twisted stitch disambiguation

My recent pattern releases – Sarkle, Easwas, and Gruggle – all feature “twisted stitches” – but what exactly is meant by this term? I’m writing this post because twisted stitches can crop up in a few different knitterly contexts – and I’ve noticed that it’s a term about which there can be a bit of understandable ambiguity.

Twisted stitches form the hem and button bands of Yorlin

Probably the most common application of “twisted stitches” refers to individual knit stitches that have been worked through the back loops (often abbreviated ktbl or sometimes k1b). The extra twist that’s put on a knit stitch by working it through the back loop in this way forces it to stand out in relief against a surrounding fabric formed of adjacent purls. I love the highly structured, chewy appearance, of 1×1 twisted rib and it is one of my favourite go-to garment edgings.

Twisted stitch rib and patterning on the cuff of Braid Hills

The second, related meaning of “twisted stitches” refers to stitches that have been knitted through the back loops and subsequently crossed, most commonly a 1×1 cross, allowing single knit stitches to meander around the fabric in high relief across a ground of purls.

This classic exploration of Austrian twisted-stitch knitting is published by Schoolhouse Press

Maria Erlbacher’s brilliant book is the definitive exploration of this twisted stitch technique in the stocking-knitting traditions of her part of Europe. But motifs and patterns based on travelling stitches that have been worked through the back loops are found all over the world. In recent decades, they’ve been a particularly notable feature of the work of many wonderful Japanese knitwear designers, such as Hitomi Shida and Mariko Mikuni.

But the “twisted stitches” that form the basis of Norah Gaughan’s groundbreaking sourcebook are a little different.

Twisted Stitch Sourcebook

As Norah Gaughan puts it in the book’s introduction:

twisted stitches are two stitches that change places with each other . . . by working two stitches together and one of them on its own

Twisted Stitch Sourcebook

While such “twisted stitches” appear to travel across a plain ground, much as if they had swapped places through conventional cabling, there is no crossing or travelling here, and there is no cable needle. The action of these twisted stitches is much less like a cable, and much more as if you were increasing in, and then decreasing away, a pair of stitches simultaneously.

Here’s how it works

Right Twist (RT): Knit two stitches together, leaving stitches on left-hand needle. Knit first stitch only. Slip both stitches from needle. 

Left Twist (LT): Slip first stitch knitwise, then slip next stitch knitwise and return stitches to left-hand needle. Knit into the back of the second stitch, then knit into the back of both stitches together. Slip both stitches from needle. 

Right and left twists combine with garter stitch horizontals and through-the-back-loop verticals on Gruggle

The high-relief visual effect of “twisting” two stitches in this way is much more intense than if you crossed them over one another, at the front or back of the fabric, with a conventional cabling technique (if you don’t believe me, swatch it and see).

Claire’s Sarkle

While conventional through-the-back-loops cable crosses stand out best alongside adjacent purls, they aren’t as distinct when the background fabric is knit, or stockinette. But here, on the yoke of Sarkle, you can see that the twisted stitch diagonals stand out in a pleasingly embossed fashion across their stockinette ground. This is structure turned up to 11!

The highly embossed spokes of the six-point star on the crown of Easwas are formed with centred double decreases, and the less distinct alternate spokes are formed from slipped stitches – my wee trick here to maintain the pattern’s lines / visual consistency

When you work a right or left twist in this way, rather than by crossing or cabling, the stitch that you effectively decrease by working two together is neatly squirrelled away underneath the new stitch pair, so that the final twist sits very distinctly above the fabric ground. The embossed effect of such twists is, I think, directly comparable to that of the familiar centred double decrease. Twists form the diagonals of the Easwas crown, while centred double decreases form the alternate spokes of the star – you can see the raised effect of both is very similar.

Now, all this stitchery stuff might seem to some of you to be unduly technical, while to others appear to be completely obvious. But I’m mentioning the clear visual differences between conventionally crossed or cabled twisted stitches and those that are not crossed, but worked together, because it can really be the source of some confusion: a confusion which is perhaps not mitigated by the fact that the same or very similar chart symbols can be used to represent what are two separate techniques.

So, if you find yourself in any doubt about what you should be doing, always read the abbreviation / technique section in the pattern before just motoring away from what you assume is being referred to on a chart. Against a stockinette ground (a feature of the Sarkle, Easwas and Gruggle patterns) twisted stitches worked in the way that I’ve described really look appreciably different from those that are knitted through the back loops and then crossed. And if you knit the latter rather than the former you may find yourself a wee bit disappointed with the finished look of your fabric!

Happy twisting. I’ll be back tomorrow to talk about the pleasures of swatching twisted stitches.