The thing about “knitting in the round” is that it’s a bit of a misnomer. In actuality, when we knit continuously around an imaginary (or real!) cylinder, we are knitting “in a spiral.”

Forgive my stinky-ass diagram. It’s certainly better than Plan A: using a drawing of a coil generating a magnetic field, and superimposing stitches on top of it. But it’s not quite Plan C: begging TECHknitter to make the diagrams for me (how does she do it?!?).

Anyway, the blue stitches in the back would obviously appear as purl bumps from this angle, but I hope you get the idea.

For those of us familiar with crocheting, the idea that working “in the round” is actually an exercise in “spiraling” is even more evident: sometimes we have to add extra stitches and make other such provisions as we move from one level of the coil to the next.

Not that I would know anything about that particular brand of black magic. Crocheting. Pssshhh!!! Nope, not here.

Our brains are forced to do a little bit of gymnastics as soon as we decide to add a stripe to our “knit in the round” project. Take any circular segment of the spiral, and you will realize that it doesn’t close on itself. The beginning and end are not in the same plane – one is higher than the other!

There are many ingenious techniques for hiding “the jog” when colors are changed while working in the round. But that’s not what I’m getting at here. In your three-dimensional mind, imagine two coils traveling around the same imaginary cylinder. If we’re talking about knit stitches of fixed height, the pitch of each coil doubles as they swirl in parallel.

And each coil can be a different color. And there can be more than two! And round and round each will travel, entirely continuously, without any jog, forming stripes of different colors.

– – – – – – –

I first came across the notion of Helix stripes in Montse Stanley’s Knitter’s Handbook eons and eons ago. She writes:

Helix stripes

A truly ingenious way of avoiding steps at the start of the rounds and having to carry yarns at back of work, when knitting one-row stripes in circular knitting.

Divide the work into as many, roughly equal, groups of stitches as colors you want to use. Either put each group on its own double-pointed needle, or use needle markers if working with a circular needle. Work 1st group in 1st color, 2nd group in 2nd color, etc.

Work next round similarly, but using the colors as they come – 1st group with last color from previous round, 2nd group with 1st color, etc. Repeat. If working in this way right from the start, cast on each group in a different color.

I accidentally “fell into” the genius of this technique when designing the Art Deco beret. I was using two balls of yarn – one with beads, and one without – and had to alternate them on every round. Somewhere my “twist the yarns in the back to avoid holes” went wrong, and I was suddenly spiraling! Knit one round, pick up the other yarn, knit another round, pick up the first, and so on. Helix stripes Ć  la Montse! No jogs, no holes, no twisting, nothing. Nothing! No tangling, either, since the yarns travel above and below one another, never across. It was so cool.

And what a clever, clever way to use up leftover sock yarn! Perfect stripes, no jogs, and the color combinations are endless.

Do you now see why I referred to the way I knit socks as a determinant of the number of colors I would choose from my pile? Since I love to use 5 dpns, it makes sense to use 4 different colors! Of course I could use more or fewer… or even two balls of the same color one right after the other for a double-thick stripe… but I’m getting ahead of myself here :).

Although I was leaning towards the pinks and reds at first, I decided to use the combination of natural, lilac, navy, and blackberry for these socks. I’ve weighed the yarn I’m using, and will definitely let you know how much of each color gets eaten up. This information is as much for my benefit as anything, since my navy leftovers are quite limited and I want to make sure I don’t run out. Or maybe the second sock will stripe lilac, blackberry, and white… only three colors. That would be quite comical!

The pattern itself is basic – CO 66 sts with blackberry, work K4, P2 ribbing for 20 rounds, divide sts into groups of 16 or 17 and start the spiral! A short-row heel and plain toe will follow, also in worked in blackberry.

In the photo above, can you see where I started the lilac and natural spirals?


