Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Knitting with two colors on one hand AND three color knitting (part 3 of the color knitting series)

This post is the third in a TECHknitting series.  The others in the series are:
Part 1: How to knit with two or more colors: background information

This third post in the series covers how to knit with 2 colors on one hand, and
the (highly) related issue of how to knit with 3 colors. We'll also look at
various tricks to make 2 and 3 color knitting come out better.

As with everything else in knitting, there is more than one way to do a thing. This post is about knitting with two colors off the left hand--continental style and knitting three colors carrying two colors in the left hand, continental style, then adding a third color with the right hand knitting English-style. This is my method because I have never been able to work out how to carry more than one color on the English hand (right hand). If anyone is able to say how they knit two colors off the right hand at the same time, English style, oh please write: I'd love to hear about it.


There are two broad variations on carrying 2 colors of yarn on the left hand. One way is with gizmos, and the other way is by arrangement of the fingers. The gizmo category is dominated by two kinds of "strickfingerhut" (a Germanic word translated literally as: "knitting finger-hat", by which is meant "knitting thimble"). There is an excellent tutorial in how to use them here. I can't shed further light, I don't use them. I do know here are testimonials on the web about how these gizmos have made color knitting possible for many, so if finger arrangement isn't working for you, check these gizmos out.

The second method is to carry two colors on the left hand by separating them somehow--I use my thumb as in the picture below, but there are other methods--I have seen a knitter carrying one yarn over her forefinger, and the other color over her middle finger.
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By turning my thumb this way and that, I am able to "pluck" the correct yarn into the pick-up zone for the right (working) needle to grab.
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Whether with strickfingerhutten or with finger arrangement, the idea is the same: to separate the yarns so the correct one can be plucked, while also keeping the yarns under tension. This means that tricks which work for one method can also work for the other.


A great first step towards easier two color knitting is to find a pattern which uses about the same amount of each of the two colors of yarn. In other words, you want to be able to feed both colors of yarn at the same rate. If you are attempting to feed yarn at different rates, you'll keep having to stop and re-tension and this is going to slow you down.

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To explain: A pattern like "A" feeds yarn at two different rates: there are 2 stitches of blue color for each stitch of pink. Twice as much of the blue as of the pink must therefore pass through your left hand. The blue and the pink are held together in the hand--they are not separated until the very last part of the knitting process, when they pass on either side of a thumb, or through the loops of a strickfingerhut. This means that every stitch of blue is tugging along bit of pink and vice versa. But with twice as many blue stitches as pink ones, much more pink yarn is being tugged along than will be knit into the pattern.

In other words, knitting two yarns off one hand using a pattern with different feed rates has a tendency to bad tension. Correcting that tendency by pulling back on the pink yarn every few stitches overcomes the slackness problem, but that readjustment slows you down.

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A pattern such as "B" feeds the two colors at the same rate: There are 2 stitches of blue for each 2 stitches of pink. It is true that after the second blue stitch, the pink yarn will have been tugged along twice, which slackens it. However, this extra pink yarn will be speedily knit up in its turn--it won't be building up ever-greater slack around the left needle tip, and causing tension trouble, or requiring continual readjustment, as in pattern "A."

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As is evident, a pattern such as "C" is going to be harder to knit with proper tension than "B." It is true that pattern "C" feeds both yarns at the same rate BUT the pink has been tugged along 4 times by the time each blue repeat is completed (and vice versa). This is quite a bit of slack yarn to have built up, and the danger is that the first stitch of any color will be looser and slacker than the remaining three stitches, because there is more slack yarn hanging around during its formation than during the formation of the following three stitches. When you add to this danger, the the need to carry the yarn loosely in the float, it is obvious why carrying two colors on one hand goes faster and easier with a same-feed, short float pattern than otherwise.

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Even if you do pick a pattern with a short repeat, short float and even feed rate like pattern "B," above, you're still not home safe. So far, we've only considered the horizontal arrangement of color knitting -- the easiest way to lay stitches down next to one another in the same round. However, successful fabric construction, requires addressing the vertical aspect of multi-colored fabric, too.

