aspen socks & legwarmers: making modifications & try on as you go


My own copy of Farm to Needle came in the mail a week or so ago and I am blown away at how beautiful it is in person. I can’t say thank you enough to Anna and everyone who made this book happen, and I am so incredibly grateful to be a part of it. I’m also completely in love with this Aspen legwarmer FO by Instagram user mandalu_who, knit in Snoqualmie Valley Yarn dyed with cabbage (and I’m amazed at how quickly she knit them up!). I can’t wait to see more FOs, and to that end, this is a post I hope will be helpful for some knitters as they get ready to cast on for Aspen.

A one-size pattern is difficult to pull off. It can be frustrating for knitters who need to hit measurements that differ from the schematic as written – and when it comes to legs, that’s most of us. So perhaps Tolt and I were a bit crazy to publish a one-size pattern for high knee socks, but I spent a lot of time in the planning stages of Aspen considering the fact that this was a pattern that some people would need to modify. I did my best to construct the pattern in a way that would make it easier to tinker with, and I thought I’d outline a few of the things specifically designed with modifications in mind for any of you out there who need a hand with that step. I also drew up a quick sketch (very quick) to help with visualization.


Customizable length: while I generally prefer to knit socks top-down, I decided Aspen should be toe-up (or bottom-up for the legwarmer version) so that the length was easy to customize. “Over the knee” for me, standing at six feet tall, is a longer sock than it is for someone who’s five feet tall. A toe-up sock means that you can start the ribbing at the top of the sock wherever you want – mid-calf, below the knee, over the knee, wherever! The tubular bind off gives it a nice stretchy edge that should work for any length. Because the tubular bind off creates a reversible edge, the ribbing can be worn folded over, as well.

Calf shaping: Both versions of Aspen feature a calf gusset that begins a few inches above the ankle. In order to create a gusset that would fit the widest range of sizes possible, I decided to work it in a 1×1 rib, so it would have a lot of give. If you find that the increase rate of the gusset as written isn’t working for you, however, it’s possible to adjust that, too. For a larger gusset, you can add extra repeats of the increase rounds – for a smaller one, you can omit one or more repeats. As written, the rate of increases corresponds to the diamond motif chart, but you can work increase rounds more often for a sharper increase angle, or less often for a gentler increase slope. Because the socks go over the knee, the gusset doesn’t contain any decreases so as to fit over the lower thigh, but if the difference in circumference between your calf, your knee, and your lower thigh looks more like an hourglass, it’s possible to add decreases to the calf gusset as well.

How to try-on-as-you-go with an afterthought heel: The sock version of Aspen is written for an afterthought heel, which means that the heel stitches are the last thing worked. Because waste yarn stitches are worked across the stitches where the heel will be placed, this typically means that the sock can’t be tried on as you’re knitting it. With a quick and simple trick, though, it is possible to try on a sock with an afterthought heel as you go.



The two photos above show a sock in progress with a view of the sole of the foot/back of the leg. You can see a row of contrasting waste yarn stitches holding the place of the heel.

The waste yarn stitches when working an afterthought heel act like a knitted in stitch holder. If you place the stitches in the rows direcly above and below the waste yarn on a new stitch holder, you can remove the original waste yarn and open up the heel. I like to use a new length of contrasting yarn to hold the stitches, since the yarn will remain flexible and it will be easier to actually try the sock on. Smooth yarns work best, particularly if you’re knitting your socks with a grabby wooly wool.

First, thread the new length of waste yarn onto a tapestry needle (the new waste yarn is shown in red in the photos). The yarn should be long enough to go around both sides of the heel opening with extra length at the ends in case you want to tie a knot to secure the yarn.


Beginning with the stitches on the sole of the foot (in plain stockinette), find the rightmost stitch knit in the original waste yarn – it should be in the form of a V. The sock yarn in the row below will have a stitch directly below this waste yarn stitch; thread the needle under the right leg of the V-shaped stitch.


Skip over the left leg of the first stitch and thread the needle under the right leg of the next stitch to the left. Continue in this manner, working across the row. Picking up the right legs of the stitches will mean your stitches are oriented properly when it’s time to work the heel and the stitches are put on needles.


I like to thread the needle through a chunk of stitches and pull the yarn through – going in smaller chunks is easier than trying to pull the new waste yarn through the whole row at once. Make sure to leave a long enough tail at the end opposite the needle to be able to secure the waste yarn.


