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The Joys of Colorwork

Like many others, I was initially terrified to do colorwork when I first started knitting and crocheting. Trying not to twist and tangle multiple strands of yarn, remembering to not pull too tightly or too loosely, having to weave in ALL THOSE ENDS... it was too much to fathom at first. But I kept seeing these gorgeous colorwork patterns. Fair isle. Intarsia. Entrelac. Mosaic. Two-color Brioche. Double knitting. And my curiosity got the better of me. The first time I attempted colorwork, I did a simple heart intarsia pattern. It was just a swatch. The background was a very neutral beige. The heart was a deep pink. And, I found that it wasn't all that awful. In fact, it was kind of fun, especially with each row when the picture began to look more and more like an actual heart. I just had to remember to twist my strands before changing color so that there wouldn't be weird gaps between the heart and the background.


The next time I tried colorwork, I did an entrelac afghan. It wasn't a large piece, but the act of picking up stitches in color B from the edges of color A just looked cool.


Then, I decided to try some stranded Fair Isle on a whale hat, which was where I learned the importance of being relaxed while doing colorwork. From there, I did mosaic knitting (although, tbh, I think I would use mosaic knitting to teach someone how to do colorwork in the first place because you are only working with one color at a time). Then a two-color Brioche swatch for fun. A little bit of double knitting for practice. And I was hooked. Casapinka's Mello Kitty pattern is the most recent colorwork project I've completed, and I finished it in less than two weeks because what I discovered was that it's so exciting to see the next part of the design or to finish the next picture in colorwork that it becomes really hard to put your work down.


But what really bumped up my colorwork skills was doing the Arne and Carlos Christmas Ball Advent Calendar in 2020. Making all those Christmas balls not only helped me fine tune my technique but also helped me become more and more comfortable with working with double points and magic loop (I discovered that I much prefer dpns when doing colorwork). And, making a new Christmas ball every day for 24 days was a great exercise in craft.


So now, when people comment on how colorwork looks "so difficult," I tell them that it's just knitting and purling or single or half-double crocheting one stitch at a time. It's normal to twist the separate strands of yarn around one another. Some people put each skein in its own little bag to prevent this. Others may use special yarn bowls or special bags to keep the yarn balls or cakes separate. If you're like me, you just have your cakes lined up on the couch next to you. Just remember that twisting is normal. Take a breath, and every so often give yourself a moment to untangle the strands.


Then, relax. If you are a naturally tight knitter or crocheter, practice not strangling your yarn before you attempt colorwork because you cannot--I repeat: CANNOT--strangle the yarn if you are going to to colorwork.


Next, I recommend something relatively simple to start. A mosaic scarf or shawlette. A two-color Fair Isle hat. A swatch. Learn to read the colorwork charts one row at a time. Start small. Don't be afraid to frog.


Finally, practice practice practice. Too often I see people give up on project or a pattern because they don't get it right the first or second time. Knitting and crocheting are skills. No one does it perfectly the first time. They take time to learn and to fine-tune. The more you practice, the more you try, the easier pattern reading becomes, the better your tension will be. The nicer your finished projects will look.


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