The Steph School of Slightly Less Crappy Knitting

A few days ago I got an email from a knitter who said something like "My colourwork is crappy, yours isn’t, please tell me how to stop knitting crappy colourwork."  We emailed back and forth, and it turned out that what was happening was that she was working a colourwork mitten (these ones, if you want to know) and that she’d ripped out her work about sixteen times before finishing even a single mitten, all because she was really unhappy with how it looked. We went back and forth, and it turned out that she was doing a bunch of stuff that made the whole thing really hard.  I offered her a few tips, and I’m going to pass them along to you. 

1. Are your floats floating? Floats are the stretches of the unused yarn that travel across the back of your work. 

You knit four stitches (or however many) of one colour, then six of the other, and the unused yarn spans the distance between the last time it was used, and the next.  The leading cause of crappy looking colourwork is puckering – and that’s caused by tight floats.  The stretches of yarn aren’t long enough, and they pull the fabric together.  If you spread the stitches out nicely while you make the float and make it even a little longer than you think you need, you’ll probably be a lot happier.  The longer the float is, the harder it is to get this right. If you’re new, think about choosing a pattern with small floats. (Few stitches between changes.)  Further to that, a pattern like the one I’m working makes nice floats harder- sort of, because the starting and stopping places for the floats are stacking on top of each other. If you’re learning, trying picking something where the floats are staggered, in both length and location.  It will help disguise your learning curve.

2. Are your needles working against you? If the goal is to spread the work out nicely to make that float the right length, then slick metal needles can make that harder. Sometimes changing to wooden needles with a little grip can help you spread them out, and keep them there.

3. Have you blocked it?  Before you decide your colourwork is crap– are you sure? While there are a few knitters who don’t find it to be the case, and I am envious of them, for most of us, colourwork looks a lot better after a bath and a patdown. (Remember that blocking isn’t defined by stretching. Just putting things in place.) I’ve blocked colourwork when it’s half done on the needles just to see how it’s going.  It can be a miracle. While this sample isn’t really dramatic, I think you can see the difference between my blocked and unblocked mittens below.  (I cheated and didn’t even really block the one on the right.  I just steamed it with my kettle a little, and gave it a nudge.)

4. Is the yarn you’re using adding challenges?  Wool is lovely, forgiving and remarkably plastic. It can be blocked to rethink it’s position more easily than other, less malleable fibres, and responds way more to subtle suggestions. I’m not slagging on other yarns, like cotton, silk or acrylic, but when it comes to colourwork, especially for beginners, the elasticity of wool (and how it can be convinced to change it’s mind about things) can be a really big help. 

5. Have you woven in your ends? I know it seems obvious, but it is the tension on the yarn that prevents holes. The stitch where you start a new colour is going to be loose and crappy looking until you weave in the end to tidy things up. Those holes that make the work look crappy and unfinished aren’t the result of crappy knitting. It’s the result of it being unfinished.  Weave your ends in before you decide it doesn’t look good. It can change a lot. While this picture is a little crappy, you can see how much better things look on the right, than they do on the left, and that’s just weaving in ends – and a light steaming.

This next one is a big deal.

6. Are you bad at this (right now)?  This comes up in classes I teach all the time. Knitters being really, really hard on themselves. They’re learning a brand new thing… something they’ve never done before, and they suck at it. They’ll angrily exclaim "Why can’t I get this!" and I always answer the same way.

I say "Yeah. That’s weird.  I mean, you’ve been trying this new skill for 10 minutes.  You should have it absolutely mastered by now. Bizarre that you’re not perfect at it yet." 

The truth is, that if you’re brand new to a skill, you probably suck.  You’ll likely suck less tomorrow.  Don’t throw in the towel because your first (or tenth) try at something isn’t successful.   Sure.. you suck.  You’re new. Keep trying and you’ll suck less.  Later. It doesn’t mean you’re bad at colourwork.  It means you don’t know how. 


249 thoughts on “The Steph School of Slightly Less Crappy Knitting

  1. Thanks so much for the help. It had never occurred to me that uniformly placed floats could add to the problem. Truth is I have been avoiding colour work because of previous negative experience with puckering. Off the the LYS on the weekend for yarn for some SpillyJane mittens.

  2. The rest of my life is one big pucker – why should my color knitting be any different?

  3. Thanks for this info. I have been struggling with my first colorwork sock and whether to rip it out and give up colorwork altogether. I’ll try the blocking. Even if I do rip it out, you have given me hope that someday maybe I will knit all of those colorwork patterns that I have been obsessing over.

  4. I love colorwork and all the things you mentioned were ones that I learned along the way 🙂 This has inspired me to start my 3 year old’s fair isle sweater that I’ve been putting off.

  5. So true, age and practice have combined to make me a lot more patient with my knitting, and anyways, ripping it out means I get to spend more time knitting and less time cleaning :0)

  6. Thanks for the note of sanity. It does take time and practice,practice, practice. And like getting to Carnegie Hall, perhaps a left turn on 57th……

  7. Fantastic blog, inspiring, hopeful and encouraging. The only thing I’d add is that I learned that if you have a float it should only be 3 or 4 stitches long, then you should cross the yarn anyway. Sort of just flick the yarn you’re knitting with over the yarn you’re carrying. Amazingly this works too. But, definitely, blocking cures so many minor tension issues (and some of the biggies too!)

  8. Great advice on colorwork. The other struggle with colorwork is the two handed knitting I had to learn. I had always struggled to learn to knit continental but learning colorwork helped me master that. Once i got through that whole “I can’t” phase, I loved it and choose stranded work over any other colorwork.

  9. I’m attempting fair isle for the first time this spring (spring because I’m hoping to finish up my heaps of WIPs). Great tips! Thanks! 🙂

  10. No one told me all this when I did my first colorwork…a baby sweater in cotton yarn.
    Thanks, ladies at the LYS! I didn’t try colorwork again for YEARS!!!

  11. Thanks so much, for putting into words what the rest of us had to learn by trial and (lots of) error. I think this’ll encourage the newbies to hop on the stranded-colour train and help those of us who have been on awhile and are wondering if we should get off. Or throw ourselves under it.

  12. Thanks for the encouragement. I gave up on my first pair of socks many years ago because those four needles felt awkward and kept poking me, and the idea of turning a heel seemed terrifying. However I’m just about to start again: I’m still scared but I’m determined to master sock knitting and what’s more I’m going to enjoy it! (hope it doesn’t take ten pairs of socks though). I love the mittens by the way 🙂

  13. GREAT post – thank you for all the helpful hints. I have an Alice Starmore hat kit I’ve been putting off starting because I’ve been afraid, but now I’m wanting to move it up in the queue!

  14. #6 works for so many other attempts that we make in our lives. I just copied that section to a new weaver. She has only dressed a loom two times and was absolutely certain that she had totally screwed up the third one; she had not. We worked through it and the warp is now looking fantastic–evenly tensioned and ready for weaving.

  15. @ Cooknitwine, it’s not even so much the number of stitches (three bulky stitches can cover a lot more territory than eight laceweight ones) as it is distance, to wit, an inch [or so. This is knitting, not architecture.] Just cast a jaundiced eye on any pattern that wants you to carry for more than an inch (it’s why I love traditional Norwegian patterns — they’re like a computer program that’s been utterly debugged.)

  16. Ann Shayne of Mason-Dixon Knitting fame suggests that if you’re doing colorwork in the round to turn your sock or mitten inside out to ensure that the floats are long enough. I’m making a flat sweater for my first colorwork and it’s going, um, not too bad. I have high hopes for it relaxing after blocking in a few spots. But it’s like magic! Tres cool.
    Mary Jo @ 4:17 PM, the 4 needles stop poking you and start behaving once you’ve got about an inch of cuff knitted and heel turning just takes focus, so turn off the TV and make everyone be quiet and you’ll get it. Give it a shot, it’s only knitting, not brain surgery!

