Mary Scott Huff is passionate about colorwork knitting, and she shares her favorite techniques, as well as 17 projects to use those techniques, in her book The New Stranded Colorwork: Techniques and Patterns for Vibrant Knitwear.
The book provides plenty of details on how to make stranded colorwork quickly and easily and how to finish projects like a pro, as well as fun projects for women, men and kids.
Definitions and Techniques
The section of the book that actually teaches how to perform the skills necessary for the patterns is at the back of the book, but it's worth mentioning first for the level of detail included. It's a hefty, 31-page section that includes everything from the best yarns to use for stranded colorwork to the tools you'll need, how to read charts, how and whether to use knots in your knitting, how to make your floats loose enough but not too lose and the merits of tacking your floats as you knit and how and why to use hems in your knitting.
Huff explains the differences between different sorts of colorwork and says that her book is technically in the Norwegian style, which uses two colors per row and involves floating the non-working yarn across the back of the work, but there is no rule (as there traditionally is in Fair Isle) as to how many stitches can be worked in one color before changing to another. She also notes that the floats typically aren't tacked to the stitches in the back unless absolutely necessary.
She shares an interesting technique for knitting the sleeves of a colorwork garment at the same time by working steeks between them. This means that you'll have to cut the sleeves apart and sew up the underarm seam, but it's worth it when the pattern is complex and ensures you'll have two sleeves that match exactly.
Speaking of steeks, she offers an encouraging but tough love approach to the prospect of cutting up your knitting, and though she doesn't try to pretend it's not scary, she does leave knitters with the impression that they can do it.
One area where I personally would have liked more detail is in the finishing process. She talks about knitting facings or using fabric binding tape to enclose the raw edges left from cutting the steeks, but there's not a lot of information on how to actually go about that, nor are there any illustrations of what this will look like before and after (other techniques are illustrated with drawings).
When there was so much detail and good information elsewhere in the book, this section seemed a little glossed over.
The New Stranded Colorwork includes 17 patterns, most of which are sweaters, vests and jackets for women, but there are also a child's hat, pullover (geared toward boys, with a crow design), legwarmers, hooded vest (with frogs) and cardigan (with bees). There's also a men's sweater with a nod to those traditional stranded colorwork sweaters -- it's decorated with pine trees -- and a vest with a sampler of simple colorwork patterns included. A felted tote bag rounds out the book's selections.
All of the clothing patterns offer three sizes; for the women's clothing, the sizes range from around 32 inches to 51.5 inches, depending on the pattern.
Skill levels are not given, but knitters who already have some experience with colorwork techniques won't find many of these patterns difficult. Those newer to the concepts will find a couple of patterns with larger motifs or more blank space in the knit fabric that would be appropriate for them. But some of the patterns are clearly for experienced knitters, such as the wedding cardigan that ends the book, with its allover patterning, lacy cuffs and layered bindings.
Some of my favorite projects are The Bee's Knees, a cute, girly cardigan decorated with bees and a honeycomb motif; Lotus Blossom, a top that's mostly covered with simple squares but includes lotus motifs and other rectangular shapes along the bottom; Kiss That Frog, the perfect hooded vest for a little boy; and Being Koi, a vest with another complex design involving a picot edging, corrugated ribbing, dash patterns and fish motifs.
One of the best things about The New Stranded Colorwork is its sense of humor, which is illustrated most adeptly in the pattern called Norwegian Blue. Fans of Monty Python might recall that the parrot in the famous dead parrot sketch was a Norwegian Blue. Huff ran with that theme, producing a jacket that looks very traditional but features a blue parrot motif and words stitched into the shoulders that translate to "pining for the fjords."
Fans of colorwork knitting, especially those who like to knit for kids, are sure to find some interesting projects here. People who are newer to the techniques might be a little intimidated by the level of detail in many of the projects (not to mention the prospect of cutting up their knitting several times in a single project), but these projects are sure to be a valuable lesson in stranded colorwork knitting for anyone who undertakes them.
Publication date: October 2009.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.