is my favorite yarn for this technique.

For me, the biggest challenge to two-stranded knitting is working with the many strands of yarn, since there is a yarn for each vertical column of color.  While many knitters use bobbins (small plastic clips with yarn would around them), I prefer to cut long pieces and frequently join ends.  While both bobbins and long ends will tangle as they are wound around each other (required by the technique), at least the long ends can be pulled loose.  And, although I am often joining ends, mohair blend yarns respond very well to my favorite joining technique, spit-splicing.

To make two-stranded intarsia a more visually sophisticated fabric, I like to combine it with the applied crochet technique.  Looking closely at the shawl design at left, the gray and white background is worked as double-stranded intarsia, while the contrasting orange stripes are horizontal stripes and vertical applied crochet chain.  In the next post we'll cover applied crochet chain, which is such a great technique for creating plaid.

Gait's Hair Shawl by Theresa Schabes

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mad for Plaid: Intarsia

Natalya by Grace Melville
from Rowan Magazine #48
The third of our techniques for creating a knitted plaid fabric is intarsia.  In intarsia knitting, multiple colors are used in a row, but each patch of color is worked from its own ball/bobbin/dangling end.  When switching from one color to the next, the yarns must be wrapped around each other to prevent a hole.  So, as you may imagine, it is slow, fussy and often a tangled mess.

The one benefit of intarsia plaid in contrast to pictorial intarsia designs, is that the pattern is composed of regular geometric shapes.  One the pattern is laid out in the few row or two, the knitter is not generally glued to the chart.
#24 Plaid Pullover by Norah Gaughan
from Vogue Knitting Winter 2014/15

When I think of intarsia plaid, I always think of Rowan.  Being a British company, they celebrate the traditional fabrics of the isles, and always have at least one plaid sweater in their fall/winter magazine.  And they do them so well; they are always gorgeous.

But I will never knit one.

Ailish by Brandon Mably
from Rowan Magazine #56
A complex and sophisticated plaid pattern invariably has one or two stitch wide vertical stripes.  And to make a one stitch vertical intarsia stripe is very slow and very fussy, and it is nearly impossible to work evenly sized stitches.  Ugh.

Narrow vertical stripes can be made easily and cleanly with a crochet hook after the knitting is complete.  This technique, applied crochet chain, will be covered later in our series.

Next up:  two-stranded intarsia.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Mad For Plaid: Stranded Knitting

Emerson by Kate Gagnon Osborn
from Kelbourne Woolens
Another knitting technique to create a plaid patterned fabric is stranded knitting.  Two (or more) colors of yarn are carried across the row as they are alternately worked.  This technique is often referred to as 'Fair Isle' knitting, but true Fair Isle is a subset of stranded knitting with more specific rules about how the yarn is handled, as well as distinctive patterning.  Since that historical Fair Isle patterning does not include plaid, we'll stick to the term stranded knitting.

Our first example of stranded plaid knitting, Emerson, is a pretty cardigan with a basic pattern in two colors.  If you look back to the first plaid post, you'll see this is the same pattern as the slipped stitch Dhurrie from Rowan.  The difference is Dhurrie's slip stitch technique resulted in puffy solid squares which created dimension in the fabric.  With Emerson's stranded knitting, the result is a smooth surface.

(Of course, a smooth surface of stranded knitting is only achieved with blocking and good technique. If the floats of carried yarn across the back of the work are pulled too tight, stranded knitting will also be puckered.)

Aunt Fred by Pamela Wynnefrom The Rhinebeck Sweater
One of the best applications for stranded knitting is creating a diagonal plaid pattern.  For most other plaid techniques, a diagonal patterning can only be achieved by working each piece on the diagonal.  This is shown to great effect with Aunt Fred which combines a solid white yarn with a hand-dyed gold yarn with a great deal of variation within its tonal range.

One of the potential drawbacks of stranded knitting is its warmth.  With two strands of yarn used to create every row, a stranded sweater is both extra warm and extra heavy.  And when a heavier yarn is used, the sweater is often too warm to be worn indoors.  Of course, that might be just what you want in an accessory such as a hat or mittens.

Gingham Neck Warmer in Double Knit
by Gabriella Kartz
Here a cowl is worked in a stranded plaid pattern that is also double knit, resulting in a very warm reversible fabric.

Next up:  one-stranded intarsia.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mad For Plaid: Slip Stitch

Plaid knitting in a combination of techniques
from Vogue Knitting Winter 2014/2015
design by Theresa Schabes
One of my most popular classes is Mad for Plaid, where we cover several of the different techniques used by knitters to create the look of a woven plaid fabric.  Generally, the methods by which to create a knitted plaid are:

  • Slip Stitch
  • Fair Isle/Stranded Knitting
  • Intarsia
    • one-stranded
    • two-stranded
  • Embellishment
    • crochet chain
    • duplicate stitch/Swiss darning
  • knit-weave
  • Plus combinations and a few odd-ball techniques

In class we are sometimes too busy knitting to view my slideshow covering examples of all the techniques, so I want to share it here.  As well, I'll share my unsolicited opinions of the merits and drawbacks of each.
Fade to Gray by E.J. Slayton 
from Knitter's Magazine #93

Let's start with slip stitch plaids.  Just as with regular slip stitch patterns, the plaid is created by regularly moving stitches from one needle to the other without knitting them.  This is not a commonly used technique to achieve plaid for reasons I'll expand upon, but here are a few examples.  


Plaid Halter by Gryphon Corpus
from Interweave Knits, Summer 2008
Checked Cowl by Julie Weisenberger
Pattern available from cocoknits
Dhurrie by Lisa Richardson
from Rowan Magazine #54
The advantages to slip stitch plaid knitting are that they are usually a strong graphic pattern, especially when strongly contrasting colors are used.  They are also a relatively simple pattern work, since you never have more than one color in a row.  

The biggest disadvantage to slip stitch plaids is that they are limited in scale.  In the first two examples, the slipped stitches create the vertical lines of the plaid.  If the plaid were larger, the floats would necessarily be longer.  And, the longer the float, the more likely that the yarn will catch and snag as the garment is worn.  The pattern can be scaled up by increasing the weight of the yarn used, such as in Dhurrie which is worked in an Aran yarn.  However, in the photo you can see the puffiness of the plain tan boxes in contrast to the denser fabric of the mixed brown-and-tan slip stitch plaid boxes.

Within their limitations, I do like slip stitch plaids for smaller scale projects, such as accessories and kidswear.  My first slip stitch plaid design is soon-to-be-published.  (I'll keep you updated.)

Up next is stranded plaid knitting.