Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Helix (barberpole) stripes, part 2 of a jogless stripe series

Helix or barberpole stripes are completely jogless, and, unlike any other method of jogless stripes may be made as narrow as a single row. Although this makes them incredibly useful in the right situation, they are somewhat of a pain to knit, which is why they probably aren't seen more often.

In their classic form,barberpole stripes are 1 row high, and usually 3 or 4 colors. Each stripe starts at a different point on the garment, then the stripes chase one another around the spiral architecture of the knitted garment, like the stripes on an old-fahioned barber pole. Because of this arrangement into spiral layers, the colors never meet on the same level, so there is no jog.


Barberpole stripes are usually made on double pointed needles (dpn’s). Here’s the ...

How to
  • Suppose we want three single-color stripes, as in the above photo. For three stripes, we'll use three needles for the work and a fourth to knit around. 
  • To determine the number to cast on, divide the total number of stitches by the total number of colors. Example: our little tube has 36 stitches and three colors, red, white and blue: 36÷3=12 stitches of each color. 
  • Onto needle 1, using white, cast on 1/3 the total number of stitches (12, in our example) Repeat onto needle 2 with blue and again onto 3 with red: 36 total stitches cast on, three needles with 12 stitches on each. If your total stitch count is not evenly divisible by your number of needles, no big deal—within a couple of stitches is OK. 
  • Choose your color arrangement: once chosen, it can never change--the same colors will chase one another around and around the spiral for the entire knitting of the garment. 


  • In the above illustration, the work began with each needle cast on with a different color.  Then, the white yarn was knit over the red, the red over the blue, and the blue over the white. In the next round the blue yarn was knitted over the white, the white over the red, and the red over the blue. Once the order is established, you simply pick up the yarn at the beginning of each needle and work until you come to the next color.
Tips and tricks 
  • No need to twist the stitches together: the different colors lay over one another, not next to one another
  • Consider using bobbins to avoid tangling
  • In theory, you can make spirals of more colors by using more needles. In practice, the steepness of the spiral and the tangling of the running yarns makes 4-5 colors the utmost practical limit, and really, two or three colors will prove challenging enough.
  • For a fabric with a single contrast color stripe, say, white with every 4th row blue (photo below) here’s how: Prepare 3 white bobbins and one of blue, then knit the whole works off 4 needles, working around with a fifth.  Knit each bobbin of white sequentially and individually, just as you would if using different colors. 


Better transitions using a"transition needle"

The above instructions segregate each color to its own needle, and this is easy to understand (and illustrate!) However, in real life, having several bobbins hanging off at different place would lead to tangling. Also, always changing colors at the same spot might create ladders. Finally, dropping the yarn and picking up a new one at the end of every needle makes for a very choppy knitting rhythm--not restful at all. In order to avoid these problems, here is a trick--
  • Once the pattern is established, choose one needle to be the “transition needle.” Knit each color almost all the way around the round, stopping three stitches from the previous color, on the "transition needle." 


  • In the above illustration, the blue stripe has just been finished three stitches from the end of the previous white round. Similarly, the white round finished three stitches from the red round, and the red, three stitches from the previous blue round. Now find the running yarn “lowest down and furthest out,” here, the red yarn picked out with the green arrow. Drop the blue running yarn to the front of the work, then slip the intervening stitches (black arrows) from left needle to right, purlwise (not twisted). 


  • The above illustration shows the six marked stitches as they have been slipped onto the right needle.  This frees the "lowest down and furthest out" yarn--the red running yarn--so you can knit the next almost-complete round with it. 
  • You would now knit with the red yarn, stopping three stitches from the end of the blue round. After knitting the red yarn, the next following round would be a white round, to be knitted with the white running yarn picked out by the green arrow in illustration 7. 
  • This transition shortcut works on magic loop and circular needles, also. 
  • Because the stopping point of the yarn is always moving backwards in your knitting, you avoid the ladders which would form if you always switched at the same spot, and you avoid the need for markers in magic loop or circular knitting. Of course, with dpn’s, you will have to re-arrange the stitches by slipping them around on your needles every few rounds in order to keep a roughly even number on each, but this is all to the good, as it also helps avoid ladders. 
  • As you can see from the comments, some knitters do not stop short, but knit all the way around to the very stitch where the previous yarn ended.  When I try that, I get tension strangeness, but knitting is SO different in different hands, so experiment: try stopping short as illustrated, but maybe also try knitting each round to the bitter end, and see which way works better for you!
  • When you end the work, space the colors out again as you did at cast on (one color per needle, lined up over the original round) so that the bind-off matches.
* * *
This is part 2 of a TECHknitting series on jogless stripes, based on an article which originally appeared in "Beyond the Basics," Interweave Knitting Magazine, Summer '09

The first post in this series, which features a video of various stripes, including barberpole stripes, is here.

