Step-by-step instructions on how to double knit a rib stitch in one or two colors the easy way
If you ask me, then there is no easier colorwork technique than double knitting. It’s one of these techniques that looks super complex but it’s actually pretty easy. A bit like the cable stitch. The finished project says wow but the process is super simple. But what if you want to go to the next step and start more complex projects. What about double knitting ribbing?
As you might know, the standard double knitting technique only creates stockinette stitch. This is arguably the best knitting stitch pattern to show off colorwork. But maybe you want to create a reversible hat or some reversible mittens and you would love to have a hem/cuff in a 2×2 rib stitch or so.
Impossible? Of course not! Here’s how to do that.
Tip: Check out my tutorial on casting on for double knitting with 4 different methods and don’t forget my video tutorial on double knitting either.
Understanding the theory behind double knitting
Creating a rib stitch using the double knitting techniques is actually pretty easy to achieve. You only need to understand one important fact:
Double knitting means – big surprise – knitting two pieces at the same time – hence the name. You work the front from the right side and the piece on the back from the wrong side. That’s why you knit the first stitch and purl the second stitch to create a reverse stockinette stitch there.
Now, imagine you were only knitting the front for a second. Where would you hide tails or a second color? On the wrong side, of course! And what if you were only knitting the back? Where would you hide anything there? Exactly, on the wrong side as well – so the side facing you.
With that knowledge, when you look at the basic double knitting project, you actually don’t bring both yarns to the back to knit the first stitch. You are hiding the color you are not using on the wrong side, and incidentally, you are also bringing the active color to the back because that’s what you have to do when you do a knit stitch.
And the same applies to the purl stitch. The yarn needs to be in front to purl. And at the same time, you need to hide the second color on the inside of your double knitting (read the wrong side) and that’s why you bring the unused color to the front as well. So, even for standard double knitting, the correct repeat should be:
- Step 1: Bring the unused yarn to the back, and knit one stitch with color A
- Step 2: Bring the unused yarn to the front, and purl one stitch with color B
So, with that important preface, let’s show you the technique.
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- Bring the yarns to the back and knit one stitch as normal in color A.
Note: I leave it up to you which selvage you use. I use the standard slip stitch selvage. That's why there are already two stitches on my right needle.
- Bring the yarns to the front and purl one stitch using color B.
- Yarns to the back again, and knit using color A.
- Bring both strands to the front of your work and purl using color B.
Note: Up until here this is double knitting 101 and things should have been pretty familiar.
- Keep color A in the back and purl using color B.
- Keep color B in the front (so you actually don't have to move the yarns at all) and knit the next stitch using color A (which should be still in the back).
- Keep the yarns the way they are (so color A in the back) and purl the next stitch using color B.
- Still don't move the yarns and knit the next stitch using color A - color B stays in front.
- Repeat steps 1-8 to create a two-colored rib stitch.
Of course, you don't have to change colors in that manner - I just showed you the most complicated version here. If you knit every second stitch with the same color, you will create uniform ribbing with a different color on each side (I did ABAB - BABA - but you could also do ABAB-ABAB).
If you just want to create a 1x1 rib stitch, you simply have to skip steps 3-6. Easy as that. And of course, you could also repeat steps 3-4 one more time before you move on to step 5 to create a 3x2 rib stitch, etc. I think you get the picture.
Mirror mirror on the wall? Which side of the double knitting ribbing has their purls where?
Now, you might wonder why I picked such a cryptic headline but in fact, it alludes to one very important distinction. If you follow the instruction above, you will create corrugated ribbing where the knit sections and the purl sections align. For every knit column on the front side, there is a knit column in the second color on the backside.
You may, however, not want them to match. And in this case, you have to adjust the repeat a bit. However, in reality, you only have to adjust what you do with the active yarn. The unused yarn stays exactly in the same spot – because no matter what kind of stitch you knit, the other yarn needs to be hidden inside. So, the repeat would change to this:
- Step 1: Knit color A, color B in the back as well
- Step 2: Knit color B, color A in front
- Step 3: Repeat steps 1+2 one more time
- Step 4: Purl B, color A in the back
- Step 5: Purl color B, color A in front as well
- Step 6: Repeat steps 4+5 one more time
- Step 7: Repeat steps 1-6
Now, let’s take a look at the following table where I listed the two differences side by side.
If you look very closely at this table, then you will see that the unused yarn always switches between back and front. And that’s your golden rule. No matter if you change colors or not – the yarn you are not knitting with always behaves in the same way.
It doesn’t matter which stitch you want to perform with the active yarn either. You could also do a twisted rib stitch and knit through the back loop/purl through back loop. Or you could switch the repeat every 4 rows and create a basket-weave pattern.
And likewise, you can change colors with every stitch pair the way you prefer or you just keep up the simple ABAB rhythm across the whole row.
But what I want you to understand is that there I literally no secret other than hiding the unused yarn on the inside of your double knitting. That being said, I found the matching ribbings to be easier to double knit as there are always 4 stitches where you bring both yarns to the front and back and 4 stitches where you keep them separate.