Exorcising Color Work (by Aubrey Mayes)

February 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Colorwork

I know from my experience and the experiences of knitters around me that color work has a lot of demons. All these fancy, demonic words, like Fair Isle and Intarsia can cloud a lot of really straightforward concepts. I know that even some veteran knitters don’t do color work, just because of how scary the prospect seems. Today, I just want to try to make it seem less scary. These tips are not advanced color knitting, just basic, beginner steps to the wonderful world of color.

Let’s start with my personal favorite, Fair Isle. Fair Isle knitting is not only beautiful to look at, but can be really fun to knit once you get the hang of it. It does require a little more concentration than knitting in one color, but the finished object will be well worth it. I started looking for videos on Youtube, like I always do when starting a new technique, but I soon discovered that no one was really explaining it well. Sure, they made it look impressive and flashy, but it’s difficult to see the technique through that. I’m going a step further, to show the process, rather than the flash.

When knitting in Fair Isle, you need to remember a few things. Firstly, you should always use the Stockinette Stitch when knitting Fair Isle.  You will need a clear Right and Wrong side to your project. Secondly, you will need to remember that Fair Isle knitting should use no more than 3 colors, and, depending on yarn weight, only 2. Since the yarns are carried across the Wrong side, that side will become the back or inside of the object. If you have too many yarns carried across the back, the object will become heavy (and overly warm if it is a wearable object).

Before you cast on, you have to know how to read your pattern chart. This is very simple. Use the key on your pattern for less obvious marks, like you would on a map. If there is only a difference in color, and there are only two colors, there will not usually be any specific markings. You will need to reference your key for additional color and stitch information when necessary. Unless otherwise stated in your pattern, you should begin your chart in the bottom right corner. Reading from right to left, look at how your row is worked, taking note of both color and stitch changes. Go on to the next row, reading from left to right, noting the same information, and that’s all there is to it!

Now, cast on your project. Unless otherwise stated in your pattern, you will begin your chart on the row immediately following cast on. Follow your chart stitch by stitch. I have trouble sometimes remembering where I am on a chart, so I like to tick off every few stitches on my chart and sometimes, for short patterns, even right it out in numbers. For example:

“Row 4: knit 8 sts in white, 3 in black, 8 in white.

                                                5:Purl 8 sts in white, 3 in black, 8 in white.

                                                6:K6W, 7B, 6W.

                                                7:P6W, 7B, 6W.”

            “But how do you add the second color?” This is where most people get skittish. Do not cut the strand of yarn on the first color. When it comes time to add the second color, make sure you are on a WS row. Simply let go of the first color, take the second color, leave a short tail, and simply use the new strand to continue knitting or purling the row. That’s all there is to it! That’s not so hard, is it? Then, when you need the first color again, let go of the 2nd color and continue knitting with the 1st, carrying it along the WS. (Make sure you carry on the same side when doing the knit AND purl stitch.) It will come quite naturally once you get the hang of it.

Need something a little simpler? This next tip is just for you! Maybe you’re just looking to try some simple stripes, or even just starting a new ball of yarn. There are SO many different ways to do this- I’m about to tell you my favorite, and probably the most simple. Starting at the end of a row, leaving a short tail, snip off the first yarn. Make a slip-knot. (I like to do this by holding my left hand in front of me with my thumb up and index and middle fingers pointing to the right. Starting at the top, loop the yarn around your middle and index fingers once from back to front. Push the strand between your middle and index fingers inside the loop, pull off, and tighten. Voila, slip knot!) Slip the strand of the first yarn through the slip knot of the second yarn. Tighten. When tightening, make sure the knot goes all the way up to the needle, and that your new yarn is attached snugly.

            Key points for Color Knitting;

  • Pay good attention to the chart and pattern for color AND stitch information.
  • Always make sure the new yarn is joined snugly.
  • Always add new yarn on the WS.
  • Be sure to weave in all ends. I like to make a small knot on the WS before weaving them in if the FO will be used a lot.
  • Remember that color work is only as scary as you make it.
  • It may take a few tries to get it right, so don’t be afraid to frog it. Just make sure the 2 colors don’t get tangled.
  • When carrying a color, make sure the strand doesn’t have to go too far unsupported.


I hope this helps you! Be sure to email me at thegypsy@naughtyknitterz.com if you have any additional questions!

Banner ad series 468x60


One Response to “Exorcising Color Work (by Aubrey Mayes)”
  1. Ms. Knitterz says:

    Another insightful article by The Gypsy!

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Get Adobe Flash player