If you would like to see a different blogger's take on barberpole stripes, have a look at Grumperina's posts on the subject featuring, among other things, a pair of helical-knit socks

Good knitting--TK

18 Comments:

Blogger Yarndude said...

Is this something that you can begin in the middle of a project, say, after a solid colored toe of a sock? I tried it once and it didn't seem to work out. All of my stripes still had a jog where they jumped up to the next row.

March 1, 2011 at 6:24 AM  
Blogger Knitlass said...

I do this all the time, following grumperina's sock experiments. However, I usually use only two (sometimes three) colours and I never worry about the join part. So, I often knit a solid cuff for my sock, then move onto a stripey leg by joining the second colour at the beginning of the next round. Then I knit alternate rounds of colour until I get to the heel flap. All you have to remember about changing yarns is to use the lowest yarn available. Easy.

March 1, 2011 at 7:20 AM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Hi YARNDUDE--yes, after starting a solid color toe or top, it is possible to switch in the colors for the stripes, especially if, as KNITLASS says, the top color is also one of the helix colors. So, knit 1/3 of your stitches in the main color (top color), then drop the main color yarn. Now, take up color 2 and knit 1/3 of your stitches in this second color, drop that yarn and take up color 3. Knit 1/3 of the stitches in this last color, and you are back to the needle with color 1. Knit OVER color 1 with color 3 until you are a few stitches from the end. Take up color 2, and knit to within 3 stitches of color 3, take up color 1 and knit to within 3 stitches of the end of color 3, and now all three colors are within a few stitches of one another on a "transition needle," and you are set to go using the "lowest down and furthest out" yarn each time.

As KNITLASS says, if there are only 2 colors, you can work a very nearly complete round each time. The more colors you have in the spiral, the less complete your round will be, because you (or at least me!) will find that coming too close to the working edge makes for tension strangeness.

March 1, 2011 at 8:02 AM  
Anonymous SharonF said...

I'm with Knitlass. I commonly use helical knitting in two colors. Knit a complete round with one color (no need to stop early), then a complete round with the other color. Basically, knit one-round stripes and the helical bit will happen automatically.

March 1, 2011 at 8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have just used this technique for the first time and find it much easier than 4 colours on 4 needles also used for the first time on the same socks.
It makes stripes very easy and looks much better than jogs.
I do have a question though, how do you finish off. I am making socks top down and plan to have plain heel and toe. How do I even up the rows at the toe so I am on the same row. Does that make sense.
Dot

March 3, 2011 at 5:21 PM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Hi Dot--at the end of the work, spread the stitches out so they are the same way they started: one color per needle. Then, use the main (toe color) to do all the knitting after that. This automatically finishes the color knitting and leaves you free to knit the toe in a single color. Write again if this needs more explanation.

March 3, 2011 at 6:22 PM  
Blogger GingerKnit said...

I am in LOVE with this technique but I'm running into two problems that maybe you can help me with:

I am trying to work the "transition needle" method on circulars but can't figure out how to lay out the colors. Working with 3 colors (A,B,C) I get the initial color transitions mapped out and on the needles, colors A & B work great with this method (stopping short after one full round) but after stopping short with color B my color C is on the other side of the circular, staring at me and laughing. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong here. Or is there another method of putting the colors on circulars? How exactly do you introduce and line the colors up correctly on circulars?

Problem 2: Slipping the stitches causes my work to be lopsided! Again, working on circulars, after working color A a full round (stopping short 3 sts), then color B (stopping short 3 sts) by the time I get color C to the end my color A is two rounds behind, as it has been slipped twice and the remaining stitches have been knit. Resulting in a seriously lopsided project. The more I continue the pattern, the more lopsided it becomes. I've been racking my brain for two days trying to figure out how to solve this problem but I can't figure this out.

Please please please help before I go insane!

