It slowly dawned upon me that I shall be knitting heaps of stranded colourwork this year.
Sanquhar vs Fair Isle mash-up swatch in Foula wool
Let me start off by saying that I’m very excited that I have been invited by Shetland Wool Week this year to work on a project together with my friend and purveyor of finest quotidian sound artefacts, Dr Felicity Ford. We will be joined by talented knitwear designed Di Gilpin., who was awarded The Balvenie Master of Craft award for the Textiles Category for 2012. I, for one, cannot wait to go to the Isles that have such rich knitting traditions and see them firsthand.
Shetland Wool Week, image © Dave Wheeler and used with kind permission
Secondly, those of you who are familiar with Susan Crawford’s work probably know she is working on a Vintage Shetland book. I’m pleased to say she has asked me again to knit a sample garment for her. It will be a very special Fair Isle jumper, and that’s all I’m allowed to say for now.
Lastly, my obsession with Sanquhar gloves knows no bounds, and I will be doing some research on them over the summer. A good excuse to 1) knit some more Sanquhar gloves; and 2) plan a visit to the Knitting Reference Library.
In preparation for all these stranded colourwork projects, I thought I’d investigate something that’s intrigued me for a while now. It’s colour dominance in stranded colourwork.
The top and bottom bands shows the Midge and Fly pattern from Sanquhar. The middle bands show typical Fair Isle patterns: a classic OXO border pattern and a peerie pattern to separate the two.
Although Sanquhar knitting typically only uses two colours, and Fair Isle usually a greater number of colours, for both you will only ever knit with two colours in one given row of knitting. This can be achieved in a number of ways. In all cases, you will strand the colour not in use along the back of the fabric, hence the name “stranded colourwork.”
The back of my swatch, showing the strands of the yarn not in use
For a long time, I used to knit with one colour in each hand: the one in my left hand to be knitted continental style, and the one in my right hand to be knitted English style. But I was never quite happy with my tension as the stitches made continental style were much looser than the one made English style. This was exacerbated by the nature of stranded colourwork: one yarn will always appear more dominant than the other. If you peer over the needles whilst you’re doing stranded colourwork, you will see that one yarn will always come from underneath the other. Usually, this is the dominant yarn.
In order to even out my tension problems between left and right hand, I first tried holding both yarns in my right hand. That didn’t work for me at all and not soon after I started knitting with both yarns in my left hand. My tension between dominant and non-dominant yarn is much more even now. I was curious to find out how big the difference is, in order to make an informed decision for my next stranded colourwork project. I decided to use both Sanquhar and Fair Isle patterns, as the effect might be different. The bottom half was knitted such that for each row, the light colour was on the right of my index finger, and the dark colour on the left. The peerie pattern (the small band separating the two bands of OXO patterns,) is where I switched over and the top half was knitted with the light colour always on the left and the dark on the right.
Bottom half: lighter yarn always on the right on my index finger, and darker yarn always on the left
Looking at the Sanquhar Midge and Fly pattern in the bottom half,the white stitches appear to be larger than the black ones, and the flies appear almost more like vertical stripes rather than small crosses, especially in close-up. As you can see from the picture of the back of the swatch, the floats of white yarn almost hide the black yarn floats.
Top half: lighter yarn always on the left of my index finger, darker yarn always on the right
Now for the top half: again, looking at the Midge and Fly pattern, I think that the black and white stitches are much more even in size, yet somehow the flies seem to be a bit less pronounced in the top half. In addition, I find the results of switching dominant yarns less obvious in the OXO border patterns.
Before knitting this swatch, I was convinced I would be able to clearly show which way looks better, and make up my mind about which side (left or right,) I ought to use as the dominant yarn. However, now I’m not so sure. For each of the Sanqhuhar and the Fair Isle, which one do you think looks better, top or bottom half of the swatch?