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Mouse, Truffle, Cedar, Skyline, and Pear MDK Atlas

Colorwork gauge can be tricky, especially if you work two handed.

I’m a loose knitter who picks (Continental-style, yarn in my left hand), and adding in a different technique (throwing with my right hand) can make my fabric downright saggy with really uneven tension.

If you too catch the two-handed gauge struggle bus, consider needle material when you swatch (you are swatching right?). 

I knit colorwork much slower than any other type of knitting—which is good for an extra-relaxed knitter like me, because slower usually mean better formed stitches that aren’t as loose.

But working two handed chucks a monkey wrench into the works; my throwing gauge is waaaay different than my picking gauge. 

I used to throw back in the ’90s when I had a corporate job and I was a tight, locked-in-a-cubicle, working-for-men-in-suits knitter. One of my first acts toward leaving that job, before I even updated my resume, was to the change the way I knit. I taught myself to knit continental style. I sat every night on my couch working each stitch, knitting hats in the round, until it felt comfortable. I left my job soon after and have been a continental knitter ever since. I absolutely believe that shift helped me leave a job I hated. Sometimes a big change starts with a small shift.   

I was curious how needle material would affect my colorwork gauge. Really would anything help blend my two gauges? I was willing to give it a try. I talked about gauge and needle material a year ago for knitting with a single color, and got exactly the results I thought I would. This time with colorwork, I got a little surprise.

I swatched with the same sized needles using Atlas and my favorite motif from Field Guide No. 25: Botanica, the flower from the Autumn Garden Stole.

I used Tulip bamboo needles, Skacel Turbos, and Skacel Rocket2 Squared

First I compared the two I knew would be the most different, Tulips and the Skacel Turbos (which are regular Skacel Rockets with a more blunt tip)

My difference in gauge was big, almost a stitch per inch. The beautifully slippery Turbos encouraged me to move quickly through my stitches, and if I let go of my needle when I threw with my right hand the needle occasionally slipped out. The stitches overall looked really sloppy uneven and loose. I might have ground my teeth while knitting this swatch.

If the Turbos were the only needles I had to use, I would have to go down at least three sizes to get gauge and a fabric I like.

My Tulips did exactly as expected. They slowed down my stitch making a little bit with the drag of yarn on wood, and my thrown stitches didn’t slip much. It was easy to hit the gauge I wanted. 

The surprise came with the Skacel Rocket2 Squared.

These are the same material as Skacel Turbos and Rockets, but the needle is a square shape and the surface is textured. Gauge-wise they hit between the Tulips and Turbos, but closer to the Tulips, which didn’t happen knitting with one color.

I really liked how these felt working two-handed colorwork. The texture held my stitches even better than the wood. I was surprised at how I liked the feel, textured and little heavier than my Tulips, and the rumble strip surface really held the stitches with zero slip on my thrown stitches. I didn’t like them as much for single-color knitting.

It would be worth it to me fix the gauge issue by going down a needle size or two, because these needles feel so secure knitting two-handed colorwork. The lack of slip lets me take my time to form stitches with my awkward throwing hand, so they match my picking hand much better. 

Consider thinking beyond just getting gauge when choosing needles for colorwork—especially if you knit two-handed, especially if you don’t feel quite in control of your stitches.

I never thought I would want or need a separate needle set just for colorwork, but here I am.

About The Author

Jillian Moreno spins, knits and weaves just so she can touch all of the fibers. She wrote the book Yarnitecture: A Knitter’s Guide to Spinning: Building Exactly the Yarn You Want so she could use all of the fiber words. Keep up with her exploits at


  • I have just about finished a colourwork cowl (for almost Daughter-in-law) and i found this article very interesting and educational.

    i am a natural ‘thrower’ who has had to learn to ‘pick’ for 2 handed colour work so i also have the uneven texture issue. changing needles never occurred to me!

    thank you for this article.

    and Season’s Greetings to one and all.

  • Fantastic. I wish every knitter could read this article. Too many knitters don’t so clearly understand how needle choice affects gauge.

    • Carry both yarns on your left pointer finger. Choose your dark or light color, background on top, and focus color on bottom. Easy to twist for carrying past 5 stitches. My favorite way to knit.

    • I too had the same problem with color work gauge. I did not think to change the needle, but I did 1) knit inside out in circular knitting so the stranded stitches carried outside the work rather than more tightly inside the work, 2) go up a needle size, and 3) learned to carry both yarns in my left hand. Learning to do the latter was like learning to switch from English to continental knitting but well worth the effort for the more uniform tension that I get. Still, the shift from color-work to plain knitting in a garment is always a struggle when trying to keep uniform gauge.

