Learn to Knit With Scales

So you want to make something with scales too?
Well you're in the right place!
Here you'll find free learning tutorials and links to patterns that use the scale stitches to create your own scaly items. Many of the patterns include information to make them in any colour arrangement you want, and there are several simple patterns suitable for learning.

Each of these scale knitting patterns available for £2.50
                                      

Free Tutorials

A necklace type ornament being knitted on 5mm needles with DK yarn and TheRingLord.com
mirror finish small aluminum scales, only using the add scale on knit stitch method

Let's start the tutorial of how to get your scales on!
Any feedback and extra useful information I should include is really appreciated, comment somewhere here or mention it to me on CraftyMutt's facebook page.

Adding Scales
Click tutorial photos for a closer look
Knit Stitch - Adding a scale on the further side of the fabric

1. Insert needle into next stitch as you would to knit it

2. Place a scale over the end of the right hand needle with the out side of the scale facing away from you

3. Loop the yarn around the end of the right hand needle as you would when knitting but with the scale between the new loop and the old loop

4. Pull the new loop through both the scale hole and the old loop, similar to knitting a normal stitch

Done! You should now have a scale attached to the loop on the right hand needle on the side of the fabric furthest from you.
Make sure the scale stays the right way round and pointing downwards as you make the next stitch to secure the scale properly in place

Basic tutorial video

Purl Stitch - Adding a scale on the side of the fabric facing you

1. Insert needle into next stitch as you would to purl it

2. Place a scale over the end of the right hand needle with the out side of the scale facing towards you

3. Loop the yarn around the end of the right hand needle as you would when purling but with the scale between the new loop and the old loop

4. Pull the new loop through both the scale hole and the old loop, similar to purling a normal stitch

Done! You should now have a scale attached to the loop on the right hand needle on the side of the fabric closest to you.
Make sure the scale stays the right way round and pointing downwards as you make the next stitch to secure the scale properly in place

Knitting With These Stitches

To practise using both these stitches, the two following practise swatches are suggested. Hopefully from these you'll be able to adjust the method for how you want to use the scales on your own designs, or if you prefer to work from patterns all the ones written that use the stitches in these tutorials are available in the pattern store.

For these swatches, the stitches will be noted as "knit scale" and "purl scale", and you will also use standard knit stitches and purl stitches with each.

For knitting with small scales;
- 3.5-4.5mm needles
- Worsted or Aran weight yarn is recommended, as a thicker yarn works best to hold the scales firmly in place
- Gauge 16st and 30r to 4" in garter stitch, knit every stitch
(details when working with large scales to be determined and added here when known)

Knit Scale Stitch Patch
Cast on 16 stitches
Knit 2 rows
1. Knit 2, **knit scale, knit 1** [6 times], knit 2
2. Knit across
3. Knit 2, **knit 1, knit scale** [6 times], knit 2
4. Knit across
Repeat rows 1 to 4 until you have 32 rows [8 repeats total]
Cast off loosely

Purl Scale Stitch Patch
Cast on 16 stitches
Purl 2 rows
1. Purl 2, **purl scale, purl 1** [6 times], purl 2
2. Purl across
3. Purl 2, **purl 1, purl scale** [6 times], purl 2
4. Purl across
Repeat rows 1 to 4 until you have 32 rows [8 repeats total]
Cast off loosely


Notes When Knitting With Scales
Some things are worth noting when working with scales, or choosing how to add scales to your project. There is a lot of information when it comes to how best to use scales, and in what situations, so this is quite big, but all of it's pretty important if you're going to be knitting with scales!

