With this trick ANY knitter, regardless of skill level, can lay down any number of colors with no skills other than ordinary knitting--yes, any color pattern, regardless how complicated. All that is required is a basic knowledge of knitting and PATIENCE.
This trick is called...
Multi color knitting, one color at a time
There are two kinds of multi-color knitting, created one color at a time. The first kind is called multiple pass color knitting, and it is the subject of today's post. The second kind is called slipped stitch color patterns--those are tackled here.
MULTIPLE PASS KNITTINGMultiple pass knitting creates "ordinary" color patterns. By "ordinary" color patterns, I mean patterns which do not have any slipped stitches in the final result--as in the opening photo. Just to confuse you, though, creating "ordinary" patterns in multiple-pass knitting requires you to slip stitches during the construction phase. However, no slipped stitches remain in the finished fabric.
The upside of this trick is that it is nothing other than regular knitting (and perhaps, purling)--however you prefer to do it (continental or English). Beginners can use this trick to do two- (or more!) color knitting without tension problems. In the simplest form of this technique, multi-color effects are created by multiple passes through each row--two passes (once with each color) for two color knitting, three passes for three color knitting, etc. This opens a whole world of color patterns without having to learn any new technique at all. With all this upside, you know there is a downside, and the fact is that multiple pass knitting is S-L-O-W.
The explanation and illustration of this trick, below, shows a simple two-color, one-row pattern, but once you understand the example, multi-colors spread over multiple rows (as in the opening photo) are worked the same way.
click pictureAt heart, this trick is very simple. In this example two color knitting is accomplished in two passes through row 4--the only multi-colored row of this particular pattern. In other words, row 4 will be constructed in two passes--The first pass will lay down row 4's blue stitches, the second pass will lay down row 4's pink stitches.
blue stitches) and SLIP up from row 3, every stitch which is to be knitted in the second color (pink). ("Slip up from row 3," means that when you get to a stitch which is not supposed to be a blue stitch, you simply slip that stitch from your left needle to your right needle, without knitting it, AND without twisting it--you slip it "open" or purlwise.) At the end of this first pass-through, the row is only half-knitted.
For the second pass-through: if you are working flat (back and forth) on double pointed needles (dpn's) or back and forth on circular needles, you then push the whole work back along the needle and start again with the right side facing you--no need to purl back. If you are working a tube with dpn's or circular needles, you simply go around on the face of the fabric again, this time using the other color.
click picture(Above--step 2) On this second step (the second pass through row 4) you use the second color (pink) to KNIT every stitch you slipped on step 1, and SLIP every stitch of the first color (blue) which you knitted on step 1. At the end of steps 1 and 2 you will have knit an entire row with two colors, using only one color at a time. In other words, after step 1, the blue stitches will have been knitted, then slipped; after step 2, the pink stitches will have been slipped, then knitted.
At the end of two passes, this 2-color pattern is done. NO stitch will remain in the slipped position--if any stitch remains in the slipped position, you haven't done this technique right (although you have, perhaps, independently discovered 2-color slipped stitch patterns!)
Circular knitting, flat knitting and out-of-phase yarns.
For your first project, you will find it easier to work a tube on circular needles or dpn's. This is because a tube made in multiple-pass color knitting, like all tubes, requires you to work only on the knit face of the fabric--you never have to turn the fabric and purl back. The second pass through the same row in multiple-pass knitting requires only that you switch to the next color of yarn and work your way around the tube again to the starting point (which you surely have marked with a stitch marker!)
If you ARE making a tube (circular knitting), you get to skip all the green paragraphs--skip down to "tension." If you want to knit flat, though, you have to slog though further explanation.
If you are creating flat knitting (working back-and forth on double pointed needles or circular needles), a strange situation will arise--your yarns will get "out of phase," they will wind up on opposite edges of the fabric.
To explain: In the color pattern of the example (first illustration above) there are 4 rows of knitting. Rows 1, 2 and 3 are all pink, row 4 is the color-knitting row. At the end of one repetition of our 4 row pattern, both the yarns (pink and blue) are at the left, "ready-to-purl" edge of the fabric.
In flat (back and forth) knitting, the second set of 4 rows will go like this: Row 1 is all pink--and you'll purl back. Row 2 is all pink, and you'll knit. Row 3 is all pink and you'll purl, Row 4 is color knitting, and is a little confusing as to whether you knit or purl, because your blue yarn is on the left edge of the fabric where you parked it after the first repetition of the pattern--it is on the "ready to purl" side. However, the pink yarn, which has been worked an additional three rows, is on the right edge of the fabric--the "ready to knit side." In other words, the yarns are at opposite edges of the fabric! They are out of phase with one another.
However, as odd as this is, this is more of a mental challenge than anything to actually worry about. Multiple-pass color knitting lets you lay down the two colors independent of one another. Therefore, on this first half of row 4, you are first going to PURL in blue, and you are going to SLIP every non-blue stitch from the purl side. Be sure to hold the float yarn (the "tail" loops connecting the blue stitches) on the purl side of the fabric--the side facing you, and be sure to slip the loops of the slipped stitches "open" (untwisted--purlwise). When you finish the row, your yarns will be at the same edge, and you'll now create the second half of row 4 by KNITTING the just-slipped stitches in pink, while SLIPPING every blue stitch "open" (purlwise). You see-because the yarns are laid down independently, it does not matter if you have to create the passes of knitting from opposite edges of the fabric--it's just a little test to keep you on your toes!
Tension and floatsAs with any other kind of two-color knitting, you must stretch out the floats (strands behind) far enough so that the fabric will not pucker. However, this is easier with this sort of color knitting than with any other technique--just be sure to S-T-R-E-T-C-H the slipped stitches all the way out along the right needle before knitting (or purling) the new color--if you bunch up the slipped stitches on the right needle, the float will be too short when the formerly bunched-up stitches come off the right needle and spread out. Also, as with any other kind of color knitting, it is best to avoid floats which exceed 5-6 stitches. (For more background information on color knitting, click here.)
Addendum, November 2015: Poking around on the internet, I found a You-Tube video from a lady named Eliza, who evidently independently "unvented" multiple-pass knitting. (Unventing, a great word coined by the great knitter, Elizabeth Zimmermann, arises when you have a new knitting thought which is really not new, but comes to you in the night, floating down from the ether to land in your head.) Anyhow, the point is, the you-tube has a good solution for the tension issue, and that is, to use yarn overs to put slack where you need it. So, if stretching the slipped stitches isn't giving you the slack you need, have a look at this video, and see if you like the YO idea.
A note to advanced knitters: Although this usually thought of as a beginner's trick, even advanced knitters can use this trick to advantage. I have never been able to efficiently knit any more than three colors on any row. Any time there are more than three colors in a row, this trick gets trotted out. On two go-throughs, you can get up to 6 colors of a fancy pattern--laying down up to three colors the first go through, then up to three again on the second pass. (If you get past 6 colors on one row, I suppose you could always take a third pass through, although if you're writing patterns like that, you should take a job as a choreographer--your local dance company needs you.)
Some rows in the fabric of the opening illustration were knit in one or two passes per row, two colors on the first pass, two colors on the second--but such is the flexibility of this trick that other rows were knitted regulation style with one pass per color.
Final note: The color pattern in the opening illustration was adapted from the book "Knitted Tams" by Mary Rowe.