Stranded knitting – the kind that produces patterns like Nordic and Fair Isle – looks complicated but, even to a beginner like me, was easier to pick up than I imagined. I gave it a go while at my Mum’s house over the Christmas holiday, and was instantly hooked.
The reason I wanted to try it was because I had bought the lovely book Knit Nordic by the Norwegian knitwear designer Eline Oftedal. I liked her Racerback Top in the traditional Nordic pattern Marius, a cosy navy, white and red colour combination. Stranded knitting patterns are shown in grids, with one colour block representing each stitch. I find this visual representation of a pattern easier to follow than a written pattern, which maybe says something about my brain when it is in knitting mode.
For the top, I used Rowan Pure Wool Superwash Worsted in Navy, Rich Red and Ivory. I knitted a practice swatch first, in red and white, before attempting the top. Grid patterns work from the bottom right hand corner towards the left, row by row. If you are working in the round – that is, on a circular needle – you keep knitting right to left, repeating the pattern on the same row if more stitches are required. If you are working on straight needles then you knit right to left for RS (right side) and then switch left to right for WS (wrong side).
As with all knitting on circular needles, continuously doing a knit stitch produces a stocking stitch (unlike a garter stitch on straight needles), while alternating rounds of knit and purl produce garter stitch (the opposite to straight needles).
Knit normally before you are ready to introduce a new colour. To knit with a new yarn, put your working needle – normally in your right hand – into the next stitch, but instead of wrapping the existing yarn around the needle, as normal, wrap the new wool (leaving a bit of a tail to stop it slipping off) around the needle and knit the stitch in the usual way. It is that simple. Then switch back to the first yarn when indicated in the pattern.
I have found that the main challenge with stranded knitting is increasing and decreasing while sticking to the pattern. You have to concentrate because an error in the beautifully symmetric pattern will stand out, if not a mile, then at least across the room. I use post-it notes stuck above the row I am working on for clarity. When I am decreasing, I mark on the post-it note which stitch in the pattern I had reached in the previous row, so I know where to start on the next row.
The racerback top is nearly finished, and I am quite proud of how my first garment from stranded knitting is turning out. There are books with Scandi and Fair Isle patterns to copy, and lots of stranded knitting ideas on http://www.ravelry.com and http://www.loveknitting.com. Armed with some square graph paper, I am also going to attempt my own pattern for my next project.