Friday, 18 May 2012

Navajo plying/knitting

I promised a post about navajo knitting a few weeks ago - let's get started.

Navajo plying is a technique most usually used by spinners to triple a yarn as they go. But you can also navajo ply as you knit - navajo knitting! So let's say you've got 3000 yards of some super-duper gorgeous laceweight cashmere and silk blend that you simply couldn't say no to (we've all done it). You gaze at it for a few blissful weeks before realising: laceweight!? What was I thinking?! I'm never going to knit with that! Or, you've fallen in love with a project that you MUSTSTARTNOW, but you it needs worsted weight and you only have sock yarn and you're dying a little bit inside because you can't cast it on...

Well guess what? Yes you can - navajo ply it!

So cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a fox

The physics of navajo-ing (probably not a word but it is now) begins with the slip knot, the knot we all use at the start of a project to cast on with. Well, unless you're long-tailing, but ignore that. Just to be absolutely clear, here is a slip knot (by the way, you can click on any of these pictures to see them full size):

Knotty but nice.

And here is a quick recap on how you make that knot (I've marked the tail with red and the working yarn with green for clarity - hopefully):

Some yarn.
Position yarn over fingers likeso
Working yarn on top

Grasp tail side
Pull through
Ta da!

 (There are better slip knot tutorials on t'internet if this confuses you, just wanted to retain a tiny smidge of originality!)

Now, as you pull that loop through, see how you have a triple length of yarn?

Yarn is tripled

You've got the two side of the loop, plus the working yarn on the other side. When you pull that loop through, just keep pulling it through a little more... That's where it starts. Normally, to make your slip knot you pass the tail end under the working end, reach through the loop and pull the middle of the tail end through the loop to make your slip knot, or your first stitch (or at least that's how i do it). You use the tail so you can tighten it afterwards by pulling on the tail. When navajo knitting, you use the working end to make that loop. Then you can just keep pulling that loop through until it's the length you need.

Ok, so you've got a nice big loop in front of you - what's next? How do you knit with that? Continuing to work on the slip knot principle, reach through that loop and pull the working yarn through again. (You can tighten up your original knot too if you want by pulling on the tail - makes it neater). Pullpullpull...

Grab that yarn! Make it work!
Pull it again, Sam...
 Making any sense? Looking like a nice piece of tripled yarn yet? I hope so!

Presto chango - tripled yarn!
At this point you should have a decent length tripled. You'll want enough to cast on with - a yard or so ought to do. Now, using the tripled bit (behave like the original tail isn't there and the first knot is the end of your yarn) just like it was one piece of yarn, make an ordinary slip knot. 

More stitches!
Look familiar?
Your first stitch!

Pop it onto a needle and cast on however many stitches you want. I'm just doing a small number as a quick demo. So you're casting on, you're casting on, and... Agh! I've reaching the end of my tripled bit!

Is this the end?
What do you do? Just like before, you just reach through your loop and pull the working yarn through again. Pull it through as long as you like before you start to worry about tangles. And off you go again! Finish your cast on and knit as you please. Whenever you hit the end of the loop - just pull that working yarn through again and carry on.

Here we go loop-y loop...

You do have to be slightly more careful when knitting with more than one ply to make sure you pick up/wrap all the strands, but it's really no more difficult than knitting with any other yarn. Once you get the hang of it you won't even notice it's navajo-ed any more.

The other great thing about using 3 strands is the fabric is just that bit squooshier and warmer. Logically, 3 x 2ply/laceweight = 6ply or somewhere between sport/DK weight, but as with so many things, it often doesn't add up to the sum of its parts. Last time I navajo knitted with laceweight, I got fingering weight. It all depends on your knitting style, the loft/fibre of the yarn, and so on - so, swatch! Not that you wouldn't, of course...


Navajo plying is probably one of the best, simplest, cleverest and most useful things I've learnt in my knitting career. If you're still not 100% clear, and you may not be until you've tried it a few times, this is the video I learned from, by Lucy Neatby:
It may be easier to see how it works in a video.

Thanks for reading and please let me know what you think of my first tutorial!

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