The last time I remember doubled yarns being hot was when we were holding one strand of Le Gran from Classic Elite and one strand of novelty yarn to make garter stitch scarves.
Doubling yarn has come a long way since those glory days, but the idea is still the same. Doubling yarn makes a thicker strand that knits faster, and lets you play with color and texture.
Because I’m old enough to remember Le Gran Mohair, I am also old enough to get the song “Double Vision” by Foreigner stuck in my head any time I talk about doubling anything. I had the album and the cassette tape.
For this month’s article, I played with some of the yarns featured in Jeanette Sloan’s designs for Field Guide No. 15: Open to show you some of the thinking around doubling yarn. Here are all three yarns knit to their gauge as a single strand:
Fyberspates Cumulus up top with Fyberspates Gleem Lace and neighborhood Fiber Co. Rustic Fingering side by side below
The first thing you’ll notice when doubling a yarn is that the gauge changes. I can give you a chart to get you started on doubling yarns, but it’s not quite right, it’s “ish.”
Because you are holding two yarns together, there is more going on than for a plied yarn of the same size. That thing is the space between the strands. When a yarn is plied with two strands, some of that space or air is eliminated in the twisting together.
There is no deliberate twisting when you knit holding two strands together, so they’re aren’t locked together—they are free to float parallel to each other. Your gauge holding two strands of lace weight yarn together will be in the range of a fingering yarn, but it will likely be bigger than a 2-ply yarn of the same weight.
This extra space also lets you shift gauge easily. This photo shows Gleem (what a silky gorgeous yarn!) in shades Shoreline and Denim. I knit it at label gauge with a single strand (upper left) then doubled and knit with a needle one size bigger (lower right), which makes a fabric that is definitely useable, but maybe a little too firm. The swatch on the left is knit doubled with a needle three sizes up from the needle used for the single strand. Sizing up the needle makes a fabric that really works better with the yarn—soft with drape. If I look closely I can see the strands spreading out in the looser swatch.
One of the most fun ways to double up is holding two different colors of yarn together. Recently Anna Maltz and Cecelia Campochiaro have written whole books on working with marled (the “official” word for two yarns held together, especially when they are different colors) yarns, and Stephen West has a bunch of patterns that utilize marling.
I could go on and on about marling. It’s so fun. But I’ll get you started by showing a closer look at Shoreline and Denim Gleem Lace marled:
Marling adds depth and motion to your fabric. What I like the best about it, is how organic it looks, it’s not very orderly.
If you have a yarn that is textured like the fluffy Cumulus, doubling the yarn makes a super textured yarn. The fuzzy of this yarn also allows a bigger shift in gauge than a smooth yarn.
The top swatch is knit with a single strand at ball band gauge; the bottom is knit with a double strand and a needle size three times bigger. When doubling yarns you can make a very interesting texture too.
These swatches are knit with one strand of Cumulus and one strand of Gleem. I love the little flashes of shine from the Gleem that appear randomly in the fuzzy of the Cumulus.
How do I choose a needle size?
I have a spectacularly lazy way of choosing a needle to swatch with. Please note: I did say swatch. Doubling yarns make unique fabric, and swatching is the only way to know if you’ll like all aspects of the fabric—gauge, color, texture.
My lazy way is to add together the needle sizes of each strand and, pretending that the air between is knit on a US 1 (2.5 mm), I add a 1 (this doesn’t work out as neatly using mm needle sizes):
For me Gleem knits to ball band gauge on a US 1 (2.5 mm), so I knit two strands of Gleem on a 3 (3.25 mm).
For Cumulus by itself I use a US 3 (3.25 mm), for Gleem a US 1 (2.5 mm), and the air between is a US 1, so I knit Cumulus and Gleem doubled on US 5 (3.75 mm).
Try it and see if it works for you.
Doubled versus plied
Rustic Fingering is a single-ply yarn, and you can see in these swatches that it does a fair amount of wiggling around—the stitches aren’t very consistent. Wiggle happens with all the doubled yarn swatches, but it’s the most apparent with the single-ply. (These swatches are knit like the others, single strand to ball band gauge and double strand three US needle sizes up.)
I know some of you are wondering what’s the difference between a doubled yarn and a plied yarn. Clever knitters, take a look.
Because I have the power of spinning, I plied two strands of Rustic Fingering together on my wheel. It’s a light ply, but still twisted together and blocked. For the knitted swatches I used the same size needle (I used half as many stitches for the plied swatch). Look how much more orderly the plied swatch is, the stitches line up better, and I could have gone down a needle size, the yarn is more compact.
Just for fun, three colors!
Gleem Lace Shoreline and Denim with Rustic Fingering in Oliver.
I held both colors of Gleem and Rustic Fingering together, in a three-strand yarn. I know some of you have an eye twitch happening right now because the colors are all over the place, but I can’t get enough of the random flow of color. Applying my needle sizing formula: Gleem US 1+ Gleem US 1+ Rustic Fingering US 2+ US 1 for air = a size US 5 (3.75 mm) needle.
One more tip: rewind it doubled
I have one last tip to help your knitting of double yarns go smoothly. When you knit two strands from the same cake, one from the inside and one from the outside, they spool off at different rates. One strand can spiral around the other, instead of staying parallel—sometimes they even tangle.
To combat this, I rewind my yarn cakes with the yarns doubled. I use two separate cakes when I can, but I will also wind a new cake with two strands from the same cake. When I’m using a strand from the inside and outside of a single cake, I make sure to hold the strands under tension so they are less inclined to wrap around each other.
Oh, and for those of you missing 1978: Foreigner’s “Double Vision.”