A pattern which carries the same colors along the same lines for a considerable distance up the fabric isn't easy to knit at a proper tension. This is because the floats rise to the surface of the fabric between the same 2 columns of stitches, as in the middle diagram, opposite. The yarn consistently rising to the surface from the back between the same two columns forces the fabric to break into a ribbing-like texture pattern, and this is true even if the floats are perfectly tensioned and the basic pattern follows all the rules for a good horizontal pattern, such as pattern "B" from above.

The solution is to have the floats surface between different columns in every round, or nearly every round (my own rule is not to knit more than 4 rounds with the same color-break). The best fabric is when a good basic horizontal pattern like pattern "B," above, is worked into a pattern like one of the four bottom diagrams--a pattern which is also going to work vertically--by staggering the color changes across different columns.
* * *
What a lot of limitations there are on knitting 2 colors off one hand--short floats, even feed rates, repeats staggered across columns of stitches! When you compare this sort of rule-bound knitting to knitting one color off each hand, as shown in the previous post, you'll conclude (or at least, I'll conclude) that knitting one color off each hand is the more flexible method. With the two colors separated, different rates of feed are easy to accommodate--the yarn in the left hand does not tug along the yarn in the right hand because "never the twain shall meet." It is true that you still have to follow the rule of arranging to stagger your color breaks across different columns, but with different feed rates, the two colors of color knitting are less likely to wind up in the same columns to begin with. In other words, with "two-fisted" knitting comes the freedom to use vastly different feed rates, and far fewer restrictions in creating a viable, even-tensioned fabric.

So--with all these disadvantages, why would anyone want to learn to knit two colors off one hand?  That is a good question! Now we are slowly coming to the heart of today's post. The answer is, knitting two colors off one hand turns out to be particularly useful when we come to three-color knitting.


Although common wisdom says it's best to stick to two colors at any one time, the fact is that a surprisingly small amount of a third color--a highlight color--really perks up a two-color pattern.
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IMHO, the very best and easiest sorts of 3-color patterns are those where the background color predominates, and the contrast and highlight colors appear in much smaller amounts. In this situation, the background color (main color) is laid down at an independent rate of feed with one hand (the right hand, English style). The contrast color and the highlight color are laid down with the other hand (left hand, continental style) at the same rate of feed as each other (and THIS is where 2-colors-off-one-hand knitting comes into its own--in laying down the contrast and highlight colors). The photo above shows two such patterns, and shows how surprisingly effective a very small amount of a third, highlight, color can be in setting off what is essentially a two-color pattern.

To clarify further: in both of the patterns in the above illustration, there is a great deal more of the background color, and that is laid down, at its own independent rate of feed, by the right hand, knitting English style. The two contrast colors--the usual contrast color, as well as the third "highlight" color, are laid down with the two-colors-on-one hand method, laid down at the same rate of feed as each other, and knitted off the left hand. The zing added by a third color in even moderate amounts make worthwhile the whole ordeal of learning to knit two colors off one hand.

BTW--The color patterns in the close-up illustration photo are adapted from a chart in a Dale of Norway booklet, #152, which has a pattern for a baby sweater using these colors and patterns worked in fingering weight yarn. If you are looking for a printed pattern to follow this would be a good one--I find color selections are intriguing, but if you don't, these could be changed--but the real point is that the construction of the color repeats make excellent mechanical sense. The little sweater in the pattern book is steeked, but if steeking is not on your to-do list, or if a baby sweater is not, this color knitting pattern can be adapted to a hat.


You have been reading TECHknitting on: How to knit with 2 colors on one hand AND how to do three-color knitting (Part 3 of the how to knit colors series)


Lola said...

I'm a thrower in the English method, so I knit with the two colors on my right hand. Here's how i do it, best I can describe: I anchor both yarns by wrapping around my pinky, then the yarn goes under two fingers, and finally over my index finger.

Background color on the outside, the other color on the front. I knit the usual way with the background color, with yarn running on top of my index vinger, front to back. When I want to knit with the other color, I just do it the other way, sort of scooping, with the yarn running on top, back to front.

