Sunday, November 28, 2021

Can you use stranded knitting charts for double knitting?

A recent interaction on Twitter made me want to write this blog post. A knitter who had recently become very enamoured with double knitting took a look at my Vigil Wrap pattern, which is done with stranded knitting...


...and wondered whether it could be done with double knitting.

Of course it can - pretty much any stranded knitting chart can be used for double knitting instead - but the question is, should it? Because there's something very important you need to know about double knitting: 

It produces really flat stitches.

And thus, this blog post. Here, I will demonstrate what happens to the "aspect ratio", or "proportion of width to height", of stitches, depending on the kinds of knitting you're doing.

For instance, I'm sure we've all noticed that regular stocking stitch stitches aren't square. They're a bit squashed. That's why your typical sport weight gauge, for example, is given on ball bands and patterns and suchlike as "24 stitches and 32 rows for 4". It takes more rows (height) than stitches (width) to get to four inches, because the height of a stocking stitch stitch is smaller than its width.

And here is a teeny swatch of stocking stitch to demonstrate that:

The area encompassed by the basting in a darker yarn represents 11 stitches and 11 rows. It measures 1.75" wide and a tad less than 1.25" high, giving us a width-to-height ratio of 1.4.

However, stranded knitting, as used in the wrap pictured at the beginning of the post, is verrrry different. Stranded knitting produces stitches that are pretty much square in proportion. Here is a teeny swatch of stranded knitting to demonstrate that:


Like the stocking stitch swatch, the area emcompassed by the stranded motif also represents 11 stitches and 11 rows. But as you can see, it is much more square than 11 stitches and 11 rows of stocking stitch. Specifically, the 11x11 motif of stranded knitting measures almost 1.25" wide, and 1.25" high, giving us a width-to-height ratio of very close to 1 - i.e., a square.

(This is one of the reasons why stranded knitting is so great - you can have patterns that come out measuring the same across as they do up-and-down, meaning that geometric shapes like eight-pointed stars, squares, diamonds, hexagons, etc. - basically, just the sort of thing you see in traditional fair isle knits all the time - will look perfect. This is also why the stranded knitting swatch curves inward during the stranded knitting section, compared with the garter stitch edges at top and bottom: because the stranded knitting stitches are so much narrower.)

However, let's examine what happens when we use exactly the same motif that was used for the stranded swatch above, but with the double knitting technique:


(Yep, I should have slipped the first stitch of each row to make the edges nicer, sorry.)

Here we see that it is clearly not square. In fact, it looks very squashed. Like the stranded swatch, the motif takes 11 stitches and 11 rows, but it measures 1.625" wide and 1.125" high, giving us a width-to-height ratio of 1.44, which is even flatter than the proportions of the stitches in our first swatch, with the stocking stitch!

This is what you always need to keep in mind when you're considering adapting a stranded chart into double knitting. It's not that a motif is necessarily going to look terrible if it's not square anymore, but:

It's not going to look the same.

Whether you'll like the difference depends very much on what the motif is and whether you like it squished vertically by 30%. For example, with geometric patterns, you may be perfectly happy with the flatter look, but if the motif has recognizable imagery on it - dogs, spaceships, skulls, whatever - the difference may very well disappoint you.

So keep this in mind when considering converting stranded to double knitting!

(Note: All three swatches were worked with the same yarn, on the same needles, by the same knitter, in the same hour.)

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