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This Little-Known Knitting Technique for Leftover Yarn Will Blow Your Mind

Ginny Jovanovich returns to Knitting for Charity with yet another outstanding use for leftover yarn: a little-known knitting technique called helix knitting

Helix knitting

Do you struggle with what to do with your leftover yarn?

Not long ago, I received an email from a reader that I honestly could have written myself! She wrote: “[I have] tons of yarn, some skeins and bits and pieces.  I don’t know what to do with all the yarn I have.”

I’ll be honest with you: I’ve put together a lot of knitting pattern collections that offer ways to use leftover yarn because this is a struggle I’ve had since I first began knitting!

That’s why I was absolutely thrilled when a marvelous genius of a knitter named Ginny Jovanovich wrote to me not once, but twice, with gorgeous ways in which to use leftover yarn. First, she sent me the fabulous cluster stitch hat knitting pattern. And she encouraged me to publish it!

Not surprisingly, it was a huge hit.

Then she sent me yet another magnificent technique for using leftover yarn, and to this day it remains the most popular post at Knitting for Charity. No one can get enough of the amazing technique of helix knitting!

Ginny uses this technique often for charity knitting. If you would love to knit for charity and use your leftover yarn all at the same time, you need to read on!

(Please note: All photos in this post are courtesy of Ginny.)


Using Small Bits of Yarn to Create Beautiful Spiral Stripes

by Ginny Jovanovich

Here is a solution I found for the small amounts of yarn left after I knitted hats for Orphans in Tanzania. This knitting technique is called helix or spiral knitting.  You can use this technique for any pattern you knit in the round.

One colored yarn chases the color in the previous round around but never exceeds it. This allowed me to create hats and mittens for our local shelter with little effort.

At least three different contrasting colors of yarns work best for helix knitting.

My first attempt at helix knitting was a baby hat. Here I used six strands of pastel yarn, no longer than 6 yards each.

leftover yarn

With success there, started on hats for older children. This time, I placed the yarn in a narrow box to keep the order and from tangling.

leftover yarn

When I finished knitting one color, I rotated the yarn to the far right. That shifted the next color to be knit to the far left. This technique worked best for me in keeping yarns straight.

The Mittens Pattern

You can find the mittens pattern Ginny likes to use for helix knitting here: Classic Mittens Pattern 615

Just scroll past the links at the top of the page until you see the headline “Classic Mittens Pattern 615” with the black and white photo underneath. For ease of printing, you can click the link reading “Printer-Friendly Version” to the right of the headline.

The Hat Pattern

Here is the pattern that Ginny uses to knit the hats shown here!

Materials needed:

Size 6-8 needles

Worsted weight yarn

1. Cast on 72 stitches
2. Rib stitch for 1 1/2 to 2 inches.
3. Set up for helix knitting and work in Stockinette stitch to reach the height of 6 1/2 to 7 inches
4. Start the crown decreases.

Ginny’s note:

I like to dec the crown by 8 points….think this shows off the swirl of the helix knitting best. (So to enlarge or decrease the size of the hat pattern, do it by numbers divisible by 8.)

Here is the formula Ginny uses for the 8 point decrease on the crown of the hats:

Decreasing for 8 point Crown on Hats
Number divisible by 8 equally minus 2 equals the stitch number between on the first decrease row.

Example: 72 divided by 8 equals 9 then minus 2 …..
first dec….. *knit 7, knit 2 tog *repeat around to start
Knit one round between all dec rows
K6, knit 2 tog
K5, knit 2 tog
K4, knit 2 tog
K3, knit 2 tog
K2, knit 2 tog
K1, knit 2 tog
Knit 2 tog repeat to end of row
Now that 8 stitches remain draw thru yarn and weave in the ends.

For a six-yarn helix infant hat:
Cast on 64 stitches, using needles size 4 or 5
Knit rib stitch for 6 rounds
Work helix technique for 3 1/2 to 4 inches
Start crown decrease, following decrease formula above.

There are many head sized charts on Pinterest a good guide when knitting hats of different sizes newborn to adult.

Resources for the Helix Knitting Technique to Use Leftover Yarn

Here is a site with a video showing helix knitting that was helpful to me (Ginny) when setting it up for the first time.

In the photo below, one can see the swirling spiral on the finished the crown of the hat.

leftover yarn


When doing mittens, especially for smaller children, this did become more of a challenge. So here, I limited my colors to no more then 4 different yarns.

leftover yarn


Here is a link to a Fran Rushworth’s blog who is so adventurousness by helix knitting with 10 beautifully dyed yarns. Fran keeps them from tangling by arranging them on a woven plate, which she rotates around as she knits.

