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Mix and Match: Combining Yarn Weights and Types in Stranded Colourwork

September 16, 2021

Have you always wanted to knit stranded colourwork or Fair Isle projects, but felt like you had to buy the whole yarn shop before you could even begin? Not so! If you’re planning to try this kind of pattern, let me dispel the myth that you need to buy exactly what the designer used. It’s simply not true.

When knitting colourwork projects, it IS possible (and FUN) to choose from your stash of odds and ends and leftovers. You CAN mix different yarns and still get a lovely match! Here are my best tips for getting started…

1. Colourwork yarns don’t have to be the same weight

While it’s best to follow pattern instructions for the weight of the main colour (MC) yarn, the contrast colour (CC) yarns don’t have to match precisely. For example, for CCs in a DK weight project, you could use sport, DK, worsted, or aran-weight yarns successfully. You could also hold a sock yarn doubled or a lace-weight yarn tripled.

Anthology Hat pattern
For Max’s Anthology hat, I combined one worsted weight, two sport weights, and two DK weight yarns – and they all play nicely together! For Max’s North Shore sweater, I used a DK weight MC, but I but worked the trees in a plump aran weight and the mountains in a light-weight angora 4-ply held doubled.

2. Colourwork yarns don’t have to be the same brand or type

A card wrapped in yarns with different textures and constructions, and strands of different yarns laid alongside.
This wrapped yarn card shows three of the yarns I used in the Anthology hat shown in the photo above. From left to right, they are a worsted-weight single ply yarn, a sport weight 3-ply, and a DK weight superwash 2-ply. Although they have different qualities, but when combined made a beautiful finished knit!

You’re entitled to your doubts, but I encourage you to try it and see! When working colourwork projects, there’s no reason you can’t combine yarns that are fluffy, hairy, crunchy, or single-ply with plied and superwash yarns. Of course, each yarn will lend something of its own quality to the finished knit, but this can be an exciting benefit. We’ve written more about this in Choosing a Yarn for Your Colourwork Sweater and Swatching for Colourwork.

Embers Sweater Pattern
For this Embers hat, I used a commercially made 4-ply yarn for the MC, but for the CC, I used a DK-weight, 2-ply handspun that is a little thick-and-thin with slubs and changing colours.

3. Colourwork yarns can be doubled

You can hold yarns doubled in colourwork to get a suitable weight. For example, if you have a lot of odds and ends in sock weight but want to knit a colourwork yoke sweater in worsted or aran weight, you can hold the sock-weight yarns doubled to get a similar weight. This opens up even more of your yarn stash to be used in your next colourwork project! If this interests you, read our posts on holding yarns doubled and creating marls.

In this Sunshine hat, Alexa used sock-weight yarns held double for some of the contrast colours.

Sunshine Hat Pattern

More quick tips for combining yarns of different weights and types in stranded colourwork projects

  • When using a CC yarn that’s a different weight than your MC, choose a yarn that’s a little bit thicker or thiner than the MC, but not TOO much thinner – or the pattern won’t show up well. I’d estimate that the CC yarn shouldn’t be more than one weight off your MC. Check out the Craft Yarn Council Standard Yarn Weight System for more info.
  • If you want to use your sock-weight yarn as the CC in a DK, worsted, or aran-weight project, I’d suggest you hold it doubled, so it’s plump enough to hold up to the MC yarn.
  • Hold the thinner of two yarns in the ‘dominant’ position – that is, allow it to be pulled up from underneath the other yarn when working the pattern.

Don’t just take my word for it

Combining yarns across weights and types in colourwork projects is one of my FAVOURITE ways to play in knitting, but YOU won’t know for sure until you try! You’re gonna have to get your yarn combination on the needles to know how it works, so go for it! Like everything else in life, you won’t know for sure until you know for sure. Even after a decade of designing knits, I still don’t know FOR SURE if a combination is going to work until I get it on the needles.

Embers Sweater Pattern
Embers is an excellent design for playing with combinations because each motif only takes a little yarn. I held a strand of mohair silk laceweight alongside the sock-weight contrast colours, which added some extra delicious halo to the colourwork yoke.
Embers Sweater Pattern
You can see from this photo of the yoke-join that each contrast colour has an extra strand of lace-weight mohair alongside it, giving it that extra delicious halo!
Sunshine Sweater Pattern
Because the Sunshine Sweater requires SO MANY contrast colours (I know, it’s a bit over the top!), it’s a perfect design for playing around with using leftovers you have that are a little thinner or thicker than the DK weight yarn called for in the design. We also put together an in-depth tutorial to help you select a palette for the Sunshine sweater or hat.

Get to it!

I hope these tips expand the possibilities you see in your yarn stash and give you the confidence you need to begin working some stranded colourwork projects using yarn you already have. There’s really no need to buy the whole yarn shop before you begin!

Perhaps you’re like me – an avid yarn collector who can’t bear to throw away the quarter or half skeins that pile up after projects are finished. If this is the case for you, I’d recommend getting started with some simple colourwork projects to use up those odd balls. We’ve got a few lovelies for you – just click a photo to get the pattern!

~ Emily

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Julia Oberhardt permalink
    September 16, 2021 1:52 pm

    What a great read!! Once I opened my eyes a few years ago to combine yarns in weights & colors, it has really helped me experiment more giving me more enjoyment in the craft.

  2. September 16, 2021 6:58 am

    This was helpful and reassuring. Colorwork is on my 2022 knitting goals.

  3. Sidney permalink
    September 16, 2021 6:56 am

    Thank you for this jolt of inspiration! I have lots of bits and bobs of luscious color to play around with and your patterns are just the incentive I need to get going.

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