  17. Excellent advice! I recently finished a sweater made with Rowan Wool Cotton. One of my favorite yarns, but NOT great for stranded work.
    If I may add to your list, carrying your yarn consistently — keeping the color you wish to be dominant on the bottom and the background color on the top as you work — also helps the finished look. It can also make it easier to rip back if (or should I say when?) the need arises.

  18. I luuuuuv you–especially when you are in knitting teacher/ master/guru mode! Because you always have great tips (most likely learned the hard way), my all time fave being #6!
    Now, time to conquer some knitting mountains!
    Cheers, Barbie O.

  19. re. #6: Yup, anything worth doing is worth doing really badly at first. Wasn’t it Maggie Casey who said that? (Apparently spinning is worth doing for me…)

  20. Very timely post! SpillyJane is going to be at the KW Knitter’s Guild meeting tonight to talk about colourwork and sell some of her patterns. Maybe you can make it? 🙂

  21. I *heart* you right now (well, OK, I *heart* you all the time because your writing makes me smile and I wish I could knit as proficiently as you).
    This post has made me feel so much better about all the knitting skills I’ve tried and at which I’ve failed, occasionally spectacularly. You’ve inspired me to try again. Thank you!

  22. “Yeah. That’s weird. I mean, you’ve been trying this new skill for 10 minutes. You should have it absolutely mastered by now. Bizarre that you’re not perfect at it yet.”
    This is what I’m repeating to myself in my head through all my roller derby practices from now on when I’m stuck on a new skill. Thanks for the sarcastic pep talk. :o)

  23. My kids and dh do this to me all the time. Yeah, the fact that I have been a working artist for 25 YEARS should have no bearing on my work possible being a smidge better than your first effort. sigh.

  24. Thanks for taking the time to provide such helpful hints – especially about expecting perfection at once!

  25. This is extra helpful. I only wish that you’d covered adding the new colour. I always have a hard time switching colour for the first time in a project.

  26. I had to remind myself of that last one a whole BUNCH this holiday knitting season. Not for color work, I can do color work in my sleep (and occasionally have, I think).
    My eldest son decided he really wanted an Aran sweater this year. It took me longer to make a men’s small aran sweater than it does to make 5 regular adult yoked fair isle sweaters. I pulled the stupid thing back 11 times, couldn’t get or keep gauge, misscrossed cables and had to drop and fix at least a dozen times and at one point, about 3/4 of the way up the sweater, I decided to knit a different pattern in the center panel then went back to the first one, I don’t know why. But I finished, and yes there are a couple of mistakes– no one else has noticed them, including my perfectionist mother, who told me that that sweater was too nice for a kid and I should give it to her 🙂
    It took me 4 months. I then knit 3 color work sweaters in the 4 weeks I had left until Christmas. (Granted, 2 of them were small, but one was for my husband). The color sweater are really pretty… but now my youngest is saying “Can I get one of those cabled ones next year?” (My husband already has a cabled sweater… that one took me 5 years to knit.) I guess I’m going to get more practice at cables.

  27. Fabulous. You’ve wrapped it all up in a neat little package. Perfectionism can either keep us from starting or keep us from winning because we refuse to suck at something until we don’t.
    By the way, are we allowed to reference you back to this post at any point in the future?!

  28. Thank you for sharing your expertise! A corrolary to #6 may be “learn to walk before you run”. Although advanced techniques are exciting, if your stockinette stitch is still, well, underdeveloped, then colorwork maybe should not be the next project. You may wish to think twice before adding too many new techniques at once. If you have never used double points, jumping into colorwork on dpns at once makes the curve steeper than necessary. There is plenty of time, yarn and projects. It will all be there waiting!

  29. “Keep trying and you’ll suck less”
    BAHAHAH!!! You know how people have those dorky little (usually self-serving) quotes attached to their email signatures? That might get stolen to become mine. Very Zen and very true.

  30. The other thing that I tell folks who come see me and my yarn partner at Farmer’s Market is this: The two of us have a total of 80 years knitting experience between us. That’s a long time to make mistakes and figure things out!

  31. “Yeah. That’s weird. I mean, you’ve been trying this new skill for 10 minutes. You should have it absolutely mastered by now. Bizarre that you’re not perfect at it yet.”
    Yes. This. As a violin teacher, I get this all. the. time. from my students, and my answer is pretty close to yours. I also tell them that “hard” does not mean “impossible,” and the sorts of things they call “hard” can often be learned in a week.

  32. I know the first colorwork I did (and I use the past tense loosely) was a sock (fine, 3/4 of a sock) that didn’t end up fitting over my heel. I plan to rip it out.
    One of the things that was mentioned in the class I took (after I worked on these socks) was that your floats will be better if your yarn does not have extra opportunities to twist around each other. For that, Jared suggested having one ball of yarn on each side of you. It has worked for me, though I haven’t yet tackled redoing the socks.

  33. I avoid the float problem by weaving the unused color in as I go. Your floats look so nice and even and small … but I would catch fingernails in them. I found the weaving technique slow at first, but it sure beats wonky fabric from tight or floppy floats!

  34. I love number 6. I’m a music teacher, and I tell this to my beginners learning instruments EVERY DAY. Good to remind myself the same goes for me and new knitting techniques. 🙂

  35. And what’s really inspiring is when your teacher says “Y’all don’t suck as much as I thought you would!” 😉

  36. My colorwork looked bad and nothing I did seemed to help until I tried, and learned how to do the second color in my opposite hand. Two-handed knitting seems to give just the right tension AND saves me a lot of time wrapping my balls of yarn around each other. The best technique I ever learned. P.S. There is a learning curve here too though–you feel like a schoolkid trying to write for the first time for a while, then Voila! It happens!

  37. 3. No. 6 was my response to learning to ski. And my partner’s response too. Didn’t make me less annoyed though.
    2. Thanks for all the hints.
    3. Surprisingly, after all I’d heard, i did really well at colorwork my first time. But I’m slow (see no. 6). I kind of like that I’m finally good at knitting to do some stuff fast. I’m loathe to go back and be slow again. But I really want to do colorwork. Oh, the agony. :~P
    4. How did you get two mittens done so quickly? Is this what happens when books are with the editor? Makes me wish I could be a writer even more.
    5. What about wrapping floats? Where do you stand on that? The teacher I had said more than 4 stitches and you should wrap your floats.

  38. Any way you could help me with my “SSK?” Damn decrease looks like a hangman. Ugh!

  39. Thanks for the pep talk! I always think that my colorwork sucks and that I just can NOT get it right. I think that it is time to try again. Thanks for the nudge!

  40. Great tips! Also enabling, as I’m plucking up the courage to add a Fair Isle project to my to-do list.

  41. Excellent advice, that. I recently started a new job, doing something pretty hard I’ve never done before, in front of a whole lot of people who are judging me the whole time, and, sometimes, I suck at it. I keep reminding myself the only way to suck less is to do it more. Just one more way knitting is a metaphor for life. 😉

  42. Thanks Stephanie for the hints. My issue is that when I am working with double points and 2 colors, that no matter how hard I try, my knitting puckers! I really really try to leave a good float between colors. I don’t do as bad when I’m knitting with circulars; and I love knitting socks/mittens on doubles. So does anyone have any suggestions? I use the two-handed (one color in each) method.
    Thanks and Cheers.

  43. That 6th one!
    I’ve been teaching adults for years and that last one is the biggest hurdle. I tend to suffer from the same delusion. I’m in my thirties, I have a degree, I own a home, they let me drive AND raise my own children. I should know everything I need to know at this point, right? So why are new thing so hard!? They should just be new versions of things I kinda already know.

  44. Great tutorial, Stephanie. May I add one other thing – are you holding a yarn in each hand and using the WRONG hand for the “contrast” yarn?
    I took Janine Bajus’s “Design Your Own Fair Isle” workshop last summer and she told us to use our “dominant” hand for the contrast yarn. I am a continental knitter and I did NOT do this for the first swatch (because I’d done colorwork before and thought I was doing fine), then I followed Janine’s expert instructions for the next swatch. The difference was SHOCKING. When I used my non-dominant hand to move the contrast yarn my stitches seemed to disappear (as in “crappy” colorwork!). When I used my dominant hand for the contrast yarn the stitches popped nicely.
    Just another suggestion to help a fellow knitter!