Yes, I do have to readjust the yarn every few stitches, but it's no big deal because it forces me to tug the fabric a bit to spread out the tension. My speed is almost as fast as if I were knitting with one color. In fact, I love knitting two colors in this method. I can usually finish a FI vest in about 3 or 4 months. One of those days I'll have to have myself recorded showing this method of knitting.

I got this idea by trying out 2.278 in Montse Stanley's "The Handknitter's Handbook" and adjusting it to use just one finger instead of the two fingers illustrated; I found that really awkward for me.

polarbears said...

If only the average stranded knitting pattern had the good manners to follow your rules so that the colors would feed evenly! :-). After a while though, adjusting the incoming strands becomes so automatic that you barely realize you are doing it. Stranded knitting is slower than plain stockinette (what isn't) but I don't find it any slower-or harder- than any knit/purl combination. Of course, over 30 years experience may have something to do with my comfort level.

I'm a combination knitter and I hold my yarn all in my right hand--even three strands. I'm a "gripper". One strand goes between the tip of my thumb and my forefinger, the second between my pointer and middle finger. A third color is a bit awkward and I'm always glad that 3 color rows are usually pretty rare, mostly because there are usually long floats requiring catching which tangles 3 strands (catching floats with two colors doesn't if I'm careful). I throw the yarn around the needle from below, one color between thumb and forefinger my usual way and one carried over the top of my forefinger. It's pretty unorthodox and looks odd to most folks but I've been doing it for 35 years. It's fast, even and If the pattern repeat isn't too complicated I can even read while doing it. I don't notice any "dominance" issues and usually just put the most used color at the thumb and try to remember to be consistent so it looks nicer on the back. My tension is reasonably loose so I usually end up on needles one size smaller than recommended.

Oddly, I'm almost as comfortable purling stranded work as knitting it--at least on straight needles. I avoid steeks whenever possible after a long ago bad experience with an unfroggable (steek was already cut) too big gift. I always knit back and forth from the armholes up and I knit cardigans seamless but flat. Yes, it is possible to put 300 stitches on a 14 inch straight needle-not recommended, but possible. Most recently, I knit a man's large Dale of Norway Jubileum cardigan that way. It took about 6 weeks.

With the help of a wonderful teacher, I tried to learn to knit Continental style early on. I'm extremely left-handed so it seemed like a natural fit but I was never able to maintain an even gauge even in one color. My weird style was almost instantly comfortable and intuitive for me. I think that's one of the great things about knitting--if it works efficiently for the individual knitter, it's not "wrong" no matter how strange it may seem to others.

--TECHknitter said...

THANKS to Lola and Polarbears for this information about knitting two colors off the right hand. It is always fascinating to me how the human hand can do such intricate work. (I just finished reading a book -- The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture by Frank R. Wilson -- in which the author claims that our hands teach our brains greater complexity, not the other way around.)

I agree with Polarbears' point about how it would be nice if patterns followed the "even feed" rule. It is because such patterns are rare that I am touting a specific pattern in my blog -- it is a printed pattern, widely available, which DOES follow all the precepts of a good two- and three-color design. A find! Also, a way to take all the theory and translate it into practice without having to design something yourself from scratch.


Anonymous said...

I also use my right hand for two colors. I recently finished Eunny Jang's "Anemoi" mittens, and am pleased with the results. I do it in a similar fashion as the first commenter (can't see her name, it's obscured). Wrap both on my pinky, and always send the main color to the front, and the background to the back. Often pausing to re-grip--but also taking the time to check the stranding tension. It is funny to watch, I'm sure. My wrist flips this way and that. But it works for me! Glad to see I'm not alone.
Having trouble loggin in--My name is Jen Wysokowski

TheWoolgatherer said...

I just found your blog and am so glad I did! Your experience and information is absolutely wonderful - I loved your entry on ease and fashion, it answered some questions I've been searching to answer.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for sharing your knowledge!

Anonymous said...

I always look forward to your posts and explanations.

Isabelle said...

One method how to keep apart two strands on left hand is to thread them "against each other": first goes as usual (over the forefinger, under the middle finger, over tne ring finger and under the pinky), the second one goes on the other sides of all fingers - it is looped around the index finger.

