Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Knitting with Multiple Colors

Thank you all for your kind and supportive comments about my Dale! I do think the ribbing needs to be looser, especially considering how oversized the body is, but I am hopeful that I can block it out a bit.

In the meantime, as I was finishing sleeve #2, I was pondering the dilemma of those knitters a little scared of using multiple colors. It's really nothing to be shy about. If you can knit, you can change colors while you knit. There are, however, several good reasons not to knit with colors:

1) it's expensive--you may only need 30 yards each of blue, red, pink and green, but for each you'll be buying the entire skein, plus several skeins of your background color. In 1998, the yarn for this Dale cost $104. I imagine it's quite a bit more now.

2) you have to pay attention. You'll be knitting from a chart, and while each row will have its own rhythm (*3 blue, 1 black, 3 blue, 1 black, 1 blue, 1 black*), you will have to incorporate increases while maintaining the pattern. That can be a headscratcher.

3) it can be slow-going. If you are picking up one color, knitting two stitches, putting that color down, picking up another, knitting two stitches, etc., time is going to move a little more slowly (more on this later).

But here are some ways to make your experience a more pleasant one!

Martita's Tips to Knitting with 2+ Colors:

--If you can learn to carry one color in your left hand and one in your right (described here and here), more power to you. I apparently lack the fine motor skills necessary to accomplish this. Instead I carry both yarns over my right index finger and alternate them as needed. It goes much more quickly than picking up and putting down. But if you aren't up to either of these methods, picking up and putting down works just fine too. You shouldn't not knit colors because you can't carry a yarn in your left hand, know what I mean?

--If you are switching colors frequently, you can carry your inactive color across the back of your knitting. If you are carrying a color for more than 3 or 4 stitches, loop it in your working yarn around the 4th stitch or so. This way your tension will be a little stronger when you pick that yarn back up, and you won't tangle your hands in loose yarn when you put your sweater on. It's not a big deal, but it helps.

--Try not to loop the yarn in the same place two rows in a row. Does that make sense? If you loop the yarn on the 4th stitch on Row #1, loop it at the 3rd stitch on Row #2 instead. Loops in the exact same spot over multiple rows will show on the right side. I hope that makes sense. It's hard to explain. Again, not a big deal but it helps.

--In a perfect world, you would maintain perfect tension when carrying your yarn. But this ain't no perfect world, and most of us have some gauge and tension issues. You will likely have to choose which direction to err in: possibly carrying too loosely or carrying too tightly. In my opinion, carrying too tightly is the lesser of those two evils. You can block out a bit of a pucker (at least in wool), but I don't know any way to get rid of a loose, floppy stitch other than tugging on it every time you look at it.

--If you are working on a block of color, say, for instance, a square of pink in a field of white, make sure you twist your colors every time you switch. If you merely carry your background color (in this example, white) across the back of your square, your pink square will not be sufficiently anchored to your knitting and will float there like an island, completely unattached at the sides. Perhaps some of you know the very sad Jimmy Buffett song, "Island" ("Island, I see you in all of my dreams, but I'm a man with no means to reach your distant shore..."). Yup. Learned that the hard way.

--Knit in your ends as you go. About 5 stitches before you incorporate a new color, begin wrapping that new color around the yarn you are actively knitting with. On your first stitch with Color #2, it will already be tightly anchored and you can give it a worry-free tug. Similarly, when you finish using a color, cut it about 2" down, and wrap those 2" around your working yarn on the next five or so stitches.

--Personally, I am a lot more likely to finish a patterned project if there is occasional relief from the pattern, i.e. some mindless swatches of background color to look forward to. Endless anything (patterning, stockinette, seed stitch) is overwhelming to me. For instance, the difference between this Dale sweater and the Turkish sock I started, when? a month ago, you say? The Dale has some big blocks of background color; the Turkish sock, no rest for the weary. (Yes, I know, I put the Dale down for 7 years, shut it). For your first multicolor project, you might want to start with something with occasional bands of pattern, to dip your toe, so to speak.

I find I yearn to work with strong colors in the wintertime, maybe because everything outdoors is so monochrome. It's a good time for multicolor knitting! Besides, you need all that wool in your lap to keep warm.

Of course, all this is just how I do things. There are as many different ways to knit as there are knitters. You may find it easier to do things a whole other way, and as long as you get the desired result, that's all that matters (or, as Carson Kressley would say, "you're different and that's super!"*)

*I love Carson, but am I the only one who finds this title a tad troubling? I guess I'm just concerned that the playground-taunting "you're different" will drown out the "that's super" message. No kid wants to have it drummed into their head that they're different, no matter how many "supers" are appended. Maybe you have to read the book (which I haven't).

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