Colorful Adventures with Stranded Knitting

If you are a knitter living somewhere with a cold winter climate – perhaps even downright frigid – chances are you have cast more than a passing glance at stranded colorwork projects. This technique produces incredibly beautiful and eye-catching garments, and knitting with two or more colors also tends to make these items quite a bit warmer than single-color items. What’s not to love about knitting projects that are both beautiful and practical at the same time?

Stranded Knitting: Hat

There are many different knitting techniques that involve working with more than one color in the same project. Stripes, for example, are probably the simplest way of combining colors, and are very eye-catching. Intarsia is another color technique, which involves placing small panels of color at one place on the garment or knitted object – for example a red heart placed in the center of a sweater. In both of these techniques, however, only one color is actually used at a time. The term ‘stranded colorwork’ refers to knitting that uses two colors at once, where both colors are carried behind the work as the stitches are knitted. It is probably most typically associated with the fair isle sweaters of the Shetland Islands, which use colorwork to produce horizontal patterns, often in a repeating sequence. In 1921 the then-Prince-of-Wales began wearing fair isle vests, and these garments instantly became a part of 20th Century fashion trends. Many different knitting traditions use colorwork, including Bohus knitting from Sweden, and the Norwegian winter ski sweaters made popular by Dale of Norway yarns.

As a slightly more advanced technique, however, stranded color-work can often seem complex or intimidating. While it does take a bit of practice at first, once you take the time to learn you may well find yourself becoming addicted! (“Just one more row” syndrome, anyone?) Stranded colorwork is most typically done using two hands, working one color in the left hand (using ‘continental’ or left-handed method) and the other in the right (using ‘English’ or right-handed method). Most of us tend to be either left-handed or right-handed knitters and so this might be your first time practicing the alternative! It is possible to work with two colors in the same hand, however, if you just can’t quite get the hang of the two-color technique.

Stranded Knitting: Sweater

Because stranded colorwork produces long ‘floats’ on the wrong side of the work, this means that the inside of these projects will be almost a mirror image of the color scheme and pattern that is visible on the front of the work. Many knitters find the floats almost as pretty as the outside, so it’s not uncommon for a knitter wearing her finished color-work sweater to offer to pull up the hem (or even pull off the entire sweater!) and show off the inside. Truly – after all that hard work, who wouldn’t want to show it off?

If you’re new to this technique and want to find out more, check out knitting classes here on Craftsy, or try one of these references in print and online:

  • Stitch n’ Bitch Superstar Knitting: Go Beyond the Basics, by Debbie Stoller
  • The New Color-work Knitting, by Mary Scott Huff
  • Knitty tutorial

Have you been seduced by stranded color-work knitting already? What projects are on your “must knit” list?

And if you’re looking for more stranded knitting inspiration, head on over to discover Fair Isle Mittens.

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