Basic Scale Knitting Tips: what you need to know
  • Recently plastic scales have become available (only in black), which are smoother and lighter and easier to knit with especially while you are learning
  • In any single piece of knitting, chances are you will only need EITHER the knit or purl version stitch
  • Scaled knitting can get very heavy if done on a large scale, and is not really recommended for any item using more than 2000 scales (for example a shirt) unless you have additional support, as the material will pull under the weight
    • Suggestions of items which are suitable to make using this technique include; gloves, pouches, hats, chokers, necklaces, wristbands, and miniature coats of armour for toys
    • Patterns for many of these suggested items are in the works, if you prefer to follow instructions to know exactly what they are getting
  • There are lots of scaled animals that you could knit with added awesomeness by adding scales, suggestions include dragon, snake, pangolin, lizard, dinosaur, fish, and a whole host of mythical beasts!
    • Creature patterns are harder to work with in scales, as they involve more increase and decrease stitches for shaping, and may have smaller sections which are too small for scales; some animal patterns are in the works
  • If you knit scales onto EVERY row, rather than every other row as described, you will end up with double-sided scale material (if you can think of anything you'd need it for!)
  • Keep work tight between needles if working with in the round with DPNs, and scales will mesh almost seamlessly between rows
  • Many knitting projects recommend blocking work; DO NOT BLOCK SCALED KNITTING
    • It's just plain not a good idea to avoid wet and heat with all the scales. Water is particularly bad for metal scales, and heat is bad for the plastic option.
Advanced Scale Knitting: Choosing Where and How to Put Scales in a Pattern
  • Do you want simplicity of the rest of pattern, or simplicity of adding scales?
    • The knit scale stitch was designed to allow complete beginners to have a go at the stitch, as it means items can be made with only one kind of stitch
    • The purl scale stitch was designed so that the scale side of the fabric is facing you while you knit, which allows you to see where you  are adding the scale better and notice mistakes as you make them rather than on the next row
  • It's best not to have a scale added on the first or last stitch of a row if you are knitting a piece on straight needles
  • Scales should be added with at least one non-scale stitch between them
    • If your gauge is large (you are using very chunky yarn or large needles, and you want scales, it may be better to use the larger scales (gauges, yarns, and needle sizes that work with the large scales are under investigation)
  • Many standard patterns involve stockinette stitch, which you will find puts the scales on the "wrong" side (the side with the bumps)
  • It should be possible to add scales to either garter stitch (as in the patches above) or stockinette stitch
    • Stockinette stitch tends to be narrower and longer than garter stitch, so the knit patch described above, with purling back across normal rows, would come out slightly narrower and longer
    • This will need to be taken into account in how the appearance of your scaled fabric will come out
  • If knitting in the round, and you put a scale on the last stitch of a needle, be careful that it stays the right way up when you move onto your next needle
If you try anything out and are particularly pleased, feel free to post images to CraftyMutt's Facebook, or e-mail them to me (at sfarfort@yahoo.co.uk) because I'd love to feature more of other people's work; it's easier to believe that you can learn something if you see what people other than the designer have done with it!

Notes on Knitted Scale Mail Itself
In addition to the information on working with scales in your knitted work, there are some important things you should note on your finished scale mail item;
  • Aluminium scales, while light weight and relatively soft, can be dangerous in the right situation
    • I've done lots of tests, and in general you shouldn't have any problems with these bits of metal on your arms or round your neck, but always remember that some scales can have sharp bits that weren't caught by the manufacturer  which can cut the skin; always check as you knit every scale you add feels smooth and free of sharp edges or splintered bits of metal at corners
    • You can file off any sharp or splintered bits you find to smooth them out - this may cause some damage to the finish, but it's better than cutting yourself repeatedly on it
    • I can not take responsibility for animals or children that wear any item you have made using this method
    • Although I personally would guess that a hamster would be happy enough to pose in a scale mail coat of armour for a few photos or to impress your house mates,  there is a whole lot of not good that can happen if any pet or child chews or pulls the scales off and tries to eat one, or as above there is always a danger of scratches and cuts - use your common sense and definitely do not leave animals or children unattended with knitted scale mail!
  • Aluminium scales are moderately waterproof, but shouldn't be left wet if possible
    • Aluminium does not rust in water, however it's still best to keep it dry if possible
    • This is also why it's recommended not to block any pieces of scaled knitting
    • It is safe to wear items made using aluminium scales in the rain, particularly the anodised ones, although when possible it's best to remove as much moisture as possible with a cloth, and leave it somewhere warm and dry after wearing for it to finish drying off
    • Non-anodised (the plain silver coloured) aluminium scales may slowly build up with aluminium oxide, and become more dull - this oxide layer is not dangerous, but if you want should wipe off each individual scale with enough time to devote to each one individually!
Buying Scales
Obviously if you want to knit with scales you need some scales! This is a developing page, so please get in touch if you know another good seller of scales so I can make an even better list!

For an easy starter option, I now package the correct number of scales with yarn and instructions into ready-to-knit glove kits, which provides everything but the knitting needles and scissors (because those are a bit pointy) to make your own pair of gloves as easily as possible!


