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I'm Still Stranding Better Than I Ever Did

I'm cah-razy busy right now (you heard me--a three syllable crazy, that's how busy I am!) as my next show (I write musicals, when I'm not busy knitting, guiding, blogging, reading, or doing my day job as the Most Important Institutional Researcher in the country) is about to open in 7 days. Yikes! (And if you want to attend, go to The Broadway Chorus web site for tickets. Our show is called "Déjà Vu-Doo and it's both hilarious and touching and filled with amazing music).

But I wanted to say a word about stranded knitting, commonly known as Fair Isle. To be rigorously scrupulous with the truth, technically Fair Isle should be reserved for a particular subset of stranded knitting, where the pattern and techniques are derived from the small Scottish islands that developed them. There are other schools of stranded knitting, included Bohus, Lopapeysa, Selbu, etc., but my understanding is they all involve colourwork and "carrying" floats of yarn on the wrong side of the work.

Stranded Knitting Is Not Hard

If I can leave you with one message, let it be that one. I'll go into greater length below, addressing some of the perceived difficulties, but let's start from the positive assumption that this is not hard to do.

Really, Stranded Knitting Is Not Hard

I'm reiterating, because sometimes people claim a task is easy, but it turns out it's only easy once you have three weeks' practice at it. Not so with stranded knitting. Hand to God, this is going to be simple.

Here's How to Do It

  1. Make a knit stitch, or a couple, in some yarn you find attractive. We'll call that the Main Colour.

  2. Forget about the Main Colour yarn for a bit. Let it go (really, physically drop it). Drink your tea.

  3. Add a yarn* in a second colour, we'll call that the Contrasting Colour, and knit a stitch, or maybe a few stitches.

  4. Drop the yarn.

  5. Pick up your Main Colour, and knit a stitch, or maybe a few stitches.

  6. Drop the yarn.

  7. Pick up your Contrasting Colour and knit a stitch, or a few.

  8. Etc.

OK? That's it. You can follow a pattern (there are a lot of lovely charts out there), but you've got the gist of it now. Done and dusted.

Why People Think It's Hard

Two-Handed Method: Often we're encouraged when learning stranded knitting to hold one yarn in our left hand (and knit Continental style) and the other in our right (and knit English style), and if you only know one style, well, having to learn the other while-continuing-to-knit-as-normal with your remaining hand ... it's awkward, to say the least. You don't have to knit this way! I pick up and drop and life is good and my garments are attractive. My hands don't cramp, too, which is always a bonus.

Yarn Dominance: While not as acrimonious (yet) as the debates about straight vs circular, magic loop vs DPNs, throwing vs picking, etc., there is contention among knitters as to whether Yarn Dominance even exists! The idea is that, depending on how you hold your yarn, one of the colours will be slightly more apparent than the other (e.g. you're knitting cerise flamingos on a teal background, and if you knit half your flamingos holding your yarn a certain way, and then you switch for the second half of the project, one set of flamingos will actually look larger than the other). My solution? Don't worry about it. Knit how you knit, and your flamingos will be whatever size they are, consistently, all the way down.

Untwisting Your Balls: Inevitably as you switch from yarn to yarn you will occasionally (or often, if you're me) discover that the working yarns from your two balls are twisting around each other on their way from your lap/floor/bowl to your project. Take a moment and wiggle one around the other a few times. There, that was easy.

Catching Floats: This is not hard to do, and I suggest you do it, but it's not necessarily a deal breaker. The idea is that when we knit, say, 9 red stitches, and then 1 blue stitch, that blue yarn has to travel (across the wrong side) in a big long strand that's the width of those 9 red stitches. If you're knitting a mitten, there's a chance that a finger would get caught in the strand. If you're knitting a pillow-cover, not so much. So savvy knitters will gauge the size of the strands, and make little rules (it's up to you) depending on the weight of the yarn, etc., and decide that anything over 3 (or 5, or 8, or 10--it's your project) will get trapped/caught in the middle, and all this means is that you wrap the red yarn around the blue yarn midway through those 9 stitches, and carry on knitting. The blue is tacked down, so-to-speak, and won't snag fingers (or vice versa) in the future. If you're like me (see "untwisting your balls," above, then your yarn is already pre-wrapped half the time, you just grab your current colour from the other side of the other colour and carry on knitting. (This is one of those "obvious when you see it" things that's more work to explain than to just do.) If I have 7 stitches in a large weight, I'll even go 2, trap, 3, trap, 2, trap, but I'm not in a rush.

Gauge, Tension, Etc.: Yes, you still need to worry about gauge, but just knit your swatch with the same lackadaisical effort that you will later apply to your project, and your gauge won't change. Tension isn't something I worry about, ever, and my knitting turns out fine (I don't twist yarn around my fingers, you see, although apparently there's still a certain amount of tension I derive from gravity). It all still works.

Caveats: You will be knitting stockinette, you will be knitting in the round (you don't want to try stranded purling, but if you're game you can do a Latvian Braid *), and there will be a wrong side to your work which is generally hidden inside your sock/sweater/hat etc.

So relax, grab two colours, and start stranding!

Off the Needles

Falling Snow Stocking (finished, picture forthcoming)

On The Needles

(I will mark with a ! those projects that have advanced, and !! those projects that are new to the blog.)

!Falling Snow Stocking #2 (about 1/3 through and running out of yarn, grrr)

!Sophie's Universe crochet project (Part 4: Round 35)

!Vice Versa scarf (double knitting!) starting the thirteenth row of squares

!GGN Norwegian Ski Sweater (about 14.1 inches into it, from the bottom)

!Persian Dreams Blanket (row 4 of the third hexagon)

!Sweater Sample (from the Sweater Workshop, in the buttonhole section)

A Random Blanket (about 40% through)


*Add a yarn = stick your right needle into the stitch on your left needle. Drape new yarn over it, like you're wrapping as normal. Knit it. Give it a little tug. Later, weave in the end. It's that easy.

*Latvian Braid = a method of two-colour knitting on the purl side, to charming effect. See this Drops tutorial.

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