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Stranded Knitting Discussion: Part 2

Criosanna swatch - front
Criosanna swatch - back

Criosanna swatch - front and back

No matter what yarns are used, the fabric created by stranded knitting was, historically…and is at present…created as much for warmth, as it is for colorful patterning. This warmth can be attributed to the non-working yarn stranding across the back of the knitting, trapping air between the plies.

It follows, then, that the fabric created will be doubled in thickness…and that the thickness of the fabric is dependent on the thickness or weight of the yarn used. Additionally, as we think about the way it is created…with one strand looped into knitted stitches and another strand carried across the back…that the resulting fabric does not have as much “give” as fabric which is created with only loops made of a single yarn. Put another way…the result is slightly less stretchy. Which means, when choosing a size, there will be less negative ease to figure in.

But this style of knitting is primarily about color and color patterning. These patterns can be striking with the simplicity of two or three colors per garment.

Granted, the examples below are my designs, I use them because I do not have to worry about copyright, but you get the idea...

West at Heart Hat

West at Heart Hat

Knights' Banner cowl

Knights' Banner cowl

The patterns created with two colors per round can be equally beautiful with gradual changes in color resulting in what has been called a more “painterly” style.


Sandbar swatch

Blue Flame cowl

Blue Flame cowl

St Ninian

St. Ninan swatch

The weight of yarns used can vary from the single ply, lightly processed, bulky weight Lopi yarns…to “sticky” fingering weight Shetland wool…to the silk yarn used in the oldest example of Fair Isle knitting in the Shetland Museum. Your gauge will obviously be different with different yarns…as will the thickness of the fabric created as mentioned earlier.

Due to the warmth created by a double thick fabric, most stranded work is created using fingering or DK weight yarn. However, as mentioned above, there are some exceptions. Some of these exception-ed and exceptional garments are created from intentional, knowledge-enhanced design decisions. The gorgeous worsted weight Scandinavian sweaters come to mind or the stunning Icelandic yoked patterns.

Some exceptions are blundered into with all of the knowledge (or lack thereof) of a newbie stranded knitter...namely me. :)

Expository tale: I once made a stranded cardigan vest (sleeveless cardi) for my father using several shades of worsted (Aran) weight wool...more than three colors per row at a fairly tight gauge/tension. I had seen a Bargello needlepoint pattern in some magazine...and for no other reason except I liked the pattern...decided it would be great for a sweater for Dad. When it was finally finished, I swear that thing would have deflected arrows! ...and was WAY too warm for the South Carolina climate where we were living. Consequently, my father loved it, but from afar...i.e. it never left his closet.

Dad's vest - inside and out

Moving on... In a discussion of yarn selection, it must be said here that there are those who will insist that when recreating different stranded traditions, the knitter must use yarns inherent to that tradition. Granted, as a lover of history and long standing traditions, I can certainly understand this reasoning. However, some quite lovely stranded work has been created using non-traditional yarns. Obviously, this style of knitting can technically be accomplished with any yarn. That being said, the sometimes complicated patterning of stranded knitting is best displayed worked in yarns which show off these motifs. Bottom line: “Hairy” novelty yarns should probably not be considered. Just saying.

So when selecting yarns, look for lines that have enough colors to suit your pattern needs.

Color is a wonderful glorious thing. It is one of the reasons we love stranded knitting, but original color selection and color substitution can be tricky. I have a couple of ideas about color selection, but since this series is primarily about technique, a discussion of color should probably be left for another post. (That’s two “other posts” now.)

Next time: Gauge/Tension

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.

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