What Is Stranded Knitting?
Stranded colorwork creates a pattern by working with two or more colors. When working with more than one color in a row or round, the non-working yarn is carried on the wrong side of the fabric when not in use, creating strands or floats. This makes a thicker and warmer fabric than single-strand knitting.
Sometimes these patterns are called “Fair Isle,” though that term more accurately describes the traditional patterns that are attributed to the island of Fair Isle in the Shetland Islands in the north of Scotland. Fair Isle patterns are characterized by small motifs in alternating shapes of X’s and O’s, are symmetrical both horizontally and vertically, may use many colors in the pattern but only two colors per row, and contain no more than a few stitches of one color before switching to another color. Modern stranded knitting designs may incorporate asymmetrical patterns and longer pattern repeats than the more traditional Fair Isle patterns. How to Manage Multiple Yarns Generally you’ll be working with two different colors per row or round, which means you’ll need to manage two strands of yarn at the same time. Here are a few different options for handling the yarn; try each one and see which feels the most comfortable for you:
Drop the old color and pick up the new color. This is the easiest method but also the slowest.
Hold both yarns in the same hand, tensioning one color of yarn over your middle finger and the other color over your index finger.
Work one yarn by pinching it between your index finger and thumb, and the other one by wrapping the yarn over your middle finger of the same hand.
Hold one strand of yarn in each hand. I prefer this method and find it less fiddly than the other methods. As an added bonus, you’ll learn how to knit the other way (if you’re an English-style knitter who throws the yarn, you’ll learn how to knit Continental style by picking the yarn, and vice versa). How to Maintain an Even Tension One key to making beautiful stranded colorwork patterns is to maintain an even tension in all of the stitches, especially when changing yarn. If the strands of the unused color are carried too tightly across the back of the work, the fabric will pucker.
Before changing colors, stretch the stitches on the right-hand needle apart after working them. Loosely lay the new color across the wrong side of your work, then knit with the new color, keeping the strand long enough to span the stretched stitches. When the strand, or float, is properly tensioned, it will relax into what looks like a smile or swag on the wrong side. And any extra slack you may incorporate into the floats usually evens out after blocking.
If you’re working in the round on double-point needles, it can be tricky keeping the tension even when you change from one needle to the next. This is because the stranded color wants to take the shortest path to the next stitch, pulling in rather than continuing to follow the angle of the needles. You can minimize this by arranging the stitches on your needles so that the joins occur at an inconspicuous spot in the pattern. You can also hold the carried yarn in place at the join with a free finger as you knit the first stitch with the new color. Or you can work in the round using a long circular needle and the Magic Loop technique (see page 79), which inherently reduces the number of joins and creates a more flexible, rounded join. What Is Yarn Dominance, & Why Does It Matter? Yarn dominance refers to one color of yarn appearing to be more pronounced than another. As you work your project, you will switch from one color to the other by picking up the new color from either over or under the old color. The yarn that is worked over the other uses slightly less yarn to create the stitch because it’s closer to the needle and doesn’t have as far to travel. The yarn that is worked under the other uses slightly more yarn. Therefore, the yarn that is held over the other will make smaller stitches and the yarn that is held under the other will make larger stitches. The larger stitches appear to be more dominant than the smaller stitches.
Because of this phenomenon, it’s usually best to carry the background color over the foreground (or pattern) color. When knitting with a yarn in each hand, the left hand should hold the pattern color (carried under) and the right hand should hold the background color (carried over).
It is a subtle difference, but can make a significant visual impact in larger projects. What is most important is that you be consistent in yarn dominance throughout the project.
Floats on reverse side of stranded knitting