This way, the tension of each strand is controlled by a different finger (first by pinky, second by ring finger) and they are apart near the needles, even though they are both pulled taut by the index finger (I need the middle finger free for holding the needle and purling).

This grip is great for double-side knitting, because you can have a "front" and "back" yarn. Of course the tension control isn't as independent as with two-handed knitting (it doesn't matter so much with double-side since the fed is more or less consistent).

HRSD415 said...

I carry two colors in my left hand. How I hold the yarn depends upon how slippery the yarn is. For most wool yarn I carry the yarn over the pinkie, under the ring and middle fingers and over the forefinger. one yarn is carried in the joint of the finger against the palm, the next sits in the crease of the next join. At the forefinger, one yarn goes over the joint near the fingernail, the other yarn sits below the same joint. Since the yarns are separated I do not have an issue with differential feed.
when I use slippery yarns I will put in a wrap at either the pinkie or the forefinger, depending on my mood. I can carry up to three colors in my left hand (two get carried in the same creases)and a fourth color in my right hand (not that I do that often, mind you...)

laswa said...

My (semi-) fix for differential feed rates is to switch the colors from hand to hand. That is, row 1 has contrast color on the left hand, background on the right, row 2 is reversed. It is not a perfect fix but does help with the overall tension.
For 3 color knitting, all bets are off. I just do the best I can at any given moment, much like having more kids than you have hands, actually.

Karoline said...

I realize this is a quite late comment to an old post, but I found a way of carrying the yarn on one hand that revolutionized my colour knitting. It helped me avoid all superficial tools, yarn guides that always got lost, etc.

Well, I don't do all the weaving, but just the way of holding the yarn was magnificent, and made everything SO much easier.

FionaClarke said...

I knit English and with 2 colours I tension one with the pinky and one with the next finger then both yarns come over the index finger which is crooked. One yarn between the nail and the knuckle, the other between first and second knuckle. Then to knit the finger either moves forward a lot or a little to choose which yarn to pick up. Using 2 fingers to tension means that unless the number of stitches is very different for each colour there is no need to adjust the tension very often.

Me said...

How do you carry yarn vertically while knitting in the round
i am knitting fair isle and have to knit two rows in one color
What do i do with yarn not used ?
And how do I link it back in after those two rows

TECHknitter said...

Hi Me: Carrying the yarn up the inside of color knitting is the same thing as carrying the yarn up between stripes. Basically, you simply allow the yarns not in use to hang down, out of the way while ou work with others. When you need the ones left hanging, you simply drop the ones you need and start off again. There are three issues to watch out for, however

The first big issue is tension. If you have to err in one direction or another, leave too much slack--that can always be fixed later by sewing the excess down on the inside, whereas a too-tight carry makes a pucker, very difficult to fix.

The second issue is the jog left at the end of the spiral (round) where the colors change There are two TECHknittng posts which deal with that in ways suitable to fair isle designs:

The thrid issue is color tangling. Either avoid it by scrupulously "butterflying" your different colors into mini-skeins which can be lifted over one another and untangled, or work with long lengths of yarn which can simply be pulled completely out of the tangle when you need a dot or length of that color--this is similar to how you untangle a bunch of balloons by pulling one at a time out of the top of the bunch.

Of course, if you're done with the color, cut it short (a tail of a few inches) and work it in, either afterwards or as-you-go: here's a post which deals with ends-

Good luck with your project, TK

Morgan Owen said...

I know it's been eons since this original post, but for anyone who reads this after this date, I just learned how to do color knitting in the Portuguese method, which has your MC pinned with a hook to the shoulder opposite your dominant hand, and your other colors (as many as you dare,) running through the pin placed on your shoulder opposite the weak hand. In theory, you tension the yarns by wrapping the feed around a finger of each hand, and then all colors travel together. You use your left thumb to pick the color you want for each stitch and it stays evenly tensioned. I say "in theory" because I have found that I can tension my yarns beautifully just by changing the distance of my knitting from my body, and then I'm free to slide stitches and change colors without the added difficulty of managing a bunch of twisting yarns in my hands. It's worth looking up.