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