Fall in Love with a Mysterious Estonian Stranger

You never know when love will strike. You might be traveling through an outdoor market in a foreign land on a bright, sunny day and stumble upon something colorful you’ve never seen before. You might be thumbing through some old knitting books you rescued from a defunct yarn shop while surrounded by the artful mess you graciously call “home.”

For me and roositud knitting, while I wish it were the former, it is definitely the latter case. There was an old and well-loved copy of Folk Knitting in Estonia by Nancy Bush (an Interweave book now out of print) that I was thumbing through, and inside was a stunning pair of gloves. I was mesmerized by the intricate little bits of what I thought was embroidery on the cuff and hand. There was another design in the book, Anu’s Stockings, with the same patterning on the leg.

Now, I love a good traditional craft technique, but I know myself and I know that I am 100% unwilling to embroider something after its finished being knit. I’m sad to admit it, but once the knitting is over the thing is done. (And, yes, I do suffer from severe ‘single-sock syndrome’). Imagine my joy at finding out that these beautiful bits of color were not embroidery—but were worked as you knit!

Wait, what?

roositud knittng

The Aire Gloves, designed by Estonian-knitting master Nancy Bush, are featured in Piecework July/August 2017.

Roositud Knitting, Revealed

Roositud is an Estonian inlay technique in which a contrasting color is wrapped between the stitches as you knit. The end result is geometric patterning on the knitted fabric that resembles embroidery. Using the roositud technique allows you the freedom to place a motif anywhere and to use as many colors as you wish.

Traditionally, roositud inlay was only found on mittens and stockings, but modern designers have found new and creative ways to use the technique on a variety of accessories. You can use the technique to great effect on small sections of dainty accessories, or you can create a bold graphic in many, many colors on the side of a hat or cowl. Charts are used to show the knitter what color to use and where to place them on the knitted piece. The charts look much like any other color work chart, such as for Fair Isle, but the difference is you are only ever knitting with the main color.

Typically, the yarn that you are using to wrap the main color stitches should be held doubled to create an inlay with the best horizontal coverage, as the two individual strands are able to move and adjust themselves so that they are laying side-by-side. You can also use a different yarn that is thicker than the working yarn. For optimal results, a yarn made mainly from protein fibers—animal fibers such as wool, cashmere, alpaca—are best, as they have “give” and a tendency to bloom. Fibers known for their “halo” such as mohair, angora, or even many alpaca yarns are also good choices, as the addition of the halo creates added coverage.

While roositud is not the most intuitive, it’s definitely one of those techniques that makes you say, “Aha!” Once you get it, it is quite easy—and since you’re only ever knitting with one color, it is less intimidating than, say, intarsia. Try it yourself, and see if you too fall in love with this mysterious stranger!

roositud knitting


Courtney Kelley is co-owner of Kelbourne Woolens, distributors of fine yarns, as well as a designer and instructor. Check out her classes at Interweave Yarn Fest in April 2018.


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