  45. LOVE #6. SO true in SO many aspects of life!
    Here’s a way to make circular knitting floats better. Knit inside out! Your needles are on the far side of the circle instead of closest to you and the floats stretch around the circle instead of inside of it. Make sense?

  46. For Katharine at January 11, 2011 4:43 PM:
    The class I took had you form a ‘hook’ with the yarn and knit it as if the starting end was both the end of one ball and the beginning of another ball of yarn (like when you’re adding another to skein and you have a couple “doubled” stitches). It really helps to firmly anchor the color. But I haven’t blocked my sampler yet so I don’t know if that looks odd after blocking. But it sure made it easy to add a new color.

  47. You typed crap and crappy a lot. I didn’t count how many times for each but I am curious. You’ve got a lot of crap Harlot.

  48. i’d like to copy #6 into my syllabus for my chemistry classes- i’m ever amazed at how many students decide they can’t do chem (& it’s my fault) because they didn’t succeed in the first 10 minutes. great general advice!

  49. I like the “Keep trying. You’ll suck less.” line too… but could never put it in my signature line… people where I work don’t understand that kind of humor – it would offend!
    I have always feared colorwork…. I think I am a lazy knitter, plus I like to produce too much to let myself have to rip out as much as I know colorwork would have to be ripped out for me to learn it well…. someday I will get up the guts.

  50. Great advice. I am relatively new to colorwork and it does, indeed, get better. It is less crappy now than it initially was!

  51. The lovely people at Philosopher’s Wool (Ann and Eugene Bourgeois) published a very helpful book on colour knitting a few years ago: *Fair Isle Sweaters Simplified* and it really is invaluable. Learning to knit left and right handed at the same time means you don’t have to keep picking up and dropping yarn, for one thing. As well, they suggest for really long floats, catching the yarn around the dominant colour at the back keeps the floats from going all wonky. It also keeps the back neat which is essential if you plan to be pulling the knitted work on over rings or other jewelery — not to mention noses — that could get caught in a long float.
    Fair Isle Sweaters Simplified should be available in most Canadian libraries. I don’t know if it’s still in print.

  52. Hooray for the healing power of blocking! And I often remind new knitters that they can’t possibly be experts yet, so I might steal your lovely sarcastic line to help out!

  53. Thanks, your clear instructions have inspired me to try stranded color work, again! When I have mastered that, I only need to learn the other two mysteries (to me) of knitting: jogless stripes in the round, and ‘double-knitting’ on one needle! Actually, is there even a reason why I would want to do ‘double-knitting’ on one needle, or do any ‘double-knitting’ at all?

  54. My best/worst example of #6 is when a student struggling to cast on while I coached her, turned to me and said “You’re stupid”.
    Ya just gotta laugh.

  55. Excellent advice, and triply so on the last!
    I’m a historical re-enactor, and have developed a repertoire of obscure skills in obscure crafts over the years. As I’ve taught them to new folks, or just people who want to try something they haven’t before, or even discussed with them some of the things *I* don’t know how to do, but can direct them to others who do, the sentence, “I feel so inept!” comes up with surprising frequency. So frequent, that I have developed a stock answer:
    “You’re new at this. It’s not what you’re used to. You’re going to have to just BE inept for a while, and then you’ll find the things that you’re ‘ept’ at!”
    Which usually gets a laugh, relaxes them … and the next try? is better. “You have to spin a mile of crap” applies to SO MANY things!

  56. I think I shall print number 6 and put it somewhere I can see it every day. Because it does not just apply to knitting colorwork. It applies to everything. Every. Single. Thing. And I forget that way too often. And I am way too hard on myself. Thank you for reminding me not to be!

  57. Wow, this post came just in time for me! I’m on my third attempt at some colorwork mittens (due to suck factor major), and I’m learning these little tricks you mentioned as I go and am trying to be a little more observant with my float lengths. I also learned a little something about yarn dominance. And you’re absolutely right, suckiness is most always dissolves away with time…

  58. One thing I learned doing my first colorwork hat was that my guage was different when I changed from circs to dp’s. I pulled the yarn more on dp’s – I figured no one would be able to tell, and it was part of the design, but next time I will change to bigger dp’s and keep a looser float when going from one dp to the next.

  59. Emailing the final suggestion off to child in college to whom all things school related always came easily.
    Reminders that doing new things means not being excellent until after a lot of practice is the sort of thing that’s better in an email quoting a third party than said directly by one’s own mother, right? If only I could send it anonymously, as though the universe had just gifted him with that ever so astute advice!

  60. Cara at 5:55 PM: Double knitting on a pair of dpns is a way to make long thin tubes without doing I-cord, handy for legs on toys, tie-strings for earflap hats, and fingers on tip-down gloves. It’s a neat technique to know, even if you never use it for anything but a decorative curly bit on top of a hat.

  61. I am a bit scared of colourwork, and I avoid it. I am trying to overcome this. I knit a baby jumper with a moustache on it the other day, for intarsia practice. It’s wonky but I learnt how to make it less wonky. I struggle so with floats, though. I am not an intrinsically precise, attentive person. I really prefer just to be able to sit down and knit 16 inches of stocking stitch. Most of the time, sometimes I want to show off! These tips are very helpful, thanks.
    It’s so hubristic, isn’t it, to think that you should be good at something right away. ‘This is a skill that has experts, who spend their life working to be good at it! Why can’t I just pick it up and be great at it?’ Hollywood has a lot to answer for. Also, I think people confuse skill and talent. You might have a talent for something right away, but it still takes time to develop skills in it.
    Every time I have a tanty because a new skill is thwarting me, I tell myself this: learning new things is hard. That is why most people don’t do it. Therefore, by the simple process of trying something new, you are already a step ahead. Sometimes this works, other times I think that all those other people have the right of it.

  62. Thank you for this very meaningful post–I am in the midst of my first intarsia project–an argyle sweater for my son. I’m duplicate stitching the zigzag lines and finding this very challenging, although more satisfying as I go on. I think the vest will actually be very snazzy after blocking and weaving in the ends, but for now, it isn’t living up to my tough standards.
    Your last point was very important for me to read!

  63. ReNae at 5:25:
    You said that the puckering is not as bad when you knit with circulars; do you knit tighter on dpns so as to be sure the stitches will hold the needles in place? I do. When I do color stranding, I stretch the floats out extra, and even make them hang loose a little. It looks bad at the time, but it’s works for me. If they really are too loose, blocking shrinks them into shape.

  64. I will never forget my second knitting lesson where I learned to purl. I thought I had this whole cast on, knit, bind off thing licked and then could NOT figure out the purling. I think that sometimes we’re so good at an adjacent skill when we go to learn something new, we forget how hard the first part was to learn too.

  65. This is super helpful. Thanks for the great, informative post!
    Any suggestions on how to tell if if the floats will stack or not?

  66. Thanks Steph for your School. I LOVE your blog because somehow reading you, I always end up crying. And not “that sucks” crying – good crying!
    Also, may actually take the leap and try colorwork now – yikes.

  67. There is this lurking fear in the back of my mind that tells me there is no way that I will be able to handle two colors of yarn. Yet I am mentally prepairing myself for doing my first piece of colorwork which will likely be a pillow front….easy, square, and not that important…instead of a piece of clothing that I will freak out about because I am giving it to a loved one who will hate it because I don’t know what I am doing yet.
    Yeah, #6 rocks.

  68. I feel her pain and know where your coming from. Teaching a 10 year old to knit, whom has had everything handed to her, was a hard learning experience because when something was hard or she was not good at it right off the bat someone else would do it for her. Her 12 year old brother is on the other side of the spectrum who know he will improve with time and plays a mean violin. I ask my other (older) students about how they first learned how to drive and how they might have thought every turn, stop, or parking job they did was crappy, but with time they improved.

