Friday, January 12, 2018

Twined Knitting, volume 3

OK, I finished those z-ply twined mittens. Half-mittens, actually.

Here they are:

[twined half-mitts]

I am very happy with them. The fabric is amazing: very dense, yet still soft and pliable. I love the surface decoration you get with this technique - it involves nothing more complicated than carrying the floats on the front of the work, rather than on the back (the floats are never more than 1 stitch long). 

While the outside of the knitting doesn't look that different from regular stockinette, the inside is quite different:

[inside view of twined knitting]

All those twists create little ridges on the back of the work and make it thick and lofty. I'm sure this would make amazing slippers! 

I find that my gauge is quite different with this technique: it's much tighter. So although the mitts were supposed to be husband-sized, they ended up being 2 sizes to small and therefore are now mine! So I've done another pair, using standard s-ply yarn (Palette from KnitPicks, which is fairly loosely plied fingering and a little finer than the Hygge Tveband), and I explored colourwork rather than texture. I upsized them and cast on 80 sts to make them bigger.  Here's the result:

[two-colour twined mitts]

These were fun to make as well - I really like the combined effects of colourwork and texture. Using colours that are close together (grey and white) makes the mitts a little less eye-popping. 

Since I used s-ply yarn, I twisted the two strands counterclockwise to unply the yarn as I knit. I see that I can't tell from the finished fabric that the initial yarn was s-ply rather than z-ply, and I didn't find the twisting action more difficult in one direction vs. the why did the old-timers decide that z-ply yarn was preferable to s-ply for this technique???

I think it may have something to do with the yarn management. I found that while the yarn tangles with z-ply yarn, I could at least knit a few rounds of mitten before having to let the ball spin to get rid of the twist. Not so with s-ply yarn! After half a round, I had to spin the ball. Somehow the twist stays way up high, near my knitting hands, and gets nasty and tight really quickly. 

My younger son is about to head off for a 4-month internship in Saskatoon, and has requested a pair of full mittens in order to be able to cope with the -25C weather. So I'm off to produce another set! This time, I will try two-at-a-time, to see if I can get that working. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Twined Knitting, volume 2

OK, now that I've knit a little bit of twined knitting, I've already learned some stuff.

1. This is essentially a "throwing" technique. It's also butt-slow. 

I am lucky in that I can knit using "picking" and "throwing" techniques (ie. "continental" and "english" style) with equal facility, so I've been able to try both on this technique. And I find it much easier throwing - and if you can support that RH needle, so much the better. I thought at first I could pretend I was doing colourwork, which I find easiest/fastest by continental-style "picking", but quickly found it impossible. It's because you have to constantly twist the 2 strands together in the same direction, and you basically need to drop one strand to accomplish this. Hence the use of my right hand (since I'm right-handed), and the requirement to support both needles while my right hand is busy twisting yarn. I can see why this is limited to small objects (unless you are using pit knitting or a knitting belt or something, with ultra-long DPNs).

2. Get clear in your head which way you need to be twisting those yarn strands.

Roll 2 strands of yarn together with your thumb and forefinger:

[roll two strands together - 
moving thumb up in direction of arrow rolls them clockwise]

If the yarns look like the picture below when you've rolled them, you have z-twist yarn and you need to twist the strands together with the bottom strand moving up and over the top strand - like you did when rolling the yarns together in the photo above. If you translate this motion into holding a screwdriver with your right hand, you'll see it's a "righty-tighty" move. 

[2 strands of yarn, unplying as they twist]

If, as is more likely, the strands look like the photo below, you have standard s-twist yarn and you need to twist by having the top strand move down and over the bottom one. Try unplying your strands by moving your thumb in the opposite direction, in the picture above. This is the "lefty-loosey" screwdriver motion, yes?

[2 strands of yarn, plying together harder as they twist]

Play with this. Pick up your knitting and twirl the 2 strands around each other first one way, then the other, and you'll soon see which way unplies them. For z-twist yarns and the "authentic look" of twined knitting, you'll want to ensure the yarns twist "righty-tighty" during both purling and knitting. For s-twist yarns you'll need to do "lefty-loosey" during both purling and knitting to get the unplying effect - and note, this means you won't be doing the twists the way that Knitty article tells you to do it!

As I mentioned in volume 1 of this series on twined knitting, the twist is a personal preference thing. A "compact" yarn produces a fabric with a different drape and loft, and the stitch definition will be slightly different than if you knit with an "open" yarn. Try a small sample using each twist direction to see which you prefer.

I found it useful to do this unplying test as I started knitting/purling, so I could get the twist going in the right direction...which brings up...

