A step-by-step tutorial on knitting bavarian twisted stitches and traveling twisted stitches by a local.
I grew up high up in the alps in the south of Germany. A region that is famous for both its cheese and its traditional lifestyle. Think lots of cows, pretzels, leather pants, and folk music. But deep in the south of Bavaria, you will also find ancient knitting techniques still alive: The bavarian twisted stitches.
These stitches, sometimes also known as traveling stitches, are a way to offset beautiful patterns knit through the back loop with purl stitches and enhance them with 1×1 cables. Virtually no traditional bavarian knitting pattern does without them (check out my free traditional Bavarian sock pattern to see what I mean)
But how do you knit them? In this post, I will try to bring the techniques behind the bavarian twisted stitches closer to you. I will show you exactly how I knit them, what you need to look out for, and how to knit more efficiently.
First, I’ll talk about the basics, and then I’ll provide you with some step-by-step instructions.
So, how do you actually knit bavarian twisted stitches and traveling twisted stitches? Actually, it’s just a simple variation of knitting cables without a cable needle.
The basic stitch
A basic knitting pattern could look like this. Please check out the legend because I am keeping with the traditional way to note knit stitches in this tutorial (and not the way most Anglo-Saxon patterns do it).
How do you knit it? Well, in written instructions it would be like this:
Round 1-5: p4, ktbl, p2, ktbl, p4
There is no special way to knit the kbtls. It’s just the standard continental technique.
Step 1: Insert the needle into the back loop of the first stitch on the left needle from right to left.
Step 2: Wrap the yarn around the needle counter-clockwise and pull through.
If you are knitting flat, you have to do some thinking. On the wrong side, you will have to knit all purls and purl through the back loop all ktbls.
Important: If you have a pattern in front of you, then the chart will always tell you if you have to knit in between the rounds or pattern each round. So, depending on this information, the above chart could actually display 10 rounds.
The traveling twisted stitch
There are four basic traveling twisted stitches. They form the backbone of all traditional patterns. I am also providing you with the original Bavarian names in the brackets.
- Traveling to the left (“Zugmasche nach links“)
- Traveling to the right (“Zugmasche nach rechts”)
- Crossing left stitch in front (“Kreuzung nach links“)
- Crossing right stitch in front (“Kreuzung nach rechts“)
Let’s take a look at a little pattern to show you these:
This is the traditional way to chart them. Experienced knitters might already guess that it’s just a different way to plot cables. I personally prefer this method, because you can see the way the different twisted stitches travel much better. And the cable symbol doesn’t block out the other stitches either.
The only thing you need to be aware of that this notation actually represents the actual position of the stitches, so the crossing is knit in row 5 or 8. Read it as: This is going to be the new position of a stitch and it comes from there.
#1 Traveling to the left
Some patterns also call this cable twist left or left twist stitch and will plot it with a 1×1 cable symbol in the chart. But, bavarian traveling twisted stitches are knit without cable needles. Results are much neater without one, and it’s so much faster to knit.
Step 1: Insert the right needle into the back of the second stitch on the left needle.
Step 2: Press your right thumb against the first stitches to secure it.
Step 3: Slide the left needle out of the first two stitches. Only the first stitch should drop. The second should be secured on the right needle.
Step 4: Instantly pick up the dropped stitch with the left needle again.
Step 5: Slide the (slipped) stitch on the right needle back to the left needle.
Step 6: Purl the first stitch (or whatever your chart says) and ktbl the second stitch.
Important note: This stitch works with any other stitch combination as well. There is always one twisted stitch traveling to the left. But the second stitch can be a purl.
If it is another twisted stitches, then the stitch is called a twisted cross with the right stitch (of the two) in front. So, I’m not going to show you this technique because you shuffle the stitches around in the same manner. The only difference is that you ktbl the second stitch as well after re-arranging.
#2 Traveling to the right
Step 1: Insert the right needle into the front of the second stitch on the left needle.
Step 2: Press your right index finger against the first stitch to secure it from behind (you can also use your middle finger if that feels easier).
Step 3: Slide the left needle out of the first two stitches. Only the first stitch should drop in the back of your needle. The second should be secured on the right needle.
Step 4: Instantly pick up the dropped stitch with the left needle from behind again.
Step 5: Slide the (slipped) stitch on the right needle back to the left needle.
Step 6: Ktbl the first stitch and knit the second stitch according to the chart.
As you might already surmise, the twisted cross with the left stitch in front, is just a variation of this second stitch.
So, while most traditional bavarian patterns list those four stitches, they are actually just two. The difference lies just in the way you knit the second stitch.
You will also find the names right twist stitch or cable twist right. I personally stick to the literal translations of Zugmasche nach rechts, which is “traveling to the right”.
So why is there a difference between Traveling to the left and Crossing to the left?
Now, you might wonder why there would be a different name for a left cross and a traveling to the right when they are essentially knit the same.
The reason is simple: First of all, you have to realize that in centuries past, stitch patterns were usually not written down. A mother would teach her daughter and sometimes there would be a sample stitch belt (basically a scarf knit with all the different stitches and patterns a knitter knew).
So, because it was mostly passed on orally, there was a need to name about everything. Each little repeat had a creative local name like “turn ‘n turn window” (Drah-di-Fenster), or “sibyl shanks” (Hexen haxn) etc. so you could remember it more easily.
But there is another reason why people today have different names. You can also knit the traveling to the left without lifting the stitches.
Basically what you do is, you knit the second stitch first going through the back, and then knit the first stitch regularly and then drop them both.
