Tips for Knitting Stranded Colorwork

My Best Tips for Knitting Stranded Colorwork | Don't Be Such a Square

A few tips and tricks to help you succeed with stranded colorwork

Knitting stranded colorwork isn’t always as easy as one could wish for. But, it doesn’t have to be that hard either. I hope these tips can help you on your way!

Color domination – how to decide which color should pop the most!

When knitting with two, the color that you hold underneath is your dominant color. Choose the color you want to pop the most as your dominant color.

It’s a good idea to play with this in your swatch as it can have quite a big impact on the result. And, if your anything like me: Write it down somewhere, otherwise you could forget and end up with a pair of mittens that seems to be knitted in different colors. Say no more about that… just download the project planner sheets I made you and use them ok? 🙂

And read this article by Ysolda Teague about color domination!

Best Tips for Knitting Stranded Colorwork! Learn how to choose colors, get your tension even and your floating strands under control. #Knitting #StrandedKnitting #FairIsle

Keeping tension in stranded colorwork

When you’re knitting with two or more colors on the same row your gauge will be higher. There are a few ways to work around this problem.

Bigger needles

Try changing to a pair of bigger needles. How many sizes depends on your technique and tension, you’ll have to make some swatches!

Remember to change the needles between parts with only one color and colorwork, otherwise, the shape of your knitting can be a bit odd 🙂

I knit with interchangeable needles so all I have to do is to attach a pair of new tips while my stitches sit on the cable and I’m good to go again.

Or, to be completely honest, if I’m knitting in the round I just change the right tip to a bigger size. As a result, I get the right tension, it goes a few seconds faster and, the stitches slip incredibly easy of the left (smaller) tip.

This is only one of a million reasons that I love this kind of knitting needles. I wrote a post on interchangeable knitting needles a while ago, revealing all the reasons I have to love and use them! The post also includes links to my favorite needles on Amazon if you want to take a closer look.

Try another material

Are you knitting on a pair of lick metal needles? It can be a good choice to switch to a stickier material like wood or bamboo.

I have to admit that I’m not living as I speak in this case. Simply because I love my slick Hiya hiya’s way too much… (and I get around it by using a smaller left tip that let the stitches dance of my needle!) I just go with the other tips and if anyone wants to use this one it’s all yours 🙂

Turn your work inside out

Stranded knitting – the right side.
Stranded knitting – the right side.
Working stranded knitting in the round from the wrong side.
Working stranded knitting in the round from the wrong side.

This may sound a bit crazy, but it works!

Working a garment inside out has a great impact on smaller items as mittens and socks. I wish I knew this when I knitted my first pair of stranded colorwork socks… they are TIGHT but beautiful 🙂 It works for bigger things as well, the Icelandic Lopapeysa sweaters are often knit like this!

When knitting stranded colorwork inside out it’s much easier to keep the tension as the floating strands are stretched out on the outside of the work. This ensures that there’s enough yarn in the floats to avoid them pulling the fabric and making it all bunchy.

Actually, I like to combine this neat little trick with a bigger right needle tip and it works for me every time!

How to knit inside out in the round

Turn your work inside out and then turn it away from you. So you’re knitting just like you normally would, with the right side facing you. But, when the right side is on the inside of the garment you need to hold it away from you.

This way the stitches naturally get’s the right tension, and there’s no need to watch the tension of those floating strands. Wave goodbye to tight and bulky colorwork!

Knit with one color at the time!

Do you struggle to carry your strands? Keep your yarns untangled? Remember to pick you main color underneath the others? Or get your stranded floats in order?

I feel you, I struggle with this too. But there’s actually a pretty nice way to work around this! You can knit the same row several times with one strand at the time. It sounds too good to be true, I know, but it works.

The perks of knitting each row two (or more) times:

  • You just have to manage one strand of yarn at the time.
  • Your floating strands will lay nicely upon each other on the backside.
  • There will be less tangling.
  • You don’t have to keep in mind which color should be picked from underneath the other.

How to knit stranded colorwork with one color at the time:

This can be done both in the round and flat, just remember that you have to work on circulars or double-pointed needles to pull this trick off! (Needles with knobs in one end won’t do this time…)

Choose which color you want to be more prominent and knit that color as your first color.

