Step-by-step instructions for double knitting – a simple and reversible colorwork technique
Have you seen scarves or potholders knit with two colors that are fully reversible? You saw no floats or tails on the backside but a negative motif instead? And now you are wondering how to knit it? Well, then you came to the right place because this tutorial will show you how to double knit.
First I’ll show you the general technique. Next, there will be a section on how to change colors in double knitting, and then we’ll talk about knitting more complex patterns as well. And the good news: It’s actually quite an easy colorwork technique and rather perfect for beginners.
It’s almost as versatile as intarsia knitting in terms of transferring complex pictures into knitting but not even a tenth as complicated. Plus, it creates a fully reversible fabric that no other colorwork technique can so easily achieve. And since it’s twice as thick as well, it’s perfect for scarves and other winter garments that need to be a bit warmer.
One note ahead: There are multiple ways to double knit and I’m going to show you the most popular and probably fasted way to do it in this post. But you can also check out my tutorial double stockinette stitch where you knit every row twice and you do not need to carry two strands of yarn at the same time (which means it’s easier at the start and harder later on).
So, let’s dive right into it, eh?
Note: Don’t forget to check out my video tutorial on double knitting.
What is double knitting?
Double knitting describes knitting techniques that produce two fabrics at the same time. These two sides can be connected to each other with interlocking stitches (like the brioche stitch) or be fully separable (so you can knit two socks at a time) – often because it is easier or faster than knitting two pieces separately.
The standard double knitting technique with two colors also creates no floats on the backside. As a result, there are no limitations as to how many stitches a given color block can be wide (a common problem with stranded knitting).
This tutorial will be all about the standard double knitting technique to created reversible colorwork. Read more about double knitting in general here.
Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.
- Cast on an even number of stitches with the cast on for double knitting of your choice.
- Turn your work around, pick up both strands of yarn and bring them both to the back of your work.
- Knit the first stitch as normal but only use color A. Keep color B in the back and tensioned around your finger.
- Bring both strands to the front of your work.
- Purl one stitch using color B only - color A stays in front of the work.
- Bring both strands to the back again, and repeat steps 2-6 until you reach the last two stitches of your row.
- Slip the second to last stitch purlwise with both strands in the back.
- Bring the yarns to the front and slip the last stitch purlwise as well.
Note: On the first row and depending on your cast-on method, you may have to unravel the slip knot here.
- Turn the work around, bring the yarns to the back of the work (if they are not already there), and knit the first stitch through the back loop using color A.
- Twist the yarns around each other. This will prevent your work from falling apart at the edges.
- Bring both yarns to the front again, and purl the next stitch using color B. This will trap color A in between the layers.
- Repeat steps 2-12 until you reached the desired length.
Again, a knitting thimble is really recommended as it makes the process a lot easier and allows you to keep an even tension.
If you have been using the invisible cast-on method, you may have to knit all stitches through the back loop in the first row only. This will untwist them so you get an extra invisible edge. This is only required if you notice your stitches are mounted the wrong way.
You can use this double knitting technique to knit two pieces at the same time. In this case, you have to skip the selvage stitches (steps 8-12) and just alternate between the knit and purl stitches across all rows. If you pick the right cast-on method, you will then create two separate pieces. Do take care, that you do not accidentally twist the strands as you knit across.
This method will create stockinette stitch. You can also use it to create any other fabric as well. As long as you bring the second color to the back for every stitch on the right side and to the front for every stitch on the wrong side. This means, for a purl stitch on the right side, the second strand needs to stay in the back which might make things a bit more difficult without a knitting thimble (see further down below).
How to change colors in Double knitting
One of the great advantages of double knitting is that you can transfer basically every two-colored picture into knitting. Once you mastered the basic technique, this will be remarkably easy to do.
The only thing you need to know is that almost all double knitting charts & patterns treat stitches pairs. So, if you knit the first stitch in color A for the front side, you purl the second stitch in color B. With that in mind, here’s what you need to do.
Step 1: Knit up to the position you want to change colors. The next stitch should be a knit stitch.
Step 2: Bring both yarns to the back as usual, and now simply knit the next stitch in a different color.
Step 3: Bring both yarns to the front as normal, and purl it with the other color.
And that’s already it. There is no magic whatsoever involved. You simply switch colors. The only thing you need to be aware of here is that you will make the front and back interlock. The fabrics will form one unit. This means you can’t use it for knitting two at a time.
Other than that, there are no rules whatsoever. You can just knit one stitch in a different color or 20 in a row. It really does not matter and you do not have to create any floats on the backside (like in fair isle) or twist the yarns (like in intarsia).
Note: Just in case, here’s a post explaining the difference between fair isle vs intarsia.
Do know, however, that the first stitch of any color change will behave a bit differently. That’s because the loop from the yarn comes from behind and not from the adjacent stitch. It will often also be a bit looser. So, I wouldn’t recommend creating double knitting patterns with lots of 1 stitch color blocks side by side.
How to bind-off double knitting
Finishing your double knitting is fairly easy. It can be as easy as doing a regular bind-off. This, however, will create a distinct and somewhat sharp two-colored edge. For some reversible projects, you may want to have an edge that is a little bit less conspicuous. In these cases, a variation of the standard Kitchener Stitch is a very good choice.
Here’s a tutorial on an invisible bind-off for double knitting that explains this technique.
Double knitting complex repeats
Once you understand the basics, you can use the double knitting technique to basically knit any other repeat as well. You only need to make one very simple realization:
If you look at my instructions on how to double knit from above, then you’ll see that it says that you should bring both yarns to the back for a knit stitch on the right side and both yarns to the front for a purl stitch for the wrong side. But that is actually wrong.
It should actually read: For every stitch on the right side, keep the unused color(s) in the back. And for every stitch on the wrong side, keep the unused color(s) in front.
It just happens that you need to bring color A to the back to knit as well and color B to the front to purl. So, it makes things much easier to handle the two strands as one. But technically speaking, you absolutely have to treat both strands separately in double knitting.
So, with that knowledge, a double knitting ribbing would look like this:
- Step 1: Knit one stitch in color A with both strands in back
- Step 2: Purl one stitch with color B with both strands in front
- Step 3: Purl one stitch in color B, keeping color A in the back
- Step 4: Knit one stitch in color A, keeping color B in front.
- Repeat steps 1-4 to create a 2-colored 1×1 double rib stitch
Note: Check out my full tutorial on double knitting ribbing here (with tons of pictures, etc)
This will be much more difficult to handle and it will probably require you to work with a knitting thimble or hold each yarn in a different hand (like in advanced fair isle knitting). And tensioning your yarn correctly will be even more important. A 2×2 rib is actually one of the hardest knitting stitches because of the slack you create when weaving the yarn back and forth – and double knitting will exaggerate that effect.
But as long as you keep to the mantra “stitch in the front, unused yarn in the back, and stitch in the back, unused yarn in front”, it doesn’t matter which knitting stitch you knit and how you need to position the yarn for it.
And it’s actually quite easy to remember. In double knitting, there is no true wrong side since it’s a reversible fabric. The only place to hide tails is on the inside. So, you always have to position the yarn you are not knitting the stitch with so it’s hidden on the inside of the work. And obviously, this means, if you work the back, that unused yarn can only be in front.
Or you could say: For knit stitches, you always have to bring the other yarn along (either to the front or the back). And for purl stitches, the yarns always have to stay in place (so the yarn for the front always stays in front of the needles, and the yarn for the back always stays in the back of the needle).