stranded knitting: the importance of color dominance

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Since I have a tendency to use stranded colorwork in my designs, I thought I’d write about an element of stranded colorwork that often gets overlooked: color dominance.

So what the heck is it? When working with two colors of yarn in stranded knitting, there is a subtle difference in how the colors show up in pattern, depending upon how they’re carried behind the work. The dominant color will stand out better than the background color; this means that in a two-color pattern, when the contrasting color is dominant, it will appear bold and strong, whereas if the main color is dominant, the pattern may appear more delicate and lacy, or simply weak. I typically like to hold the contrasting color as the dominant yarn, but this is really a matter of personal preference.

To get an idea of what kind of difference this makes, take the pair of gloves I posted about yesterday:

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These gloves have been a WIP so long (sorry, mom) that they were started before I knew about color dominance. If you take a close look at the motif on the cuff, where the brackets are on the photo, you can see the difference that color dominance makes. The cuff of the left glove was worked with the contrasting color (blue) held dominant, whereas the cuff of the right glove was worked with the main color (white) held dominant. Like I said, whether you want to hold your main color or your contrasting color as your dominant color is totally up to you, but be sure to stay consistent throughout your knitting, or you’ll wind up with ever-so-slightly mismatched parts, like in the gloves above.

The dominant color strands, or floats, below the background color on the wrong side of your knitted fabric (in relation to the direction that you’re knitting). In the photo below (of the wrong side of Nikoline), the arrows are pointing to the floats on a round where three stitches of white are followed by a stitch of blue. The blue yarn “floats” across the back of the three white stitches, and the white yarn “floats” across the back of the blue stitch. You can see how the blue float (the dominant color) sits below the white float (the background color).

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This is the case no matter what method of stranded knitting you prefer, but typically the two working yarns are carried as follows:

Two-handed stranded knitting:

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The dominant color is held in the left hand, while the background color is held in the right hand.

Both yarns on the same hand:

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Whether you hold both working yarns in your left hand for Continental knitting (this is my method of choice), or both in your right hand for English knitting, the dominant color is held to the left of the background color. There are a few different versions of this method; some knitters find it more comfortable to have one yarn looped around the index finger and the other looped around the middle finger, while others prefer to keep both strands on one finger, but you’ll have to experiment to figure out what works best for you.

One yarn at a time:

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If you prefer to hold only the working yarn you’re knitting with, leaving the other strand to hang down at the back of the work, it’s best to set the ball for the dominant color yarn to the left of the ball for the background color yarn in front of you, and ensure that your strands don’t get twisted when you’re picking them up and putting them down. In the photos above you can see how the white yarn hangs loose while I’m working with the blue yarn, and vice versa.

I try to keep the ball of yarn for my dominant color to the left of the ball of yarn for my background color, regardless of which method I’m using, as it helps me remember which color to hold in dominant position.

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One more tip: to keep the tension of your knitting and your floats nice and even, try periodically stretching out the stitches you’ve just worked on your right needle. Don’t stretch them too far, but if you space them out so that the fabric lies flat, you’ll get a good idea of what’s happening with your tension and you can adjust as you progress. You can see how I’ve spaced out the stitches just worked on my right needle below:

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I’d love to hear any other tips people have for working in stranded colorwork, and feel free to ask questions or share your experience in the comments!

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