Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Stranded Colorwork Basics

For the longest time I was deathly afraid to knit stranded colorwork patterns.  The patterns look complex.  There are often charts involved, which I didn't feel confident about. Choosing yarns and colors is not terribly easy either, especially when the yarn specified in the pattern isn't available locally.  I don't like ordering yarn on line - I like to touch the yarn and see the colors in person.  And then there's the question of what the finished project will feel like, as many colorwork patterns result in a fabric that is at least two layers thick.  I was also reminded that most people knit colorwork at a different gauge than they would knit the same yarn on the same needles in a single color piece.  Sheesh!  Reading all of that, it's a wonder I ever started knitting colorwork in the first place.

And then, as happens, I found a pattern I couldn't resist.  I had to take the plunge.  There are a few tips I learned that made the process much easier, and a lot of fun, and I thought I'd share them here.

1. Choose yarns from the same line from the same manufacturer.  For example, use two (or more) different colors of Cascade 220 Superwash.  Yarns from the same line and manufacturer will be dyed from the same base yarn, and will exhibit identical characteristics.  If you choose two different yarns, they will differ in more than color!  They will also have different content, different finish, different dye processes, different diameters... The variables aren't worth trying to manage when your trying to learn colorwork. 

2. Photocopy the pattern chart, and use the copier to blow up the chart to a workable size.  Mark the chart off in increments of 5 stitches at a time in pencil.  Use Post-It tape to mark off one row at a time to keep from becoming confused.

3. Knit a colorwork swatch.  In fact, knit a couple.  You'll discover how the two strands stick to each other, slide on one another, and how it affects your gauge.  Most people have a tendency to knit colorwork tightly, causing the fabric to have lumpy surface.  Practice on your swatch until your piece lays smoothly.  Once the work lays smoothly, check out the gauge, and adjust needle sizes until you achieve the recommended gauge.

4. Carry one yarn "high" and one "low".  I usually choose to carry the first color used low, and the second color high.  What that means is that the second color will be introduced by carrying that working yarn over the first working yarn.  When it's time to use the first yarn again, bring it up from under the second.  This keeps your yarns from getting twisted around each other, and results in the smoothest fabric.

5. Don't get discouraged.  You will make mistakes.  That's good!  Most of us learn faster from making our own mistakes than from being told what to do.  (I tell myself this every time my teenagers do something ridiculous that I've asked them a hundred times not to do.)  So swallow your pride, and dive in.  It's fun!  Remember the first time you went miniature golfing?  Remember learning to knit in the first place?  There you are.

6. Block your work!  Nothing helps make colorwork look lovely like blocking.  It smooths the surface and makes so-so work look great.  No matter what you think of your finished project, block it before you give up on it.  You'll be glad you did.

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