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.
Carrying 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!
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.
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!
I know you’ve had the experience. We all have. You have a pattern that calls for a certain yarn and lists the amount in grams. But what if you want to make a yarn substitution? How much of the new yarn do you need? Or you have a bunch of yarn you’ve lost the ball band for and have no idea what the yardage is? Yup. I’m pretty sure you’ve been there, too. So how do you know how much you have, or what you can do with it?
The trouble with yarn weights is that you have to know the size of the yarn (lace, sport, DK, worsted, etc) in order to understand how many yards you have. The spinning process involves stretching the fibers out to a specific thickness which correlates to a specific length, as well. That thickness…or thinness…will determine how long you have to tease out the fibers. If you take 100 gm raw fiber and spin in into a super-super chunky blob of yarn that gets 1/2 stitch to the inch, you won’t get anywhere near the same yardage as you will get if you pull it thin, thin, thin to a super-fine lace weight. Same 100 gm, very different yardage. So how will you figure out the yardage based on the weight?
The first thing you want to know is the gauge of the yarn your pattern calls for. Stitches per inch or stitches per four inches should be written in your pattern along with a recommended needle size, and should also be on the new ball band. Recommended needle sizes are pretty standard for most things. Yes, I know that there are some designers who like to play with out-side-the-box gauges. Still, the majority of the time, there are some standards. Knowing the recommended needle size and gauge will help to identify the size of your yarn. The ball band will also tell you the weight of your yarn. If it matches your pattern, voila! You’re done. If it doesn’t, read on.
If you have no ball band, you’ll have to get a little bit craftier. A while back, in our newsletter, we gave you a WPI (wraps per inch) chart that gives you a pretty good idea of the gauge of you yarn.
In case you didn’t print it out and save it, here it is again. (Or you can read the whole article on how to check your WIP in the newsletter, here. Scroll all the way to the bottom and read the Yarn School segment.)
After you check your wraps per inch and have a pretty good idea about what size yarn you’re talking about, you will want to weigh it. If the weight matches your pattern, you have a pretty good idea that you can make the substitution. If not…well…
Since you’ve figured out the thickness, or thinness if you prefer, of your yarn based on either the ball band or the WPI chart, you just need to know what the standards are for yardage of that weight for that size, right? Here you go.
You can print these charts and keep them in your knitting library and never be in doubt again.