  69. Once again, you are right on the money! It still surprises me how smart people won’t let themselves suck at a skill that took me 37 years to get to where I am now….and I’m still learning!

  70. Thank you so much, twice over! I’ve just started Spillyjane’s Strawberry Mittens (thanks no 1) and your advice (thanks no 2) is both timely and necessary. I suck, but tomorrow I will be better. Yes, I will.

  71. I learned several things about knitting but what I loved the best was the backhanded pep talk.

  72. Thanks for the tips. I’ve been working on colourwork mitts since august and I’m getting much better. It does take awhile. I still remember the day my youngest said, “Gee mom, these socks really look like socks, not just tubes with heels!”

  73. Excellent advice; thank you. I recently came across a technique that automatically weaves in the floats as you go (for knitting in the round).

  74. I always, always, always enjoy your posts Ms. Harlot! Thank you for reminding us that everything has a learning curve. Even the most brilliant among us have to learn something. No one is born knowing how to knit, purl, cook, launder clothing, clean, type, read, drive, do maths, organize, balance a check book, use a computer…

  75. Hi,
    When doing colorwork, I practice something Annie Modesitt calls “needle blocking”. Every inch or so stretch and tug your work about until everything evens out and you can see how it would look blocked. Grip the needle in one hand and tug the work down with the other. Then stretch it sideways.
    I also make sure all floats really “float” across, making then much longer than I think they need to be. Then after the “needle blocking”, I find they are really just barely long enough.
    Some people knit colorwork inside out to lengthen the floats, but while I find that a great idea, I have not done it yet.
    Like the quotes?

  76. Love your tips. I hadn’t made the connection between floats that line up vertically and ugly fair isle, but it makes sense.
    When I knit fair isle, if the float is more than 1 stitch, I use one of the fingers on my right hand (I’m a Continental knitter, so the right hand remains on the right needle) to elongate the float (by pushing the yarn down or sticking the finger between the float and the fabric) as I knit my first stitch with the floated yarn. It seems to add just enough yarn to prevent puckering.
    Someone once suggested working small fair isle items (like socks and mittens) inside out to help elongate the floats. The difference in circumference between the inside and outside of a knitted tube is just enough to prevent puckers for some knitters.

  77. Loved and needed this pep talk. I am crazy about Fair Isle and colorwork. My first attempt was the Learn to do Fair Isle hat and mittens kit from KnitPicks and surprisingly, I did a rather good job for a first try and was so proud of the effort until I tried the hat on and it was 2 inches shy of my head circumference. My floats and knitting were good but I had forgotten that I tend to be a very tight knitter and have to learn to knit much looser for colorwork. I WILL try again. Thanks.

  78. Thanks, Steph – not only for the brilliant advice, but also for the photos. I tend to get so caught up in making my knitting look pretty RIGHTNOWNOWNOW that sometimes I forget, it might need a little work AFTER the knitting is finished.

  79. thanks for the reminder about persevering through a new skill! last month i tackled a pair of sweet little elf slippers and i could NOT understand the instructions for the “wrap and turn” part! luckily i got some live instruction from tina at soper creek yarn (my local LYS) and that set me on the right path. but even then, i re-did that darn elf boot at least 7 times before i felt it was “right”. there was a point where i was almost ready to admit defeat and thought, “what is wrong with me that i have been knitting for decades and can’t get this?!” and of course, as you pointed out, i just needed to actually practise and LEARN the new skill!!

  80. @ =Tamar at 6:29
    To tell the truth, I’m not sure what I’m doing differently, other than knitting tighter when I use doubles; probably when I’m knitting socks, I just learned to keep the tension tight and so I do the same with the 2 strands. Thanks for the suggestion – I need to loosen up and find a good easy tension. Off to the mittens again. hehe

  81. Thank you for all the knitters who are going to read this and feel empowered to try something new!
    I wonder how many others do this: doing stockinette colorwork, I wrap the yarn across the back of every single stitch. To be honest it’s slower work with more chances for it to show through on the right side, but, no floats. Just a habit I got into a long time ago.

  82. Wonderful lessons. Through pure dumb luck I have very little trouble with “complicated” color patterns. Early on I learned to keep moving the stitches down the needles to stretch the float just enough.
    So where do I have trouble? Knitting “lice” – one CC stitch every 4 or so MC stitches, in every other row. There are so few actual color changes that I have to REMEMBER to move the stitches down the needles. And not to knit the one-color row tighter than my color rows (yes, when zipping along in one color your tension can change).
    The other biggie, as others have said, is to have one color in each hand, so that having to pick up and retension the yarn is minimized.

  83. Thank you, thank you!
    I’m new enough to colorwork that I’m still not 100% happy with how my floats look. Now I think I’ll go copy that pattern for mitts that I have and cast on…

  84. Your #6 suggestion couldn’t have come at a better time for me, even though totally unrelated to knitting. I’m 40, quit my job in June, and have spent the past 7 months getting my certification as a middle school science teacher. I’m a student teacher now and boy do I suck at it. Thanks for the reminder that I need to be patient and keep practicing every day.

  85. My first colorwork project was a hat that was knitted large and loose, then felted. Talk about hiding irregularies! Great way to practice the skills you talk about here.

  86. You have Multiple Talents but none are finer (or more important) than the fact that you are a born teacher as well. That talent coupled with a heart good enough to share what you know…priceless. Thank you.

  87. I needed to hear this right about now. I’m working on colorwork project #3, and while it’s slightly less sucky than the first and second, well, it’s not quite there yet. I can definitely see it’s going to be a steep learning curve. Thanks for the encouragement, it’s much appreciated.

  88. Thank you. I will pick up the mitten I tried to knit for Christmas and have another go at it. And then do another. This might be the year of the mitten and maybe by next Christmas, I won’t suck.

  89. another tip: on a small item like a mitten, work it inside out. that will make the floats a little more relaxed.

  90. And if you knit them inside out, they will potentially pucker less as the floats will be looser

  91. Really helpful advice, Stephanie. Thank you! These last posts have definitely inspired me to try colourwork.
    I’m a yoga teacher, and I certainly see students getting frustrated at themselves. I like to tell them that there will never be a time where every pose is mastered, it just doesn’t work like that. It’s a practice that never ends. And this is a good thing! We’re always going deeper in what we’re able to feel & refining what we know, always figuring things out just a little more each time. If everything came really easy, it would be boring!
    This whole “there will never be a time when this is all wrapped up & checked off your list” speech could go either way, making a student more twitchy, or reminding them to relax & try to enjoy what they can do today. But most often I see smiles & giggles that seem pretty non-twitchy. 🙂

  92. Thank you so much for the last paragraph, it can also apply to a teaching practicum!
    Love your blog 🙂

  93. I love that you are explaining how to not have crappy colourwork by showing so-called crappy pictures. Your pictures aren’t really crappy, nor is your advice or knitting. Mittens look great. Cheers!

  94. Thank you for this! I am currently working on my first colorwork project and your advice is well timed for me. I knit away at it bit by bit and not to be bothered by the fact that,at least for now, I suck at it! My biggest challenge is how to hold the two strands of yarn. Any advice there?

  95. Lovely beer mittens. Why is it that colourwork mittens all have pointed ends on them ? Is it because of the pattern work ? Good luck to the lady that had the patience to rip rip rip and still try again.

  96. Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us. These are really great tips and they really go a long way to making colourwork less intimidating. Cheers!

  97. Great info and I couldn’t agree more with #6. If I only had a dime for every time I’ve had to say that same basic thing to someone in my knitting classes or one of university students. Stop trying to be perfect from the start. Go with the flow – have an adventure to look back on and laugh – you’ll be good, great, grand soon enough!
    Cute mittens by the way!!

  98. While I am not ready for floating floats or color-working, I am currently learning a new skill (a sock on 2 circulars!). #6 made me feel a whole lot better this evening. From the bottom of my heart (& wine glass): Thank. You.

