Of course one can't be interested in the history of knitting, especially of Scandinavian knitting, without coming across tvåändsstickning, and I have seen it in my own books and here and there on the internet throughout the years, but I've always given a sort of not-for-me shrug and moved on. There is a short section about it in Priscilla Gibson-Roberts' Knitting in the Old Way, and a rather longer one in Sheila McGregor's Complete Book of Traditional Scandinavian Knitting, to name just two on my shelf. I don't know why I kept passing it by -- perhaps because of the fact that both Roberts and McGregor imply, by saying that instead of working it the traditional way with the two yarns in one hand, they do with with one strand in each hand, that it's really difficult -- but the other day I came across a photo on the internet, and, to coin a phrase, it had me at "Ormsta". Something about it just made me think, I have to make that.
(The painting above is "Stickande Kulle (Girl Knitting)" (1901) by Anders Zorn, Mora parish's favorite son. This is one of the areas in Dalarna in central Sweden where many of David's Swedish ancestors are from, and so from that and having consequently spent quite a lot of time buried, as it were, in Mora church books, of course I feel a particular affinity with the place. The young woman in the painting is wearing the distinctive Mora green jacket, with the traditional green or red apron with simple colored bands near the hem. Apparently it is obvious to folk knitters that she is working two-end knitting by the way she is holding her right hand, especially the first two fingers.)
I have a stash of wool that has been stuffed in a drawer for, I don't know, twenty-five years at least, which I bought with prize money from a rather gratifying first-place win in the county fair some time ago, but --
it is in a parlous state, I'm sorry to say. It is Trendsetter Yarns' Micro Cashmore [sic], a superfine merino and microfiber blend, baby-soft and in a lovely pale lavender with a hint of grey. I loved it so much from the moment I saw it, that the project I would make with it had to be utterly perfect, and although I tried any number of times, it never was. Of course the yarn was rather battered after being knitted and ripped out and knitted and ripped out, but when looked at in a hopeful light, it is still whisper-soft and a beautiful color, and would be very pleasing as a set of mitts which could be worn under coat sleeves so that no-one would know how badly I've treated it, but could still be fondled for its amazing softness. And so, feeling so unsettled this past week that I just wanted to knit something and thinking of this long-buried stash of wool in the drawer, and seeing the Ormsta mitts, it all just came together like the tumblers of a lock quietly clicking into place.
I do not, though, know a single person who can do this technique, so I turned perforce to the internet with a set of 2.5mm needles and a ball of the Cashmore in my hands.
This is I think a fairly good introduction to the technique, starting with one of the simpler cast-ons, and no worries about not understanding Swedish because there isn't any audio at all. (I sympathize, by the way, with the translation "twined knitting" because the two strands of yarn twine around each other as you work, like ivy vines, but I rather prefer the more literal translation of "two-end knitting". The Swedish word is a bit of a tongue-twister for English speakers, but the pronunciation "tvoh-endts-stick-ning" isn't far off.)
After a couple of attempts at using two balls of wool, by the way, I realized that it is much easier to untwist the two strands -- which you will have to do regularly, there is no way around it -- if you are working with a center-pull ball, because you can just hold either the ball or your knitting in the air and let it unspin itself, which is harder with two balls plus knitting.
This method makes a nice, soft, center-pull ball, though after a while, when I wanted a second one and the first was still in use, I thought I might as well learn another Scandinavian technique while I'm at it, and try a nostepinne ("nohst-uh-pin-nuh"). I don't actually have one, but thought of a reasonable substitute borrowed from the girls --
I haven't got this technique at all yet, understanding it in principle -- which is brilliantly simple -- but not in practice. My first ball is much more ovoid than anything I've seen come off a nostepinne in other people's hands, but I suspect it's really worth figuring out.
I decided to work a beginning section on my first sampler with the yarns held one in each hand, so that I could see the difference between the two techniques, and I'm glad I did because it is quite clear. This is the outside --
and this the inside --
I expect the wobbliness of the stranded portion would smooth out a bit with blocking, but even without you can see how much more firm and dense the twisted portion is. There is also a distinctive slight angle to the fronts of the knit stitches, so I'm a bit puzzled by Roberts' and McGregor's assertions that you can work it stranded and have it come out "the same" -- oh well. McGregor says that she likes the fluffier (and thus theoretically warmer) texture of the two-handed version, which is fine and logical, of course, but I'm exploring the technique here, so wanted to try it the traditional way.
Rather surprisingly, I could find little information about how to work the various stitches, only lots of examples of them. One of the helpful places was spinnity's "Larus and Ardea" set of fingerless mitts on Knitty, which describes (in words only) the basic variations. I also found this post helpful, from Rebecca at The Fiber Bug.
When I decided that I wanted to try a three-strand cast-on, the only illustrated tutorial I found online was from Kitty at Knit Buddies, though I'm pretty sure I'm not doing it right, as mine looks quite different from hers --
I don't know if I've "unvented" something or if I've just put the back side at the front, but it looks quite tidy at least, so I carried on. It's firm and yet quite stretchy and it doesn't curl, though obviously I should also figure out the "real" method!
So here is my sampler so far --
with the “easy” two-end knitting (two-handed) for 10 rounds at the bottom and then 10 rounds of properly-twisted two-end (one-handed), then a twined purl round which makes a distinct braid-like line, then isolated crook stitches, a "chain path" of two rounds of crook stitches, and then what I thought I was doing with the isolated crook stitches, the little O's like in the Ormsta mitts, which is actually a two-round process, making the crook stitch (which is a P, K, P combination with the two yarns held on their respective sides of the fabric) in the first round, then a sort of reverse-crook (K, P, K, again with the yarns held on their respective sides). Yeah, it's a little complicated, but I think I'm getting the hang of it! though I can certainly imagine a quiet "Nej, min vän, garnet går det så här" if I were to knit in Swedish company! I felt confident enough last night to start another sampler, which I hope will actually be a wearable wrist-warmer before too long.