Novice Knitter – Starting colour work

My knitting to date has been rather plain – stocking stitch in neutrals or plain deep colours. I yearn to knit cables or in glorious technicolour. But my first attempts at colourwork were not so hot.

Some things went well with my Fara Raglan – I more or less understood the chart approach and I think I selected really nice colours. But unfortunately I struggled with getting the tension loose enough in the colour work rows. The whole thing looks tight and ugly, and although some suggested steaming, and others a tea cosy (!) I would rather relegate it to the stinging criticism of the flames (or just the dustbin).

Fara Raglan

Nevertheless for someone who is really enthused and excited by colour I knew I would have to confront my difficulties and make something full of colour and vibrancy at some point.

I am attracted to these 1980s Kaffe Fassett patterns – especially the floating circles and the Persian poppy. Although I prefer the smaller floating circles I love the way the colours work with the poppies. I looked at Ravelry and saw hundreds of the poppy – best used perhaps as a cushion cover. For some reason the smaller circles have far fewer examples – I guess they are less showy, but for wearability maybe a little subtlety is good. I prefer it I think as the background is clearly delineated whereas with the poppies it all seems to blend in. Maybe that is the charm.

I really like circles and round shapes, as you may have noticed with my silk painting! I struggle to make things square or rectangular. I have this idea that everyone has a favourite shape. My favourite is the circle, but I also love the square. Triangles don’t really do it for me, rectangles are boring and hexagons do my head in. How about you?

The main reason I love Kaffe Fassett (and he was really big in the 1980s when I started crafting) is that he searches out and celebrates slight mismatches, shading, variation and slightly surprising colour combinations. Of course to some extent these photographs and garments are very dated, but nevertheless I find them inspirational and decided to give his approach a try.

Incidentally someone noted that I seem to have accumulated quite a stash for someone who has only been knitting for a few (its nine actually) months. The thing is I have been buying bargain “sets” from Colourmart –  the ends of the roll or bin ends of the yarn world. Less than 50 grams, sometimes a bit knotty, in varied colour batches. Actually I love buying remnants, bits of stuff left over that I can use. I get a real pleasure out of this. So I started knitting a third Heavenly using a mixture of stripes and trying for those little circles of Kaffe. But I found knitting with three colours very challenging, and decided not to go on. I guess I can unravel this, or it joins Fara in the bin.

Heavenly, in colour

Below some of my bargain sets in lovely shades.

Right now you may be feeling a little bit sorry for me. Lots of effort, no output!

So it was a great sense of relief that I came across Elizabeth Zimmermann who has taught me so much in a very short time. You can get this book second hand on eBay for about £5. It is the only book you really need. There are four versions of a seamless sweater in here and lots of useful information on how to do colourwork. Finally, with Elizabeth by my side I cracked it.

A few handy hints for successful colourwork (ie if you want a good result without much skill)

  • Only do two colours per row
  • Use both hands – one colour in each. Luckily I had this (seemingly strange) advice on my blog early on and had been practising my “continental knitting (yarn in left hand) with my first colour work experiments. It worked perfectly.
  • Don’t carry the second colour more than five stitches
  • Don’t twist at the back (as I did with my first two disastrous experiments)
  • Keep your knitting really, really loose
    Elizabeth Zimmermann
    Even loose knitting bunches up a bit until soaked
  • Choose one or more colours to match your skirt (or trousers)

As a result I made two jumpers, using up my blue and light pink remnants. You can easily see the colour changes on the front of the jumpers as I made no attempt to hide them.

I also used the EZ method of calculating the size of the sweaters. If you are interested the blue one has 180 stitches cast on, the pink 160. They both fit well. On the blue I did hems at the cuffs and hem, but used 1×1 ribbing for the neckline. I used ribbing on the pink one. And I love them. They have a sort of 1960s vibe, reminding me of my childhood and of more innocent, happy times. I used more or less the same pattern for the simple colourwork, although I extemporised more with the blue one but found the neckline a touch high – two versions just show what a difference the colourways make. A two colour jumper would be really nice, but you can easily get four or five colours in.

I am so pleased with these jumpers and will find them easy to incorporate into my weekend, and working wardrobes.

24 Responses

  1. Alison aka indigotiger

    glad you were able to figure out a way to make two color knitting work for you. I too have taught myself to hold one color in each hand, though in my case it was after taking a workshop on two handed fair isle knitting from the Philosophers Wool folks. Someday I want to try making a whole multicolored sweater, but for now I limit my two color experiments to small knitted bags.

    • SJ Kurtz

      Three cheers for the Philosopher’s workshop! They hung out and made sure everyone got the technique. I don’t know when I’ve taken a two hour class that meant more to my life than that. Or them. Such fine people.

  2. Annie

    Haven’t you done well, they’re two lovely sweaters, I’ve never worked from a chart, I don’t get them so kudos for that, I’m well impressed. I have that book too, Elizabeth is very chatty and a little opinionated, rather like having your auntie murmuring in your ear.