May 9, 2011 at 4:30 AM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Hi Gingerknit--I'm not sure I CAN help you! The delay in my answer was caused by me trying to reproduce your situation, but I couldn't. So, I'm not sure??? Maybe don't try the transition needle technique, but just knit each color to within a couple of stitches of the previous color--which is the classic method of helix striping, and see if that doesn't go better. Sorry this answer isn't better, but if you ever find yourself in Madison, WI, we could get together and try it out!?!

--TK

May 11, 2011 at 6:04 AM  
Blogger GingerKnit said...

Thanks for the effort Tech (and for the fabulous blog!)

After 50million test pieces I think I finally realized what I did wrong, but I had the whole concept wrong in my head. I still can't get all 3 colors to line up poperly in a transition needle but working the old fashioned way isn't nearly as annoying as I thought it would be.

I ended up dividing the sts on my circs in 3, continued my CO color to the first section, then added the other two as I went along. In keeping with the pattern it eventually "smoothed" out and I ended up only having to change colors twice in a row, not 3 like I thought I would have to. I was jumping the gun and didn't give it time to work it's magic!

As far as the slipped sts and lopsided work...I realized that since the joins were working backwards around the work that it would EVENTUALLY even out but 3 sts was way too much for me and I just couldn't handle the lopsidedness (plus it would take way too many rounds to even out, and on a small project that isn't feasible) so I opted to kitting to the last st of the color below, slipping the last st, then picking right back up with it and it worked out very well.

And now I can sleep at night! :D

BTW there is a huge body of water called Lake Michigan in the way, but I see three options: A. I take a very long & very cold swim B. I sprout wings OR C. you are in Detroit let me know :)

May 11, 2011 at 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Jerri said...

HELP: this kind of pertains to jogless stripes in a way, but... I am knitting hats in the round.. I knit 11 rows, the purl one for the turn up...how can I make the purl row meet evenly and not have a little jog... I tried several things but am too much of a novice to figure it out...
Please help ASAP
Thank you
Jerri

June 25, 2011 at 4:59 PM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Hi Jerri--the answer is in the post about purl rows on a stockinette background. Cut and paste this link into your browser window.

http://techknitting.blogspot.com/2011/02/horizontal-fold-lines-in-knitting-part.html

Then scroll to "circular knitting"

Best, TK

June 26, 2011 at 6:10 AM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

PS: Jerri--in certain formats, the link does not show up very well, so you can find the correct post by going to February 8, 2011--that is the post with horizontal fold lines.

June 26, 2011 at 6:13 AM  
Anonymous Rochelle said...

I don't use DPN's. Can this be done on Magic Loop?

March 23, 2012 at 8:30 PM  
Anonymous Rochelle said...

...oron 2 circs?

March 23, 2012 at 8:39 PM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Hi Rochelle--I don't see why you couldn't try this on two circs, but I would think you'd have a little bit of a hard time on magic loop because you'd have to thread the needle through a few stitches to get to the new starting point, which is harder to do on ML than 2 circs or dpn's. Anyhow, try it out and see what you think!

March 25, 2012 at 8:12 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

I just wanted to say thanks for this and other posts of yours... They've been such an amazing resource for my adventures into knitting from the world of crocheting. :)

This particular post was super handy in figuring out how to work alternate skeins on my current project - a lacy shrug knit from sleeve to sleeve in the round, then flat, then in the round again for the other sleeve. I'm using a handpainted yarn, and although the skeins are close... I've discovered it's best not to be that trusting. ;) I'm basically using your tips but with 2 skeins of the same color and circling on a 16" circ. So far it's great! I did discover that for even-ness and keeping track of where I am in the lace pattern, I need to "knit to the bitter end" though. :)

Thanks so much! Looking forward to more tips and tricks and hunting through the old ones!

April 12, 2012 at 2:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI
I think I'm being a bit dim here - on the transition round you must have to carry the new colour yarn towards you at the back of the work to move it those three stitches? Any help gratefully received - usually I can follow these things but I'm stuck on this one.
Thanks again for all you wonderful posts - you are an inspiration!

June 10, 2013 at 3:53 AM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Hi Anon--when you change from one color to another, you simply drop the yarn you are knitting with, SLIP the stitches between where you stopped and where you want to start again (you want to start again with the furthest down, furthest out color), then set off again in that new color. When you SLIP the in-between stitches, you simply transfer them from the L needle to the R, without knitting OR twisting them in any way--just slide them off the L onto the R needle. If this does not answer your question, write again, OK?

June 10, 2013 at 2:41 PM  

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