The photo above shows you what it looks like when you’ve pulled the new waste yarn through all of the stitches on the sole of the foot. At this point, turn the sock 180 degrees so that the sole of the foot is farther away from you and the patterned leg is closer to you, as in the following photo:


Now you can see that I have the new waste yarn coming from the right side, with my needle still threaded, ready to pick up the stitches from the leg side of the heel.

This side is a little bit trickier, because when you begin knitting the heel, you’ll be changing the direction of the knitting. It’s a bit like picking up stitches from a provisional cast on to knit in the other direction. Don’t worry too much if you wind up with an extra stitch or two on this side; you can always use a k2tog decrease on the first heel round to get back to the right stitch count (and it might even help you avoid holes).


Begin picking up the right leg of each stitch as you did on the other side of the heel. It’s a bit harder to see on this side, because the leg stitches are patterned in a mix of knits and purls, but as long as you get the needle through one leg of each stitch, you’ll be okay. If any stitches wind up twisted when they’re transferred to a needle, that’s a simple enough fix.


Once again, I like to pull the new waste yarn through periodically as I work my way across. At this point, it’s easy to see why using two different colored waste yarns that contrast with each other can be super helpful – it’s much easier to make sure I’ve actually threaded a stitch onto the new waste yarn (red) when it stands out so much from the original knitted-in waste yarn (blue).


And here’s what the heel section looks like after I’ve threaded all of the heel stitches onto the new waste yarn. You can see that the old waste yarn is completely surrounded by the new.

At this point, we’re ready to start pulling out the old waste yarn stitches, because the stitches in the rows above and below are secure.



At this stage, I think slow and steady wins the race. I like to use the tapestry needle to unpick each old waste yarn stitch, one at a time. Going slow and paying attention means you’ll be able to see if any of the heel stitches didn’t make it onto the new waste yarn (if that’s the case, pop a locking stitch marker or safety pin on the stitch so it doesn’t drop).


As you work your way across the old waste yarn stitches, the heel starts to open up. It’s easy to see now  on the open section how the new waste yarn acts like a stitch holder.



When all of the old waste yarn stitches have been removed, the heel is completely open and the new waste yarn can be secured. I like to tie both strands together in a slip knot, which is easy to undo later on without scissors.

Now that the heel is open, you can try on your sock-in-progress!


When it’s time to work the heel, you simply take the stitches on hold, slip them onto the needles, and remove the waste yarn acting as stitch holder. It’s one of my favorite tricks!

trapping long floats in stranded colorwork


One of the questions I get most often from students or knitters working from my patterns is how to trap floats in stranded colorwork. I thought it would be a good idea to finally address this issue!

Firstly: what is a float, and why would I need to “trap” it?

“Float” is a common term for the strand of yarn that runs across the back of colorwork fabric – the strand that makes colorwork stranded. This distinguishes it from other colorwork methods like mosaic knitting or intarsia. Typical stranded colorwork motifs are worked with two different colors per round, with the colors changes happening often (this keeps the floats short). Some motifs, however, involve longer floats – and long floats are exceptionally good at catching on fingers, jewelry, or other things that can work their way between the knitted fabric and the float. So for knitted fabric that’s likely to come into things that may catch on floats, like fingers and toes, we must trap or catch long floats to anchor them to the fabric. 

Here’s a visual for you:


In the swatch pictured above, there are two long floats where the blue yarn is stranding across twelve stitches on the wrong side of the fabric. The long float pictured at the top of the swatch is trapped twice so that the blue float never carries across more than four stitches (it looks like three shorter floats instead). The long float pictured at the bottom of the swatch isn’t trapped at all, so it’s floating across all twelve stitches. You can see how much easier it is to catch a finger (or a toe, or a hand) on the open, un-trapped float:


So, if I’m knitting a piece that has long floats, how often should I trap them? I get this question a lot, and it’s a tricky one to answer. Some teachers use hard-and-fast rules, like “never carry a float more than five stitches without trapping it.” Some teachers tell you not to go more than three stitches. Personally, I don’t like this approach. It may sound precise at first, but when you think about it, gauge makes this an incredibly imprecise way to go about it. A float carried across five stitches in fingering weight is a much shorter float than one carried across five stitches in bulky yarn. If you must use a general rule, going by length in inches or cm is a better way to go (e.g. making sure no floats are longer than 1” or something similar). 