Step 1: Insert the needle into the gap between the two stitches and keep the working yarn in front.
Step 2: Insert the needle into the second stitch purlwise and push the loop to the back.
Step 3: Bring the purl loop all the way around to the front.
Step 4: Lnit a purl stitch through that loop (might be a bit fiddly) and then knit a regular ktbl through the remaining first stitch on the needle and drop both at the same time.
That was traveling to the left. For traveling to the right, you have to actually have to bring the ktbl stitch to the back and then purl the first stitch. And because these techniques are so fundamentally different, they kind of deserve their own name.
I am not going into great detail here because nobody I know does it like that. While you can certainly knit it that way, it is not the traditional way to do so.
The whole technique is actually quite contrary to the bavarian twisted stitch which requires high tension and a tight gauge. But you can only knit these crossings like that if you are knitting quite loosely, to begin with. Also, it tends to wear out the fabric in these places on top of that. So, I really cannot recommend it, despite being somewhat faster with a bit of practice.
Special traveling stitches
If you know how to knit the two ways to cross the stitches I explained in great detail above, 95 perfect of all knitting patterns featuring Bavarian twisted stitches should be accessible to you.
The middle cross
Sometimes you want to cross three stitches so the middle one stays in the center. Think of it as one continuous line of stitches, that gets crossed below or rarely above by two lines of twisted stitches. It is a bit more complicated to knit and probably requires a bit more practice.
Step 1: Insert the needle into the second and third stitch on the left needle from the front and drop the first stitch behind, leaving the other two stitches on the left needle.
Step 3: Pick up the dropped stitch with the left needle.
Step 3: Insert the right needle into the second on the left needle and drop the first stitch behind (or in front if you want the middle stitch to be in the back)
Step 4: Pick up the dropped stitch with the right needle from behind.
Use the thumbs to secure the stitches as usual. You could also do it the other way round and bring the third stitch to the left first, but I find this a bit more difficult to knit.
The traveling twisted decrease
Sometimes you want to knit two twisted stitches together. If you want to keep the right line and let the left line vanish, then things are easy. You just knit a k2tog tbl. It’s a left-slanting decrease and the right stitch always stays on top.
But on the left side, things are a bit more problematic. You can’t knit a k2tog, because this leaves a standard knit stitch behind, which will look a bit weird in a line of twisted stitches.
So, you need to go a bit crazy for the left side. First, you need to do a traveling to the right stitch. But instead of knitting the individual stitches the way they appear, you knit them together through the back loop.
This will be quite hard to knit and it will require sharp needle tips and some experience. If you can’t make it work, you can also stick to a regular k2tog twisted, though I find it harder to knit.
Bavarian twisted stitches: Things you need to know
I’m writing this tutorial assuming you know the following techniques:
- how to knit through the back loop (ktbl)
- how to knit the cable stitch
- how to knit in the round on double-pointed needles
- and how to knit the knit stitch and the purl stitch
If you don’t know these yet, then I urge you to read my tutorials (there are videos available for all of them) and come back to this tutorial later.
That being said, we need to cover some guiding principles behind traditional bavarian knitting patterns and stitches first. I am mentioning these because they play a crucial role in achieving the kind of results my home country is famous for.
1. Most of the traditional knitting patterns are knit in the round
Traditionally, two kinds of garments were knit in Bavaria: Light Jackets (“Janker”) and socks. For jackets, coarse heavy wool was used and the patterns were usually quite simple as the wool would not allow a lot of intricate designs.
The socks, however, were where a knitter could truly show their skills. Only here, you’ll find amazing designs with the typical bavarian twisted stitches.
I’m mentioning this for a reason. Because if you buy a book with traditional designs, then most of them will be meant for knitting in the round. There will be no simple return row, and some of these stitches/repeats will just not really work when you knit flat.
2. Most patterns are knit with very small needles
The second thing you should be aware of is that most socks were (and some still are) knit with very fine needles. Usually between 1.75 to 2.5 mm. Now, theoretically, nothing speaks against using bigger needles. But a lot of the simple repeats already require 10 or 20 stitches.
Most common gusset designs require 30 stitches – on BOTH sides. There’s just no way you can incorporate these designs into a pair of socks that only has 40 stitches cast on in the round. You need the small needles, so you can fit it all in.
3. Bavarian twisted stitches look best with a highly refined wool
The yarn you pick matters a lot as well. You need a yarn that has a very high stitch definition. This basically means your typical sock wool. The Schachenmayr Regia is particularly favored among the local knitters.
A lot of women’s stockings are also often knit with white cotton yarn. But those designs are usually a bit more lacey (lots of yarnover eyelets) and not too many twisted stitches.
4. Speckles and twisted stitches don’t work well together
And last, but certainly not least, the color of your yarn matters a lot as well. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, there were no beautiful colorways by indie yarn dyers available. The yarn came in a scant few colors. And so the knitters used the twisted stitches to make their patterns interesting.
If you are using a hue-shift colorway with speckles, then the chances are really high that your twisted stitches will get lost and not pop the way they should. So try to keep it semi-solid.
5. Bavarian knitters knit with the continental technique
English throwing is virtually unknown in Bavaria and has only become known among advanced knitters thanks to the advent of the internet. Most continental knitters tend to knit a bit tighter than their English throwing counterparts. And for the twisted stitches, it’s kind of important to not knit too loose – otherwise, the patterns won’t pop.
That doesn’t mean these stitches are not accessible to English throwers. I’m just saying that you may need to adjust your tension.