Creative Knitting Newsletter
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Tips for Better Stranded Knitting
Let's face it: Nothing is quite as beautiful as a well-executed multicolored sweater knit in the stranded or Fair Isle technique. On the other hand, nothing is quite as disappointing as a failed attempt to duplicate that beauty. These two simple tips will help you down the road to stranded-knitting success.
Over or Under -- Which Yarn Goes Where?
Whether you're knitting a piece with two or 12 colors in the Fair Isle tradition, each row has only two colors. One is the main or background color, and the other is the contrast or pattern color. When knitting with two colors, it's important to be consistent about which yarn goes over or under the other. The general rule is the background color goes over the other strand, and the pattern color goes under the other strand. For this discussion, let's assume we're knitting in the round following this simple 10-stitch repeating two-color pattern. The background color is black, and the contrasting color is light gray.
When working Row 1 of this chart, you'll knit three black stitches and then change to gray. When you pick up the gray, the contrasting color, bring it under the black strand and work the stitch. When you change from gray to black, bring the black strand over the gray strand. Worked this way, the pattern stands out from the background, producing a more distinct design.
The swatch on the left in Photo 1 was worked in the manner described. The swatch on the right in Photo 1 was worked with the contrasting color (gray) going over the background color (black) and the background going under the contrasting color. Notice that the diamonds in the swatch on the left stand out from the background more than those in the swatch on the right. In the swatch on the right, the black lines appear to be thicker, and the dots in the center of the diamonds appear larger than those on the left.
If you're lucky enough to be able to knit with both the Continental method, where the yarn is held in the left hand, and the English method, where the yarn is held in the right hand, knitting with one yarn in the right hand and one in the left is by far the easiest way to ensure the over/under consistency. Hold the background color in your right hand and the contrasting color in your left. If you're dropping one yarn and picking up the other, be sure you follow the over/under method described above.
No Puckers Need Apply
Another crucial step for successful stranded knitting is the tension. When you knit three or more stitches with one color, the other strand will be carried behind those stitches before it is used; this bit of carried yarn is called a float. You need to be sure that the float is long enough so as not to pull the work in and make it pucker. The best way to accomplish this is to spread out the stitches on the right needle before making the first stitch with the new color.
The swatch in Photo 2 was knit with uneven tension, and the tension is especially tight in the center rows. Not only does this result in varying sizes and shapes of the diamonds, the garment will be much smaller than desired and will wear somewhat like a Kevlar vest! No amount of blocking will correct this problem.
Photo 3 shows the wrong sides of an evenly tensioned swatch on the left and an unevenly tensioned swatch on the right. The samples were knit with the same yarn on the same needles, but the results are very different. Note that the length of the floats varies between the two samples.
Take these tips with you as you explore the vast world of stranded knitting.