making it thicker

I've been noticing that there are two main schools of interesting design in knitting: pattern stitches and colorwork. Both, oddly enough, have some of the same functions.

Pattern stitches are combinations and permutations of the basic stitches: knit, purl, slip, increase, decrease. If you knit every row on a flat piece, you will produce garter stitch, a stretchy reversible stitch.

If you knit every row on circular needles, you will make stockinette stitch, which is much firmer than garter stitch but quite different on the opposite side.

If you hold a few stitches in front of or in back of the next few stitches, work some stitches off the needles and then work the held-back stitches, you have made a cable.

The more complicated stitches make a knitted fabric that's thicker than a plain stockinette. Cables are one example of this; another is the raised rib stitch:

 or the slip rib stitch:

These stitches use more yarn than stockinette, meaning that they are thicker and thus warmer and/or sturdier than a single knit.

Colorwork includes Fair Isle, stripes,entrelac and intarsia.

 In Fair Isle knitting, you effectively double the yarn by carrying an unused color alongside a color you are using, on the back of the work:

north country Fair Isle

Stripes and intarsia don't usually make the knitted fabric thicker, though they may combine bits of leftover yarn of different weights.

stripe ski hat

intarsia heart

Entrelac can produce a thick knitted fabric:

pink-n-green entrelac
It may seem that both pattern stitches and colorwork are methods of making knitwear more beautiful, and certainly this is true. But it's also likely that these methods had their origin in an attempt to make knitted fabric thicker and warmer.

Consider that both Fisherman's sweaters, those gorgeous masterpieces of cables, ribs, bobbles, moss stitch and so on, and Fair Isle sweaters, those intricate patterns of geometrics in subtle colors, were first knit for people living in the far north of Europe, in inhospitable climates, by hard-working women and men who really didn't have time for frou-frou pretty knitting.

The color patterns make use of various quantities of different yarns, from different-colored sheep, producing a thick fabric that resisted wind and water (the lanolin, or sheep fat, was not scoured out). The cable stitches make a remarkably substantial fabric that protected a man in a boat all day, in freezing temperatures.

real fishermen

peerie patterns

Today we knit in pattern stitches and colorwork because it please our eye. In the past, these techniques double the effectiveness of knitted fabric and kept people warm and dry in the cold and wet.


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