That being said, if a rule doesn’t jive with your personal preferences, that’s perfectly fine! I don’t enjoy trapping floats very much, as it slows down my knitting and can affect the look of my knitted fabric, and I’ll avoid it if I can get away with it. The most important thing is to consider what kind of item you’re knitting, and who’s going to be wearing/using it. A pattern like Pine Bough Cowl is worked in a tube and then grafted together, so the floats on the inside of the tube will never be exposed one it’s finished – there’s really nothing they can get caught on. No need to trap floats there. A baby sweater or a pair of mittens, however, will provide ample opportunity for fingers to catch on floats, so trapping those floats is a good idea. There’s a big difference between a knitted bag you’ll sew a lining into and a pair of mittens or socks. Use your best judgment and go with what you’re comfortable with! 

Now that we’ve covered when it’s a good idea to trap floats – how do we actually do it? In reality, there are a few different methods, but I’ll be demonstrating what I think is the most common below. Because I’m a continental knitter and I carry both yarns in my left hand, that series of photos is first, but if you scroll down you’ll also find a series of photos demonstrating the same technique in the two-handed method, with one yarn carried in each hand.

I’ll be using my Hearth Slippers to demonstrate in the photos, as this pattern involves a very long float the first time you work Chart C. I’m working the Large size, and the float is carried across 21 stitches. The charcoal grey is the working yarn for that length, while the light blue yarn is being carried across the back (the “floating” yarn). In this example, the dominant yarn is the floating yarn, while the background yarn is the working yarn. (Wondering what the “dominant yarn” is? You can read about color dominance here.)



I’m trapping my float every 6th stitch as I work across the span of charcoal grey, but you could trap every 5th or 4th stitch as well. You can see in the photo above that I’ve worked the first 5 stitches of my 21-stitch span.


Insert your right-hand needle into the next stitch, but don’t wrap your working yarn around the needle yet.



Slide your right-hand needle underneath the floating strand (blue), then wrap the working yarn (charcoal) around your needle to knit the stitch.


If you stop here and look at your float, you’ll see that it’s caught in the space between the stitch you just knit and the previous stitch. You’ve effectively trapped the float already!


Go ahead and knit the next stitch normally. When carrying both yarns in the left hand, you may need to use your thumb to hold the floating yarn (blue) out of the way. After knitting this stitch, I have 7 stitches of my 21-stitch span knit. My blue floating yarn is trapped on either side of the 6th stitch. This is a very secure way to trap the float.

Here’s a closer look at what that looks like from the wrong side of the fabric:


You can see how the float is trapped at the sixth charcoal grey stitch.

And you can see these steps in action here:

trapping long floats – carrying both yarns in your left hand from Dianna on Vimeo.


In this example, the dominant color, carried in my left hand, is the contrasting color (blue), while the background color, carried in my right hand, is the main color (charcoal). The background color/main color is also my working yarn here, while the dominant/contrasting color is being carried across the wrong side of the work.


I’m trapping my float every 6th stitch as I work across the span of charcoal grey, but you could trap every 5th or 4th stitch as well. You can see in the photo above that I’ve worked the first 5 stitches of my 21-stitch span.


Insert your right-hand needle into the next stitch, but don’t wrap your working yarn around the needle yet.


Slide your right-hand needle underneath the floating strand (blue), then wrap the working yarn (charcoal) around your needle to knit the stitch.


If you stop here and look at your float, you’ll see that it’s caught in the space between the stitch you just knit and the previous stitch. You’ve effectively trapped the float already!


Go ahead and knit the next stitch normally. After knitting this stitch, I have 7 stitches of my 21-stitch span knit. My blue floating yarn is trapped on either side of the 6th stitch. This is a very secure way to trap the float.

Here’s a closer look at what that looks like from the wrong side of the fabric:


You can see how the float is trapped at the sixth charcoal grey stitch.

And you can see these steps in action here:

trapping long floats while using the two-handed stranded colorwork method from Dianna on Vimeo.

There are other ways to trap floats, but in my experience, this is the most common (and it’s a pretty simple way to trap floats as you’re working, so there’s less finishing after the fact). If you finish knitting something and only then realize that you should have trapped the long floats – don’t worry! It’s possible to trap those long floats as you’re weaving in ends after the fact (and if there isn’t a long end to weave in where you need to trap a float, you can take a spare bit of leftover yarn and just weave it into the wrong side of the fabric as if it were an end, trapping the floats as you go).

