Add Colorwork To Your Knitting With Kate Oates Of TotToppers

In this guest blog post, Kate Oates shares her secrets to adding colorwork to your knitting.  This is a great way to truly personalize any holiday gift.

One of the best things about crafting is the ability to make modifications to any project to make it suit YOUR needs!  Of course, there are so many beautiful patterns & designs that you may want to knit just like the pictures you see advertised.  But, I find that often times a tweak here and there can not only make the project more *yours*  but can also add flexibility to a design you might have already worked.

There are many ways to make such modifications.  Perhaps you want to adjust sleeve length or sizing, add a cable here or there, or even change a neckline.  Endless possibilities, right?  Around holiday time, my favorite thing to do is add motifs & colorwork!  I’ve recently finished holiday sweaters for both my children and published a quick and easy set of Wintry Charts.  I’m going to walk you through my modifications in hopes that you can take some of these tricks to heart and use them in your own crafty work.

For these sweaters, I began by using my Diplodocus knitting pattern. This pattern is worked in the round from the top down, with a circular yoke.  This construction method makes it really easy to add colorwork!  The original pattern includes just one stranded section before the split for the armholes, but as you can see, I incorporated so many more in my sweaters. I’m going to use some numbers from Diplodocus just so you can have some concrete examples of how the math works. There are really just two simple steps to inserting motifs.

1. The first step in modifying an existing design to include any type of new pattern (this could be a non-colorwork repeat as well!) is to look at the number of stitches that you’ll have in each section in which you’ll be making changes. 
I began my first motif early into the yoke section, after the first set of short rows and second increase round. I had 120 sts on the needles.  After the next and final increase round, I had 160 sts. And finally, after the sleeves and body were separated, there were 116 sts for the chest and 42 sts on each sleeve.  So a total of four numbers for me to look at and fit with patterns!

The repeats I used were mostly 4-st repeats, but several had 8-st repeats and one even had 16-st repeats.

The colorwork I inserted into the yoke section matched up very nicely.  120 and 160 are both divisible by 4 and 8 (meaning that 120/8 and 160/8 = whole numbers). More importantly, for the “big” repeat, 160 is divisible by 16. So, I simply worked the pattern as instructed, with the motifs included at will.

2. The second step is to make adjustments when things don’t line up nice & pretty.

Things are a little more tricky when the numbers don’t work out evenly with patterns you have chosen.  There are a couple of easy ways to address this.

The first way is to actually adjust the numbers in the pattern so that you have a couple extra, or a couple fewer stitches.  Doing this will then result in the properly divisible total number of stitches.  In my example, there were 116 sts in the chest. 116 IS divisible by 4, but not by 8 and I definitely wanted to use an 8-st repeat in the chest section. 112 and 120 are both multiples of 8 so depending on the size of the recipient, I could have skipped a few of the increases on the final increase round in the yoke section OR could have added another little increase round with the additional 4 sts.

But instead of doing that, I did an alternate method–I left the 4 “odd” sts in the body, and “placed” them at the underarm. I am quite confident that hiding them in this location has made them totally unnoticeable. To do this, I simply placed a marker at the middle of each underarm.  Then, when I worked the color repeats, I centered them on the front and back and left one extra stitch on either side.

I did this same thing in the sleeve section, where there were 42 sts on each sleeve.  42 is really not a very nice number at all.  Its even, but not even divisible by 4.  This time, my “selvedge” section was a bit larger because the only colorwork repeat I worked was over 8-sts.  This means there were 6 extra sts that didn’t fit in the repeat.  Like the body, I simply placed these stitches at the underarm.  Another benefit to doing this was that the sleeve decreases did not interfere with my pattern.  These decreases are also one of the reasons why I switched to solid stripes after completing one motif.

Raglan Sweaters

Raglan sweater shaping is very popular but there is a drawback when it comes to inserting motifs. Increases (when worked top-down) or decreases (when worked bottom-up) in the yoke section are done at frequent intervals, and not evenly around the sweater.  This means that motifs with a set repeat will be spaced further apart closer to the chest than at the neck.  However, you can work around this by doing your colorwork on the chest or bottom portion of the sweater instead.  One of my favorite little cardigans is the Sugar Bear Hoodie, and its worked bottom up with raglan shaping.  On my to-do list is to definitely experiment with a stitch motif on the bottom of this sweater.  I’ll probably stick with just one that is 2-3 inches tall!  I’ll also be working the cardigan in stockinette stitch instead of the textured stitch the pattern calls for.

Inserting Motifs into Other Items
I’ve given you sweaters as examples but think of how many other fun and easy projects you could insert patterns into, holiday or otherwise!  Dishcloths, hats, you name it.  Last year I provided holiday charts for my Cheery Scrap Cap (a free design I did in Petite Purls Magazine) so take a look at those for some inspiration. The less shaping in your project, the easier it will be to make changes.

General Stranding Tips

I have three general stranded colorwork tips to share that have helped my projects to turn out nice and neatly!

1. USE YARN WITH A HIGH WOOL CONTENT (not superwash). Wool has this wonderful natural felting capability and over time, some amount of felting will occur and it will make your project look more even and put together.  Additionally, you can gently rub the wrong side of your project during blocking to felt some of your floats (the strands) to the back of your knitting.  Perhaps if you are knitting as a gift, especially for a child, you shy away from feltable fibers.  I completely understand this, and I am not suggesting that you completely abandon this principle (as a mom, I definitely understand the reasoning!).  However, I still suggest that you stay away from acrylics for stranded projects.  Acrylics can be slippery and also are harder to even out during blocking, which makes them look a little more messy when finished.

2. “CATCH” LONGER FLOATS. Some really cute color motifs can have long floats that are both hard to keep even while you are knitting, and also can catch on fingers when the garment is being worn (a couple of my charts definitely fall into this category).  Felting the floats down during blocking (see #1) can help a good bit, but its even nicer to catch some of them as you work.  Simply wrap your working yarn around the strand being carried about halfway through the float.  You’ll be surprised as to how much it helps hold things together.

3. SPREAD THE STITCHES ON YOUR RIGHT HAND NEEDLE BEFORE SWITCHING COLORS. This might be the single biggest tip that helped my colorwork improve. Especially if you’re a tight knitter, you might have a hard time carrying enough yarn and therefore end up with puckers in your finished project. Using your fingers, just spread out the stitches you have worked on your right hand needle before bringing the yarn around and this will help you to carry the right about of yarn!

I hope this helps give you some inspiration to make your mark on some knitting projects this season. Think of the fun hats you could make for Bluprint’s 1000 hat project! These hats will not only keep a kid warm, but they also make for great colorwork practice 🙂

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