Multi-strand knitting: One for the cost of two?

One of the knitting trends which I have noticed recently is using two (or more) strands of different yarns held together.  The yarn company Shibui Knits is in fact built on the idea that yarns can be “mixed” to achieve particular effects.  On their website they say:

“Mixing or multi-strand knitting, gives you the freedom to fashion your own bespoke fabrics by combining two strands or more of any Shibui Knits yarn. Choose similar hues for subtle tonality or contrasting colors for bolder statements. All of our yarns are carefully chosen and dyed to work together, giving you infinite possibilities.”

I have been admiring Shibui patterns for some time now.  They have gorgeous designs and a recognisable style with a Japanese feel to it – spare with simple lines and lovely drape.  It all feels organic and fluid.  However, whenever I see these sweaters, the cynical me starts clamoring in my head.  Cynical Me says something like this:

Knitters spend a lot of money on yarn.  Knitters who love luxury yarns can spend an awful lot of money on yarns.  But we can only knit so many sweaters, right?  So how can we spend even more?  I know, let’s knit each sweater with two strands of yarn held together! One for the cost of two!

Here is an example. Today I was admiring the lovely sweater design Calyx by Elizabeth Doherty:


© Elizabeth Doherty

I think this is beautiful.  It is knit with two strands held together: one strand of Shibui Twig and one of Shibui Reed. To knit it in my size with the recommended ease I would need to use 6 skeins of Twig and 5 skeins of Reed. In the UK, the Twig retails for £17.25/skein and the Reed for £17.95/skein.  This means a cost of £193.25 for this sweater. At today’s exchange rate that is US$273.  (Note that this is the cost of the yarn alone and does not include labour.)  This is an awful lot of cake.

But wait, I hear you regular readers of this blog proclaim: didn’t you just knit a sweater with two yarns held together?  Isn’t Cynical Me being a bit hypocritical?

As it turns out, knitting two strands together doesn’t always make for a more expensive knit.  I knit the pattern form by Lori Versaci (blogged here). The pattern calls for Woolfolk Far, a worsted weight luxury yarn.  For my size I would need 11 skeins, at £17.25/skein, or £189.75 (US$268).  I doubled up on my yarn using 4 skeins of Isager Spinni at £8/skein and 4 skeins of Shibui Silk Cloud at £18.99/skein for a total cost of £108 (US$152).  Thus, I “saved” money by doubling up.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me say that I never bothered to run the maths until I started writing this post; before that, I was convinced that I had fallen into the “one for the price of two” rabbit hole.  (In other words, Hypocritical Me was in the driver’s seat, and Cynical Me was riding shotgun.) I had the Spinni in stash because I loved the rich red colour, and I also had a tiny bit of the Silk Cloud in stash – enough to do some swatching.  I fell in love with the resulting fabric first and then picked a pattern to knit it with (not my usual progression).  I ordered enough Silk Cloud to pair with my stashed Spinni and never considered price.  Here is where Hypocritical Me gave way to Deluded Me: since I already had the Spinni in stash, in my head it counts as “free” and so only the extra yarn cost counts.

I am willing to bet that much of the time, however, using two strands of yarn together is going to make your garment more costly.  The pattern Cirrus by Nancy O’Connell is knit with Shibui Pebble and Shibui Silk Cloud:


© Shibui Knits

In the second size, it would cost just under £200 (US$283) in the Shibui yarns, but could be knit with a single strand of a very luxurious sport or DK weight blended yarn knit at a looser than normal gauge for 50 – 75% of the price of the multi-stranded Shibui.  One could knit it with a far more economical yarn, of course, to save even more money, but the lightness of the fabric is hard to achieve.  The truth is that the multi-stranded Shibui mixes are fantastic on the hand and to the eye.

While these are examples of mixing the same shades of different yarns to achieve a particular type of finished fabric, yarn mixing is often more about colour.  The huge popularity of marl (in which you hold two different shades of the same yarn together to produce colour effects) exemplifies this.  I love the Mélange scarf by Jared Flood, which achieves its colour effects by knitting with five strands of yarn together.


© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

The pattern calls for six skeins of BT Vale, a laceweight yarn.  Let’s look at a cost per yard comparison with a comparable chunky yarn that would knit up at the same gauge.  Using the US$ prices from Brooklyn Tweed’s website, I can buy chunky aran weight BT Quarry for $0.09/yard or BT Vale for $0.03/yard.  If I hold 5 strands of Vale together, then it costs $0.15/yard, a significant increase on the Quarry.  However, knitting with the Quarry is never going to get you those beautiful marled colour gradations as knitting multi-stranded with the Vale is.

I love the idea of combining different base yarns and getting a unique and interesting fabric.  It is a bit like alchemy, or maybe just experimenting to find the very best chocolate chip cookie recipe.  But it is hard to completely silence Cynical Me.

What do you think? Is the proliferation of pattern designs using multi-strand knitting a cynical ploy to get us to spend more money on yarn, or is it a fun new way to indulge our creative streak and create new fabrics?

19 thoughts on “Multi-strand knitting: One for the cost of two?

