Working From charts: Colorwork


While most stranded knitting these days is referred to as “Fair Isle” knitting, this is actually a misnomer, as Fair Isle knitting is a very specific type of stranded colorwork originating from the island of Fair Isle. For more information on the terminology regarding the many types of stranded colorwork, read our post here.

Most stranded colorwork is knit in the round.

Colorwork charts Key:
Typically, all colorwork charts are knit, so the squares in the charts tells you what colors to use for that particular stitch.
Note: This is not the case with Bohus knitting, as the colorwork uses purl stitches to create the patterning, but that is a more advanced technique, so for ease of this tutorial, we are going to focus on knit-only patterns.

Colorwork charts either exclusively have the “blank” squares that identify colors to use, or also include decreases and sometimes even a seemingly strange “no stitch” box.

“No Stitch”:
The No Stitch box is not exclusive to colorwork knitting, as you will see it in all types of chartsed patterns. Its primary function is to serve as a placeholder – or space-filler – to maintain the arrangement of the stitch boxes in the charts, as well as keep the boxes aligned so that the image the charts creates is maintained correctly. Regardless of the type of charts-work you are doing, you skip over the box, essentially you do nothing.

Reading Colorwork charts:

Above is a segment of a colorwork charts with 2 colors, and exclusively knit stitches. Since this charts is worked in ROUNDS, you would work all rounds from right to left as follows:

Round 1: *K4 MC; rep from * around.
Round 2: *K2 MC, k1 CC, k1 MC; rep from * around.
Round 3: *K1 MC, k3 CC; rep from * around.
Round 4: *K2 MC, k1 CC, k1 MC; rep from * around.
Repeat Rounds 1-4 for pattern.

Above is a segment of a colorwork charts with 2 colors, as well as decreases and the “no stitch” box. Since this charts is worked in ROUNDS, you would work all rounds from right to left as follows:

Round 1: *K2 MC, k1 CC, k2 MC; rep from * around.
Round 2: *K2tog MC, k3 MC; rep from * around.
Round 3: *K3 MC, k1 CC; rep from * around.
Round 4: *K2tog MC, k2 MC; rep from * around.
Round 5: *K2tog MC, k1 MC; rep from * around.
Round 6: *K2tog MC; rep from * around.

As you can see, instead of doing anything with the no-stitch boxes, they are ignored all together. Again, their primary function is to serve as a placeholder – or space-filler – to maintain the arrangement of the stitch boxes in the charts, as well as keep the boxes aligned so that the image the charts creates (in the case of the charts above, a traditional Lice Stitch) is maintained correctly.

Additional Useful Tip:
When teaching stranded knitting, one of the most difficult aspects knitters face (besides knitting too tightly) is keeping track of their chosen colors and the colors in the charts. This is especially true if the dark / light of the MC and CC are switched with the pattern as chartsed. We implore you to respect the copyright of our – and all – published designs, but you may make a black and white copy of the charts you are knitting from, and using you preferred colored marker or pencil, color in the boxes with the colors you are knitting with. This makes it exponentially easier to keep track of which color you are using and when.

In Part 1: Knit/Purl Patterning, we went over working charts in rows and rounds and working repeats versus working across the whole charts. The same principles use when working Knit/Purl Patterning apply to working Stranded Colorwork, so we recommend you reference that post, regardless of which type of charts you are working from!

While many of the same principles outlined above apply to colorwork, cable, and lace knitting from charts, each has a few separate key points worth highlighting.

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