Kate's Guide to Colourwork - Stranded Knitting Tips and Free Patterns to Download
Kate loves nothing more than a little bit of stranded knitting, so she’s giving you her top tips to get started or step up your game!
As anyone who's spent more than about five minutes talking to me about knitting will know, I'm an absolute fanatic when it comes to stranded knitting. There's something about the way the colours come together, the rhythmic process of switching from this yarn to that, the super-cosy and squishy finished fabric...it's just magic! I'm on a mission to help every knitter fall in love with this technique so with that in mind, here are my top tips and tricks.
Kate Heppell was the founding editor of Knit Now magazine. She is now the Head of Content at Practical Publishing and is the crafty pair of hands steering the Good Ship CraftWorld!
Don't Twist Those Yarns!
Lots of us have been taught at some point to always twist the two yarns when changing colour – but in stranded knitting, this can make the knitting process unnecessarily difficult as well as making your fabric too dense and distorting your stitches. When I look at my work from the back, I want to be able to clearly see the two colours running in straight lines, one above the other.
Colour Dominance in Stranded Knits
Are you finding that the pattern you’re knitting doesn’t quite pop? It might be that you need to look at the colour dominance of your main colour and your background colour. When working stranded knitting, always carry your main colour below and your contrast colour above. The technical reason for this is that the stitches in the yarn carried below are ever so slightly bigger – not noticeable to the naked eye individually, but the cumulative effect can be quite striking! In this swatch the pink is held above and blue below in the top section, which is reversed in the lower section. You can see that in the middle of the squares, the blue stitches are smaller in the lower section than the upper section.
Choosing a palette for colourwork can be a lot of fun – but it does have its pitfalls. The hardest thing I find is working out which colours will have enough contrast with each other so that the main colour stands out enough from the background. I discovered a fab little trick that I use all the time – simply take a photo of the yarns you want to use next to each other using your phone, then turn that image black and white. If the two yarns have enough contrast when they’re in black and white, they’ll have enough contrast in your knitting too.
Holding Yarn for Stranded Colourwork Knitting
The way you hold your yarn can make a huge difference to how much you enjoy the process of knitting stranded colourwork. It wasn’t until I found a way to hold one yarn with my index finger and the other with my middle finger that I could really get into the rhythm of colourwork. Some of my friends prefer to hold one yarn in the left hand (continental style) and one in the right hand – there’s no right or wrong here, just find what’s comfortable for you and enjoy it!
If you keep finding that your stitch tension is too tight in stranded knitting, it might be that you aren’t keeping your floats loose enough. The float is the unused strand of yarn that runs along the back of your work whilst you’re knitting in the other colour. If you’re knitting in the round, I recommend giving this little tip a try. Instead of working with the needles closest to you, turn your work inside-out and work with the needles furthest away from you. Many knitters find that this helps them keep their floats nice and long.
Lots of knitters tell me that they struggle with stranded knitting because they feel that their work always looks messy. 99 times out of a 100, there’s actually nothing wrong with their knitting technique – they just aren’t completing the final step properly and blocking their work! This is one of the reasons I love knitting in pure wool – it reacts so beautifully to being blocked. The transformation really is magical sometimes! Simply soak your work in lukewarm water for 30 minutes (with no-rinse wool wash like Soak if required). Then, gently squeeze out the excess water before rolling it in a clean towel to take most of the rest of the water away. Finally, lay your work out on a flat surface, pull it into shape (pinning if necessary) and leave it to dry. If you’ve knitted a hat, you can blow up a balloon to the size of your head and pop the hat over that to dry.
I tried to demonstrate this below but I must have been having a good knitting day when I made this swatch because my "before" wasn't actually too bad, but I still think you can see a difference when you look up close!
Free Patterns to Try
If you just want to try some swatches, take a look at the free knitting stitch chart downloads we have here on CraftWorld. These downloads are just for the colourwork charts themselves - if you want to buy the magazines which include the full patterns, you can find those in our digital editions shop.
We also have a curated collection of full knitting pattern PDFs which you can download for free! Here are a few of my favourites...
Over the years, I've designed quite a few stranded knitting patterns for our colourwork kits because they're the perfect projects for using up small amounts of yarn in different colours. Here's a few for you to have a go at!
The Dotty Hat is such a lovely repetitive knit! The stitch pattern is super simple, letting you concentrate on getting used to changing colours.
The Muffling Headband is the perfect choice for your next colourwork project. It only uses two colours of yarn and none of the floats are too long.
The Flora Mitts add in a mix of colours, so if you want to start experimenting with creating your own colour palettes for your knits, this is a really good option. But don't worry - you'll still only be working two colours per row!
Free Colourwork Garments
If you're ready to tackle a bigger project, take a look at these gorgeous free garment patterns to download.
The Bright Yoke Jumper is a quick and easy chunky knit, which is perfect for bringing a splash of colour to your wardrobe. It's worked in the round which is very much my favourite way to work stranded colourwork as I find it so much easier!
Step up your skills with the Kempston Cardigan by Emma Wright. This has a beautifully simple but effective all-over colourwork pattern in the front panels and comes in sizes XS-3X, up to a 139cm bust.
Looking for more colourwork patterns, tips & tricks?
This month's Knit Now is all focused on colourwork! Download your copy of issue 141 today!