  99. Oh, God. Thank you.
    For the whole blog post, but #6 made me cry. I’ve been trying to knit a lace shawl in the round from the center out and ending up with what looks like knotted cat toys balled up on my needles. Thank you for showing me how to forgive myself for being new at it.

  100. So, a toe up sock, knit on two circular needles, using a Turkish cast-on and beaded cuffs aren’t enough new skills to perfect in ten minutes? Hooray! I’m not as dumb as I thought.
    Actually, your advice is timed perfectly, because I was the new kid in a sock club and felt totally under water…

  101. I also want to point out that the gauge expected in Bird In Hand is probably not a great place to start. I was trying to do this pattern as my first color work and I thought it would be fairly easy and quick because it’s worsted weight. But 7.25 sts per inch is impossible to do with worsted weight yarn!
    So you can’t really get nice, loose floats when you’re knitting so tightly that your knuckles are white. I just yesterday gave up trying to achieve what I now refer to as the “crazy-gauge”!
    So does anyone have a specific recommendation for a good beginner, color-work mitten in worsted yarn, with an achievable gauge of around 5 to 6 stitches per inch?

  102. Oh, I love this. So many of these things I had to learn while first finding out about the joys of colorwork. My first mittens are so stiff I doubt a missile could penetrate the lamb’s pride I knit them with!
    I would love another how-to class with spinning. Or maybe just how much finishing your yarn makes a difference. I’m always putting off giving the yarn a soak as I’m lazy, but I feel like I’m cheating myself of even better yarn somehow!

  103. Number 6 reminds me of a quote I like:
    Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. —Samuel Beckett

  104. You are a great teacher – you can tell what someone doesn’t know and then give them words and actions. I am printing this and adding to my knitting binder. Thank you so much.

  105. Thank you so much for this! Really timely advice for me and my mittens!
    Carol in Stratford-upon-Avon

  106. Everywhere people are making me feel more and more like I can try colourwork and not suck (well I will at first) as whilst I know no one will die if I get knitting wrong I’m still scared of colourwork and stranded knitting. Thank you for this, I shall definitely have a go when I’ve finished my SIP.

  107. This is a brilliant post, I’ve just started playing with colour work and your post is the best explanation I’ve found so far. Being able to see the back of the work has helped too – most descriptions don’t show you the back so you have to guess what it looks like. Thank you.

  108. Love your explanations (ok, love your blog, too – as a mostly silent reader), especially number 6 is great.

  109. Just wondering: is it all the knitting that makes one wise (in that case there’s definitely hope for me) or does one need to be wise in the first place to be that good a knitter?
    Great tips btw, definitely worth a beer 🙂

  110. What a great post! I love knitting colorwork, but I definitely have room for improvement. This post will definitely help. I really cracked up when I read you last tip about people being too hard on themselves when learning a new skill. I’ve taught a lot of people how to spin on both a wheel and a spindle. The youngest was a precocious two and a half year old and the oldest was in her 70’s. Inevitably it’s always the adults that have the most problems with their progress. The kids are always happy with any yarn that they create, especially at first. If it’s really lumpy and bumpy they figure that they’ll use their new yarn for something unique. Most adults are way too critical of their yarn and want to get rid of the evidence. I always tell them to keep it because that way they can keep track of their progress. Then I ask them if that’s how they would feel if it was their child that made that yarn. They always say no rather sheepishly and agree that it takes time to learn a new skill. I know that it’s taken me time to get to where I am knitting Fair Isle and the like, and I have a very long way to go, but it’s so much fun that I just can’t get too discouraged. Thanks for the great post and helpful tips. I have a sock that could be a little iffy so I’m going to steam block it before I make any decisions! Thanks!!!

  111. Dude, that was a timely, timely lesson. I just started my first “serious” colorwork project and am having a hard time picking it up because it’s a technique that I still don’t “have down”. I keep forgeting to breathe and not be too hard on myself. I’m glad I chose a small project to begin with.

  112. You are a kind and generous person to share your tipa. The beer mittens look wonderful!

  113. Thank you, Stephanie. I think you just gave me the incentive to try colour work. I have been thinking about those Spillyjane mittens since you first posted them.

  114. I have to agree with a couple of the other commentors, turning the work inside out when knitting colorwork keeps the floats even and prevents puckering. I’ve knit a couple of pairs of socks that way and it really makes all of the difference in the world.

  115. This is perfectly timed info for me — mittens with pints on them are next up on my needles!

  116. I love it that you’ve employed the word “crappy” with abandon. Crappy, crappy, crappy, I just love to say crappy. Thanks for the hints too.

  117. Colorwork scares the crap outta me. Which is why I started Fiddlehead mIttens last night. Thank you for, as always, your timely, humorous, and accurate post.

  118. I really want to try some colorwork. Thanks for the tips, number 6 is really something I have to remember! Could you give some suggestions on small projects/patterns to try if you’ve never done colorwork?

  119. I don’t usually comment, but I really wanted to thank you for this post. Colourwork has been The Next Big Thing on my knitting horizon for a while now, but I’ve been intimidated. This post makes colourwork seem more approachable. Thanks!

  120. I undertook a colorwork skirt when I was still living at home – years ago. My mother had a fit with me. I had the opposite problem of what you describe for puckering – I worked so loosely in the colorwork sections, fearful of short floats, that the colorwork sections belled out from the rest of the skirt. It was horrible, and I’ve done little color work of that type since. I love self-patterning yarn!

  121. You have inspired me to make beer mittens. I wonder if they can be modified into bear gloves too? Thanks for letting me know I’ll suck less as I get better.

  122. While I understand that normally when you start something you aren’t going to be that good at it, it’s hard to remember to apply it to knitting, since most knitting techniques don’t really have much of a learning curve. Learning how to do decreases? Make sure someone shows you how. Knitting in the round? Try it and you’re done. Charted lace? Read the instructions and away you go. Anything involving two strands? Wait, when did knitting start to require SKILL?! Nowhere else do you have to pay that kind of attention to your tension. I’ve done a fair bit of colourwork (both kinds) and I still find that I can’t do it unless I pay attention to it. It’s just plain harder than most knitting is.

  123. My sister gave me a two-color lesson at Christmas, and I have never felt so uncoordinated in my life! She assures me that I’ll get it, and that knitting the hat in the round (instead of purling back on the sample) will be much easier to boot.
    So, with this added lesson, I’m suddenly aware that it’s not me, is it? Thanks for the reassurance.

  124. I have a rule of thumb – twist the float in every 3-4 stitches, and don’t let those twists stack up. This prevents long hanging floats, which are easier to snag when you’re putting the garment on. I don’t even know where I came up with this, but I always do it!

  125. My first 2 attempts at colorwork sucked, so I have never tried again. Thank you for this post I needed that advice.

  126. Thanks Stephanie, Head Master of The Steph School of Slightly Less Crappy Knitting. I follow you daily for the knitting lessons, the humor, the patterns, and the patter of your daily life. You do help us all – particularly those of us trying to become less crappy knitters! Hugs to you!

  127. If every fibre of your being insists on making the floats too tight, if loosening up a fraction of a mm feels like it’s too much, try doing a yo in the float colour between stitches in the current colour, then drop that yo in the next row, so you have the right number of stitches.
    That yo becomes part of a nice long float.
    Put in several rows of plain stst (the target stretchiness) and some row of the old way as well, to compare, then stretch it out and block it a bit.
    It’s best done as a training exercise in a swatch, with at least a few mid-length floats changes per row, rather than on a 250 stitch sweater.
    Those floats might be too long, but they won’t be too bad, and it will give you confidence that loose really means loose, not just a bit looser than you are now.
    Also try changing ways of holding a few times, and go back to them sometimes. Your hands learn tricks in some holds that makes them better at other holds.

