Handy Tips for Stranded Colorwork
I have a confession to make: I don’t do it the way they tell you you’re supposed to.
This is true for lots of things, but today I’m talking about knitting with two colors for stranded colorwork. The traditional method is to have one yarn in each hand. This is the common method in Europe and Shetland, the one you see most often in tutorials and demonstrations.
That way of working has its advantages, no question: it’s pretty quick, helps prevent tangling yarn, and it makes you look very coordinated and clever. I’ve tried it. Heck, I am happy to teach that method.
But—are you sitting down?—I don’t do it that way!
The challenge for me is that I’m just not as good at Continental knitting. (When we say Continental, by the way, we mean carrying the yarn in your left hand. Everything else is the same, it’s just about where your yarn is.) My tension is very different when I work with yarn in right hand versus yarn in left hand, and working with one yarn in each results, for me, in an untidy and uneven mess.
So I don’t! I just keep the two yarns in my right hand.
If you’ve been struggling with working two-handed colorwork, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to do it that way. Here are my two preferred methods.
If you’re just starting out with colorwork, I recommend drop-and-pick-up. It goes like this: Leave both yarns hanging. When you need to work a stitch, grab the yarn you need, and drop it when you’re finished with it.
Well, OK, it’s not quite that simple. You do want to make sure that you avoid twisting the yarns. To do this, designate an “Over” color and an “Under” color. I assign them alphabetically: in this sample in Atlas Barn Red and Pear, red is Over, yellow is Under.
When grabbing the Over yarn, make sure it’s coming Over the other color.
And when you’re working with the Under yarn, make sure you’re pulling it Under the other.
Consistently working your Overs and Unders keeps the yarns from tangling and keeps your stitches even so that the fabric stays smooth and the colors evenly tensioned.
Join the KAL!
Once you feel a bit more confident, you can carry both. Just grab both yarns in your right hand, catching them around your hand as if they are one. When it’s time to work a stitch, just use your fingers or thumbs to wrap the one you need around the needle.
Keep your Over and Under consistent, throughout. As you can see in the video, I use my thumb to wrap the Over and my index finger to wrap the Under. There’s no specific right or wrong answer here about how you wrap the yarns—do what feels natural and right for you. (And if the yarns do twist once in a while, it’s not the end of the world.)
Take a Look
No matter how neat and tidy you are in working, stranded colorwork will always be a bit lumpy on the needles. (In my experience, if it looks smooth on the needles, it’s probably a bit off—too loose or too tight.) Just like lace, you can’t really assess the fabric until it’s been blocked.
Once you’ve worked a bit, slip the stitches to scrap yarn and let it soak for 15 minutes, then give it a good squeeze in a towel and let it dry overnight. You’ll find it looks just like you want it to!
You can also carry both yarns in your left hand, if that’s your preferred way of working. For that, a yarn stranding guide can be helpful. This is a tool that helps separate the two yarns wrapped around your hand.
Just remember, you’re the boss of your knitting. Do what makes you happy and comfortable.