Feel free to post questions in the comments, or share other tips or methods you know of!

combatting tight colorwork

Happy Monday, everyone! This post took a little bit longer to put together than I wanted, but it’s finally ready to go! It’s a lot to read through, but I hope you find it helpful and please let me know if you still have questions about this topic by the end.

One of the most common problems knitters encounter when starting to knit in stranded colorwork is tight knitting. There are a few reasons for this, but the big one is that colorwork fabric by its very nature is less elastic than normal stockinette. This is due to the strands being carried across the back of the work (the “floats”) – unlike knit stitches, these strands don’t really stretch that much, so the stretch of the overall fabric you’re creating is much less.

That being said, there’s a great deal of variation in how stretchy colorwork fabric is from knitter to knitter. In fact, for a single knitter, there’s variation in how stretchy their colorwork fabric can be, depending on:

  • what type of yarn the knitter is using
  • how the knitter is holding/carrying the yarns
  • how much space the knitter leaves between stitches
  • whether the knitter is working on DPNs or circular needles

It’s important to consider the elasticity of your colorwork fabric, and to remember that it won’t necessarily correspond with your gauge – since gauge is measured with the fabric “resting” (i.e. not stretched out), there’s no indication of whether or not your knitting will be stretchy. This means you can “get gauge” for a pattern like Hearth Slippers but still have trouble with the fit if your fabric is too inelastic.

My first tip to help knitters keep their colorwork tension easy and even is always to stretch out the stitches that were just worked along the right needle as you’re working on your project. This gives you a chance to check your floats – are they too long? too short? – and it also allows you to evenly space out your stitches. You want there to be just as much space between stitches of two different colors as there is between stitches of the same color. This helps increase the elasticity. If you’re working on DPNs, you can do this at the end of each needle; if you’re working with circs (or over a large circumference, like a sweater yoke) you may want to check it at even intervals: every 8 stitches or so (or 6 stitches, or 10 stitches; whatever works for you!). You’ll be better able to adjust your tension as you go along, and you’ll catch things that need fixing without having to work backwards too far. (Side note: it’s always better to have floats that are a little long than a little short – you can always draw in the slack when you’re weaving in ends, but you can’t make a short float longer.)

1dcf35b99afe850e-stitchesspreadoutStitches just knit spaced out along the right needle.

If you’ve tried this out and you still think your colorwork is coming out too tight, roll up your sleeves and get ready to try a few different methods, keeping in mind that some things may work for you and some may not; there’s a lot of trial and error in knitting! Here are some things to consider:

b6dc7b9186de4a6e-DSC_4432Smoother yarns are closer to the top of the list, while stickier wools are towards the bottom.

1. Yarn choice. Because of the physical nature of wool, wool fibers like to grab other wool fibers (this is what causes felting when wool is exposed to heat/agitation). Some wools are “grabby” or “sticky” and some are much smoother (the method used to spin the yarn also affects this – worsted spun yarns are much smoother than woolen spun yarns). This always affects the knitted fabric you’re creating, but it affects colorwork even more. Some wools that are known for colorwork are very sticky wools, like Shetland wool or Lopi. This is also part of why steeking is so common in these places – sticky wools are unlikely to unravel when the stitches are cut. But because sticky wools are more likely to stay in place and the yarn is less likely to slide smoothly past other strands, the finished fabric is generally less elastic than it would be with smooth wools (and it can be tricky for colorwork beginners to achieve smooth results without puckering). Conversely, depending on the knitter, a very smooth yarn can also cause less elastic knitting because it will be easy to pull your stitches tight without meaning to as the smooth yarn fibers slide right past each other. The amount of elasticity you can achieve will also depend on how the yarn was spun and how many plies it has. A yarn like Quince & Co. Chickadee is smooth and springy, because it’s worsted spun with three plies. Lopi, on the other hand, is typically woolen spun and a single ply, which means it just won’t stretch as much. Some knitters will have an easier time with smooth wools while others will have an easier time with sticky ones. If you’re having trouble with tight colorwork you may want to try working with a different type of yarn or wool than you’ve used before to see if that makes a difference.


