Monday, January 25, 2016

3 Easy Tricks for Quicker Colorwork

Last month, I cast on for a really beautiful stranded colorwork project (the Xanadu Snowflake Cowl by Julie Crawford) using a buttery sock cashmere yarn from Bijou Basin Ranch. Having knit several colorwork projects before, I really thought this would be a piece of cake, but I ended up struggling with it quite a bit at first, and progress was frustratingly slow until just recently.

I think my main issue was that I had taken a fairly long break from stranded colorwork, and I was sorely out of practice. I couldn't quite get into the rhythm of the project, and I also wasn't able to spot mistakes until I had knit several stitches (and sometimes even rows ahead), which made for a lot of frogging and maybe even some cursing here and there.

But I stuck with it, and the more I kept working at it, the easier it got. And once I started getting the hang of the chart and working with the two yarns, things moved along just a little bit quicker. I also have three little "tricks" that have helped speed things along, and I thought I would share them today just in case they help you, too.

Trick #1: Highlighter Tape
I don't know where I would be without highlighter tape! I like to position a long strip of highlighter tape so that the row I am working on is directly below it, and I can also see the preceding rows (more on that in a sec). At the end of each row or round, I can reposition the tape and begin anew! This also works with washi tape or chart holders with magnetic strips. All are quite invaluable for complicated charts!
Highlighter Tape - image from, where I usually buy mine.
Trick #2: Read Your Stitches
At the beginning of this project, I was clearly out of practice in this department - there I was, knitting along and not paying a bit of attention to the previous round of work, only to snap out of it a few minutes later and realize that something was totally off! It's easy to get tunnel vision and only look at the row you're currently working on, but those stitches are there to help you if you let them.

Once I started paying more attention to both the chart and the WIP in my hand, things clicked into place. As I was knitting, I would look at the chart and make note of where the contrasting colors fell in the row I was currently working in relation to the previous round of work. For example, were there three stitches of the contrasting color in the previous round, and one stitch of the contrasting color that fell in the center of the previous color block? Paying attention to the relation of colors and stitches made it much easier to spot mistakes before I got too far along.

Trick #3: Pre-Count Long Blocks of Stitches
When reading charts, it's usually pretty easy to count 3 or four stitches at a time visually, depending on the size of the chart (oh, and that's another tip: if that chart is making you squint, enlarge it as much as you can!!). But larger groups of stitches can be easy to miscount if you aren't taking the time to stop and take a closer look. So, I usually go through a chart and write down the numbers of stitches that I'll be working in a block - here is an example of what I mean using my free whale chart:
Feel free to share your own tips for speedy colorwork knitting in the comments!


  1. I definitely do most of these, not just with color work but also with cables. I also use a stitch maker for each repeat, that was I know if I've messed something up before I get too far. I do my knitting after my kids are in a bed, and (more than I'd like to admit) I end up making stupid mistakes because I'm too tired to pay attention.
    I do have some colorwork projects coming up, hopefully I won't have to rip them back too many times.

  2. these are great ideas! I have never used highlighter tape before, but I will have to try it. and so clever to actually write down the number of sts for long floats- that has never occurred to me before.

  3. I always pre-count and add the numbers to the chart - I'm so glad to see someone else does this. I do it on lace charts too!

  4. I've used a ruler or plane piece of paper. I do like positioning either above the row I'm working on. I am going to try the tape. Thanks

  5. I've used a ruler or plane piece of paper. I do like positioning either above the row I'm working on. I am going to try the tape. Thanks

  6. I knit continental style as taught by my Danish mother. I prefer using only 2 colors/row a la Shetland knitting, controlling the tension with both strands over my index finger with the knuckle separating them and then weaving them around my other fingers. This keeps the yarn balls from getting tangled.