Week two of Indie June is here and this time Nikki Poulton is talking colour. From bright to demure, intricate design to bold blocks, stripes to fair isle, whatever your palette or knitting skill level, discover tips and new techniques with our top colour video tutorials, not to mention an interview with the fabulous designer Fiona Alice, whose charming whimsical designs have us just swooning. For more inspiration why not explore our range of colourwork patterns.
Colourwork knitting refers to all knitting that uses two or more colours per row/round. There are many specific kinds of colourwork knitting, including Fair Isle from the Shetland Isles and Lopapeysa from Iceland.
I was drawn into my first colourwork project by all the glorious new colourwork yoke patterns that were popping up. But my first project was far smaller - a pair of traditional Norwegian mittens. I was pretty dubious about the technique when I cast on, sure it was going to be far too intricate for someone like me, who likes a certain mindlessness to her knitting. But then I completed my first round. Rather like turning a heel for the first time, your first colourwork project will make you feel like a superhero.
The colours you use are definitely where the magic happens. Go for high contrast - the pattern will pop and the colours will sing.
New to colourwork? Give Stranded Fair Isle a go!
While those colourwork yoke sweaters are alluring, I'd recommend starting small with a hat or mittens. But once you've got the technique down, cast on as many colourwork sweaters as your heart desires.
Colourwork patterns I love
But where do I start?
If you're unsure where to begin, try some of the tutorials below. Online tutorials are a fantastic resource for learning new techniques and reminding yourself of ones you haven't used in a while.
Fiona Alice’s kniting patterns are just crammed with wonder, through her sublime colourwork and deliciously muted color palatte, for beautifully chic and contemporary knitwear. We find out about her journey into colour and the inspiration behind her sublime designs.
An Interview with Fiona Alice
How early on in your knitting career did you try colourwork?
I started knitting around the age of eight but it took me many years before I attempted colourwork. My earliest projects were scarves, either stocking, garter or seed stitch, I wasn’t very adventurous at first. I think I was in my teens when I tried colourwork and can tell you, my first attempt failed horribly. I had figured out how to change colours but my gauge was way off or more like non-existent. I believe it was a pair of mittens I was trying to make, I didn’t quite grasp the importance of gauge at the time. In fact, it took me a few more years to understand how gauge affects a project. Most of my early knitting was trial and error.
How have your travels influenced your colourwork designs?
Of course! One of the main influences while travelling is often the new colours in the natural landscape. I have been sourcing inspiration from my home province of Nova Scotia, Canada along with my travels throughout Europe. Two of my favourite places, in terms of colour, were the Outer Hebrides and Iceland. Both Islands are incredibly different from one another, but I came away with some of my favourite colour memories ever. I’ll never forget the richness of the purples, golds and browns created by the decaying heather, while Iceland surprised me with some of the most beautiful pastel sunrises I’ve ever seen. Bringing these colours into my knitting is a way of helping me to remember these moments and hopefully others might connect to them as well. I just moved to Helsinki, Finland, and I’m excited to gather inspiration from the city’s architectural and natural landscape to help spark new ideas for designs.
Why do you return to colourwork so often in your designs?
I think the first answer that comes to mind is simply because, I love colour! I know if we met in person you might find that hard to believe since I would probably be wearing black or perhaps a shade of grey. However, I do love colour, I promise. When I was younger I painted, a lot. I pursued it throughout my teenage years and later received my Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. Going into university, I was convinced I was there to be either a painter or a printmaker. However, into my second year I signed up for a weaving class, which was totally new to me at the time, and everything after that changed. I feel colourwork is as close to painting as it comes while knitting. I still gather inspiration from my surroundings and get to play with colours, only this time, I’m creating the canvas whether it be a scarf, hat or sweater.
What's your top tip for new colourwork knitters, particularly regarding tension?
Start by picking materials which will help your project before you even cast on. Like using real wool, something with a bit of grip, will help the floats on the wrong side lay down flat and the different colours will happily blend together. Plus, wool is very forgiving and will often settle during the blocking phase. It will also help even out the surface if your finished project was a bit bumpy from uneven tension. Using wooden needles can help too. They’ll provide a good grip on the yarn while you get use to changing colours and also ensure the stitches don’t bunch up to easily. However, it’s also important to use materials and tools which you are comfortable with. Also, when changing colours, it won’t hurt to manually spread out the stitches you’ve just knit. Often, when I have a long float, I’ll run my finger over the stitches I've just worked to make sure they are not too crowded before bring my new colour behind them.