Stripes – No special yarns or techniques needed, just knit your preferred number of rows or rounds in one color, drop it, and change to the next color. This video has lots of tips for striped knitting.
- This website is a great way to see how your variegated yarns can work with planned pooling!
Mosaic – Still working with one color at a time, but you’re using slipped stitches to pull color up from the row below it. This video is a nice tutorial on mosaic knitting.
Intarsia – used when there are large blocks of color in the design. It requires twisting the strands at each color change. For an elaborate design, this can mean quite a few strands of yarns of different colors. Bobbins are frequently used to help keep the yarns from tangling.
- Kaffe Fassett is considered by many to be the premier intarsia designer.
- Intarsia is typically done flat but can be done in the round, though that method is a bit fiddly. This is a nice video that shows one method for knitting intarsia in the round.
Duplicate Stitch – even though we don’t really consider duplicate stitch a colorwork technique on its own, this video shows duplicate stitch well.
Stranded – what most people think of when you say “colorwork.” It is done by holding two or more colors at once and using them all in any given row or round. The unused color(s) is/are carried at the back of the work (floats). This type of colorwork is found in many northern European countries, with many regional characteristics. This video shows the process nicely.
- Fair isle is a very specific type of stranded colorwork originating in the Shetland Islands of Scotland. It has traditional patterns and only ever uses two colors per round. It is typically worked entirely in the round, as that is the easiest way to knit stranded, with steeks. This website gives a nice history of Fair Isle colorwork.
- Alice Starmore has beautiful stranded colorwork designs, if you’re interested!
- Icelandic sweaters usually have stranded patterns in the yoke and are traditionally knit with Icelandic wool singles yarn, like Lopi.
- Colorwork mittens are a tradition in Latvia and Estonia.
The colorwork designer whose name I couldn’t think of is Jorid Linvik.
When working stranded colorwork, there are two important things that will help to make your project a success:
- Color selection and color dominance: How well your pattern stands out has a great deal to do with the colors you select and how you hold them. The stronger the contrast between the colors, the better the pattern will stand out.
- You can use your smartphone as a convenient tool to pick colors. When you’re considering several, take a photo of them and then change the photo to black and white. If you can tell a difference between the colors when the photo is in black and white, chances are the contrast will be sufficient.
- Color dominance also plays a role. Typically the color that consistently comes from underneath when you’re knitting will “pop” more because the stitches are actually a bit larger than those of the background color. If one color in your pattern is mean to make the design, make sure that that color is the one underneath.
- Maintaining an even tension: As with all knitting, gauge does matter. Maintaining an even gauge when working with two or more colors is more challenging, as the floats in the back of the work can pull on the fabric and create puckers. So it’s imperative to make sure that you keep your tension even.
- First, make sure that your floats are loose. When you’re knitting a stitch with a color that hasn’t been used for several stitches, don’t pull that strand tight to form the new stitch. Also, you can spread out your stitches on your right needle to create some extra room.
- If you have a stretch of stitches that is longer than, say, an inch/2 cm, catch the float somewhere in the middle. This video shows you how to catch your colorwork floats.
- Blocking does wonders! Yarns traditionally used for colorwork/fair isle often bloom when blocked as well, and that bloom can help to fill in uneven areas.
If you’re interested in a reference book for colorwork, I recommend the Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques by Margaret Radcliffe. It’s a fantastic resource that goes over everything we’ve talked about here, and more!