Helical Stripes in Garter Stitch! And on DPNs!
Ever since I learned to knit helical stripes last week, I’ve had a spring in my step. I’m not kidding. Where have you been all my life, helical stripes? It’s an incredible technique. So simple, yet so hard to explain in words.
Knitters have asked me two questions. I’m going to attempt to answer them here. For the questions (and answers) to make any sense, it will help to watch (or re-watch) Jen Arnall-Culliford’s video explaining the helical stripe technique.
Helical Stripes on Double-Pointed Needles
A few people have asked for further explanation on how to work helical stripes on double-pointed needles (DPNs). If you are working on DPNs, the technique is even simpler than working in the round using the magic loop or 2-circs method, because you don’t have to stop to slip any stitches. I attempt to explain it in this 1-minute, down-and-dirty home video:
(That little “yip” is you-know-who, expressing her disapproval of DPNs. Magic loop, Big Lady, Magic Loop!)
When working helical stripes on DPNs, the basic rule is that you knit three needles with color A, then go to the end of the fourth needle, where you will find the working strand of color B. Pick up color B and knit 3 needles in color B. Go to the end of the fourth needle, where you will find the working strand of color A. Pick up color A and knit 3 needles.
That’s it. Somehow, working on DPNs made it clearer to me how helical stripes work. (But I still can’t explain it properly.) Anyway, I learned that there is no magic to leaving a three-stitch gap between the end of Color A and the beginning of Color B: that gap could be any length of stitches. What matters is that the two colors never catch up to each other on the needles; you are never switching colors from one stitch to the next, in the same spot. That’s what creates the “jog.”
Helical Garter Stitch
When working garter stitch in the round, you knit one row, then purl one row. If you change from knit to purl (and then back to knit, and so forth) at the spot where you’ve placed a marker for the start of the round, you get a vertical line in your knitting that looks like a seam.
I’ve noticed this line when I’m making Honey Cowls. The Honey Cowl pattern is not in garter stitch, but it is a two-row pattern in which you alternate plain knit rows with a slip-stitch pattern that is based on purl. Just as with garter stitch, a vertical “seam” line forms at the point when you change from plain knit to slip-stitch purl pattern rows.
See? I once got into a deep discussion with a bunch of Honey Cowl enthusiasts about how to eliminate this line, but none involved helical stripes, and none worked to my satisfaction. I accepted the seam line as a natural consequence of switching from the knit round to the purl-based slip-stitch round.
Last week, with the help of Jen Arnall-Culliford, an insight smacked me in the head: the principle of helical stripes doesn’t apply only to changes in color. You can play the same helical game of chase when working garter stitch in the round. Just as in Helical stripes, you work a knit row until you get to 3 stitches before the start of the purl row, slip those stitches, pick up the yarn that you were purling in, and purl until you get to 3 stitches before the start of the knit row, slip those 3 stitches, pick up the yarn that you were knitting in, and carry on.
Instead of stripes of color, your “stripes” are the different textures made by knit and purl rounds.
I made another little video to demonstrate how to work helical garter stitch.
Note: you don’t need to work helical garter stitch in two colors, but you do need to work it using two separate balls of yarn. I used two colors to make it easier to distinguish between the knit rounds and the purl rounds.
Fun fact: in helical garter stitch, you never switch the yarn from front to back. The purl yarn hangs in the front when not in use; the knit yarn hangs in the back when not in use. THE UNIVERSE MAKES TOTAL SENSE.
Confession: I haven’t yet worked out how to make a Honey Cowl without that vertical line. I tried the helical garter stitch method, but ran into trouble with the alternating purls and slipped stitches of the Honey Cowl’s purl-based row. I think a smart knitter could figure out a way to solve that problem through some clever slipping of stitches back and forth or skipping them or something, but I haven’t yet cracked it. (As our friend Belinda used to say, answers on a postcard, please.) (Could it be as simple as slipping four stitches instead of three?)
Edited to Add: Breaking news: Jen has cracked the Helical Honey Cowl! To watch a mad scientist (knitter) at work, go to Jen’s Ravelry page. (I can’t wait to try this myself.)
For the moment, I’m content to marvel at jogless two-color stripes and “seam”-less garter stitch in the round.
Please forgive the quality of my videos. I hope they help!
I’m going to try this on a sock (DPNs) soon. Your videos make the method much clearer to me, but I still think it will take Just Doing It to understand how it works. Every time I hear ‘slip 3 stitches’ I think ‘floats.’ But there are no floats…ouch, my brain!
I think I may have accidentally found an answer for you. I am on my fourth deliberate 2 color honey cowl, and I found by inching forward a stitch on every other purl row (trying to make the dashes created by the purl row contrast color “meet”), it disguises the seam row. After work tonight, I will take pictures of the current project and see if I can show you what I mean, by posting something in the Lounge. It’s unblocked and imperfect so far, but the seam is hard to find unless you are looking for it.
After I watched your snippets video on helical stripes—I immediately started a pair of socks! I LOVE this technique and the result it gives you !!
Thank you !
This is so cool, Kay, thank you!
