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Stranded Colorwork Discussion - revisited

Several years ago (it cannot seriously be that long ago!) I posted a series about stranded colorwork knitting. Since the series completion, I have changed websites and rearranged a few other things. Bottom line: the previous links to those posts are no longer active. Several people have asked me about the massive tome that the series turned out to be, so I have decided to re-post the series here.

...and with that bit of explanation, here is Part 1.

Stranded Knitting: Part 1 - Introduction and a Non-definitive Definition

This post starts a multi-part series on stranded knitting. You might be an expert on this form of knitting and would enjoy reading another perspective on some of the techniques. Perhaps you have always wanted to try stranded knitting and need a place to start. I am hoping over the next few weeks to bring beginner and expert something that will answer some questions and maybe spark some gentle discussion on this wonderful, addictive form of knitting.

There is certainly no one way to knit any garment…and definitely no one way to knit stranded or Fair Isle designs. To put it another way, as long as the outcome is what you want, I feel there is no wrong way to knit anything.

That being said, as I have taught stranded/Fair Isle classes, several questions have come up about how I do certain things in the course of knitting these patterns. I am, by no means, an expert on the subject, but I do understand when learning something new, having a place to start (i.e. my developed methods) gives a student a foundation on which to develop his or her own methods…methods that work best for them.

I am also an avid reader of other knitters’ methods. This study helps me to reevaluate and refine the way I do things. I am hoping this “tome”…as it is apparently growing in length the more I get into the subject…will spark further gentle discussion and we can all learn from each other.

So...over the next installments of this blog, I will attempt to discuss several aspects of stranded knitting. Along the way, I will include how I handle the topic at hand...again, without any declarations of this being the right way to do things…just the way I do them.

For the sake of organization, here is a list of the topics I will be discussing..

Non-definitive definition

Yarns used and fabric created

Gauge or Tension (including gauge swatches0

Needles used

Casting on (including several two or more color edge treatments)

Knitting in the round (including knitting small circumferences)

Holding yarns


Yarn dominance

Reading charts

Adding new colors

Finishing old colors

Weaving yarns…to catch long floats

Weaving yarns…to add new colors and finish old colors

Weaving yarns while turning corners

Using markers

Creating stitches for sleeves and/or ribbing

Centering motifs

Casting off

Weaving in the ends


These will break down roughly as one topic per week…depending how much I ramble on about each topic. I am sure there will be some weeks when two or more topics will be covered.

So all that being said, let’s get started.

Stranded Knitting (a non-definitive definition)

The broad term of knitting which employs more than one color is generally referred to as colorwork or color knitting…and includes working with stripes, slipped stitches, mosaic knitting, intarsia, and stranded knitting…to mention a few.

I guess you could technically throw forms of knitting and/or knitting techniques which can be working in a single color as well as with more than one color ...entrelac or cables come to mind. The possibilities of adding color to your knitting are endless, thus rendering the definition of “color knitting” a bit muddy.

I can hear the uproar even now as there are various strong opinions as the definitive definitions of such things. So I will abandon that line of discussion and venture off to the subject at hand….stranded knitting.

Simply put, stranded knitting is knitting which employs more than one color per round…where the unused yarn is stranded behind the working yarn. That being said, I should mention that most forms of stranded knitting use only two colors per round.

You will notice I have said “per round”. While stranded work can certainly be accomplished by knitting flat (knit one row, turn, purl one row), it is most often worked in the round. This way the patterning is always facing you. Believe me, purling some of the more complicated patterns is not fun.

But what you call the various forms of this type of colorwork, you may ask. If you look at the outcome of this type of knitting in terms of the patterns and colors, the broad heading of “stranded knitting” can be further broken down into subsections…roughly, but not totally, by geographic traditions…which include Fair Isle, Norwegian or Scandinavian, and other knitting traditions from the Baltic Circle. (Please realize that is list is by no means exclusive.)

Because of the popularity of Fair Isle designs, there has recently been a tendency to name all stranded knitting…and sometimes even all color knitting…“Fair Isle knitting”. This is definitely not a correct practice and does a disservice to both the knitting traditions of Fair Isle and the other styles of stranded knitting. But a discussion of the characteristics of the various stranded knitting traditions is perhaps a discussion best left for another post.

For this series, I will talk about some of the techniques that are currently used to achieve the wonderful colorful patterning of this style of knitting. Please understand, though, I will largely focus on Fair Isle and Shetland Fair Isle because that is my interest and where I first started down this path of knitting in color.

It is also important to remember that like most things, there are no absolutes and the phrase “generally, but not always” should be applied liberally.

Hey…I did say it was a non-definitive definition.

FYI, I talk more about this topic on my podcast. You can find it under the Podcasts.

If you have any questions or gentle comments, please feel free to send me an email. I'd love to hear from you.

Next time: Yarns Used and Fabric Created

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