  128. Augh!! Where were you when I attempted my dual first fair isle project/Christmas knitting? 😉
    At least it was for my mom, who must love me unconditionally…

  129. Thank you! That was really kind of you – the encouraging words and all the advice. It was all VERY encouraging!

  130. I loved the quote at the end! I’m CONSTANTLY saying that in my beginning knitter’s class. As adults it’s hard to admit that two sticks and some string can the the better of us the first go around. The beer mittens are wonderful!

  131. Such a timely post – I am knitting my first colorwork mittens now and I’m feeling much better about them now than I was last night! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience!

  132. Awesome, thanks! How did you know I’ve been mulling about colorwork and Fair Isle and have all sorts of unformed yet exciting plans for a elaborate colorwork tea cosy? Off to buy that Fair Isle kit I’ve been thinking about ……..

  133. Thanks, this has convinced me to actually go back and finish the mitten I was making for my mom for Christmas, see how it looks blocked, and then decide what to do with the other. I was just going to frog the whole lot and wait ’til next year. (I love my mother. I just choose the projects that I either hate or that will kill me to make for her.)

  134. Stephanie you have such a gift for restating what we should know by now…and have forgotten. and ALWAYS making us smile when we read it.
    thanks for reminding me that colorwork, like knitting socks, will improve! Practice makes Improvement!!!

  135. Thank you so much for your advice. I am hoping to start my first color work project this month and I am sure that I would have thrown in the towel with all of those problems you mentioned. I can start now with knowledge and confidence.

  136. Stephanie, I’m a lucky woman! My man got me three of your books for Christmas and they were just what I (and he) needed! Now he knows I’m as normal as any other K(k)nitter :D!
    Everything is HARD the first (thirty) time(s) you do it. JUST DON’T STOP!

  137. GREAT. Now look what you’ve done! I can’t stop thinking about SPILLYJANE!’s cupcake mittens, and I’m blaming this squarely on you!
    Every time I woke up in the middle of the night (and I never wake up in the middle of the night now that my toddler son sleeps through the night!), I woke up thinking about these mittens. The colors, which match my winter coat perfectly; the intricate cuteness, which is charming and whimsical.
    And I was just about to go on a yarn diet, too. I wrote about these cupcake mittens and going on a yarn diet all in the same post. It doesn’t make any sense, and I’m so confused!
    Your colorwork tips, while helpful, are not helping matters any. So… thanks.

  138. I only have one thing to add to these excellent tips. It can sometimes be tricky to work even and relaxed floats when they span from one dpn to another. Working on a circular needle (using magic loop method for projects with a small circumference) makes it much easier to have even tension throughout.

  139. Thanks for the information! After a bad experience trying color work years ago I gave up and just avoided it. I will definitely try again – and be a little more persistent!

  140. I’m a super tight knitter and it took me at least 4 or 5 colorwork projects to even come close to having normal floats (they are still a little tight). I totally agree that it’s harder to relax your work if you are knitting from one dpn to another and that circs make it a bit easier to gauge your own consistency.
    Having said that, I totally agree that you just have to keep at it! I can’t believe how far my knitting has come in the 6 years I’ve been at it- I can’t imagine how much better it will be in a year.

  141. Oh, I just thought of something else that comes into play when knitting the 2 handed fair-isle technique. I always hold the background colour with my right hand, and the foreground with my left, because the left-handed stitches sit higher, and the motif will come out clearer. I know this is probably more advanced info than what you wanted to cover here, but it’s worth mentioning for those who have a little more experience. Not paying attention to which hand holds what results in a muddy-looking design.

  142. My jaw dropped. It NEVER occurred to me to try wooden needles because I insist that my stitches fly over my needles with very little stress on my hands. However, I learned to do color work using both hands, so that was great, but it was weird that the smaller the gauge the nicer the tension. I had to give away a pair of Norwegian mittens that called for worsted weight because they came out so narrow I couldn’t get my big paws in them. If I had bought wooden needles I’m sure it would have helped; also working them inside out would have made a difference.
    Another thing I’ve noticed as I use different kinds of yarn – fuzzy Shetland, like Norwegian patterns – is the best for colorwork. It grabs just enough to prevent most of the puckering.
    Also, I took a class at Stitches East this year from Beth Brown-Reinsel and she pointed out that physics rules: the yarn you carry on the BOTTOM will have a physically longer stitch and therefore will become more visually dominant. It doesn’t matter at all which hand you carry which color in, just which one is on the bottom! And remember to keep it there unless you want it to change dominance when you change patterns and colors in a row.
    Thanks so much for this posting.

  143. Thank you Steph, Nicole and JoAnn. I start a Fair Isle class next month at my LYS. I’ve done colour work before but it was small bits with limited changes.
    I will repeat the mantra before I go to class on Feb 3: “More experience – less crappy knitting”.
    Shampoo and repeat.

  144. Thank you again for all the good help. I especially agree with the last suggestions about being patient with a new skill. My dear sweet mother (she’s been gone for many years and I still hear her good advice calling to me) used to tell me when she was teaching me things and I would get frustrated…”you know I’d be mighty annoyed if you WERE as good as I am at doing this (sewing, baking, whatever it was). I’ve been doing it for 40 years and you’ve been doing it for 1 hour!”

  145. There is no hope: i was telling myself I could not possibly do the incredibly beautiful Spillyjane egyptian hippo mittens (Guess why I looked at the site and found them) because I can’t do colourwork. Now I have special tips to overcome my phobia and positively ought to practice. Despite having eight projects on the needles, I just now I am going to start mittening. The startitis virus is spreading to the UK.

  146. You know, this may be the kick in the seat of my pants that I needed to *finally* try colorwork! It’s getting ridiculous at this point…I’m quite a skilled knitter, so why have I been letting one little technique psych me out?

  147. Thanks for the advice and encouragement. I especially like the last hint. This is true of so many thing–not just knitting colorwork. After years of teaching art to grade-schoolers and giving them the same advice, you would think I would think to also apply it to myself.

  148. #6 is just… well, it’s the perfect response. When I took a beginning drop spindle class this summer the teacher made us place one hand over our hearts, raise our brand-new spindles in the air with the other and chant “I solemnly swear to let myself f–k this up.”
    Helped us gain perspective, and we started the class with big grins.

  149. I think blocking is really the novice stranded knitter’s best friend. With my first fair isle sweater a lot of the puckers come out with the blocking – not all, but most. I gave me enough heart to take on another stranded project, which was much less puckered.
    You are right, though, we are too hard on ourselves!

  150. Very cool, Stephanie. You are such a clear-headed teacher! I read your books not just for the humour but also for the things that I learn.
    May I send a plug for Drops videos? (They have wonderful free patterns as well):
    The first is for continental colour-changing:
    The second is for colour-change for what they call the UK/US style:
    Hugs! Love the blog!

  151. Awesome post as always – what a mantra for 2011.
    After many, many starts and frogging incidents, I’m 99% through my first ever sock. Pattern is from your Knitting Rules recipe that’s hopefully been tweaked sufficiently to accommodate my disproportionately large calves and ankles that lead to relatively normal sized feet.
    One or two minor technical hiccups were saved by referring, repeatedly, to the demonstrations on my permanently saved video of your appearance on Knitty Gritty. Interestingly, this try is using the dp method (1st time ever) rather than circulars (which I use for virtually everything – flat or otherwise.) You did try to warn me in the book…
    Can’t wait to finish – and start the second sock. I’ve taken copious notes, especially as I have trouble accurately counting such tiny rows. If these succeed, I will find a way to attend one of your tour dates and shyly present my first socks ever to the godmother of all socks for approval.
    Thank you!

  152. Reading and giggling over the comments and a thought suddenly struck me…..
    Stephanie! Why do all of those pints have to be full?!? I’m just sayin’…..wouldn’t that be fun to knit?!

  153. Ha, ha, yes, thank you, sending this to a friend of mine right now who is overly critical over colorwork.
    Floats, should do exactly that. They aren’t called strangle-the-last-stitch-I’m-attached-to-and-the-next-one-you-knit-me-withs.

  154. Great advice. “Keep trying and you’ll suck less.” Not just for knitting, but for life, too. Unfortunately, I almost never remember to keep trying when I really suck.