Thinking about taking all my favorite colored yarns (some spun, having texture) and knitting a scarf with a matching slouchy hat to brighten up my solid winter coat.


Note from Nicole: For a thorough, step-by-step guide to helix knitting, I highly recommend this TECHknitting blog post on the topic.

Weaving in ends: Does this leave you stymied when you’re finishing your helix knitting project? Here is some advice from Ginny:

When ending most projects, hats, and mittens, the knitter is working in a confined space after decreasing, leaving a cluster of yarn endings. 

Here’s how you can fix that: Turn the project inside out working on the wrong side. Then, radiate or spiral the yarn endings out, each going in a different directions. This will eliminate the bulk that could occur if all yarns ended in the same area.

Weave each color in one at a time, following a corresponding yarn color in the project as best as you can.

Here is a article from Interweave which best explains and illustrates weaving the yarn ends in, that I have found most helpful.

Ginny Jovanovich is a happy knitter looking for new ways to play with yarn and living in Wisconsin.

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23 Comments

  1. Love this. I belong to a group and we are always looking for uses of small balls of leftover yarn. Can you recommend a pattern to crochet hats using this same concept. Thanks. Heather

  2. Trying to find a helix spiral knitted child’s hat pattern, that had a rolled brim and top knotted ? Tassels I think it had 3- 4 colors. I lost it and it might have been from your site.

  3. I wanted this pattern to be knitted on circular needles, seems most of your patterns are not knitted on circular needles…Why is this?
    Straight needle and double pointed are in the past for me!
    Help please.
    Thanks J.

    1. That’s a good question, J! I honestly am not sure how I came to have so many flat-knitting patterns rather than circular ones. Ginny did give me a pattern for a hat, which is circular. I posted it in the comments, but I’ve just added it to the actual post. Hope that helps!

    1. That’s an excellent question, Judy. Let me ask Ginny, and I’ll get back to you (and update the post) when I hear from her!

  4. Hello….checking in on the decrease advice for this helix hat! Is there a full pattern available?

    So much yarn, so little time 🙂

    1. My apologies, Sue. There is indeed a full pattern available! Ginny gave it to me quite a while ago and I promptly forgot to do anything with it. 🤦‍♀️ Here are directions to an adult-sized hat and a baby-sized hat:

      Size 6-8 needles worsted weight yarn
      Cast on 72 stitches
      Rib stitch for 1 1/2 to 2 inches.
      Set up for helix knitting and work in Stockinette stitch to reach the height of 6 1/2 to 7 inches
      then start the crown dec

      I like to dec the crown by 8 points….think this shows off the swirl of the helix knitting best. (So to enlarge or decrease the size of the hat pattern do it by numbers divisible by 8.)

      Here is the formula I use for the 8 point dec on the crown of the hats.
      Decreasing for 8 point Crown on Hats
      Number divisible by 8 equally minus 2 equals the stitch number between on the first dec row.

      Example: 72 divided by 8 equals 9 then minus 2 …..
      first dec….. *knit 7, knit 2 tog *repeat around to start
      Knit one round between all dec rows
      K6, knit 2 tog
      K5, knit 2 tog
      K4, knit 2 tog
      K3, knit 2 tog
      K2, knit 2 tog
      K1, knit 2 tog
      Knit 2 tog repeat to end of row
      Now that 8 stitches remain draw thru yarn and weave in the ends.

      Six yarn helix infant hat
      Cast on 64 stitches, needles 4-5
      Rib for 6 rounds
      Work helix technique for 3 1/2 to 4 inches
      Start crown dec following dec formula above.

      There are many head sized charts on Pinterest a good guide when knitting hats of different sizes new born to adult.

  5. This is a great technique! Can’t wait to try with the bits and bobs I’ve never been able to part with! But I’d also LOVE Ginny’s pattern for the helix hat…not sure I trust my decrease knowledge to make that lovely spiral!

  6. I use left-over yarn on straight needles. Use a basic color and 1 or 2 contrasting for stripes. Use a #8 needle, K1, P1 OR k2, P2 for 5″ add stripes for 1-2 inches, knit for 8″ total, then use any reduction of stitches for top. I’ve made these since 2003 and believe I’ve made hundreds for charity over the years.

    1. Hi Sue! I’m checking with Ginny to see if she has a specific hat pattern she uses. If not, I’m sure I can find a few patterns from Ravelry that you may be interested in. Thanks!

  7. does she have a specific pattern for the gloves and hat? I love it!! I figured the hat was a normal pattern but for the gloves I am not sure.

    1. You’re welcome, Jo! I agree that woven dish idea is pretty golden. I need to scour my house to see if I have something like that!