This piece was originally written for the Tender Stores newsletter. If you would like to sign up for our occasional mailing list please click here.

On Knitting With Two Yarns




Knitting is a lovely way of constructing clothes, and it’s a subject I get more excited about the more I learn. With a garment made from woven fabric (like a pair of jeans or most shirts), a straight-sided piece of cloth is created from warp and weft yarns on a loom, cut into pieces, and the useful panels are sewn up in clothing. With knitting, however, the panels for the garment are created individually from a single length of yarn, and are then linked together (linking is similar to sewing, but uses the loops in the knitted fabric, and the yarn it was knitted with, to fix panels together), with no wasted fabric, and no need to secure raw edges from ravelling, as you would with a cut woven fabric.



I always enjoy putting together different natural yarns within woven fabrics, to create unusual textures and patterns, but combining yarns can be particularly interesting with knitwear, and in this piece I’d like to explain my thinking behind some of the knitted garments that I’ve worked on over the years.

In 2012 I got hold of some natural undyed Voe Shetland wool yarn, from sheep raised in the Shetland Islands. It made up into some beautiful, fairly simple pullovers (now long gone) which were very warm and had lovely body to them, but were not technically unusual.

Three years later, in 2015, I was getting a bit more confident with knitting techniques, and I wanted to come back to the Voe yarn- thought it would be interesting to line the natural wool, somehow, with a softer lambswool. Fair Isle knitwear is a traditional Scottish technique of knitting with two or more yarns, crossing them from the front to the back to connect the faces of the fabric and hold the garment together. Usually it’s done in some sort of decorative pattern, with an equal amount of each yarn on each face, but I wanted to keep the face of the garment as clean as possible, and keep the lining yarn all on the inside, while still holding the front and back to each other. The result was a ladder-backed fabric, made into the Type 750 Ladder-Backed Pullover, and the Type 890 Ladder-Backed Muffler, so called because of the soft sky blue lambswool ‘ladders’ that run up the inside. The outer natural white Voe wool is pulled in to the lining by tiny catches at each point of the ladder, causing subtle ridges up and down the fabric, which look lovely and have the added benefit of trapping warm air.

A year later I tried another technique, of knitting from two cones of yarn sat next to each other, pulled in to the machine randomly. One yarn was a chunky lambswool, and one, again, was natural undyed yarn. These became the Type 760 Rib Pullover and its matching Type 891 Rib Sleeve Scarf, which have a subtle interplay between the natural colour (natural black, a deep chocolate brown, or a varied natural grey) with the dyed colour (true black, or navy). The rib stitch, and the heavier gauge looser yarn give these pullovers a particularly nice, relaxed feel to wear.

Both of these ideas had involved contrasting the colour of the two yarns, in a textured garment, but I thought it might be interesting to see how much I could downplay the contrast. In 2017 for the Type 770 Voe Stripe Round Neck Pullover and Type 772 Voe Stripe Y Neck Pullover I picked out the closest colour I could find to each natural yarn, in a soft dyed lambswool, for plain knit relatively fine and flat garments. These, philosophically, are very much an expression of my approach to designing Tender- if the experiment had worked perfectly the garments would have looked completely plain, but as the dyed yarn didn’t quite match the natural yarn I ended up with an unpredicted, subtle, and I think beautiful, stripe. This idea was reexamined in a few pieces of the Type 723 Long Sleeve Raglan Pullover made in stripes of ecru wool with indigo dyed cotton weaving yarn- as the indigo fades and bleeds into the wooly the stripe will become more subtle, and the textural difference between the cool, smooth cotton and the soft fluffy wool is quite unusual, and lovely to wear.

The ladder-back technique from 2015 eventually came back around, in 2019, to its root with a true Fair Isle project, which became a whole range of pullovers, cardigans, hats, and scarves under the PopPunch brand. Fair Isle knitting uses punch card patterns, exactly as early computers did, to create the pattern. This can look pleasing but also serves the important function of knitting the front and back of the fabric together. Rather than making purely decorative patterns, I worked with a couple of friends, a coder and a sound designer, to turn the sound data from some of my favourite music (initially the Giant Steps LP by John Coltrane, followed by The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest, and then an imagined duet between Glenn Gould playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Thelonious Monk playing his Monk’s Dream) into punchcard data for knitting.

Perhaps a logical next step from the classical Fair Isle technique led to the most recent delivery of knitwear using a ‘Blind’ Fair Isle stitch, for this Autumn/Winter 2022. The fabric is a simple checkerboard pattern, but instead of contrasting coloured yarns each piece is made using the same yarn for the front and the back of the fabric. The stitch is reversed, however, so that the smooth ‘face’ of the fabric sits on the inside, and the short floats between the yarn crossovers sit outside, creating a unique textured surface to the garment, putting all the attention on the technical stitch itself, and the beautifully subtle variations in the soft shetland woollen yarn used for these garments.

Structurally, these garments are based around an extra wide rib and how that affects different neck openings. The Type 753 Wide Rib Serpentine Cardigan is finished with a rib which runs all the way around the neck, the fronts, then down a swooping hem and all the way back up the other side. The Type 752 Wide Rib Shawl Collar Pullover is cut with a standard V neck, into which the rib is fitted with a deep overlap, so that it sits snuggly up the neck, as is the Type 751 Wide Rib Barnacle Neck Pullover, which would be a standard crew neck but instead reminds me a bit of a barnacle on a rock.



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This piece was originally written for the Tender Stores newsletter. If you would like to sign up for our occasional mailing list please click here.