October 4, 2011

Color knitting – Stranded

Written by Fiber Rhythm

Stranded knitting is used when the pattern repeats more frequently across a row. It is generally used for two-color knitting as in Fair Isle and Scandinavian styles.


Stranding refers to what is done with the yarn that is not in use for the current stitch. It is simply carried in the back of the work, and when you see the piece from the wrong side, you will see strands of yarn lying horizontally along the row.


Both Fair Isle and Scandinavian garments are known for their use of color. Complicated color patterning is simplified by the use of only two colors in any one row. Garments are knit in a circular fashion. Armholes and neckline closures are formed with steeks which means cutting the knitted fabric where the opening needs to be. Due to the nature of the two color knitting, the designs often include diagonal lines. They keep the fabric more elastic as the change over between colors occurs. Due to this and a predilection for symmetry, an oft-repeated theme in both Fair Isle and Scandinavian designs are OXO patterns.


Fair Isle is characterized by its use of color. Although it takes its name from a small island at the southernmost edge of the Shetland islands, it is not clear if the tradition really started there. The Shetland Islands are located at a crossing of shipping lanes for trading fleets from the North and Baltic Seas. Having been controlled by both the Vikings and the Scots, the islands have been under Scottish rule since the mid-seventeenth century. It is from the mid-1800s that we see the first major evidence of knitting from Fair Isle, although earlier patterns exist. It is now believed by most that the style of color work originated in the Baltic and migrated and was refined into what is now recognized as Fair Isle. Regardless how it developed, it is agreed that traditional Fair Isle knitting is comprised of multiple colors using only two colors in any one row or round. The colors are changed frequently and it is not uncommon to use seven to sixteen colors in the same garment. The designs are comprised of the contrast between dark and light and can be represented on a grid with only filled or blank squares. The beauty of the Fair Isle tradition, is in the infinite variety that the color choices combined with the geometric patterns effects. The color patterns are categorized into groups which indicate the size of the repeat: Peeries, Borders and larger or all-over patterns. Peeries consist of 1 to 7 rows and are used to separate larger bands of pattern. They can also be used vertically (as in a border of the front of a cardigan). Border patterns consist of 9 to 15 rows. They can be used as indicated by their name for borders at cuff and bottom of the garment, or combined with peeries to create larger all-over designs. It is important to note that Fair Isle Knitting is comprised of multiple patterns, be they peeries, borders or larger patterns as opposed to other Shetland knitting which was simpler and included only one pattern repeated throughout.


Scandinavian patterns also make good use of color. Designs have been linked to various regions of the Scandinavian countries. Often Scandinavian patterns will vary the patterning for the yoke of the garment from the body, generally using simpler patterning or lice stitch on the body, with more detailed patterning on the yoke and top of the sleeves. Representation of animals and snowflake patterns are common. Border patterns similar to Fair Isle are often located at the edge of the upper portions and also bordering the cuffs. Garments knit in the Scandinavian tradition may also be trimmed at neckline and cuff with purchased embroidered trim. Similar to Fair Isle, Scandinavian designs are comprised of the contrast between dark and light and can be represented on a grid with only filled or blank squares. While color changes do occur in Scandinavian knitting, there generally are six or less colors used in a single garment. And often the main body is comprised of only two or three colors in all. One category of Scandinavian knitting uses repeating motifs, often enclosed within interlocking diamonds, to create an all-over patterning. These garments are often knit in two colors only for the entire garment.


Both styles of garments are generally knitted in the round. This means that all charts are read from right to left, indicating the “right side” of the work. The color not in use is carried loosely at the back of the work (also known as *stranded*). If the color needs to be carried further than 6 stitches (or about 1 inch), it is twisted at the back of the work to hold it in place and reduce the likelihood of pulling during wear. The methods of holding the yarn in progress are varied. It is helpful if you can hold one strand of yarn in your right hand and one strand in your left as you knit. Consistency of which yarn is held in which hand adds to the quality of the garment. As mentioned earlier, armholes are formed with steeks. For Fair Isles, extra stitches are cast on where the opening will be and the stitches are knit in an all over pattern. For Scandinavians, extra stitches are not generally used. Securing the stitches before cutting can be important, depending on the type of yarn that you are using. Some wools have a tendency to cling more than others and these may not require stabilizing stitching before cutting the opening. However, most will feel more comfortable securing the stitches before cutting. This is done most often by sewing down one side of the area to be cut, across the bottom and back up the other side. Two rows of stitching are recommended. In some cases, crochet is used to stabilize the knitting before cutting. This works best with lighter weight wools.

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