62 thoughts on “Spiraling

  1. Abby

    Oh, cool! Y’know, since you’re “manually” striping, and not using any fixed stripeyness of a single yarn, I bet you could work a gusset heel and maintain the striping. Hmm… *goes to ogle the solid color fingering weight yarns she has kicking around*

  2. fishie

    This is almost creepy! Just last night, I was trying to think up good jogless joins. This is a great idea, and I can’t wait to try it out.

  3. Jenna

    Thanks for sharing this great technique! I’m alternating between two skeins for a sleeve I’m knitting now, and I think this method would be a lot easier than switching every two rows as I’ve been doing.

    I’m excited to see how the socks look when they are complete! The color combination will surely be very cute and a great way to use up all of those leftovers.

  4. N McInnis

    Genius!!!!!! Absolute genius!!!!!!!!

    I love reading your blog – you always have such wonderful techniques to show and I learn so much. Thank you!!!!!!

    I have to go scope out my solid colour yarns to see what I can try this with.

    I can’t wait to get started!!!

    (and I love your colour combination!)


  5. Katie B.

    That is a very cool technique, even though it took me a little to figure out what you meant. I’ll have to try it out some time… when I have a great deal more stash to bust than I have now. >.That is a very cool technique, even though it took me a little to figure out what you meant. I’ll have to try it out some time… when I have a great deal more stash to bust than I have now. >.<

  6. thing

    Freaky! I can’t wait to see more, and to try it out myself. Things always make more sense when I get my hands in there to try it out.

  7. Kate

    Hmmm….I’m still not quite ‘getting it’. I think I’ll re-read this post tomorrow with fresh eyes. Hopefully while I sleep tonight my brain will work it out šŸ˜€

  8. June

    OT, but “round vs spiral” reminds me of a conversation I had during my postdoc interview when the PI talked about “tiled arrays” and drew a diagram showing overlapping probes for a given sequence. Me, not knowing when to shut my mouth, pointed out that tiles don’t actually overlap when you lay them on a floor or whatever, and that “tiled” was perhaps not the most accurate descriptor. Heh.

  9. Sarah

    You’re blowing my mind, but it feels good. Seeing your picture of an actual sock with the new color starts makes Montse’s directions much clearer to me. Good for you!

  10. mollysusie

    I don’t really get it either, because you still have jogs, but not lined up. Right? Or am I missing something?

    Maybe I should just try it on my own before sharing with the class …

  11. monogirl

    I was actually just trying to work this technique into a project the other day and couldn’t quite wrap my brain around how to start it.

    Thank you so much!

  12. Sarah T

    Yes, technically their are a few “jogs” – specifically, at the very start of each spiral. BUT – that’s only four jogs, in opposition to the jog we’d get at the beginning of every row using the joining technique.

    Now, I’m imagining using this technique with two balls of a self-striping yarn, starting from opposite ends šŸ™‚

  13. Nessa

    Now that my brain has stopped hurting, and I read your blog 47 times, I totally get it!! LOL I really want to try this!

  14. anne

    You are one uber l33t geek! And isn’t it cool that Montse Stanley is, too? (Is? Was? Off to wikipedia to check.)

    Thanks for throwing light on this method!

  15. Toby

    Weird. I *think* I get it on the many color example. I’m having a more difficult time wrapping my mind around it on just a 2 color example. It seems it’s as simple as offsetting where the colors start…but then my mind says, “how could that possibly work?”.

    I will have to try it before I’ll believe that I have it right (or wrong)!

  16. KT

    I knitted a sweater (short sleeved raglan) with 5 colors, in 1-row stripes. the jogs were driving me nuts until my mathematician husband (who used to crochet hats all the time) helped me figure out the spiral thing. It came out great, except there was a mega-jog at the start and end. But, apparently you can space that out by casting on with (or joining) the colors equally around the circle… cool, thanks for the exploration!

