Tolt River Cowl Guided Tour: How to Colourwork

This week I’ve been writing about how to knit the Tolt River Cowl, from choosing yarn to swatching and casting on. Today I get to the exciting part - knitting with two colours! There are lots of ways to do this, but I’ll admit I have a favourite. I love doing colour work with two hands! I hold my dominant yarn in my left hand and my background colour in my right hand. (More on dominance below.) Whenever I need a background colour, I throw with my right hand. When I need a pattern colour, I pick with my left hand.

I know a lot of folks are nervous about this method because almost all of us have a preferred way - either knitting with the yarn in our left hand or our right, but not both! And it does take practice. You’re likely to feel like a toddler for a few rounds as your brain insists that you are DOING IT WRONG! But if you give it a chance, you might end up loving it. It keeps the colours separate from each other and allows the yarn to feed independently, which really speeds things up. Plus, ambidexterity has to be good for the brain.

Tips

  • To begin, try tensioning the yarn in the “strange” hand the same way that you do with your regular knitting hand. As you go along you may discover that you want to tension the hands differently, but doing them the same to start can be a good way to help ease the odd feeling and help you get going.

  • As you work, be sure to spread your (just-worked) stitches out on your right needle. This will help keep your floats the correct length across the back of your fabric. I stop every few stitches and spread the stitches. (This is especially important if your yarn is kind of slippery.)

  • There’s no need to catch floats in this project because none of the colour sections are very long before you switch to the new colour. If you’re curious about catching floats, though you can watch these videos.

  • Be sure to keep your yarn balls separate from each other at all times. Keep the dominant one on the left side of your body and the background one on the right side of your body. Yarn bowls, project bags, and giant pockets are all great ways to achieve this. When your yarn does tangle, stop and fix it immediately. It will never get better without intervention, but it can get much, much worse.

Here’s a video of how I knit with yarn in two hands:

Dominance

Whenever we knit with two colours, one strand will fall below (closer to the cast-on edge) and one will fall above (closer to the bind-off edge). The one that falls below naturally ends up with more yarn, making those stitches slightly larger. So whatever yarn falls below will stand out just a tiny bit more. Consistently holding one colour dominant really makes your work look more professional and cleaner. One thing I love about holding yarn in two hands is that whichever yarn you hold in the left is automatically dominant. So if I just hold the same colour dominant throughout, I’ll know I’m being consistent.

In some patterns, it’s really obvious which colour should be dominant and which should be background. In the Bikey Beanie below, the tan bikes clearly make the pattern and the red is the background. So I’d hold tan dominant in my left hand and red background in my right. But in other patterns, it’s not so obvious. In the Tolt River Cowl, do you want the lines around the triangles to stand out or the triangles? Either would be fine.

For my samples, I wanted the lines to stand out a bit more, so I held whichever one was making the lines dominant. And I was so picky about this I actually switched when the chart changed. For Rounds 1-5, the lines are created by Colour B (the light colour), so I held Colour B dominant. But starting in Round 8, the lines are actually created by the darker colour (Colour A in the two-colour version and Colour C in the four-colour version), so I switched my dominance for the remainder of the project. (Rounds 6 and 7 are single-colour rounds, so dominance doesn’t apply.)

Tolt-River-Cowl_worsted_7.jpg

Want to Know More?

If you’re excited about colour work and want to learn more, I’ve got tutorial on tips for colourwork and I wrote a whole book, AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary, with two hundred colourwork motifs, five patterns and lots of techniques! If you hate the idea of holding yarn in two hands, there are illustrations in the book on how to hold both strands in the left or right hands, plus how to catch floats in every configuration!

In my next post, I’ll talk about finishing this project, including more tips on colour work, blocking, and weaving in ends. Stay tuned!

Tolt River Cowl
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