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In stranded colorwork, the term “float” refers to the unused strand of yarn that sits at the back, when you’re knitting with one color.

Stranded glory on the reverse side of the Cottage Throw

They’re actually what makes a stranded colorwork knit so warm, they form a lining!

The “problem” with floats is that if they are too long, they can be annoying, in both the knitting and the wearing.

In the knitting, a too-long float can create puckers in your work. That is, if you are working a long stretch with one color, when it comes time to change back to the resting color by grabbing it from a few stitches away, it can be challenging to keep the stitches from snugging up together. (Read about the just-right tensioned float here.)

that yellow yarn is a long way away . . .

In the wearing, a too-long float can catch on a finger or a toe or an earring, which can pull and stretch out the stitches, pucker up the fabric, and even cause the yarn to break. Aieeee!

Most patterns will specify how often to “catch” or “trap” floats at the back of the work. There are two key factors designers and technical editors use to determine how many stitches a float should be, and both of them are about the yarn: how thick it is, and how sticky it is.


Here’s the simple rule: if you’re going to be working more than about an inch (2.5 cm) or so in one color before changing, it’s a good idea to catch your float at about the middle of that length.

Consult the pattern for the gauge number. If your pattern gauge is 22 stitches in 4 inches (10 cm), your gauge per inch (2.5 cm) is about 6 stitches. So if the unused yarn in a row has to travel more than 6 stitches at the back before it’s used again, trap it about halfway. Are there 8 stitches between color changes? Trap the yarn on the third, fourth or fifth stitch of the single-color run—you get the idea.


If you’re working with a wool yarn that’s not superwash, and is very textured and sticky and grabby (like the lovely Atlas, and other woolen-spun yarns) you can go longer without catching—that is, more than an inch/2.5 cm. Why? Because this type of yarn naturally clings to itself so that floats stick together, and over time the fabric will all felt a bit. The risk of catching and pulling out of floats is significantly reduced!

On the other hand if you’re working with a smooth superwash wool (I do stranded colorwork with this type of yarn all the time, I love how easy it is to block and wash!), then the strands on the back of the fabric are always going to remain separate. In this case, stick fast to
the no-more-than-an-inch- of-stitches-without-catching rule.

Whatever yarn floats (ha!) your boat, get into stranded colorwork and you’ll never look back (except at the back of your work to check the floats now and then).

Kate Strands Us Along … in the Best Way

Stranded Colorwork: Keeping it Loose

Color Dominance in Stranded Colorwork

Handy Tips for Stranded Colorwork

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About The Author

Kate Atherley is a teacher, designer, author and technical editor. She’s also the publisher of Digits & Threads, a magazine all about Canadian fibre and textile arts.


  • Thanks so much for this, Kate! I’m using very sticky yarn for the treeline cowl and I’m loving the way it feels. I’m sticking (ha!) to the no more than six stitches float rule and that seems to be working well. I always appreciate your advice on here! Smiles!

  • Thank you very much, Kate!

    Seems that the last link to “Handy tips for stranded colorwork” is broken, but I found the article. So if anyone else would like to read it, look here:

  • I am gobsmacked at that photo of the beautiful reverse side of the cottage throw! It couldn’t possibly be more perfect; it nearly makes the throw reversible. I catch floats as I should, but they’re never so even and perfect as that – no matter how careful I am, there is always at least a little puckering and some too-loose floats. Blocking does help, but only to a point. Sigh. That Cottage throw is so tempting, though.

  • I tried to post a Thank You Dagmar as a reply, and I got the error message: “Sorry, replies to unapproved comments are not allowed.” And why is their post “Awaiting Moderation” anyway? (And yet it’s posted, so what’s the point?) I’ve never understood this – is it because they included a link? Very weird.

  • This spring I learned the Ladderback Jacquard method to colorwork and it has been a game changer. You still get the double layer, but the floats are totally trapped with no peeking.

    • I just learned it as well for my current project! I saw it mentioned and looked it up—such a great method and less visible from the front. The cowl I’m working on has some very long floats!

  • If you want to get rid of floats altogether try The Philosopher’s Wool method. It takes a little practice but well worth the effort. I took a workshop from them decades ago but it can be found on YouTube. Their sweaters are beautiful on both the right & wrong side.

  • I read something recently about creating a “mesh” on the back of colorwork instead of catching floats which can show a bit on the front. Can you say something about how to do that?

    • Look up the ladderback jacquard method—that’s kind of what it’s like!

  • As always, great advice presently simply and plainly by Kate!

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  • Thank you for showing the backside. Appreciate your wisdom about catching strands. I am new to color work but would like to try the Autumn Garden Stole. Understand that working flat is different than working in the round. Would like to read your thoughts on that. I can read stitch charts in both directions so am not concerned with that part of the pattern. Always like the clarity of your posts.

  • It should be mentioned that it’s a good idea to stagger your floats on the next row/round, in other words, don’t stack them one atop the next because you may get a laddering effect.

  • Can’t bookmark anything from this Snippit. No bookmark tab is at the top of any article.

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