  17. SallyA

    Like Kate, I don’t get it! Maybe my brain is fried by the activities of the day. I’ll try again tomorrow because I was just trying to figure out how to do this for a kid’s sweater I’m making. Ended up working the sleeves back & forth instead of magic looping them because I couldn’t figure out a way to avoid the jog (and it would have been seriously ugly in this little sweater). Thanks, Kathy.

  18. kmkat

    Wowzers. I’ve been wanting to make striped socks but the idea of all the jogs was discouraging me. Now I can’t wait to try this. (Thanks for adding another project to the never-ending queue šŸ™‚

  19. Punkin

    I think I am starting to get it. At first, it sounded to me like you would have the colors alternated across the needle, but, after reading through for a second time, I think you are saying that the colors are in groups on the needles. I have been trying different techniques for the jogless stripe and I usually have a small amount of warping or loose stitches. This looks great!

  20. Sara

    Excellent! I sort of wondered if this was what you were hinting at, so it’s neat to see that it is. I’m currently doing a pair of helical socks myself, but mine are three strands of chocolate brown and one strand of a really brilliant turqoise, with turqoise toes, heels, and cuffs.

  21. Artsygal

    Oh.. I’ve done this before and have been meaning to make a pair of socks using up all my scraps from dyeing in this way. I think they should end up pretty spectacular. I can’t wait to see how yours look!

  22. Laura M.

    After reading this, I had to immediately dig out four colors of yarn and give this a try. So cool! Thanks for giving us this explanation.

  23. cath

    I get it!! Brilliant! I love Montse Stanley. I have to pull that book out more often. I’ve got to play with that a bit to see how things look when you get it going–but once going, I can see it will work beautifully.

  24. courtney

    I’m FASCINATED! I often want to work striped socks…but carrying the colors or weaving in the ends has always seemed like way too much work. This is ingenious…I can’t wait to see the results (and then copy your genius for my own benefit. :))

  25. Seanna Lea

    This sounds really cool, but it also sounds like like something that would be easier to try (and thus figure it out) than to think about and logic your way through.

    I have tons of sock yarn leftovers, but I am using them for a blanket. Maybe the next time around (after the blanket is done) I’ll try this.

  26. Lucy

    Oh my gosh. I’ve had the idea of “spiraling stripes” kicking around in the back of my head for years but never figured out how to actually accomplish it! Thank you so much for this post!

  27. TracyKM

    LOL!! I ‘discovered’ this many years ago when a guild member brought in a pattern for a “Helix Hat”. I’ve made quite a few to use up stash yarns šŸ™‚ In fact, it might be a great idea to ‘fix’ some pooling issues with some STR…one strand from each end….Mmmm…..never done it with socks as I usually want something more involved….

  28. korinthe

    Holy cow. I think I have an inkling of how Zeus felt when Athena started wiggling her toes. In his brain.

    Thanks for explaining it so clearly and elegantly!

  29. Jennie

    Dang, I thought you were going to do some stranded something.

    Lovely colors, though, and nice idea for the jogless spirals.

  30. Lorraine

    Have you thought of weighing the navy and only using half of it on the first sock. Sock legs don’t have to match sock feet, but it usually looks better if legs match legs and feet match feet.

  31. Lisa

    By far the coolest way to make stripes I’ve yet seen! Makes me want to bust out different yarns and give it a go! šŸ™‚

  32. Jane

    I just had one of those lightbulb moments. This is so clever! *You* are so clever. And I am actually feeling quite clever myself, right now, for finally understanding how this works! Stripey socks here I come baby! Thanks so much Kathy for posting this šŸ™‚

  33. Denise

    For years I’ve been using Meg Swansen’s Jogless Jog method but this seems much more interesting and offers more possibilities…This really is brilliant. Thanks…I can’t wait to finish up my currents socks to try this. I love Lorna’s Laces too!! And I also happen to have Montse’s book…I’m all set!

  34. Andrea

    Thank you for this explanation! It has made stripes in the round a much happier experience for me. See my first attempt here:

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