The Fair Art Of Stranded Colorwork


Norah Gaughan's Intricate Stag Bag

Have you read the comments from Monday’s post? Oh my goodness…There is practically an entire textbook full of tips in there about how to do Fair Isle successfully. You people are awesome! I had a completely different post ready-to-go for today, but I re-wrote things a bit at the last minute to include some of the hints you shared.

Marsha, Joan, and Kim pointed out that the Intricate Stag Bag is NOT a Fair Isle design; it is correctly referred to as “stranded colorwork.” Fair Isle is only one form of stranded colorwork, one that incorporates bands of geometric motifs and intricate gradations of colors. Many knitters use the term “Fair Isle” as a short hand for the techniques of stranding two-color knitting, which is the way I was using it in Monday’s post. Still: We’re knitting geeks here
The inside of Norah's beautiful bag
at Knitting Daily, so Marsha, Kim, and Joan all get gold stars for keeping our terminology correct.

The key to keeping the stitches on the outside of your colorwork even is to pay careful attention to what you are doing on the wrong side of your knitting. Whether you “float” the unused color across the back (as Norah does), or weave in the strands as you knit (as Amanda, Pat, Cayenne-with-the-great-name and Teresa do), keeping the tension even makes all the difference in the world. Inside the Stag Bag, Norah’s tension is perfectly even; thus, her floats lay perfectly flat. I want to knit like Norah Gaughan (don’t we all?), so let’s see what little knitting secrets we can uncover…

Roberta and Amanda suggested working the colorwork section in a larger needle than the rest of the garment in order to
Katie Himmelberg
prevent the stitches from “pulling in” as the stranding is worked. Katie Himmelberg, style editor of Knitscene magazine, suggested this: “When picking up a color after it has been unused (a float), spread the stitches out on the right-hand needle over which the float spans. This will help you make the floats long enough so that the work doesn't pucker.” Katie's advice may sound like a small thing, but I tried it and it made a huge difference. Yay, Katie!

We have space for one more hint, this time from Lisa Shroyer, the editor of Knitscene magazine, and the designer of the Road To Golden, featured in the Fall 2007 issue of Knitscene. Lisa says that the Road To Golden, a luscious, multicolored Fair Isle pullover, is "easy enough for a first-time Fair Isler". (Hearing her say that,
Lisa Shroyer
I am soooo tempted to try knitting this sweater…but methinks I ought to see if I can manage to survive the twelve rounds of colorwork in Tomato first. If no one dies as a result of that experience, then maybe I can think about trying an entire big-girl sized sweater full of stranding. We shall see.) Here's Lisa's clever bit:

Since I'm a dedicated thrower, even when I do stranded colorwork, I have to drop one color and pick up the other every time a color change is needed. To make sure I always keep the same color dominant, and to keep my strands from becoming a tangled mess, I always keep the background color to the right of my thigh on the couch, and my foreground color between my legs on the floor, and I pick the same one up
Lisa's Road To Golden
over the other every time. I know it seems counterintuitive to keep the background color "above" the foreground, in terms of where I position the ball, but this system always works for me.

So. I worked on my colorwork swatch some more. I tried bigger needles, spread out my stitches, and made sure one color was the “over” color and one was the "under" color—and all of this really helped. It also helped make the knitted fabric more elastic and less like a suit of knitted armor! (This is good, especially since in knitting the Tomato, I am going for that Hot Curvy Girl effect and not the Knight In Shining-But-Clunky Armor effect.)

All right, then. On to the That Stripe on the Tomato…but that will have to wait for Friday’s post. Wait till you see what I am doing with it!

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