Stranded Colorwork: Keeping It Loose
Keep it loose! That’s the ticket when it comes to stranded colorwork. This quick set of hints and hacks will help you relax your work and avoid the pinchy, uptight stuff that can sometimes happen.
When you’re working with two colors, your fabric is going to be somewhat tighter than when you work with only one color. You’re not doing anything wrong; changing colors always pulls stitches in a bit.
What is up with that?
You may have noticed that the gauge of plain stockinette stitch worked in a single color usually conforms to a standard ratio: about 3 stitches for every 4 rows, no matter the weight of yarn. In other words, a knit stitch is wider than it is tall in plain, single-color stockinette. If you measure the width of 3 stitches, you’ll find that measurement is pretty close to the height of 4 rows/rounds.
But in stranded colorwork, the stitches are always narrower. This isn’t a mistake, it’s just the nature of the fabric. Those strands across the back snug the stitches up. A typical stranded colorwork fabric leaves the row/round gauge about the same, but has more stitches in 4 inches/10 cm than the same yarn and needle combo worked in single-color stockinette.
This is why, in a pattern that has plain stockinette and colorwork sections, you sometimes see a change in stitch count or needle size, to balance things out: more stitches and/or larger needles for the colorwork section.
A too-tight fabric can cause a couple of issues. It can make your finished piece too small, and it can reduce stretch in the knitted fabric. No worries! Here a few simple tricks to help you keep things relaxed.
Try a larger needle. If checking gauge is your thing, you’ll get a sense of it that way.
Be consistent. Notice how you’re holding the yarns—which color in which hand. And pay attention to which yarn goes over, which one goes under as you work.
Spread the stitches out. If you usually bunch stitches up on the needles to work faster, make a point of spacing the stitches apart.
Spacing out your stitches will keep your knitting nice and relaxed!
These stitches are too close together. The fabric will be tight.
Catch those floats
One last tip: If there’s a long stretch of one color—more than about 6 or 7 stitches—it’s a good idea to catch the color not in use along the back of your work.
Look at Round 17 of my moose and tree pattern above. See that stretch of 9 stitches in the background color before I need to change to the foreground? When I carry the unused yarn along, it will be easier to keep it relaxed. Carrying is known variously as “wrapping” or “trapping” or “catching” the “floats.” And there are a variety of ways to do it.
How you do it depends on how you hold your yarns.
Both yarns in the right hand: Twist the active yarn around the resting yarn.
Twisting introduces a twist in the yarns, and if you find that makes the yarn hard to handle, you can get clever: twist twice in one float. For example, before the middle stitch of my long stretch of color, I take the working yarn over the resting yarn as you see above, then I knit the next stitch, and then I bring the working yarn back the way it came, in the opposite direction: twist, knit, untwist.
Both yarns held in your left hand: Make a twist by picking the yarn from the wrong place. For example, if you would normally go under to get the active yarn, go over; if you would normally go under to get the active yarn, go over.
Practice and see what works for you. If you do find that you’ve introduced a couple of twists in your yarn, that’s fine. Check at the end of the round. I untwist my work by just “dangling it” and letting it spin.