9 February 2015

How to: Wrap Your Floats

how to catch floats when knitting colourwork. colorwork

Today's how to is about wrapping floats when working a colourwork pattern. You can use this technique with pretty much any kind of colourwork pattern, but I find it particularly useful when working a wide pattern repeat. 
In a colourwork pattern the strand of yarn that's not in use is carried at the back of work as a float. Depending on a type of fibre you're working with these floats may stick to your fabric (animal fibre and their mixes) of their own accord or not (smooth plant fibres). Long floats can sometimes create issues in your knitting ranging from simply an unsightly wrong side (as that red and green swatch), to plain annoying when fingers or toes go through the floats in mittens and socks.

Aside from keeping the floats in place, this technique also helps with keeping them well tensioned. Once the unused strand is caught in place it becomes easier to gauge how long you'd want to make your float and can practically eliminate puckering, again this is more important when working with wider stitch pattern repeats.

So, how do you determine whether a repeat is too wide for a single float?

how to catch floats when knitting colourwork. colorwork

  • The red/green swatch here was worked in some sort of an alpaca fibre and although I can't see from the swatch how long the floats were made, they are obviously crazy loose and aren't sticking to the back of the fabric. I'd certainly advise to catch, or wrap, them in this case. 
  • The navy/tan swatch was worked in a sticky 100% Shetland wool with floats of about 3 or 4 stitches long that look perfect to me and don't need any wrapping.
  • The duck egg/bottle swatch was worked in a smooth 100% merino; the stitch pattern has a 12 stitch repeat, with the longest float of 11 stitches. The floats were caught here creating a very neat wrong side.
I would say, if you are working with an animal fibre that sticks well to itself then a float of up to 6-7 stitches is fine. Smooth fibres, such as cotton, silk or anything else with a sleek core need to have a float of no longer than 4 stitches.
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Step 1: First of all, you need to examine your stitch pattern and decide how often you want to wrap your floats. The following row in the swatch below can potentially have a float that's 11 stitches wide; I like things to be symmetrical and have an option of either one wrapped float in the centre (stitch #6) or two wrapped floats spaced evenly (stitches #4 and #8). I'm going with the second option for this particular row, mostly because majority of the floats in this stitch pattern are 3 stitches wide and I want to keep this pattern throughout. [ack, just noticed that it says 'stitch' when it should really say 'float']
how to catch floats when knitting colourwork. colorwork

One more thing to mention is that when you knit colourwork once you chose which strand of yarn is carried above and which one below (whether you hold them in one hand or not and whichever technique you use for colourwork) you should stick with it. Do not twist your strands and do not change their order, if only to keep you sane when ripping back. My contrasting colour floats are coming from my right hand and are carried above the background strands.

Step 2: Work to the place just before where you're going to wrap the float.

how to catch floats when knitting colourwork. colorwork

Step 3: Take your unused strand across to the left, keeping it parallel to your needle. I am not bothered that its tail is hanging to the front of my knitting as long as the actual working part is just behind the needles. Because the float comes from the strand that's in my right hand and above I am going to work the following stitch above it.
how to catch floats when knitting colourwork. colorwork

Step 2, the view from the back.
how to catch floats when knitting colourwork. colorwork
 Step 3: Work the following stitch above the float and take float strand back to it's original place.
how to catch floats when knitting colourwork. colorwork

Here is what it looks from the back once the float has been wrapped. The float sits almost inside the fabric but is not visible from the front.
how to catch floats when knitting colourwork. colorwork

how to catch floats when knitting colourwork. colorwork

I've highlighted some of the wrapped floats in this swatch so that you can see which stitches exactly they were.
how to catch floats when knitting colourwork. colorwork

Same photo without the highlights.
how to catch floats when knitting colourwork. colorwork



Similarly, if you need to wrap a float that's coming from your left hand, or the one that you carry below, once you reached the 'wrapping' point keep the strand close to your needle, insert the right needle into the following stitch below the float to work that stitch, then take the float back to its original place.

Basically to wrap a float that comes from above (right) you need to take it down and work the following stitch above it.
And if the float is coming from below (left), you need to take it up and work the following stitch below it to wrap it.
It's important to take the unused strand of yarn back after catching it within your fabric.

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