  1. Somehow I can’t help feeling that the answer to your question is yes. Unless you have enuff “leftovers” to use you end up with spending more money than you have to. And yes, it is a fun way to explore knitting, fabric, drape etc etc but is worth it?? Only the person knitting it can answer that, but for me – with my budget – the answer is no. But I can use the idea, look thru my stash and make something new out of it 😊

    • Hi Laila, sorry for the late reply; I continue to be sick. I think it depends a lot on the cost of the yarn, and the meterage, but on the whole I think it can quickly add a lot to your yarn spending. But if it helps you look at your stash in a new way, that is good.

  2. I have seen (and knitted!) multi-strand patterns since the 1970s, so if this is a “ploy”, it’s a time-honored one. However, I think of it more as an exploration of what yarns can do – a creative stimulant. After all, no one’s forcing us to use two strands instead of one, or to use the most expensive fiber rather than the budget-saver. As to your pricing of garments made from Shibui yarns: yep, they’re expensive, but in my experience they’re often made by uptown knitters who don’t blink at paying $500 and up for rtw. For these affluent knitters, these designs are a win-win: the pleasure of knitting at less than rtw!

    • Hi Gretchen. This is interesting – I should look back through my old knitting magazines and see how often this ploy emerges as a trend. It does have a creative feel to it, and makes us focus on the fabric, which is all good and fun. And I suppose if you can afford it, why not?

  3. I think that you are tight, two strands of yarn will cost more than one strand of similarly priced yarn. So if the only reason one knits is to save money, this isn’t the way. But who is that person?

    I have knit a few things holding two together, like it but not enough to do it all the time, and I can’t afford the shibui lifestyle, lol!

  4. When I am knitting scarves for donation I use 2 strands together a lot of the time. It gives me a chance to play with different color combinations but I am mainly using yarn from my stash. I also can then use larger needles so the knitting goes fast.

    • I guess that when the yarns are in your stash it feels different; since you are not paying for them all it once it doesn’t seem so expensive. (At least, that is my argument.) And you are right, it is fun!

  5. For me, knitting is about first the feel of the yarn and second the color, so to get what I like from my hobby, I’m pretty well restricted to luxury yarns. Just my experience. Having said that, I also won’t spend more than $200 US for a project. There are sometimes ways around that – waiting for sales or shopping at Webs for the 25% discount, but what actually happens is that I make fewer sweaters and more small projects like socks and shawls.

    I’ve never knit Shibui yarns precisely because they’re designed to be used in conjunction with a second yarn. Also won’t buy blouses that are sheer enough to require a camisole, for the same reason. This is the first time I’ve heard anyone articulate my feelings on the subject—-thought I was alone in my belief that marketing professionals thought women were daft enough to not notice they were being played.

    • Hi Victoria, the one that gets to me now is the marketing ploy that we must use a “serum” in combination with a night cream. Just in case the night cream is not expensive enough! But I do not mind the sheer blouse with a camisole; I think that is pretty and never thought of it as a marketing ploy. I think the solution, as you say, is to know your limits and try to stick to them.

  6. So I am right there with you on this one. The new trend in marling and knitting with multiple strands. And I said to a friend the other day I feel like it’s just another way to get me to spend a ton of money on yarn. On top of all my projects, last year I knit 27 sweaters. For the most part I bought yarn like Madelinetosh when she had a sale, bought midpriced yarns like Berroco or KnitPicks and I will even knit with some acrylics. I love Woolfolk yarn but I can only afford to make a hat or cowl at their prices. And I already have myself on a yarn budget so I just can’t afford to spend that much with the volume of sweaters I make!

    • Hi Dana! I think this really makes a difference to us sweater knitters. Like you, I would use Woolfolk for a cowl (I did, in fact!) but not for a sweater. I like some of the effects of knitting multi-stranded, and I like the creativity and playfulness of it. But I don’t like it when it feels as if it is subtly (or not so subtly) trying to manipulate me into buying more yarn. Obviously, you’ve been feeling that, too.

  7. So marling is the new fade eh? I much prefer the effect of marling to the fade thing but not enough to buy special yarns to experiment with it, especially at Shibui prices. As it happens I always use two strands of my favourite 4ply Shetland yarn together to get the weight I want because it’s just too thin to use singly, and price wise I can still make a garment for around £30 so no monetary restrictions on doing so. I think I’ll continue play with combining yarns over the next few months but won’t do the mohair thing again – I really don’t like that, and carrying steel thread laong was a complete waste of time for me – but using yarn from stash for colour effects, That’s a yes.

    • I agree about the new fade; it just hasn’t grabbed me. Shetland yarn is not so expensive to begin with and has good yardage, so it makes sense to do this (especially because there are not that many DK options in this type of yarn). I bought 4 skeins of Shibui silk steel yarn some time ago and it is sitting in my stash….

  8. It’s both! Yarn blending does give a neat effect, but using the pricier yarn can definitely hit you in the wallet. While the midprice yarn companies don’t have anything as nice as Shibui, there are some reasonable options for some of the effects. I like to experiment with marling and effects also, but I do try to use less expensive yarns for the most part. Although sometimes for small projects, a little bit of a splurge isn’t so bad 🙂

  9. A benefit of holding two strands together (that I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned) can be: fewer ends to weave in! Since yarn is often sold by weight, generally a skein of a lighter weight has more yardage than a skein of a heavier weight.

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