2. Needle type and needle material. If you’ve listened to episode one of the podcast, you know that needle type can affect gauge. Needle material (e.g. wood, metal, plastic) and needle type (e.g. circular needles, double pointed needles) can make a great difference in colorwork – wood, metal, and plastic all have different levels of resistance, and gauge often differs between circular needles and double pointed needles (in general, knitters tend to end up with a tighter gauge on DPNs). Every knitter is different, so while some people knit tighter on wooden needles, others knit tighter on metal needles. Play around with different needle types if you’re not sure which category you fit into. If you’ve tried working colorwork on DPNs and found it to be too tight, try knitting a swatch on circular needles (either two circs or with the magic loop method) to see if that changes your gauge or elasticity. You can always try going up a needle size, as well – many people need to adjust needle size between stockinette sections and colorwork sections when using the same yarn.

To demonstrate the difference that needle type can make, I have two swatches that I knit: both are unblocked, but both were knit with the exact same yarn on the exact same needle sizes:


While the difference isn’t huge at first glance, and these measurements are pretty quick-and-dirty rather than precise, the swatch on top is noticeably narrower than the swatch on the bottom when both are measured flat. The swatch on top was knit on bamboo DPNs, while the swatch on the bottom was worked on two metal circular needles. The bottom swatch will definitely block out to the 8″ circumference I’m aiming for, but the top swatch will likely be too small. Knit a few small swatches with different needle types/materials and see if it makes a difference for you!


3. Carrying yarn. There are several different ways to manage carrying multiple yarns for colorwork knitting – carrying both yarns in the left hand, carrying both in the right hand, holding one yarn in each hand, carrying one yarn at a time, using stranding guide, and the list goes on! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my students, it’s that knitters are all over the map as far as which method works best for them. Many folks swear by the two-handed method while others prefer to carry both yarns in one hand (with or without a stranding guide). If you haven’t tried more than one method, you may not have found your perfect match yet! Remember that there are no rules here and experimentation is key – trying a new method often feels awkward at first, and your gauge may shift as you settle into it, but until you’ve given it a shot, how can you say it won’t work?

005d9d185bf8b158-DSC_4477Plastic and metal stranding guides


4. Knitting inside out. It may sound crazy, but many folks solve the tight colorwork issue by working their colorwork tubes inside out! The reason for this is that the outer circumference of a tube is larger than the inner circumference – perhaps not by much, but with the thickness of colorwork fabric, you’d be surprised – and turning your work inside out positions the floats on the outside of the tube (i.e. the larger circumference). This is more likely to keep them long, and it also keeps them visible, so you can constantly check your tension as you’re working. It can be tricky to visualize, but with the work turned inside out, you’re working on the far side of the tube, rather than the near side. It may take some trial and error to get the hang of it, but I’ve seen this method yield results for several people.

Here’s a bird’s eye view to help you visualize the difference between normal (right side out) circular knitting and inside out circular knitting. You can see where the working yarns meet the needles:


The biggest thing to remember is to be patient with yourself! If you’re tense, your knitting often shows it. Try out some of these techniques in the evening with a glass of wine or whatever else relaxes you. And keep in mind that mistakes are an important part of the process: we can learn from them.

If you have any other tips for easing up tight colorwork, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Further reading / listening / watching:

If you want to explore this issue in further depth, I recommend checking out some of the following links to blog posts, videos, and books. (If you’re on a budget, don’t forget you can always check your local library for books.)

On different yarn types: episode 5: Yarn [podcast] episode 6: More Yarn [podcast]
Sue Blacker on Woollen vs Worsted mill spinning on
The Knitter’s Book of Yarn and The Knitter’s Book of Wool by Clara Parkes
“Part Seven: Materials” from The Principles of Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt

On working in stranded colorwork:
“Part Three: Decorative Techniques” from The Principles of Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt, particularly pp. 256-266 (2012 edition)
Colorwork knitting inside out for socks from Melissa B
Tips, Tricks and Treats from Eunny Jang

On gauge: episode 1: Gauge [podcast]
How to Measure Your Gauge in Knitting from

knitting from repeat-based charts

One of the things you’re likely to encounter as a knitter, whether you’re working in lace, cables, or colorwork, is a repeat-based chart. Some folks don’t like knitting from charts all that much and would prefer to work from a pattern where the instructions are written out, which works just fine for many cable or lace patterns, but it’s a little tricky to do any colorwork without using a chart. And so I love charts. They are incredibly useful, and with a repeat-based chart, we’re able to save lots of space in the written pattern as well.

