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!