  1. When you start your first row of colorwork, knit with one of your colors. Start with the one you want to stand out the most. Follow your chart and knit all stitches of that color. Slip the other stitches knitwise, with the yarn in the back of your work. Remember to spread your stitches out on the needle, every few stitches. This will ensure your floats getting long enough so they won’t cram your fabric together.
  2. Knit the first row one more time!
    • Knitting in the round: Use your next color and knit the same row again. This time knit all the stitches in your second color and slip all the others. If you have more colors just keep going on this row until you’re finished
    • If you’re knitting flat: Don’t turn your work over, instead, push your stitches over to the other tip. Use your next color and follow your chart for the first row again. Knitting the second color stitches and slipping the others. Repeat this step again if you have more colors to knit on this row.
  3. Keep on working the same way for all of your colorwork rows. If you’re working flat you will work every second row as a purl row just as you would normally do. The only difference is that you work every row as many times as you have colors.

How to choose colors for Stranded Colorwork

It’s a blast knitting with several colors, but it’s also quite much work. And you want your efforts to show, right?

The secret to make your colorwork “pop” is to choose colors that have high contrast.

It’s common to pick neutrals like black, gray, or white as the main color and add more cheerfull ones in the colorwork. But, this isn’t the only way, feel free to use as much color as you like!

Reading tip:
––> You can read more about how to pick high contrast colors for your colorwork in this post: High contrast colors – make your colorwork pop!

Twist, lock or tuck your floats at the back

Leaving long floating strands on the back of your work can turn into a problem later on. When you are going to wear that beautiful sweater or cute mittens and get caught in those floats!

It’s irritating when you have to maneuver into a garment in mysterious ways to avoid getting stuck. And let’s not talk about how frustrating it is if one or more of those strands break and you have some stitches on the loose… the horror!

So, be careful with your floating strands to avoid all this mess!

There are several words for holding these floating yarn strands down, some say locking, other say tucking, I say twisting. I have no idea if one of the names are more established, so I will go for twisting.

It’s also a number of ways to do this, depending on knitting style and preferences. But they all have in common that they wrap the working yarn around the float at the back and lock it down.

How To Twist Floats in Straded Knitting – Learn my best tips and tricks for knitting FairIsle and other Stranded Knitting Techniques! #StrandedKnitting #KnittingTips #Knitting

How often should I twist my floats?

If I have five or more stitches in the same color in my pattern I usually twist the strands at the back. Others may have different numbers, but I like to hold my strands on a tight leash. This doesn’t only help me keep my floats in place, I also think it helps me keep my tension even.

How I hold my yarn for stranded knitting

I knit continental, holding both strands of yarn in my left hand and pick the yarn with my right needle tip. I hold the dominant color over my index finger, closest to my project, and the other color over both my index and middle finger. This makes it easier to separate the two.

The dominant color will be closer to the knitting and will end up underneath the second color when I pick my yarn.

How I hold my yarn when knitting stranded colorwork as a continental knitter.
This is how I hold my yarn for stranded knitting with two colors. In this example my dominant color is red, and the second color blue.
How I hold my yarn and project when knitting stranded colorwork as a continental knitter.
And this is how it looks like when I hold the knitting.

In the pictures above you can see how I hold the yarn in my hand and how it looks when I hold the yarn and the needle all in my left hand.

Twisting strands in stranded colorwork – continental

When I’m knitting with my dominant color, red in this case, and need to twist the strands I pick the yarn around the other strand.

To make this easier, and faster, I use my thumb to pull the strands to a position where it’s easy for me to pick up the yarn. In the first picture below, I have inserted my needle into the stitch and pulled the blue strand aside. Next step is to pick up the red and knit the stitch.

When knitting the next stitch the strands are crossed, as in the second picture. I just separate them whit my index if they are to close and pick the dominant color, red in this example.

Tips for stranded knitting | How to twist floats in stranded knitting. This is how a twist my strand as I go.
I pull the blue (second color) over the dominant with my thumb to make it easier to twist the strands as I pick my yarn.
Tips for stranded knitting | How to twist floats in stranded knitting. This is how a twist my strand as I go.
For the next stitch, the strands are crossed. Just pick the red and knit, the blue will be locked in at the back.

If I’m working the second color, blue in this case, I pick the yarn underneath the dominant color once, and then as usual. This way the yarn strands are twisted at the back of my work without the need to let go of the yarn and I feel like this is way faster.