Playing With Colorwork: Yarn Control

Tension

Take a look at the photos of the unblocked colorwork sections below. Notice the buckling, the bumps, the disappearing stitches. These all boil down to one problem – tension. Sometimes it’s the stitch tension, sometimes it’s the float tension, but it is always 100% poor tension.

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Buckling is caused by pulling the floats too tightly when switching colors. Some of these will work themselves out during blocking. Some will not.

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This can also cause disappearing stitches. Consistently tight floats caused some vertical stripes to sink between the main color segments.

In some cases, I found myself knitting one color more loosely than the others. As the project progressed, these formed bumpy stitches. Another type of bump is caused by my attempts to carry shorter floats across the panel. I tried a couple of different ways to carry them, but couldn’t determine a best practice for myself.

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Bumpy stitches caused by loose knitting in some rows.

As I struggled with controlling my tension, I tested out different methods. I would rip out sections that I felt were unacceptable and try a different technique. This is why I’ve been working on this little project for a month and I’m still not finished. But I’ve learned a great deal.

For single color sections, I used both the Peruvian and Continental techniques. At first, it was solely continental as that’s what I am used to using. However, I’ve since switched to using the Peruvian technique. I’m not certain, but it felt like I was knitting more quickly and with less effort.

Two colors are my personal maximum for now. I seemed to manage these sections . . . ok. I only had to rip one section out to redo it. In reknitting it, I tried continental knitting and was not impressed. The yarn became incredibly twisted, making it even harder for me to deal with tension. I had to monitor the twisting yarn to make sure that it didn’t turn into a knot. Just something else to fight with. Peruvian knitting was for more effective since the colors are physically separated.

Trying to use three or more colors led to the worst tension problems in the whole project. Just horrible. I had to rip out and start over on sections multiple times. Even with Peruvian, this was a nightmare for me. I finally gave up and I’m simply crossing my fingers that blocking will help mask this problem section at least a little.

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I don’t even need a yellow circle to show you the problem. Sigh.

Verdict

I finally found a suggestion on By Gum, By Golly that helped me. I didn’t realize how tightly I crammed my stitches together on the needles as I was knitting, therefore it never occurred to me that that was the problem. Now that I’m making a conscious effort to keep them spread out, the tension in the colorwork sections has improved.

Floats

I felt it would be easier to manage my tension if I weren’t trying to pull long floats along the back. I tried a couple of techniques to manage them.

  1. I tried adding a yarn over when changing colors to build in some extra room. That just made the floats too loose.
  2. In the Craftsy class that got all of this started, Ms. Wong shows a method for trapping floats. I could never really get it. It looked so simple! And yet, I flubbed it every time. I think I eventually did a variation of this that was ok. But not really.
  3. I simply brought my working yarn under and around the yarn I was trying to trap. Meh. It made shorter floats, but sometimes it made the front bumpy or even showed through on the front.

Verdict

I need to find a better way to trap floats. I know now that by not packing my stitches together, longer floats aren’t necessarily my issue. However, the shorter floats made for a cleaner, more manageable fabric. This is worth digging into (and practicing) a little more.

Final thoughts

You must maintain control of your yarn when doing colorwork. I found that even the most minor tension issues were magnified the more colors I worked with. Peruvian knitting techniques excel in colorwork because they provide far better control of the yarn. The colors are separated, and remain separated, until you are ready to use them. It provides far better tension control, though I found that was diminished the more colors I tried to use. Even with just general knitting, the Peruvian technique was better. My knitting appeared smoother and more uniform.

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