  155. …I have been trying to knit lace with laceweight material and tiny needles not for 10 years. Last week, I finished my very first shawl! Yes! It took me 10 years to finally understand what I was supposed to do. Right now i am beginning second lace shawl because I really wanted one, in black of all colors!! Yes it takes a while but if you give up…you will never know if you could have done it.

  156. Sometimes you’ve just got to jump in and try something and it’s definitely helpful to keep that last bit of advice firmly in mind. My first colourwork project was also about my sixth project ever. It was a pair of Norwegian mittens (Annemor #7 from Terri Shea’s Selbuvotter: Biography of a Knitting Tradition). Patience and a sense of humour with oneself are mandatory. I learned a lot and am still very proud of those mittens!

  157. I just wanted to say thanks for putting lots of things into perspective. Not only does this help me out with knitting, but I started weaving and I suck at it. Another area, I started a new work out a week ago and I really REALLY suck at it. But like you said, I am new to all this and as the days go by, I’ll suck less and less. So thanks!!!

  158. Please allow anyone who is writing a book on colorwork to quote this post in their intro. It will help anyone new to it feel like there is a light at the end of the learning tunnel.
    Since few of us “have” to knit, think of ripping out as more knitting less $$ spent on yarn. 😉

  159. Stranded colour knitting taught me not to knit so tightly. I used to knit super tight, almost too tight to get stitches off the needle. One thing I’ve learned doing stranded colour is that I dont like floats to go more than 4 or so stitches depending on what I’m making. Long floats on mittens (especially mittens) leave space for fingers to get caught in. I will usually twist my yarns together after 4 stitches so the float is caught. But, there is nothing more important than what you have already said: Practice, Practice, Practice. It wont work out right the first time or even the second but eventually, you will have something beautiful.

  160. My colorwork was fugly until I decided to radically change the size of needle I was using. I was attempting it with worsted weight on size US8 and US7 needles (recommended) and it was awful – even after blocking my stitches were super loose and my floats *still* puckered! Then I switched to size US4 needles and it was beautiful. So, friend of Steph, don’t be afraid to try a solution that seems completely crazy. It may work. Good luck!

  161. I am happy to read anything you write, but I especially enjoy when you write about the craft of knitting. And I’m not even a knitter. Yet. Though I’m starting to look forward to sucking at knitting because… thanks to you I have discovered that SPILLYJANE! has a pattern for owl socks. A dear friend of mine loves owls. Once I get past sucking at knitting, and then sucking at socks and colorwork, I want to make owl socks for Wendy.
    See? A new life goal. You have such power… I’m glad you use it wisely.

  162. I’ve caught up! I have a few of your books that I absolutely adore (including one which saved my bacon on a 13-hour car trip as my mother read it to me) and have thoroughly enjoyed both your writing style and practical knitterly wisdom. I had attempted to read your blog in the past but fell out of practice when “real” job + night school got in the way. This past number of months, I found myself with a little extra time on my hands every day and decided to read your “purls of wisdom” starting from day one. All I can say is THANK YOU! Thank you for writing so wittily, sharing your obstacles as well as your triumphs and, most importantly, for giving me the inspiration to try anything when it comes to knitting because, after all, you can just tink it back and congratulate yourself on whatever knitting (or life) lesson you’ve just learned. I look forward to keeping up with your blog in “real time” and to reading anything else you decide to write. Thanks again for being my inspiration in all things “loopy wool”!
    P.S. I look forward to utilizing this post to try my hand at the slightly scary technique of colorwork. Merry 2011!

  163. Ooops! I accidentally posted my last name…would you mind (only if you are able to get to it, I know you are a busy woman and it was my own foolish mistake) editing my name to just show the first initial of my surname? If not, no worries at all… write on!

  164. Thank you.
    I needed this at Christmastime, but I made it through. This is exactly what I need to know that I’ll do colourwork sooner than later.
    Thank you especially for the blocking tips.
    You are so wonderful to us who love to read your blog.

  165. You rock so much for putting up this post. I yearn to make those cupcake mittens but haven’t done colorwork yet. Is there a beginner’s project you would recommend?

  166. Re #6, here’s what Piet Hein, the Danish scientist/mathematician/poet, had to say.
    The road to wisdom? Well, it’s plain
    And simple to express:
    Err, and err, and err again,
    but less and less and less.

  167. We were just talking about how sometimes people want to be victimized by their knitting (or whatever new thing they are learning). They will tell you they just can’t learn the new thing. It’s too hard. They are defeated before they start. What’s the point then? What is the value of this approach? It’s so much easier to teach a child something new. Then it’s an adventure with no risk of failure at all – just another thing to learn to do.

  168. Okay… so I’m responding to a comment in your tweets. Probably bad blogiquette or sometime. Nevertheless….
    Was the ‘germolata’ in a restaurant that didn’t have a green sign?

  169. And on topic-
    I really like your Beer Mitts. Excellent lesson as always. I never really ‘got’ blocking until about two years ago. Huge! Your pictures illustrate its magic really well.

  170. I almlost cried when i read this info and the comments from other knitters. Honestly, I had felt so alone. Living away from a LYS and other knitters felt so isolated. But somehow, I am not feeling so much like that anymore. I really, really needed these words today. Thanks to each of you.

  171. I hae this to add…It finally dawned on me today that if you are doing colorwork with repeats, there’s nothing stopping you from putting markers between each repeat. If you make it to the end of the repeat and have left over stitches-you’ve clearly bungled the pattern in the last sequence. That’s a much easier fix than when you figure it out at the end of the row! It won’t fix every pattern mistake-but it might help with a few!

  172. Thank you. I think now I feel better and I can finally be not afraid of my colorwork project! I love you. (I hope that wasn’t creepy or stalker-ish sounding – I didn’t mean it that way, honestly, its just that you give such good common sense sane advice). (I knit by myself a lot, can you tell?) Sigh. :oD

  173. Thank you Stephanie. These absolutely make sense. Now I need you to teach me not to be afraid of trying charted patterns!
    And Carolyn, I think you sound fun- and I am not trying to sound stalkerish either 🙂

  174. The only time I have done colorwork, I weaved the floats in with the other color. It worked astonishingly well, but I was simply using two colors and would have doubleknit if I hadn’t been so terrified of that possibility.
    I wonder if I was crazy to weave it in like that. I wonder if it would work for other colorwork. Hmm.

  175. Thanks for these encouraging words! I have stockpiled bunches of fingering weight wool while planning for various Fair Isle projects, secure in the knowledge that I would just pick up 2-handed 2 colored knitting cuz knitting is easy. Well. Let’s say that my firt attempt (Autumn Rose) was a horrible experience that made me give up the idea that I would ever figure out this technique, let alone enjoy it. I think I gave it all of 1 week, but it was still a serious blow to the ego.
    But, I’ll try it again; because I ADORE how 2-color knitting looks, because I will not let knitting defeat me, and because you’ve made me see I need to get over my bad self…maybe I should try some SpillyJane mittens! 😀

  176. I twist my working yarn and float yarn every two stitches. That way I don’t have a long float that the wearer could snag a digit or body part on.

  177. That is so positive, informative, understanding and encouraging. I am going to shelve everything and try some colourwork samples now! It is a skill I never even tried, because I assumed I would be crap at it, because I have clumsy arthritic fingers. You have reminded me that everyone has a crap stage to work through, and then you become less crappy as you practise. I know that, really, but need to hear the advice often. My trouble is that I want to be perfect RIGHT-AWAY-NOW and not look a fool. I too shall print out point 6 for daily reference!

  178. I want to try colorwork soon…heck, if it’s ‘bad’ it’s all part of the journey, friends.

  179. Thank you for these hints. They are very helpful. I have not tried colorwork yet because I have so little knitting time and want to produce more than one product per year! I think your idea of going into one’s stash and putting together project of the month packs is BRILLIANT! I am so going to do that. At least I could hope to finish 12 projects this year.
    Thanks again for your positive outlook and encouragement.