I really wasn’t sure why you were so jazzed about this striping technique, and now I see. I do love 1 X 1 stripes …. and now I will love them more. XOC
Would this technique work for a sweater in the round? I have read you can’t use the non-jog technique unless there are at least two rows of each color.
I CANNOT get my head around this!!
In Jen’s instructions in the written pattern, for dpns, the first time you knit with the second color, you knit 3 needles. After that, you alternate knitting 2 needles of each color. Maybe it works to keep knitting 3 of each color as well? I haven’t tried switching, but two then two definitely works. Spiraling along. . .
This is brilliant. Thanks! I have puzzled over this for years, in cowls, hats, socks et al. What a great solution. The videos are really good.
Very helpful Kay! Thanks.
I am loving my mitts on dpns – I’m even doing them on three, which turns out to work just fine! The best way I’ve come up with for conceptualizing the helical stripes in my head is to realize that I’m knitting two rows at a time, one on top of the other. (My engineering husband got it immediately, of course – took me a bit longer.)
REALLY appreciate this post, because I didn’t get it after watching Jen’s. I do now! Thanks so much.
I think… (and I’ve not tried it – yet!) that you’d need to cast on either an extra stitch or 1 fewer stitches, and then just always work round 1 in the first ball of yarn and always work round 2 in the second ball of yarn. The change in stitch count would then “create” the alternate row stitch pattern. On top of that I would slip an even number of stitches at the colour change so that you’re always starting the round 2 pattern in the same place when you pick up that ball of yarn.
The question is – who will be first to try it out? 😀
I haven’t played with this yet, but it ALMOST makes sense to me. This weekend, I have to try it, because I think hands-on will make it make perfect sense. (Of course, that will take time away from my Hadley – I badly missed my goal of joining the 3 tubes on March 1. I’m still not quite done with sleeve #2)
I understood the “slip three stitches at the end of a circular needle” method right away, and have been thinking about it ever since. The dpn method confused me though. However, after watching your excellent video twice (listening for the yip), I think I’ve got it now. Thanks! (Oh, and I must admit that “working blue” made me think of comedians’ definition of the phrase!)
I’ve worked this for socks on both DPNs and using magic loop, working all the way around the round with each color (i.e., not stopping after 2 of 3 or 3 of 4 needles, or a few stitches early and slipping them on magic loop), so that I actually am changing colors at the same point in each row. It works just fine, in that there’s no jog. But the tension can be a bit harder to control right at the color switch–for me, it’s looser just before the switch, and tighter after it–which can be visible if you look closely. If you have better control of your tension, it might be invisible for you.
Very exciting these helical stripes! And, I love your videos, Kay. (Still jealous of your hands, though).
I did this with three colors! A friend offered up some leftover yarn bits at our weekly knitting group. I had just discovered this method on Ravelry and used the leftovers of yarn to try it out on a hat. What was interesting was not just how well the colors blended when striped in single rows, but how simplyl the method worked. If you look at my horrible photos you can see I photographed it inside out as well. It’s a very fun technique with almost magical results.
oh THANK YOU!!! For some reason seeing you do it again in your videos is making it click a bit more! I am excited to try this soon!!!!
I just can’t wrap my head around this. I’ve watched the videos and obviously it must work but it’s really impossible. How is there not a jog? How can you skip a whole DPN and then keep knitting and there is not a huge gap? What is happening?!!
I know I have to do it to understand it and I am planning my own hell-to-the-no-this-cannot-work fingerless gloves to figure it out. I have knit a zillion hats in the round (and socks and fingerless gloves) and this makes no freaking sense.
(I am on my second honey cowl too. Love that pattern.)
Oh wow, I’ve been looking for a reason to start a new honey cowl. But then again, love the look of the one row stripes. Also loved hearing Olive advocating magic loop; she’s such a sensible, modern dog
I’m wondering if this method could be used to eliminate both the garter jog and stripe jog simultaneously when working garter in the round and creating stripes that are more than one row wide. Any ideas?
I am making a solid color hat that has 4 rounds of purl, followed by 5 rounds of knit. Would this technique work with that as well – would you need to slip the 3 stitches EVERY round, or just the first (or second) round of each knit and purl section? I am struggling with seeing a jog where I change from purl to knit, and any help would be greatly appreciated.
I am new to knitting and saw this lovely pattern and bought it and am now stumped at the bery beggining.
I jave learnt all the basic stitches and am familiar with both garter and stockingette, but the pattern calls for “narrow garter” and “wide garter” and no amount of googling has helped. Your website came upa s a possible result however, alas, I think google grasping at straws picked up on the word “garter” from your informative article above.
If you know what is meant, or perhaps a better way of finding out – please could you let me know. I would hate to fall off the knitting horse on only my second proper project.
here below is an excerpt of the pattern referencing this…
Back and front (work both the same)
Using 4 mm (US 6) needles and yarn A cast on 88(96:104:112) sts.
Work 8 rows in narrow striped garter st edging patt setting sts….
Work these 8 rows 4 times more….
Change to yarn A and work 16 rows in wide striped garter st and st st
patt setting sts .
also, as well, what are setting stitches???
Hope you or one of your readers can help:-)
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