talking twisted stitches

I’m definitely not the only designer who has been enjoying exploring twisted stitches recently, following the inspiring prompt of Norah Gaughan’s Sourcebook. A wee while ago I noticed that another of my favourite designers – cable queen, Thea Colman – had released a couple of fabulous patterns that combined texture and colour in a way I’d never seen before – so I thought I’d ask her to tell us more about them. I first met Thea at Edinburgh Yarn Fest many moons ago, and it was a real delight to catch up with her for this illuminating conversation. Chatting with Thea really makes me think that we designers should share more with each other about the way we work. . . .

Thea in her Asti Spumante tee

Hi Thea! Your two Asti Spumante designs are really beautiful and innovative – I loved them both the moment I saw them. They made me wonder if you’ve been on a bit of a twisted stitch kick recently? 

Thank you so much Kate! I’m pretty much always on a cable kick, but I have Norah’s new book here in the house and there are a LOT of stickies on this one. I really like the how the more delicate stitches of these cables look on lighter weight yarns, and I a few DK weight sweater quantities waiting for me to work on them, so I expect to use a few more before 2022 is over. 

Have you (like me) found Norah Gaughan’s Sourcebook inspiring and useful? 

Absolutely! I have both of her sourcebooks and look at them often for ideas – Her eye and sense of symmetry/asymmetry really appeals to me.  

Thea’s Asti Spumante hat

I’m not an efficient cabler, and like twisted stitches as a way of making things move about the fabric that doesn’t interrupt the flow of my knitting. What do you enjoy about this technique?

I am one of those knitters who put my cable needle away a LONG time ago, so I love twisted stitches for the ease of working them – and as I said above, I really love a more delicate cable on a delicate yarn and you just can’t beat the clean line of a twisted stitch for that. 

I love how you’ve brought colour into twisted stitches in a way I’ve not seen done before.  Did you develop this nifty technique through swatching? How did it come about?  

I did. A lot of swatches! I’ve been trying to think of things I could do that would be different from what I’ve already put out there. I love the designs I’ve made in the past, but I tend to do combine cables and yarn in a certain way and I want to mix it up, challenge myself a little. 

So, I have a whole notebook of new ways to think about cables and this was the first one that really came together for me. The hard parts were keeping it simple and getting to a really clean transition, but once I got this chart down, it was just so fun to work! 

What type of yarns would you say work well for this technique? 

I think the most important part is getting a color combination that works, and an accent yarn that pops well in that little nook in the cable. It’s a great way to use up extra yarn from other projects. I love how the color changes in the Spincycle (my accent yarn) are subtle, creating stripes that work together but don’t exactly match. In the tee, the cream background works with anything, but the soft shades keep it kind of sophisticated. In the hat, the dark background color is actually a very blue-leaning deep green, so the accent stripes in different blue/green shade fibers really bring out that subtle color in the background and it’s gorgeous. I could see this working really well in beautifully paired tweeds. 

the delicious palette of Thea’s Asti Spumante hat

I included notes in the pattern about playing with the different stripe options and pairing yarns, and my test knitters managed to work a few beautiful variations on the theme in their knits.  

As for specifics, you want a light worsted or heavy DK that would work to gauge. For fiber, this works just as well in a hearty wool as it does with the soft halo of the yak in my samples. As long as the yarn shows off the cables, you have gauge, and the colors work, you’d be all set.  

Does combining twisted stitches and colour present any challenges to the knitter who has not tried this technique before? 

You really just need to know how to work a twisted cable and how to do stranded colorwork. It’s much easier than it looks! 

Can you tell us a bit about your process when developing the two Asti Spumante designs? Did the fabric tell you what it wanted to be? And which came first – stylish tee or squishy hat

This design is part of a bigger bunch of ideas I have sketched out in my future idea notebook. Often I open that up and throw spaghetti at the wall (as the saying goes) to see what sticks, and I really am trying to think of new ways to look at cables this winter. 

I did play with a few iterations of the idea, but I had a vision of a slightly delicate fabric, and a lightweight layering piece that could be worn with shorts in summer, or over sleeves in winter. For this top, I also already had a color family I had in mind so it was really about getting the details and transitions to be visibly balanced, and the stitches to line up neatly so the lines were clean and crisp.

The tee came first, and the hat was knit up because the actual motif was just so addictive I was not ready to put it down. Some combinations of yarn and pattern just make me happy, you know? 

I had more Spincycle bits leftover from my Western Rose sweater, and a skein of the mYak the dark green/blue color and next thing I knew, I had a hat as well as a sweater!  

That sounds familiar! Do you get to wear your samples? (Your mYak Asti Spumante hat looks particularly appealing to me right now . . . )  

I DO! Some more than others, but these two will be worn. 

Funny you ask that question right now though, because with so many samples, lots of them have been unworn for a few years. And I don’t live in a house with big closets or a lot of room for storage. Over the past few weeks, I’ve given a ton of my old samples away to friends and family and it feels wonderful. I’ve kept the more recent designs and the ones I tend to wear the most, but if you walk around the Boston area now, you might just see my designs on the street. 

Finally, have you been conducting further twisted stitch experiments and can we expect to see more innovative twisted stitch designs from you? Can you give us a hint of what might be in the pipeline? 

Yes and yes!! There is a whole section in my notebook about combining color and cables, and these cables are particularly attractive in doing that because they tend not to affect gauge as much as a traditional cable. I’m waiting on a package right now with a bunch of gorgeous colors in one yarn (I don’t know if I’m allowed to say which yet as it’s new). Once I clear the holidays this year, that’s first on my list in 2022. They may be released one by one (I tend to be impatient) or as a little collection, but I need to see how things unfold – and I need to get researching drink names that seem to go with this new direction as well! 

Slàinte, Thea! Thanks so much for sharing more about your process, and these great designs!

You’ll find the patterns for Thea’s Asti Spumante tee and hat over on Ravelry, and if you (like us) are interested in exploring the creative potential of twisted stitches, Norah Gaughan’s brilliant Sourcebook is back in stock in the KDD shop.