      Great idea to try different needles next. I have become an avid Prym user—I think they are somewhere between a wood and metal for slickness—but they are limited in sizes and lengths so sometimes I return to using Addi-Rocket Squared or Tulip interchangeables and have to account for the difference in gauge. It makes sense to take advantage of those differences for color-work.

    • Ms. Stahman, I’m so excited to see you here. Stahman’s Shawls & Scarves is such an important book. Your flexible techniques encouraged me to stretch as a knitter. Big fan!

  • This is quite timely as I have a colorwork cowl to make for my daughter. I just blocked my swatch made on my favorite slippy stainless steel needles, but perhaps I’ll do one on my wood needles before I get going.

  • Oh my gosh!!! What an excellent tip (as it were)! I never would have considered this. Thank you!!!

  • This is timely to me as I just purchased Rockets to do color work . I was spot on gauge with bamboo but now I will have to check color work . I am also watching spinning gauge as I am spinning the yarn from my sheep.

  • Thank you once again, dear Jillian!
    As a v loose knitter, I never would have tried those square needles… but now I shall.

  • Thank you! This is a big struggle for me. I would like to learn the continental knitting method. Do you have a source you would recommend?

    • Liz, see if you can find any videos of Arne and Carlos. Arne explains Continental knitting so simply. It took some practice but it changed everything for me and my knitting.

      • After watching Arne and Carlos, I have become proficient in the Norwegian Purl. What a change to look alike knit and purl stitch gauge!

  • Sometimes I wonder if it is When we learn certain techniques. For myself, I sense not just my mind, but my muscles resist a dramatic change in movement and therefore I too must experiment to find just the right set of movements and materials that my older group of muscles like best. Didn’t those nimble Scottish Fair Isle knitters (so fast it is breathtaking) learn in childhood? Sometimes – in late middle age – I feel like a warrior to get what I want and often ask myself if the battle is worth the prize. Thanks for the sense of solidarity you demonstrate by sharing your helpful tips, Jillian.

  • so helpful. I also am a loose continental knitter. –And left handed. I wonder where that fits in! I always love Jillian’s posts.

    • I am also left handed so continental has been recommended but I find purling awkward and hard to master continentally. Any suggestions?
      love all the swatching and gauging and needle adjustments. Addi square needles new to me, hadn’t even known they existed
      Coincidentally, a fellow knitter in the local knitting group just recommended Patti Lyons’s latest book which covers swatching thoroughly.

      • I am also a left handed Continental knitter and I have struggled with pulling until I found Romi Hill’s little tutorial on pulling Continental. Check out he videos on you tube and Instagram.

  • Very helpful. Thank you!

  • I love the Rockets Squared. I found the same thing with 2-handed knitting (less slippage). I slow down and relax and my gauge is better.

    • Love using the Rocket Squared! I feel so much more in control and my stitches don’t slip off.

  • I LOVE the Rocket2 square needle set! I’ve developed rather limiting arthritis in my hands/thumbs and these needles are much more comfortable (and easy) to hold. Also, you’ll be surprised at how even your stitches are. Addi now has a 4″ needle tip set (the original is 5″) and I would encourage you to get the shorter tip set so that you can use the set to make hats/cowls – the longer tips are impossible to use for 16″ circular needles.

    • Thanks for the tip on shorter tips. No pun intended. I’m an Audi rocket 2 squared as well.

  • Great tips all around but can I get an Amen on the huge life tip all but buried in the middle: Sometimes big change starts with a tiny shift. Bril.

  • Jillian,
    How did you make your swatches? Were you swatching in the round leaving long strands on the back that we can’t see? Or knitting backward for the purl rows? It’s been a while since I’ve done any stranded knitting, but I’ve only ever done it in the round. Is there a trick I’m missing?

  • So interesting! I tend to knit loosely, though I don’t think I have trouble because I introduce throwing into the mix on colorwork — but it’s worth thinking about, as is needle choice – so often I’m just glad to have the right size needles in my drawer.

    But also which color flower did you choose?

  • I read this with much interest. I don’t have any bamboo needles or the Rocket square ones. I may get some additional needles (because who doesn’t need more? :)) to see if I like them better when knitting certain projects.

    Thank you for the insights that improve our knitting.

  • Excellent article. When I teach gauge I have samples I made with same size/different materials needles but NEVER thought about the difference in colorwork. Genius!

  • I need to do some 2-color swatching with different needles and see what happens!

