How to choose colors for stranded knitting

Choosing colors for stranded colorwork knitting is challenge, but not a rocket science. I wrote several tips how to choose colors. The example is my design Wintering cap, which I knitted in different yarns and colors.

You cannot go wrong with a traditional 2-color scheme: red/white, gray/black, gray/white (below) , red/black. The examples of these popular color combos are below, executed in different yarns.

Pattern: Kittery Cap. Yarn: Tynn Alpakka by Sandness Garn
Pattern: Wintering cap. Yarn: Heritage by Cascade
Pattern: Wintering cap. Yarn: Signature Cashmere by Smitten Yarn Co.
Pattern: Wintering cap. Yarn: Signature Cashmere by Smitten Yarn Co.

For non-traditional 2-color scheme, choose high contract shades from the same or the opposite color family. For example: hot pink/burgundy:

Pattern: Wintering cap. Yarn: Signature Cashmere by Smitten Yarn Co.

You can make the color scheme a bit more sophisticated: 3- and 4- colors.
Take 2 (or 3) yarns of the same color family and the 4th yarn of opposite color in a darker shade. Make sure that there is still a good contrast between the two darkest yarns. For example: white/baby blue/steel blue + forest green. See two pictures below.

Pattern: Wintering cap. Yarn: Sunday by Sandnes Garn

Here is another example of mixing 3 colors of one family (green, gray-greens) and 1 contrasting color (mustard yellow):

Pattern: Kittery cap. Yarn: Tynn Merinoull by Sandness Garn (greens), 2-ply Cashmere by Jade Sapphire (mustard)

Another variation is on the last photo, #4: 2 yarns of one color family (purple and lilac) and 2 colors of opposite color family (dark mustard, light mustard)

True head turner can be a multi-color scheme. The most winning combos are the 2 sets of the opposite color families. This will make an unforgettable item. Again, watch for the contrast of any two colors you use in a row. See #5 on the last picture.

Important tips when selecting colors

• To determine the contrast take a picture of yarns side-by-side under day light in black-and-white mode. The difference in tones will translate into nice, crisp contrast.
• If you plan color changes for both – background and foreground – the transition will be smooth if you change 1 color at a time, knit at least 2 rows and change another color.

Еxperiments with medium-weight yarn in stranded knitting

The rule of stranded color knitting is to use finer, same weight yarn (sports or baby). But there was nobody to tell me this, so I bought a lot of medium weight yarn like Cascade 220. Now the goal is to knit myself out of this accidental stash. I experimented a bit. I hope, the results will be of benefit to you, too.

Warning: the swatches from the experiments looked hopeless first. The fabric was lumpy, with holes. The swatches must be blocked before one can see whether the idea has any merit.

Idea #1

To combine medium-weight, stiffer yarn with thinner, softer yarn. Like Cascade 220 (rated for #7-8 US needles) and Cascade Heritage merino/silk (rated for #1-3 US needles) using needle size that is an average of 2 recommended sizes.

Right swatch above, on #6 US needles: the fabric came out reasonably thin but stiff. Great for hats, jackets (worn without a coat over it) or coats. In sum, where an item must retain shape.
Left swatch above, on #7 US needs: the fabric came out thinner, as if it was knit with Cascade 220 alone. And it was much softer than Cascade 220 alone. Suitable for hats, heavier sweaters and coats.


  • The pattern should have more foreground color, i.e. more than 70% of stitches should be with thicker yarn.
  • In flat knitting: 2 edge stitches should be in foreground color to produce an even selvage.
  • Knitting is reasonably fast, because of the large needle size.
  • It is best to catch the floats every 3 stitches.

Idea #2

Use softer, fluffier yarn for background.

The swatch below holds a real promise. I used fluffier, softer medium-weight yarn for the background. The label is lost, but I would say it is alpaca or alpaca blend.
The experiment on #7 US needles yielded the swatch of perfect thinness, density and drape to make any object. Fluffy fibers of the background yarn nicely covered holes after blocking.

Background: medium-weight soft alpaca
Foreground: Cascade Heritage merino/silk.
Needles: #7 US

Idea #3

To mix even lighter, fluffier background yarn and stiffer foreground yarn that hold shape well.
Background: Katia Alpaca/Silk, rated for #4 US needles, 2 strands plied together. It has the softest hand. Knitting in a single strand is perfect for scarfs and shawls. Unfortunately, Katia Alpaca/Silk is discontinued, but there is an adequate substitute under label Drops.
Foreground: merino sports weight from Katia Ombre set.

  • The idea is a keeper! The best swatch in a batch: soft, but it will hold shape well
  • The background fluffy yarn creates an attractive halo over the pattern
  • The proportion of background to foreground yarn in a pattern can raised to 50-50.
The foreground and background yarns are 50-50 in the pattern.
Grey: Katia Alpaca/Silk Red: Katia Ombre merino sports weight
Needles: #7 US
The vest where idea #3 is applied.

The pattern is derived from the folk textile pattern of the Komi people.
Another post will be about the Komi knitting and the techniques used in this project later.