Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stranded Colorwork Made Easier

I was emailing with a fellow knitter yesterday, and was reminded that many people dislike colorwork for more than an occasional accent in their knitting.  I tend to forget this lately, because I'm having a solid schoolgirl crush on colorwork at the moment.  But then I though back to when I was very new to stranded color knitting, and the concerns came rushing back.

1.  More colors means more skeins, which means more money.
2.  Colorwork means at least two working skeins at once, and the yarns get tangled.
3.  Following a stitch pattern is complicated enough without having to remember when to change yarns on top of it.
4.  My colorwork always bunches up like a miniature mountain range.
5.  Who wants to weave in all those ends?

Lookin at it that way, it is a little off-putting.  Let's debunk these fears in order:

1.  More colors doesn't have to mean buying more skeins, but it does mean using more yarns.  Go to your stash and see what you have that will fit the bill.  Most of us have standby favorites we return to time and again (Cascade 220, Malabrigo Merino, etc), resulting in lots of partial skeins of the same yarn type in our stash.  How many partials do you own of your favorite?  What if you added the stashes of a couple of close knitting friends?  Matching the yarn brand and model name makes for a beautiful finished look, but several different yarns often have very similar finishes, so sometimes you can use a different yarn.  (Cascade 220 and Patons Classic Wool have very similar finishes, for example.)  This usually solves the issue for me.  Sometimes I need to buy all the colors involved in a project, but it's rare.

2.  Tangled yarns are, I have discovered, a habit and not a necessity.  The way my students have had the most success breaking this habit it to knit at a table or desk with one yarn on the desk and one in a knitting bag at their side.  The "high" yarn is the yarn that will always be brought from over the "lower" yarn.  The "low" yarn will always be brought from under the working yarn.  Every time you change colors, you have the choice of whether to draw the new color over your working yarn, or under it.  If you always bring yarn 1 over, and always bring yarn 2 under, there are no tangles.  Having a table or desk allows you to put your work down while you're figuring out the pattern or chart without further tangling yarns.  One small project done in this way (one mitten, for example) is usually all it takes to develop a new habit.

3.  Complexity can be a factor, but it usually isn't.  Most patterns that involve colorwork don't involve any stitch pattern at all - just color pattern.  If you can handle basic shaping, you're ready for most colorwork.  If you're still unsure about shaping, you can still work stripes, but may want to practice increases and decreases a bit until you're confident with them.  If the stitch pattern looks like too much for you, you may have chosen one of the less common toughies.  Have your LYS staff help you choose a good fit for your skill and comfort level.

4.  Bunched colorwork means one of two things: you haven't blocked it yet, or your floats aren't evenly tensioned.  Blocking colorwork makes all the difference between a garment you'll love and a garment you're embarrassed by.  I know, when your piece finally comes off the needles you want it to be done.  It isn't.  Block it, and be proud.  Don't block, and be aggravated.

If the bunching is significant, your floats aren't even.  When you work colorwork, your tension really matters.  If you always knit on the tight side, this will be a problem in colorwork, as the floats and the stitches need to be the same tension. When you knit tightly, the stitches are looser than your floats.  Changing needle size won't solve it, but you can!  First, always keep your needle tips very close together, because separating them changes the tension of the stitches closest to your needle tips.  Knit a couple of swatches during which you let go of the working yarn after you finish each stitch. The yarn won't fall off the needles - I promise.  Your tension on those swatches will be very even, and you'll have learned to relax your tension.

If you don't knit tightly, but the work is lumpy anyway, check to be sure you maintain a high and low color.  This helps keep the tension smooth.  If you're doing all of that right and you're still getting lumpy work, turn your work over.  Looking at the wrong side, you'll see that the lumps are caused by the floats that are tighter than the others.  Frequently just one color is the culprit.  Rip out the lumpy work, and start in again.  Ease up on the tension of that one color, and your work will smooth out.

5.  Weaving in ends can feel like punishment after you've finished your piece.  Nothing will make your work ready to wear instead, though.  If you leave 6 - 8 inch tails, weaving is easy.  Trim off the excess when finished.  If you don't know how to weave in ends, ask at the LYS, YouTube, or ask a knitting friend.  Still not interested?  Most LYS will weave in your ends for a small fee.

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