Sunday, December 4, 2011

Favorite Fair Isle tips

  Fair Isle and stranded knitting are among my favorite ways of playing with colors.  Sadly, one can spend hours and hours knitting with colors that look glorious next to each other in the ball just to end up with disappointing results in knit form. I don't like knitting ugly things or garments that don't fit, and agree that swatching is a good idea before launching into a major project. However, while some people really love swatching, I prefer getting onto the real knitting as soon as possible. There are a couple of quick tricks I use to eliminate colors that won't work  before I pick up my needles. One way of checking colors is to wrap two colors together on a ruler or card.
You can wrap in stripes that are one to three yarns wide. This lets you learn about how the colors work when seen in close proximity. Entire semester courses (or a lifetime) can be spent learning how colors look different depending on what other color they are next to. Without learning a lot of color theory, wrapping little test cards like this can save you a lot of time. Get wild with it; the time required is so small that you can discover unexpectedly wonderful color combinations in just a few minutes.
  Another thing you can check with wrapping yarn like this is value contrast. Other than using colors you love, the most important thing in picking colors for knitting is value—the colors' lightness or darkness. If you don't have sufficient value contrast, hours or even months of knitting can result is something that is so subtle that the pattern can only be seen in a very bright light and at very close range. Subtlety is fine but I prefer to knit patterns so they can be seen. If you can't clearly see the colors in your wrapping test in a rather dim room you might be aiming at a result that is too subtle. How much contrast you need depends partly on your pattern. If you are knitting a pattern with lines consisting of a single stitch, it's necessary to have more contrast than if there are bigger blocks of each color. (A benefit of having enough contrast is that knitting is a lot easier because you aren't straining your eyes to see what color the next stitch on the needle is.)
   My other way of testing color combinations if with my handy point-and-shoot camera. Like most such inexpensive cameras, it has a monochrome setting. I lay out the balls of yarn that I'm considering and take black and white photos of them. If a pair looks the same in the photo, it probably won't work. It has no contrast. For example, look at these beautiful balls of purple and green, one of my favorite color combinations.
It looks yummy, but there's a problem. These two colors are almost identical in value as you can see in this monochrome picture.
Try to see that single purple yarn draped over the green. Unless they are knit in very large areas of colors, the pattern will not be easy to see.
  To avoid an unintended stripy look in Fair Isle knitting, it's best to maintain very similar contrast between the foreground colors and the background colors through out the pattern. As your background gets darker, your foreground color can get darker. If your background color suddenly gets darker relative to its foreground color, it will read like a stripe. When I knit this example swatch, I didn't have the light yellow I wanted and resorted to a mustard. Stripe.
The mustard and blue are lovely together and would certainly work well in some design but I don't care for the stripey effect; I want the entire flower to read as a unit. The monochrome photo of the yarn shows there is a huge jump of contrast between the yellow and mustard. (By the way, it's easier to judge value by eye for shades of the same color. )
For this pattern, a combination of background colors with a lighter yellow instead of the mustard will work better.
I find using these techniques makes my swatching time much more productive. And fun.

1 comment:

Queen of the Tea Cosies said...

Thank you thank you. Excellent advice