2 Kinds of Color Knitting: Stranded vs Intarsia

You can add as much color to your knitting as you want.  Stripes are easy to figure out; you just stop one color and start another.  But what if you want to do something more complicated?  Well there are two basic categories of color work:stranded and intarsia.

Stranded color work is mostly what it sounds like.  You carry two (or sometime more, but let’s stick with two per round for this explanation) different strands of color along together and knit each stitch with one strand or the other in a pattern of your choosing.  When you are carrying two colors across the back of your work and only knit with one of them, the one you didn’t knit with leaves a strand hanging like a swag along the back of your work.  These little swags are called floats. There are methods of trapping the floats over long stretches, but, for the most part, stranded color work motifs tend to have small stretches for the floats to cross; not usually more than five or so stitches.

This method is the basis for several knitting traditions including Faire Isle (#1), Faeroe Island (#2) Scandinavian traditions from Norway (#3), Sweden (#4), and Iceland (#5) Baltic traditions from Latvia (#6) and Estonia (#7), Cowichan (#8) and Bohus (#9) to name a few.  Each of these traditions has distinct color patterning and specialized motifs that identify it as belonging to that tradition.  But the basic method is carrying strands across the back.

StrandedColorworkCarrying floats in front while working on the purl side of your fabric is challenging.  Stranded color work is best done in the round to keep the tension between the used and unused strands even and consistent.  This means that most of these color work traditions make common use of steeks (a technique of stabilizing your stitches, then cutting your knitting to make holes for neck, arms, etc.)

Intarsia color work uses only one color at a time and switches colors at the edges of shapes within a background field.  You begin a row with one color and, when you come to the place where the next color should be, you drop the old color and pick up the new color, making sure to twist them together where the sections join.  Each colored section of an intarsia pattern has its own ball or bobbin of yarn which is not carried across the back of the work.

This method is the basis of South American knitting traditions from Peru (#10) and Bolivia (#11), American Folk Art (#12),  Scottish Argyle (#13), and, very notably a whole passel of designers from the 1980’s  (#14) who had a penchant for bold contrasts and wild color combinations, and those sweaters we now call “ugly” and trot out for special Christmas (#15) parties.  (you know who you are *wink*)


Using separate balls or bobbins of yarn allows you to make larger, more pictorial motifs and gives sharper, more defined edges than stranded color work motifs which tend to blend more.  It also means that when you change colors, you leave the old color behind as you move along your row.  As a result, Intarsia is most often knit flat so that when you work back across your rows, you’ll come back to the colors you left behind right where you want them to finish the purl sides of each of your color sections.  Nifty, huh?

Neither technique is especially difficult.  Either way you work, you form the stitches the same way; pull a loop through a loop.  But the whole world of color opens up when you realize that you can choose with each stitch what color you want to make it.  Amazing!

NaKniSweMo Update: Transposing Colorwork Motifs

Oh, my lovelies…I’m on the 6th iteration of my sleeves.  Remember I wanted to put colorwork on the sleeves as a modification to the pattern?  Well, the round yoke motif has decreases in it in order to fit the contours of shoulders and neck, but a sleeve has increases in order to fit the widening of an arm from wrist to biceps.

IMG_2079It has taken me several tries tries to rework the color motifs so that they match the yoke, but incorporate increases in a way that doesn’t leave an ugly mess on the under side of the wrist.  I finally had to resort to graph paper and markers to envision it.  I graphed and graphed and graphed.  Starting with the six stitch repeat and adding increases, then trying to coordinate colors in the increases until I had a six extra stitches to ad a whole motif.  Taking the jog into consideration of course.  Oh, and making sure the centers of the upper rows line up with the centers of the lowers rows.  Holy cannoli what a process!  When I finally got the rhythm of what I wanted, I left Row 11 out of the chart and had to punt!  you can see the separate row 11 on the page with rows 1 through 10 below and rows 12 through 22 above.  Now my Frankensweater has a Frankenchart for the sleeves!

IMG_2081But it is working!  Now that I’ve gotten it straightened out, I’ll finish the colorwork cuff on this sleeve, then get to the same place on the other sleeve and put them both on two circs.  Then I’ll be able to knit like the wind and have it done by the end of the month…probably, maybe, hopefully.

3 Common Beginner Knitting Mistakes…And How To Avoid Them

It won’t surprise you at all that we have customers come in every day asking for help with their knitting.  We love to oblige.  But there are a few common, one might even say universal rookie mistakes that it’s so easy to avoid, once you know what to look for.

#1 The Accidental Yarn Over:


When you knit a stitch, your yarn travels from the back of your work, around the back of the back needle, and naturally falls to the back.




When you purl a stitch, your yarn travels from the front of the stitch, around the front of the front needle and naturally falls to the front.


If your yarn starts in front of your work when you knit, an extra loop of yarn gets wrapped around your needle.  This extra loop is not anchored at the bottom to the row that came before.  It will increase your stitch count by one and leave a hole underneath it.  (NOTE: this extra loop is also called a yarn over and is the essential component of lace where you want the holes!)


The most common time for these yarn overs to appear is when you set your knitting down or put it in your project bag.  The working yarn can easily slip from one side of your work to the other and never cause a problem.  Then when you pick your work back up again, you don’t realize that the yarn is on the opposite side from where you want it and knit blithely on, only noticing rows and rows on that you have a hole and too many stitches.

To Fix It:  To avoid adding stitches and holes when you didn’t want them, just make sure that the yarn is in back when you are forming a knit stitch, or in the front when you are forming a purl stitch.

#2 The Accidental Short Row: If you stop knitting in the middle of a row, turn your work around and go back across the partial row you just knitted you have worked what we call a Short Row.  It makes the stitches you just worked two rows further on than the stitches you didn’t finish.




Like the yarn over, it will leave a small hole though the yarn over hole will be round-ish and the short row hole will be more like a vertical slit.  (NOTE: short rows are an essential component of sock heels and bust shaping where you want some parts of your knitting to be taller than others!)

The most common time for these short rows to appear is also when you set your work down in the middle of a row.  To avoid making these accidental short rows, always look at your work when you pick it up.  Find the working yarn and follow it toward your needles and find the stitch it is leading straight to.  This is the last stitch you worked.

To Fix It: Put the last stitch you worked, and the needle it is riding on, in your right hand and proceed to knit as you always do, confident that you are going the right way!


#3 The Backwards Stitch Mount: If you look closely at a knit stitch when it’s lying flat, you will see it has two legs.  When a stitch is on the needle, it is turned in profile and the right leg is closest to you and you knit into it from front to back.  But some times you can see or feel that there is something just…well, weird and funky about a stitch. It might feel too tight when you begin to knit it.  If you look closely at it, you can see that it is riding on your needle with its left leg closest to you.

StitchMount BackwardsStitchMount

Sometimes this happens when you are picking up stitches that have slipped off you needle.  Sometime it can happen if you wrap your yarn around your needle in a clockwise rather than counter-clockwise motion.  Either way, there is nothing to worry about.

To Fix It: Simply slip the stitch off the needle and put it back on so the right leg is closest to you.  Or, better yet, just knit it through the right leg even if the right leg is in the back.


These are the simplest ways to avoid rookie mistakes and really start to be the boss of your knitting!