Making colourful projects is a lot of fun. We can settle for simple (or not so simple) stripes, or we can go one step further and add various designs to our colour patterns. Because these designs are made with two or more strands in different colours, this type of knitting is called “stranded knitting”.
We’ve already discussed a simple way to hold yarn when we work with several colours. Now, let’s take a look at several ways to make our stranded knitting better. I’ll share with you a few tips that help me keep the stranded colourwork in my projects even and nice-looking without much effort.
I’ll explain each of the tips based on the little binary sock that I’m making. The pattern is worked with two colours, but these tips are also relevant for working with three or more colours.
Some of these tips are shown in a video tutorial that you can watch when you click here or scroll to the bottom of this page.
When you change colours within the colour pattern, remember to always keep a strand in one colour over a strand in the other colour.
For example, when I started to work the colour pattern in my project, I decided that the yarn in the white colour will stay over the yarn in the black colour. So every time I take a black strand, I take it from under the strand in the white colour.
This trick solves several issues that we might have when we work in stranded colourwork.
The most important benefit of this method is that it keeps the yarns from twisting. That means that we won’t stop every now and then to untangle the strands. We can keep knitting without ever worrying about twisted yarns.
Another great thing about this little trick is that it keeps the colour pattern consistent. It’s been noticed by many knitters that one of the colours is usually more vivid in a colour pattern than the other colour.
Usually, it is the colour that gets more yarn in a stitch. Depending on your personal knitting style, it could be the colour that is carried under or over the other strand. If you keep the position of the strands the same, the colour pattern will look consistent.
Last but not least, keeping the strands one over the other makes the wrong side of the work look almost as pretty as the right side.
Even if no one ever sees the wrong side of your socks, mittens or sweaters, you would feel much better knowing that it looks neat and tidy.
One of the easiest ways to work with several colours is to hold only the strand of yarn that you need to work the next stitch. Whenever you change a colour within the colour pattern, drop all strands and pick only the strand in the colour of the next stitch.
The next stitch in the sock shown in the photo above should be worked with the yarn in the white colour, so I dropped the strand in the black colour that I used to make the previous stitch and picked the yarn in the white colour (carrying it over the strand in the black colour as we’ve discussed in the previous tip).
The biggest issue with stranded colourwork is maintaining the right tension, so the next few tips are about keeping the fabric flat and elastic.
Even if you normally wrap the yarn around your fingers when you knit in a solid colour, don’t do it when you work in a stranded colour pattern.
Simply place the yarn on your left index finger if you use the Continental or Russian knitting styles.
Or, hold it loosely with your right thumb and index fingers if you use the English knitting style.
Stranded knitting is always tighter than knitting in a solid colour. It is a good idea to keep the yarn loose especially if you are a tight knitter.
To avoid creating a ladder between the needles, make the fabric in that area as flat as possible when you work the first stitches on the left needle.
If you work with circular needles, fold the cable of the needle and hold the fabric flat with one of your fingers as you work the first one or two stitches.
If you work with double-pointed needles, align the empty needle with the needle that holds the group of stitches at the right side of the left needle. Keep them aligned as you work the first one or two stitches on the left needle.
Be very careful if you decide to pull the yarn a bit harder as you work the first stitch.
More often than not, the ladder forms not between the needles but at a spot that is one stitch to the right. It happens because in our desire to close the gap between the needles we pull the yarn too hard and tighten the last stitch on the left needle.
In my experience, we get a better look when we try to keep the fabric flat in that area and don’t add any extra tension to the yarn. Even if some of the stitches are a bit loose, usually we can easily fix it by blocking.
As you work the first stitch in a new colour, pull the right needle a bit to the right to increase the space between the previous stitch and the one that you are knitting at the moment. This way, we make sure that the strand in the previous colour is long enough to keep the fabric flat.
Also, spread the stitches on the right needle after you work every few stitches to keep the fabric from puckering.
If the space between stitches in the same colour is more than three stitches, twist the strands to avoid creating a long strand of yarn at the wrong side of the work. This process is also called “catching (or trapping) a float”.
The colour pattern of the binary sock that I’m making is based on the sequence of two stitches in one colour and two stitches in the other colour, so we don’t need to catch a float every time we change a colour. We only have to worry about this when the first stitch of a round is in the same colour as the last stitch of the previous round.
Most colour patterns are not that easy, so remember to catch floats after every three (at most, five) stitches worked in the same colour.
If no matter what you do, your floats stay so short that they pucker the fabric, work with the wrong side of the project facing you.
I personally don’t use this technique, but I’ve heard from other knitters that it helps to make the fabric looser.
Use the same methods as you normally use when you work in a stranded colourwork pattern, but purl stitches instead of knitting them.
Keep in mind, that you can’t switch to the “inside-out” knitting in the middle of a project. You should use this method as soon as you cast on stitches.
This leads us to the next tip.
Just as it is important to always keep a strand in one colour over the strand in the other colour (see tip #1), it is equally important to use the same knitting style and the same knitting techniques throughout the project.
Every change we make in the way we knit or deal with the strands will likely affect the look of the fabric. It might be a minor difference or it could be something more noticeable. One never knows how much the adjustment will show, so it is better to refrain from any changes within the same project.
If you are new to stranded knitting, or if you are looking for a relaxing project, choose an easy colour pattern.
I’m a big fan of binary colour patterns. We only need to pay attention to how a round starts and then we simply knit two stitches in one colour and then two stitches in the other colour up to the very end of the round.
No need to keep track of the pattern within a round. No need to catch floats (see step #6). There is very little room for mistakes as long as we know which round of the colour pattern we are working on.
My last tip will help you with that task.
Use a row counter to keep track of the rounds of the colour pattern. I pin a row counter to the beginning of a round and turn the dial every time I finish a round of the colour pattern.
Try out these tips to see which of them are helpful in your personal way to work with several colours in the same row or round. If you use the tips that you like for some time, very soon they will become second nature to you.
If you enjoyed this tutorial,
here’s something else you might find helpful:
“Neat Side Edges” Book
Learn twelve ways to make side edges of a knitted project nice and tidy. Plus, ways to fix side edges, and a way to improve edges of finished projects.
Dealing with Unfinished Projects
Dictionary of Knitting Symbols and Abbreviations – E-Book
Eastern (Russian) Knitting Simplified
Knitting Collection #6
Simple Socks in Any Size with Any Yarn
Top-Down Hat in Any Size with Any Yarn