  180. Another tip: your colorwork will differ depending on whether you work in the round or back and forth. I’ve ripped out a child’s Lopi sweater about a dozen times now because it turns out my purl row is much looser than my knit row, making the stitches appear twice as big every other row. Back to the needles for me!

  181. Thanks so much for this sane, no-nonsense post. Those last few paragraphs could be applied to any knitting hurdle, or, come down to it, anything new you’re trying.
    After three Mobius socks and some borked ribbing I thought socks were beyond me. I’ll give them a try again with a more more positive AND more realistic attitude!

  182. Great tips! Now here’s something I suck at. WEAVING IN ENDS! I never know how much to weave in, worry that it will come out and mess up the whole project, or it looks terrible. Any help for that?

  183. Perfect Timing for your lesson on Fair Isle as I am knitting the Union Jack Argyle Socks from “think Outside the Sox”. My question is how you manage the floats that cross from one needle to the next without creating ladders? ??? How to apply the Irish Cottage Knitting style when knitting Fair Isle? Do you(yourself)carry both yarns in your right hand? If so how do you wrap (tension) the contrast color? Do you drop the old color and pick up the new each time? Or do you knit with a color in each hand?

  184. In case you haven’t solved the mitten yarn, try Belorussian. It worked on “mitten”, but I couldn’t read enough of the rest of the label.

  185. Great post, Steph! Thanks for the encouragement to one and all. I especially love the comment that wool is plastic. I know just what you’re saying, but it really struck me funny.
    Your mitts are really cute.

  186. I think I may have to stop reading you!! I just bought the cupcake pattern to make mittens for a friend of mine, but….unlike you…..I take a century to finish things. I’m hoping to buy the yarn and make them by her birthday in June. Wish me luck!!!

  187. My local knitting store has set up a class to teach one of the Spilly Jane patterns, thanks you your Shout Out this week on the mittens!

  188. Great tips for fair isle – like Denise, supra, I twist my floats every 2-3 stitches, especially something that’s going to get a lot of on and off use, like mittens or socks. Plus it makes a nice densely woven fabric.
    Also, apropos your Russian label question on Twitter (I don’t tweet), Russian-reading and some-Russian-speaking hubby says it reads the rough equivalent in English letters, “Vareski – Russnaya rabota”. What does it mean? Don’t know! (Sorry to be so spectacularly unhelpful).

  189. #6 is awfully important, I think. I’m a chronic perfectionist – I hate little more than having to say, “well, I guess that’s good enough” due to a deadline or somesuch – and also, most things in my life have come easily to me. I’m lucky that way, I guess.
    However … whenever I come up on something hard, my first reaction is just to quit, because *obviously* if I can’t do it now, it’s just not worth doing.
    I try to remember knitting in this situation. I learnt to knit very quickly and relatively easily, but it took me years before I felt that I did it very well at all.
    Cycling, on the other hand … yeah, I quit. I’m not sorry, either – my body is built to be on its own two feet, not balanced over a silly hunk of metal with teeny tires. If some strange emergency absolutely required that I ride a bike somewhere, I could probably get there without killing myself or having a heart attack, but it’s just not worth it 🙂

  190. My first attempt at knitting DPNs, my first attempt at colourwork… all were the same Bird in Hand mittens.
    Luckily I was knitting them for my mother, who dearly loves them even though they do pucker in some spots, and really the thumb on one is a little short. But she doesn’t care.
    I guess my rule of thumb? First time knitting something, make it for my mom. She won’t care. She’ll fawn over it anyway.

  191. So much of knitting is learning how to learn, which has huge implications past working with needles and string. You teach it with humor and patience. Thank you!

  192. A friend of mine told me to make sure I checked this post out – you see, we are teaching my seven-year-old perfectionista of a daughter how to knit. She’s been knitting at school and knitting at home and getting all sorts of frustrated. I read that last paragraph to her and she feels a little better. So thanks for that – apparently even she views you as an authority on knitting. Probably because you’re not her mother… 😉

  193. yah know, that’s exactly what my BF says when I tell him that I suck at something I just started. “How many times have you done it? Give your self a break!”

  194. What great advice, so neatly put! Just today I recounted your sage advice (that last item specifically) as I was teaching my 79-year-old mother (who is a very hard-on-herself knitter) the magic loop method. So apropos. Thank you thank you.

  195. I just wondered how you block, Do you use a wet or just a damp cloth, Mine colourwork knitting never looks that neat even after I block, perhaps I should be doing something different, and I have loads of shetland 4ply I need to knit up……

  196. I actually did my first colorwork cowl last month and boy was it hard. I tend to knit tightly (always having to use one size larger needles to get correct guage) and the cowl turned into a noose. It looked good, and if my neck were 6 inches in circumference it would have been a great cowl, but, it is a tad too small. So I cast on for another colorwork cowl, this time using about 20% more stitches…and am hoping for better success. I’ve actually learned that by turning the work inside out and carrying the floats on the outside of the work helps to loosen them up a bit, at least for me. Great tips, though! I will be sure to keep all of them in mind and I try to have patience learning a new skill! 🙂

  197. The lovely people at Philosopher’s Wool also have an online video tutorial on their 2-handed Fair Isle method, and catching all your floats.
    I switched from ‘floats’ to their method half way through a colour work hat, and was very happy with the results. No, I did not rip out and start again! Maybe a knit expert could tell on the hat’s outside where I switched techniques, but I sure can’t.

  198. It’s nice to see the back of colorwork sometimes. I did one this summer and it was pretty good. I had been told about the trick of spreading the stitches. However, I wasn’t to sure about how to switch colors (is there a better way – old yarn in front or back or is consistency the key?) and also about the holes when changing colors. If you say that it’s being fixed when weaving in ends, that makes me feel better! Thanks for sharing that!

  199. My husband is a fisherman who particularly loves crappie, the warm water fish. When thinking of a password for our new computer and wanting something easy for both of us to remember, I came up with *crappieknitter*. I’m still so pleased with myself. (No, I’m not worried about you knowing this.)

  200. I seem to have this down except for the tangling! I have to stop at least twice during the row to untangle the yarn. Suggestions?

  201. Its that pattern! I have made many Fiddlehead mittens, NO probs….these Bord in the Hand are a NIGHTMARE!!!!! I think they are way off for size….Oh well….Mine sit untouched again….picked up another pair of FH’s…

  202. Oh Harlot…how I love thee. Your skirt? Gorgeous. For the record, I love your fashion sense. Thanks to your post about spillyjane, sock obsession became mitten obsession at our house. The chrysanthemum pattern on Knitty paired with some lovely Icelandic sheep wool is making me stay up too late while making a second attempt at two color stranded work. Perfect timing (yet again) on the lesson post.
    1k thx!

  203. Thanks for the pep talk. I was feeling kind of crappy about my colorwork vest, then I said oh well it will work out. And if it doesn’t I’ll wear it anyway! Good reminder about the floats.

  204. Oh, yeah, that last point – I have run into that so many times with beginner knitters. I can tell the ones who just aren’t going to make it, they are so frustrated and pulling at their hair and all we’re trying to do is cast on.
    (Thank God children don’t see new tasks this way, or we would all still be in simple survival mode.)
    I tell them to take it home, sit in their favorite chair, have a drink (preferably with a little alcohol to calm their nerves), put on whatever music is calming, and try it alone… and give themselves a break.

  205. Great post, Stephanie. This year, I have decided to learn how to do colorwork, in particular fair isle. I did a swatch with a simple how-to from Interweave and had great fun. So, for my next project, I picked a mitt pattern with toothpicks and strings (not really but you get the picture) – bad idea. I dumped that project and picked up worsted on No 8s and a basic hat pattern – much happier. So one of my suggestions for learners of fair isle or colorwork – start with worsted. No need to make things harder than they have to be. We’re not knitting to cover our nakedness after all – it should be fun and relaxing.
    Thanks for your wonderful prose and knitting, Lillian

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