Fairisle or stranded knitting is one method of knitting with more than one colour at once to form a pattern. The colour you are not knitting with is carried along the back of the work, which is why it is called stranded colourwork. Usually only two colours are used in any one row of knitting – the lovely multicoloured patterns you often see are achieved with the careful placement of colour changes, but if you look carefully along a row, you’ll generally only see two colours.
Stranded colourwork may look challenging at first, but if you remember a few simple principles it is just as easy as knitting with one colour. Basically, whenever your chart tells you to change colour, you simply start knitting with the new colour, letting the unused colour just lie behind the work until you need it again. There is no need to knit or tie colours together.
Firstly, I’d recommend beginners start with a pattern knitted in the round, with the colourwork extending all the way round the circumference, and the pattern repeats close together. This make it easier to read the charts, as you are only having to read in one direction instead of switching every row. Having a closely spaced pattern all round means you do not have to deal with floats, or long stretches of yarn (more than 5-8 stitches) across the back of the work.
If you find you’re getting in a tangle with more than one yarn, that is probably because you are twisting the yarns round each other at every colour change. Though this is a good way to handle floats, in general it just gets you in a mess as the yarns get more and more twisted together. The knitting will hold together perfectly well without you having to twist the yarns together. Instead, put one ball of yarn on your left, and one on your right. Whenever you switch colour, start knitting with the left-hand yarn by bringing it up under the other yarn. Conversely, start knitting from the right-hand ball by bringing it down over the other yarn. If it helps you to remember, let the left hand yarn hang right down behind the work while the right lies over the needle. You’ll find that not only do you not get twisted up, but the back of your work looks much neater.
The big bugbear with stranded colourwork is tensioning the yarn. If the yarn carried behind the work is too tight, it will pucker the work – if too loose, the stitches by colour changes will be messy and loopy. Forget about stitches being too loose – they will generally even themselves out as you go, and if not can be at least partly fixed by lightly fulling the work. Much more common is to overcompensate and have stitches much too tight. How you tension your yarn depends on how you knit. Some people hold the yarns over different fingers of one hand. Some hold one in each hand. Some use tools and gadgets, ranging from bulldog clips to purpose-designed yarn holders, for the job. Personally, I don’t. I find tensioning the yarn over my fingers makes it too tight, and I find it awkward to knit. I let it hang down, making sure that the stitches on my right-hand needle are stretched out a little when I make a colour change. I bring the yarn alongside the needle to knit it, not pulling on it but just letting it lie flat. That works for me, and if you are finding other methods end up with your yarn too tight, you could try it too – or if you come up with something else that works for you, go for it!
OK, enough boring rambling from me, on with the pattern. To celebrate Children’s Day, May 5th in Japan, I designed this Koinobori (carp banner) inspired felted bag.
- 2 skeins Noro Kureyon or other worsted-weight wool, plus a small amount of white or cream wool in a similar weight
- 4.5mm (US size 7) circular needle
- Tapestry needle for finishing and weaving in ends
- Handles of your choice (ribbon, cord, webbing strap, etc)
If you are using Noro Kureyon or a similar yarn with long colour repeats, make sure you start each ball at a different point in the colour sequence. This will ensure your fish scales contrast with each other – if the colours are starting to look too similar, try removing a few metres of yarn and rejoining to move on with the colour sequence.
Cast on 84 stitches and join to knit in the round. In each round, you’ll knit one, knit the chart once, knit one, knit the chart a second time. You may find it helpful to place a marker at the start and at 42 stitches.
There are some points in the pattern where to knit stitches in the border colour at both ends of the row would mean floating the yarn round almost entire rows. To avoid this, knit those few stitches in the other colour, or add in a small length of the border colour.
knit to the length you want by repeating the fish scale pattern as required. You could even keep on knitting to make a tube scarf! When you have finished the chart, bind off, sew up the bottom and weave in loose ends.
Felt lightly by washing in hot water, block and dry, and add handles. Add a lining if you wish.