First thing’s first: what is a repeat-based chart? In short, it’s a small chart, where each row on the chart is worked a certain number of times per row/round of knitting and the total number of rows on the chart can be repeated as well. We’ll start with a simple example, for those who are new to charts:


As you can see, this chart has four rows and four columns which are numbered in the order in which they’re knit – that is, you start “reading” the chart at the bottom right, work your way from right to left across the row, then move to the next row above it, again working from right to left. While this feels backwards compared to how we read lines on a page, this is exactly how our stitches line up as we work them, and so this is how we orient the chart.*

When you see a chart like this, which is only 4 stitches wide, and you’re working a round that has 40 stitches, you know you’re going to be working in a series of repeats. This means you’ll knit each row of the 4-stitch repeat 10 times (to fill all 40 stitches) before you move on to the next row of the chart. The best way to visualize this is to take our sample chart and line up 10 repeats side by side:


We can see how 10 repeats of the 4×4 chart adds up to 40 stitches, and it’s easier to see how the repeats line up to form the pattern.

A really great example of repeat-based charts in action is my Pine Bough Cowl (rav link – as it’s a free pattern, you can download it if you want to see the whole thing). I wanted to use Pine Bough Cowl as an example because I’ve had a few questions from knitters starting the cowl who were new to this type of chart and weren’t sure exactly how to use it (the pattern writing in the original version of this pattern was pretty bare bones, it must be said).

Here’s a look at one of the charts:


The pattern reads:

Chart A: section 1 one time, section 2 three times, section 3 one time.

This relies pretty heavily on knowledge of how the chart works, so I wanted to walk through it step by step. This chart looks a lot like the example shown above, only larger. The biggest difference here, though, is that the chart is broken up into three sections (numbered 1, 2, and 3 on the left side). These are the sections referred to in the pattern text. These sections could effectively be their own individual charts, but they’re oriented this way so that you can see how the patterns line up.

Breaking down the pattern instructions, we’re told to work section 1 one time. The number of stitches per round for this pattern is 100, and this chart is 10 stitches wide. This means we’ll work each row of the chart 10 times per round of knitting. So to work section 1, I would work row 1 of the chart 10 times, row 2 of the chart 10 times, and row 3 of the chart 10 times, for 3 complete rounds. That completes section 1.

Next, we’re instructed to work section 2 three times. This works just like section 1, except that when we finish section 2 we go back to the first row of section 2 of the chart (row 4). We do this until we have worked all 10 rounds of section 2 three times. (So working section 2 three times means working 30 rounds of knitting).

Lastly, for Chart A, we work section 3 one time. The first row of section 3 of the chart (row 14) gets worked 10 times to fill the round, then the second row of section 3 of the chart gets worked 10 times, and so on and so forth until you have completed section 3.

We can visualize this with some voluminous copy-and-paste usage to line up the actual number of repeats side by side, as we did with the simple example above.


I’ve left spaces between the repeats (and larger spaces between the sections) so that we don’t lose sight of the original chart – for when lined up like this, the pattern takes over – and I’ve omitted the numbers, but this is essentially a chart that is 100 stitches wide and 43 rows tall, where each box represents a stitch you’re actually knitting based on the instructions. I think being able to visualize how a repeat-based chart lines up to create the pattern is a really useful tool in being able to read charts comfortably.

It becomes easy to see why repeat-based charts are useful, as well, when you see how much space the expanded chart would take up!

If you have any questions or experiences with this type of chart, please feel free to share them in the comments.

* Update: Thanks to Jayne for pointing out in the comments that this is only true if you’re knitting the traditional right-handed way; many left-handed knitters typically knit left-to-right, which is often referred to as knitting “backwards.” The important point is that the chart mirrors the right-side surface of your knitting, so you want to work the stitches of the chart in the same order as you’re actually knitting stitches – working from right-to-left if you’re working the traditional right-handed way, or working from left-to-right if you’re a lefty or if you just have a liking for knitting in the opposite direction. There’s a great Craftsy article on left-handed knitting here.

stranded knitting: the importance of color dominance


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:


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).


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:


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:



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:



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.


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:


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!