Style: Stranded Colorwork


A style of knitting characterized by the use of two or more strands of yarn working different stitches in the same row or round; most typically, but not always, the knitting is stockinette and the fabric’s pattern is on the right side with “floats” of the unused yarn color being carried along on the wrong side. Depending on the number of stitches between color changes, the floats may or may not be tacked down or “tagged” by catching the yarn on the back of a stitch with the yarn in use. By using multiple strands in a row, the knitted fabric consequently is thicker,  warmer, and more durable. Since the 1990s, the term “Fair Isle” has come to be applied more or less generically to this style of knitting, although in it’s purest form, Fair Isle refers to the famous knitwear from Fair Isle, one of the Scottish Isles; it is characterized by its application of symmetrical geometric motifs created with muted and sophisticated colors created with 2-ply Shetland yarn. The basic technique for traditional Scandinavian color work (at least as old as Fair Isle) is the same as Fair Isle, but it often includes larger motifs, 3-ply yarn, yarn colors with a high color contrast, and can use 3 or more colors per row or round. The smaller motifs of traditional Fair Isle knitting lead to full chart repeats on each round whereas the larger motifs in Scandinavian knitting mean that, while the front and back of a sweater can mirror each other, the pattern repeats may not be full but rather be centered across the front and back with varying start and end points at the sides so that some repeats are partial. I provide a free download of a stranded color work scarf so you can try your hand at it. (See below)


Stranded/Fair Isle Knitting Technique by the Spruce Crafts



Because multiple strands of yarn are used in each row/round of color work, one needs to be intentional about the relationship between the strands on the wrong side of the fabric. The strand stitched on the right side will more or less be pronounced or recede depending on whether it is carried above or below the strand for the unused yarn on the wrong side. Be intentional and consistent so as not to incur unintended results in your knitted fabric.

Float Tension

The strand(s) of unused yarn which are carried on the wrong side are called “floats”; if these are pulled tight when the color is switched, it will result in a puckered fabric. A good general rule is to keep the float looser than you are inclined as you switch to the new color/strand so that it looks like a hint of a “smile” on the wrong side.

Color Selection

While this style of knitting typically uses highly contrasting colors, it can also make subtle color changes where colors of a similar shade or hue created a muted transition. Be conscious of the intent of the design as you pick your colors; taking a picture and viewing it in monochrome (black/white or sepia) can highlight colors that might be lost if there is not enough contrast.

Stitch markers

Sometimes, but not always, there is a distinct set of pattern repeats in each row or a round of stranded colorwork; setting these sections apart with stitch markers will make your work easier.

Reading Charts

Use colored tape or special chart board with a magnetic horizontal bar to set apart the current row of your color work chart as you knit.

Reading Your Work

Because of the geometric predictability of the design, it is useful to cultivate your ability to read your work as you knit, noting the relationship of the design between previous and current rows/rounds.

Avoiding the “Jag” as You Start a New Row

“Drops” on Avoiding the Jag

Neat color transitions

Twist and Weave Color Change

My Designs with Colorwork