Anodised Aluminium Small Scale comes in a variety of colours from a few different sites, and I find them perfect for knitting on needles up to 4mm, and only a little fiddly on 5mm needles.
These scales will (on knitting) take about 100 to cover approx. a 3" by 4" area in the given gauge, so try and estimate the surface you need and make sure you buy enough for your project. Having a few left over just means you can use them to decorate something else!
Scales in this size are now also available in black and transparent plastic at TheRingLord, which are lighter and smoother and generally knit easier into the material.

People Who Sell Small Anodised Aluminium Scales
(please be aware of your local customs charges if you buy from abroad)

TheRingLord.com (based in Canada)
Best use: Buying loads of scales (minimum order cost requires at least three packets of 100 aluminium scales each to be ordered)
RingLord Tips: For international buyers, take advantage of postage weight bands if you can, it's frustrating to realise you paid twice as much postage just because you bought one packet over the weight limit. They also supply pretty much everything else you could need for anything chain-mail related.
This is where I get my scales because they are the cheapest, even though I'm in the UK and postage is quite high, it works out cheapest by far when buying the higher hundreds or thousands at once!

BeadsDirect.co.uk (based in UK)
No longer appears to sell scales

Beadsisters (based in UK)
Best use: Buying small quantities of scales quickly in UK
Beadsisters Tips: This is more aimed at selling scales for jewellery so they provide small quantities and let you get hold of your scales quickly. The price for the 100 scale packets is a little higher than you might pay if you buy from TheRingLord with international postage, but you'll get them a lot faster! They carry a basic range of colours of the small aluminium scales and being jewellery based they have a huge range of other beads, chains, and fixtures, such as you might want for finishing a scale necklace.

TheQueenRing.com (based in the Netherlands)
Best use: Buying scales in Europe
TheQueenRing Tips: Although prices are higher if you are bulk buying, this is certainly a good choice for small project orders anywhere in the area of Europe for speedier postage and decent prices. Make sure you double check what size scales you are buying, as the small and large ones are all mixed together in the shop.

BlueBuddhaBoutique.com (based in America)
Best use: Buying single scales for very small projects, with far greater (but watch out - also far more expensive) colour choice
BlueBuddah Tips: The 100 packs may be far more expensive (nearly ten times) than those at theringlord.com, however they have a wider colour range, so if you're looking for some really special scales this should be your first stop, and they have a lot of other jewellery supplies

If you're just getting started and don't know what to pick, I'd personally go for 300-600 scales from TheRingLord.com in one or two colours you like and try out a couple of gloves or similar items, but if you just want to try out the technique before you invest in enough scales to knit a whole item (or you want to try the technique asap!) you might want to stick with a few tens of scales from your nearest provider.

On a final note I'd love to see what people do with this, scales and knitting are really simple to put together so have a go, and if you could send me a picture of your results I'd love to feature it on the blog!

30 comments:

  1. http://www.etsy.com/shop/utopiasupplies has orders of 50 for those looking to start out smaller. They're also really cool people!

    I love this blog! I was wanting to try some metalworking but never sat down with it and now I can combine it (sort of!) with knitting! :D

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    1. http://www.bluebuddhaboutique.com/b3/supplies/findings/scales-rings

      Blue Buddha Boutique also carries lots of scale maille supplies and smaller quantities are available, or bags of 25 or 100 at a savings. Didn't see the pretty mirrored finish ones there though.

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    2. Blue Buddha Boutique have really nice scales, but they're super expensive compared to the Ring Lord, and their resellers (wait, the article points this out). The Ring Lord are the ones who make the mirror scales. They've also expanded their colour range recently with very shiny premium scales.

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  2. I am using smaller needles 3.75mm (size 5)the scales seem to bunch a bit. They overlap the scales beside them instead of sitting next to them. Do I need to use larger needles? Or do you think they will straighten out a bit once the knit is finished?

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    Replies
    1. Usually I find some slight overlap while I'm knitting, but no more than can be see on the silver scales in the photo on this page. Some overlap goes away if the fabric will be pulled a little during use/wear, but if it's too much then the best way to improve is to increase the needle size, yes.
      A possible experiment using a thicker yarn could produce a different fabric/scale size combination more like what you want, and also should give a fabric which has less variation in appearance between knitting and wearing so you'll know what you're going to end up with better!
      I nearly always knit with 3.75mm needles and aran/worsted weight, but I do knit quite loose - if you're more comfortable knitting tightly then larger will be needed to get the same result.
      If you're still not sure it's worth making a few small patches in different styles to figure out which is best for you! You can always unravel them after :)
      Hope it goes well for you!

