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Coming Back to Colourwork



It is interesting how we go through phases with our knitting. When I got back into the craft as an adult, I immediately gravitated toward stranded colourwork. But gradually my interest in it waned, replaced by a preference for cables and lace - until one day I realised it had been more than 5 years since I'd done any colourwork at all.


This became painfully obvious earlier this year when, on a whim, I knit up a pair of Tiptoe Through the Tulips socks by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee -  a pattern with lovely colourwork on the heels, which looked... well, let's just say not as tidy as I had hoped in my finished pair! I realised just how out of practice I was when it came to stranded knitting. This, combined with the fact that I did not find the process very enjoyable, did not inspire further attempts. 


Until, several months later, inspiration struck again. I had some leftover scraps of Donegal tweed yarn, which one evening I turned into an improv beret of my own design... combining clourwork with knit and purl stitches as well as double increases and decreases. It was kind of a mad concept, and not the easiest thing in the world to knit! But (due to pure luck, I think) the result came out rather nice. And while my floats on the inside looked terrible, crisscrossing every which way, at least the tension was even. I was very pleased with this hat, and decided that maybe colourwork wasn't so bad after all.

Fast forward to Autumn. I was tidying up the house one morning (always a dangerous, unadvisable pursuit, as this story will clearly demonstrate!) and found a bag of heathered rose Icelandic Lettlopi yarn, along with some scraps of green and white Lettlopi. I am not sure where the green and white came from; possibly someone gave them to me? But the heathered rose, I remembered suddenly, was because I'd intended to knit a second one of these. For reasons I won't go into here in the interest of time, that plan got scrapped. And I also did not like the rose colour as much in person as I thought I would, when seeing it online. So the yarn languished. But now beside these scraps of green and white, I saw possibilities. Emboldened by the earlier success of my colourwork hat, I took the lopi out of the bag then and there and began to knit top down... By mid-morning, the yoke was finished!

I will pause here and explain that the lopi discovery was rather timely. I had just started a job that required me to spend long hours in an unheated building. And so I wanted a sweater which I could wear over several base layers to keep out the chill and damp. The Icelandic wool excels at this very thing. And so I decided to knit a very basic oversized pullover, with cheerful yet subtle colourwork at the yoke and no other embellishments - since I might be getting the cuffs and hem dirty. Because originally the heathered rose lopi had been intended for a jacket with a long peplum hem, there was quite a large amount of it and it would take an oversized sweater to use it up. Perfect!


Less perfect, however, was my colourwork. I did not even notice it until after I proudly (silly me) posted a picture of the sweater-in-progress on instagram. But once the picture was up, it was unmistakable: The colourwork on the yoke was puckered, in that classic 'floats too tight' sort of way. A beginner's mistake, despite conscious attempts to keep my tension even and the floats loose. Did I mention I had not done colourwork in 5 years? It showed! 

Argh. Well. At this point, I had already knitted up not only the yoke, but also parts of both sleeves and the bodice. I really did not want to rip back. An alternative would be to cut out the yoke, redo it properly, then graft it back onto the rest of the sweater. I could certainly do that. And I should have done it. But the very thought of it just made me want to scrap the whole thing. This was meant to be a quick and easy project after all, and now it was turning into an ordeal. So I took the lazy way out, and decided to finish knitting the sweater, then aggressively block the yoke and hope for the best. If it still looked puckered - well, I did not have to wear it in public. It would work just fine as a functional chilly damp building sweater. And maybe later, when I had more time, I could eventually redo the yoke.

Okay. So I finished knitting the rest of the sweater, now dreading, more than anticipating, the result. But thankfully it went quickly (as lopi does), and the fit was working out spot-on, so at least that was encouraging me a bit. Finally, I finished the sweater and took it straight to the sink. 

Now, when I want to block something aggressively, I don't just wet it; I properly soak it. I plopped the sweater into a sinkfull of warm water, added some scented soap, and left the sweater in there for an hour. I then, squeezed out the water, did the whole towel-roll thing, and spread out the wet sweater on the floor in the corner of the bedroom (the floor here gets warm from the fireplace in the other room, so I find it a perfect blocking platform).

I then mustered up some patience, put on a podcast, and went to work on the yoke - kneading and stretching at the wet colourwork gently, again and again, until the tension began to even out (this took at least 20 minutes). I then covered the yoke with a pile of heavy books and left the sweater spread out on the warm floor overnight. 24 hours later I removed the books and left the sweater there unweighted until it was fully dry.


The result? Well, you can see it in the photos. An astute knitterly eye may still spot traces of evidence that the colourwork was done too tightly. But it isn't obvious if you don't look for it, and I am sufficiently satisfied with the yoke-rescue to wear the sweater out in public. In fact I really love it! The fit is exactly what I had in mind - a kind of early 90's oversized look that can be worn over both jeans and leggings. I deliberately did not do any neck, back, or bust shaping, because I wanted the sweater to be front-back reversible (to get dressed in the dark). And it is not only insanely warm, but very comfortable. 

Just to be clear, I am not advocating being sloppy with your stranded colourwork in hopes that blocking will fix it! But if you find yourself in my situation, it certainly won't hurt to try the approach I described.


I don't think I will turn this sweater into a pattern. From the design perspective, the colourwork is fundamentally flawed, I think, in that it's kind of complicated (you have to work with 3 colours at the same time in several sections, and there are rounds where the floats are more than 5 stitches long and need to be 'fixed') and not interesting enough to warrant that complicatedness, if that makes sense? But as a one-off improvisational project just for me, I love it. The drooping flowers are subtle, but lovely, and I enjoyseeing them out of the corner of my eye as I am working. Also? In the two weeks since I've finished this sweater, I've been wearing it constantly. So in that sense alone it is a success, and all is well that ends well. 


But wait, because this isn't quite the end. There is a punchline to this story! 

As I was putting away the leftover scraps of yarn and tidying the house again, I came across a bag... with 8 balls of blue-green lettlopi! What the heck?! No seriously, I have no idea where that yarn even came from or when I got it! But it certainly looks good with the bits of heathered rose, grass green, and white, left over from this sweater. Does the universe want me to practice colourwork again? I might just have to.