Working with Colour Changes in Knitting and Crochet

Thursday, 7 January 2021  |  Admin

Working with Colour Changes in Knitting and Crochet

In knitting and crochet, the use of multiple colours of yarn is referred to as “colourwork”. This is an umbrella term that includes a few different styles of work. These range from simple stripes to complex Nordic motifs to images made up of blocks of colour. (Note, the terminology I use here specifically refers to knitting, but I will also include techniques for using colourwork in crochet.)


The first style of colourwork we’ll go over will be the simplest, and that is striping. The technique is more or less identical whether you’re knitting or crocheting. You work for a certain number of row in your MC, or “Main Colour”; then switch to you CC, or “Contrasting Colour”.

If the stripes are short enough, such as only two or three rows, you can carry the yarn up the side. Otherwise, you will snip the yarn (leaving a long enough tail to work in later) once you finish your stripe and simply begin the next row with your new colour. This applies to both knitted and crocheted projects.

Stranded work

Next, we’ll talk about stranded work, which is another umbrella term describing any knit or crochet style that uses multiple colours in a row and carries the strands behind the work.

Regardless of the style, the technique is the same: as your project requires, you will drop one colour and work with another, carrying the dropped colour behind the work loosely for no more than five stitches (this is in knitting; in crochet, the yarn is similarly carried across but instead of the strands being across the back of the work, they are carried across the top of the working row and stitched over).

I know this sounds confusing, so I’ll try to break it down...Say you have a repeating motif of three black stitches and one white stitch. You will work your three black stitches, drop your black yarn, pick up your white yarn and work a single white stitch, then pick back up your black yarn and work three black stitches again. If knitting, you’re going to want your yarn strands to be loose, but not floppy, otherwise they will cause your fabric to bunch up and look very, very bad (I speak from tragic experience).


The final style of colourwork we’ll be covering is called intarsia. This is the use of large sections of colour, too large to use a stranding method. This includes things such as ugly Christmas sweaters and Argyle socks.

For this method, you may be required to work with multiple balls of the same colour yarn, which increases the logistical complexity (though not the physical complexity; again, tragic experience). So, for this method you do exactly what you did before, working with one colour then dropping it once you get to a new colour, except that you do not carry the first colour along. You drop it and don’t pick it back up until the return row.

I’ll give you an example. Say you have a piece thirty stitches wide and you want it to be a 10x10 stitch black square on a white background. This would translate to a row looking like this: 10 white stitches, 10 black stitches, and 10 white stitches. Ten stitches is too far to carry a strand, so this will require two separate balls of white and one of black. You will work ten stitches with your first white ball, the MC. Then work ten stitches with your black ball, your CC. Then, you will work with a second MC ball. On your return row, when you reach a colour change, twist your yarns, looping one colour over the other, before you switch, What this does is close the little hole that would be left had you just dropped one colour and picked up the other.

Time to give it a try!

I know this all sounds very tricky, and it definitely can be if you’re trying to knit or crochet detailed designs. But if you’re only using two or three colours or attempting simple images, it isn’t nearly as scary as it seems. In fact, you’ll probably find that just getting your hands on a couple different colours and practicing will make those pieces fall into place and this will all make sense. It’s one thing to read about a thing; it’s another to do it.

So, go do it! I have the utmost confidence in you!