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    2. I finished a set of arm "gauntlets" XD http://angltigr.deviantart.com/gallery/34805507#/d4lic1d and they turned out fine, I am working on matching leggings, I'm a bit concerned though because the arm warmers have strecthed out after wearing them once or twice and they don't quite hug my arms anymore. I am using "I love this cotton" yarn. Is there anything I can do to correct this, or to keep it from happening in the future? Any way to fix the ones that are a bit stretched?

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    3. They look awesome :D
      As for stretching a little, I don't do much work with cotton yarns because they're not very elastic which I find hard to work with, which might be the reason they've changed size a bit and settled into their "actual size" after a little wear.
      I don't know much about how to change a finished piece except for stitching elastic around the inside, which probably isn't the best idea.
      If you're only putting scales on one side of a round project then I've considered knitting the plain side in a rib stitch and only the scaled side in garter to increase arm-shape holding, but I used quite thick synthetic and part wool yarns with quite small needles, which has always given a good stretchy glove base and only a little size increase after a good amount of wear.
      Knitting is only usually put under a little wearing stress and the force of carrying it's own weight, so adding a whole bunch of bits of metal to it will cause it to stretch faster and more than usual! Particularly when making the leggings, which will be put under a lot more vertical force from walking (or running or skipping or cartwheeling, whatever you prefer!) and get longer while you wear them into their "natural" shape.

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    4. Pointlessly late reply, but the cotton might be able to be shrunk with hot water if its not already mercerised.

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  3. Can you recommend a brand of yarn to use? I have a theory for the finished gloves that basically involves thread ripping the side that is stiched together, hemming the edge and then restitching it to remove an inch or so without cutting or ruining the knit.

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    Replies
    1. I mostly use "James C Brett Marble Chunky" for the pretty colours as it's a very soft synthetic yarn, and not quite chunky so it fits my aran/worsted weight pattern well. They're all variegated though, either in multiple colours or shades of one colour. They've survived fairly well :)
      For solid colours I use whatever aran/worsted weight I can find, there's not much available in my area. Everything's always a bit experimental with me :P

      That sounds a pretty ambitious project you're taking on there, I hope it goes well for you :)

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  4. XD thank you! I have finished one of the leggings. http://angltigr.deviantart.com/#/d5com6p

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  5. I have a quick question for making extra long glove, how many times would I repeat the pattern for extra long gloves? Also, about how many scales, assuming I'm doing half scaled gloves, can I expect to use? If it isn't too much trouble. Thanks.

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    1. For the extra long gloves I do an extra 10 rows with scales, which means you would do five more repeats, so 21 total.

      This uses exactly 504 scales for the full pair if I remember, which is a bit of an awkward number - if you only want to buy 500, it would work to only do 20 repeats and then do row 1 and 2 again but miss 3 and 4, and that would use only 492 scales for a pair!

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  6. How do you get the new loop through the scale hole? Every time I try the loop slides right off the needle.

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    Replies
    1. It's quite fiddly, and it takes bit of practise to do easily - I'm trying to re-do a pair of videos, showing what it looks like which I hope could help you out with this.

      It might help to use a smaller needle size, so that there's more space between the needle and the hole for you to try and pull the yarn through - although I've managed knitting small scales onto yarn with 5mm needles, that's really tricky! You have to try and catch the yarn with the end of the needle while you carefully lean the edge of the hole just beyond the end of the needle at the top, then pull the scale down onto the loop without dropping it.

      If you don't mind taking a little longer, you may want to use a crochet hook just on the scale stitch, pushing it through as if knitting, adding scale, looping around, then using the hook to hold the yarn as you pull the scale off the end - then transfer it onto your needle and knit the next stitch normally. Takes more time but it much easier not to drop stitches :)
      I'll probably include that note in the next video tutorial, and I've got a little tri-pod so it should give a much better view.

      I've just realised, it could be that you are knitting... continental style? Or that might be my style. Either way, I find it's easiest on a scale stitch to loop the yarn round using your right hand (you have to drop the needle to put the scale on anyway) and pull the tail quite firmly to the right underneath the needle so it really holds. The other style, where you have the yarn on your left hand, doesn't wrap the yarn around the needle as far so it doesn't grip as well.
      (if you're a beginner and that didn't make much sense, don't worry too much - however you hold your yarn should still allow you to knit scales on, but you might find that holding it a bit unusually just for the scale stitches so you can pull it back helps the yarn stay on)

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  7. have you ever made the gauntlets or bags or any other round knitting on a knifty knitter? i have never knitted round things with just needles so it sort of escapes me, but i was wondering if it can be done this way and add scales?