3. Yarn management becomes an issue within seconds. 

Because of all the twisting, you get a tangled mess pretty quickly. Best tip (thank you Principles of Knitting!): use two ends of a center-pull ball, ** pull off a "wingspan" or generous double armslength of both strands of yarn, and then clamp the two ends to the ball using one of those bulldog grips (or a clothespin, or a short knitting needle stabbed in and out a few times to trap the strands) so they can't unwind more. When you've used up the wingspan of yarn, dangle the ball so it unspins, unclip the yarns, and repeat from **.

[clamp the yarns to the ball using a bulldog clip]

Don't be shy about unwinding that "wingspan" - I've found it helpful to have at least 1m or so of yarn "free" at all times. With z-twist yarn especially, I'm unplying it as I knit and it helps to have the extra yarn free to "regularize" the twist. I've found that knitting straight-up twined for a few rows really makes things twisty, and that throwing in the odd crook round really helps decrease the twisting.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Twined Knitting, volume 1

I've seen several writeups about the technique of "twined knitting", also known by its Swedish term "tvåändsstickning" or by the equivalent Norwegian term "tvebandsstrikking". It has been written up in Knitty here (with a pattern, here), and there are several YouTube videos showing the various stitches (knit, purl, and so-called "crook" stitches).

Twined knitting is done with two strands of the same (often even same colour) yarn, and with every stitch you twist the two strands around each other. Unlike stranded (colour) knitting, the yarns are twisted constantly in the same direction, never untwisting. The backside of twined knitting looks quite different from fair-isle colourwork - it's much denser. Knitting with two strands allows you to play games with loops of yarn from the strand you're not using, which leads to some fun textures. Also, because it's double-thick, it's very warm (and windproof, if done at a tight gauge, as is traditional).

You are traditionally supposed to  twist the yarns in the opposite direction to which they were plied, so this action slowly unplies or opens up the yarn. This apparently makes the end product trap more air. I think it probably also enhances felting. Traditionally, the technique employed so-called "z-twist" yarn (for spinners: spun clockwise and plied counterclockwise) and the twisting was done by lifting the strand from the second-to-last stitch knit over the last stitch knit (ie. twisting the two yarns clockwise) on the back.

Nowadays, this type of yarn is hard to find, and most yarns are "s-twist" (for spinners: spun counterclockwise and plied clockwise).  But, I was at Vogue Knitting in early November, browsing the vendors, and I came upon The Yarn Guys booth, where I chanced upon an American-spun special z-twist yarn (Hygge Tveband Sport) especially meant for this type of knitting. So I bought a couple of skeins....hence this series of blog posts!

[on the Left: good old regular "s-twist" yarn. Note that the strands lean LEFT, 
like the middle part of the letter "s".
on the Right: special-snowflake "z-twist" yarn. Strands lean RIGHT,
like the middle part of the letter "z".]

Z-twist yarn is hard to find. Hygge Tveband Sport is milled to spec for the Yarn Guys and it isn't cheap (count on $50 for a couple of skeins - enough for 2 pairs of mittens - shipping incl). Contact them directly and they'll send the stuff to you.  I've only found one other called Mora, which is sold by Nancy Bush at Wooly West (I've never ordered from this site). Note that I'm not talking about the Malabrigo Mora yarn of the same name.

But, if you want to use "regular" yarn (s-twist), hey, no problemo! For the most authentic effect, you just need to twist the strands counterclockwise on the back of your work: ie. bring the second-to-last stitch thread under the last stitch knit.  This action then has the same effect : it gently unplies your yarn.

I'm not making this up, this info is from that eminent bible :  Principles of Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt, who lists her sources. But I do I note that the point of unplying your yarn is not discussed in the Knitty article, nor is it mentioned in any of the videos on YouTube that I skimmed. In fact if you use the traditional "clockwise" twisting actions meant for z-twist yarns and shown in the Knitty article, or demonstrated on YouTube, on readily-available s-twist yarn, you will compact your yarn rather than opening it up...this is a picky detail, obviously, but it matters to some kntting geeks (ie. me). Compacting your yarn will affect the stitch definition and the final drape/loft of your fabric. It's a personal preference thing, so try both twist directions to see which you prefer!

Another, even more subtle, point is that regular knitting - even without twining - tends to unply z-twist yarns, making them rather unpleasant to knit with (this is the reason millspun yarns are s-twist).  So twined knitting with z-twist yarns delivers a double whammy of unplying. Again, this will matter only to knitting geeks. I'm really wondering why the good knitters from way back settled on z-ply yarns and clockwise twisting, rather than standard s-ply and counterclockwise twisting...will have to do some experiments...

I'm knitting up some twined mittens now. And I'll be posting on what I learn as I go.