  • So fascinating. I knew needle material made working w/various yarn types easier or not, but hadn’t considered ea hand having dif tension. I taught a friend to knit who was having basic tension probs & a death grip on her needles. I watched myself knit very carefully in an effort to explain how she could adjust (I’ve been a thrower for 40 yrs, very even stitches, wasn’t something I thought about). There’s more to it than holding the needles, the rest of your fingers & hands are gripping & making various adjustments too, so making all that easier w/the right needle material is a must. As always, the devil is in the details! Love reading everyone’s comments.

  • This is sort of relevant . . . when I have wool gauge swatches that seem to hang around for a l-o-n-g time I put them through the washer and dryer a few times to get a little thick mat.
    Then I sew a heart on it and use yarn to put blanket stitch around the edges. Then I use flat-head nails to pin them to the ground next tot he grave stones of loved ones.
    I love this. I love this . . .

  • Interesting. ALSO – I see that you have worked in Law and I believe Kay also worked in Law at one time. I am, myself, a lawyer (but in-house which is much better than being a firm lawyer, for me. I wonder how many lawyers and “recovering” lawyers (or other legal professionals!) are regularly here.

  • Interesting. ALSO – I see that you have worked in Law and I believe Kay also worked in Law at one time. I am, myself, a lawyer (but in-house which is much better than being a firm lawyer, for me. I wonder how many lawyers and “recovering” lawyers (or other legal professionals!) are MDK enthusiasts? I have quite a few colleagues who are also knitters/crafters. Fun!

  • I am a huge Tulips fan because I like the control, but recently I’ve been using knitter’pride carbon needles and I love them. I needed a pointier tip than the tulips for my recent project, but with the carbon shafts you do not sacrifice control.

  • Thanks for these great insights! It’s nice to know it’s not just me 🙂 I’ve found the Chiagoo Forte needles to be nearly perfect: the nice pointy metal tip I need, and the wooden shaft holds my stitches in place. There’s a 2.0 version coming out with carbon shafts instead of wood, as there were some issues with the wooden needles. I was able to test drive the carbon and they give really good grip – almost too much! I also like the ebony Lantern Moon Legacy interchangeables for slippery yarns. They’re pretty pointy for a wood needle, and the cords are great. I’ve got a set of Addi Rocket interchangeable but struggle with the “twist and click” mechanism, they just won’t stay locked. Finally, I found Patty Lyons’ tips for maintaining even tension very helpful, particularly as a continental knitter. She advises wrapping the yarn around the needle instead of using it to grab and pull the working yarn. That way the stitch is sized to the needle.

    • Thanks for this – I’m glad I’m not the only one who just cannot get Addis to connect right – after what seems like a zillion attempts.

  • I will definitely try this and check out the square, rumble-strip needles. I do like the squares (senza rumble) for colorwork on double points.

  • What I hear you saying is that I’m justified in having 4 different types of interchangeable needles!

  • Hello. I apologize for popping into the Comments, but I’ve sent two messages to the Contact spot and have not received any answer. Could someone from MDK please reply to my email so I may tell you what I need.

    Thanks, Susan

  • I am struggling to learn two color stranded knitting. Are there some videos you could recommend. It’s just one 40 row section of a shawl that is stranded then I’m back to my comfort zone. I appreciate any help you can offer

  • Very interesting.

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  • This article was so helpful to me. I’ve been on the journey you were on, going from continental knitter to 2-handed colorwork knitter. I’m having trouble getting gauge and had already ordered a pair of the Skacel’s to try. They arrive today! I hope I have the same success you had!

  • The new Addi Ewenicorns with spiral tip are far more comfortable to my fingers than the squared Addis, and are the perfect blend of Turbo Addi slickness and wooden needle grip. I am another looser knitter, and found this needle solved my issues with any yarn except bamboo blends—which are not often used in colorwork. Give them a comparison test! They are now my first choice.

  • Hi Jillian, I enjoy your articles, thanks! I thought you were going to say you mixed needle types. Something I’ve thought of and not gotten around to.

  • This article was wonderful. I never considered the different needles when doing colorwork. I have just learned how to do colorwork and your examples were so helpful! Thank you so much for this.

  • As I’m about to start swatching for my next sweater, this article has come to me at the perfect time! I’ll definitely try different needles to see which of them works best with my pattern of many cables. THANK YOU!

  • No question my colorwork and gauge are better with bamboo needles. I knit the way you do (Continental left, throwing right), and the only way my tension looks good is by giving my stainless a rest. And no more needles falling out of the stitches! Yay!

    Thank you for this. I hope it help others.

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