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    1. As a fellow loomer, I've also been wondering this! I have seen different patterns where beads can be strung onto the thread prior to knitting and then slid down in between the pegs as needed/wanted. I imagine this would work for scales too.
      I'll be hopefully getting some scales soon and experimenting. I could let you know how it works out if you still are wondering!

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    2. Sorry I missed these, comments on the blog are not all that easy to keep track of!

      The technique should translate fairly well to a loom style thing, instead of placing the scale over your needle before continuing the stitch, you would place the stitch over your peg, and then continue your next stitch. You'd then need to pull the scale off the peg over the new stitch, followed by your old stitch.
      On each row you would have a peg which you add a scale to then a normal peg alternating, and each alternate scale row you would switch which were the scaled pegs and which were the normal pegs, to get the scales to lay between each other in the same manner.

      I'm sorry I'm not particularly familiar with this stuff so my wording is probably not all that great, but that's how I'd imagine doing it.

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  8. Just bumped into this supplier based in the Netherlands ! Maybe a good idea for people who live in Europe (mainland :p).
    https://thequeenring.com/

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    1. This is the link for the English version: https://thequeenring.com/index.php?main_page=index&language=en

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  9. I just stumbled across your scale-knit stuff on Deviant Art, and came over here to look at the tutorials. Just so awesome.

    I don't knit, but I crochet. As mentioned above in regard to loom knitting, I expect one could either string the scales on like beads, or add them on to a stitch in the midst of pulling the yarn through. I have a feeling that the latter would work better, as the scale would sit more evenly. Anyway, I intend to try!

    In regard to sources of scales, for Australians, there's http://www.aussiemaille.com (Aussie Maille). They would fall into the "smaller batches and more expensive" category, but if you live in Australia, you'd probably want to buy locally rather than from overseas, considering the postage.

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    1. Yah, the Ring Lord isn't worth it for postage to Australia unless you're buying a bunch of stuff from them, or prepared to wait literally 3 months for the slow boat postage. I recommend doing the maths to compare with the local option.

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  10. Thank you so much for the tutorials, I can't wait to try out my first knitting project with scales!

    As for UK suppliers, I've just bought some scales from Bead Sisters http://www.beadsisters.co.uk/pages/scales.htm - At 20 for £1.50 and free P&P I thought it was worth a try for my first jewellery project but for buying in bulk I think you're still better off with Ring Lord (I'll know for next time!)

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    1. Thanks for the information, I've added them to the list!
      Their prices aren't all that far off, although the range isn't quite as big, and if customs happen to get over-excited and charge your order from theringlord it might actually end up cheaper (I never used to get customs on orders of a few hundred scales but it's started happening occasionally)

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  11. Thank you so much for the tutorial! I was searching for something like this everywhere.
    Do you think it is also possible to knit with Copper Scales instead of Aluminum Scales or would this get too heavy?
    Thanks again

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    1. Copper is about 2-3 times heavier but shouldn't be a problem for smaller items that are fairly well supported, although something more like a larger neck piece item which hangs from one end might pull a bit too much and it'll make the material wear out faster. If you find it comfortable to knit with a thicker yarn but keep the gauge the same it would produce a thicker weave, which can provide additional support.

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    2. The new-penny copper colour won't stay that way long however, unless you spray the scales with stuff like Krylon to seal them first. Not super easy to polish when they're knitted - quick salt and vinegar immersion, then buffing vigorously with a jewellery polishing cloth will restore most of the shine (or just the polishing cloth for shiny highlights on the patina). If the wearer gets sweaty, the wool could go greenish too, and if it's natural wool, this will stain permanently (I've dyed white wool foam-green with verdigris before). May not be a problem however.

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  12. Just wanted to say that the metal scales stand up fine to water and heat, if you really wanted to block the knitting. The coloured ones are anodised aluminium and don't rust. The plastic polycarbonate ones would melt at about 155C, but okay with boiling water at 100C - this is what a lot of baby bottles are made out of. Also, the manufacturer is making coloured plastic scales soon :-)

    PS THANKYOU for showing us how to knit with scales!

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