    I prefer linear design with straight edges. I like the yoke design on your sweaters more than the Kaffe designs, Interesting, I haven’t thought much about my preferences in that regard before. I do though marry fabric designs and pattern styles when sewing, soft and rounded or sharp and straight but then VW came along and turned that rule upside down, and how, but one does need to understand the rule before successfully breaking it. Oftentimes when I see clothing that jars it’s due to style and pattern mismatch.

  3. Ruth

    Both jumpers are lovely and look like they’ll carry you through well into autumn. You’ve come a long way in such a short time and should be feeling rightly proud of yourself.

  4. Elaine Sabin-Simpson

    Nice work- I do love colour knitting [although I hate knitting, go figure] and used to love to do picture jumpers for my kids when they were little. I also once tackled a huge, complex tiger/leopard [can’t remember] 1980s baggy jumper for a friend. She paid me a little for it, and it was very challenging and interesting to make…but I wouldn’t tackle one like it again!
    FYI those smaller, daintier patterns, with isolated colour patches, are usually better achieved by knitting plain and embroidering the details on afterwards. I think it’s called Swiss embroidery? Something like that anyway! No yarn to carry across the back, anyway!

  5. Kim

    I’m very impressed with your two finished jumpers. Colourwork is something I haven’t done in many years (like fairy I did picture jumpers in the 80’s and a bit of fair isle before that). You continue to inspire me – and I suspect my Colourmart Bill is climbing again since you recommend the yarn sets. (I’m visiting this week to collect my order ?)

    • fabrickated

      Lucky you (or unlucky in terms of bank balance) to be close to colourmart. I am very impressed with their range. I am trying to stick to wool now as the cashmere is rather expensive for everyday knitting.

  6. Penelope

    Kate! You are so incredibly prolific! It’s rather amazing. I also learned to knit with EZ – she’s the best. I love all your makes and especially how adventurous you are, willing to try, fail and try again. But in the end you have mostly great successes AND you wear them! Very inspiring … thank you!

  7. Penelope

    And I just remembered, Kaffe Fassett was the reason I learned to knit. I happened upon one of his books back in the early 90’s and was in a creative daze for a week, never seen anything like it. I’ve made several of his designs, including Persian Poppies and they are such fun, especially the whole magic ball technique … a great way to use up leftovers. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. Kathryn Dahn

    I’m glad you figured it out. For some working colorwork inside out will give the floats just a bit more length and also going up a needle size will do the trick. You are such a fast knittler – wow – and beautiful work as always. There is a u-tube interview with Kaffe and his partner on how they do intarsia and he just knots his ends – no sewing in millions of ends.

  9. mrsmole

    Teaching yourself to do knitting is one thing but advancing as fast as you have and with such real finished projects to show…is amazing! Your balls of colored yarns look like flower petals just waiting to be glued unto a page…and then you attempt it and the sweater blooms…hooray for you Kate!

  10. Ellen

    Those are gorgeous! I personally love stranded knitting–it’s by far my favorite. I haven’t really tried yoked sweaters like that, though–so perhaps I’ll give it a whirl soon.

    I once made a gorgeous baby sweater with free form fair isle–every row was different, and I made it up as I went, mixing colors (all blue green and purple, with splashes of red to add some pop) and textures as I plowed through a stash. I didn’t photograph ot, sadly, but it was a fun and memorable make. With two dear friends expecting, I think it’s time to try again!

    Can’t wait to see what’s next! When you get to tackling cables (surprisingly easy and quite a fun trick) you’ll want to look at the Alice Starnore Aran book. Beautiful and inspiring!

  11. Vancouver Barbara

    Please don’t toss the “unsuccessful-to-you” projects – felt them, especially the striped sweater, and use the fabric to make a tote bag.
    You are amazing!

  12. Jenny (the lilac cat)

    Loved the KF patterns and I think the ‘heavenly in colour’ looks wonderful. Such a great colour mix and pattern. Shame for it to be bin bound. But as I couldn’t successfully knit with one colour let alone three I’m not in a position to argue. But like you I love circles, patchwork/quilting is my thing and curved quilts just appeal. I always think you can get away slightly more with curves, the eye sort of compensates if it’s not a perfect circle whereas as a wonky square stands out.

  13. ceci

    In one post you hit on two important influences for me: I have quite a few of Kaffe Fassett’s books bought second hand; I love the colors and contrasts and patterns playing together! And Elisabeth Zimmerman – my standard hat is from one of her books, maybe the Knitters Almanac? I get the impression her color pallet was much more muted than Kaffe’s, but her views are never timid, are they? What a wonderful time you are having with your knitting! Since exactitude has never been my gift I find rounded organic shapes more appealing than the slightly off right angles I would be likely to produce….in fact, if paisley is a shape I would say it is my favorite!



  14. Sally

    You are amazing & inspiring. I love the way you are so enthusiastic & generous with both your time & talents, sharing both successes and the learning process too.
    I really enjoy reading your blog posts.
    Keep up the good work xx

    • fabrickated

      Dear Sally – thanks so much for commenting and following. I am going to be doing a few posts on how to make this jumper as it is very easy, fun to make and great to wear.

Leave a Reply