2-Color, 2-Strand Floatless Fairisle

While experimenting with 2-color 2-strand textured knitting where one color always shows on the purl side, the other on the knit side, and then some stitches are converted so that a purl stitch pattern in the contrasting color shows on the knit side, I got to thinking that it would be neat to have not only contrasting purl but also knit stitches on the right side. It seemed to me that if you crossed the strands as in intarsia knitting you should be able to do that.

I did the flower in the picture below this way, crossing the strands between needles, and putting a hairpin shaped into a hook over each crossing to keep the strands in place. Since you not only have to hold the strands where they come off the needles to guide the yarn but you also have to push the carriage with the other hand, I had to think of some way to keep the pins in position. So I shaped the ends of the hairpins into eyelets, ran a piece of elastic cording through them and tied the cord to the clamps that the machine is attached to the table with. That did keep the pins in place, but unfortunately if you had several crossings in a row with a pin over each one, it created a lot of tension and small stitches. Then I thought, hmm, if I put the pin only over one strand at a time, maybe it would pull it down far enough so the other strand would knit first?

So I tried that and found out that it does work and that the pins do not even have to pull down the strands. In the first of the two samples on the left, the strands were"tripped'n flipped" numerous times on the same row which resulted in a contrasting knit stitch pattern on the front. I guess you could call this "just about true floatless fairisle!" It also does not create as much tension as crossing the yarns so you can do it much more often on the same row.

While there is a right side and a wrong side to this knitting, with the pattern reversed on the other side, there are no floats which is great because little fingers can so easily get caught in them. Since, in addition, knit stitches show detail a little better than purl stitches, this might be a nice way to make a baby blanket with letters or other motifs that don't show up so well in purl stitches - I had experimented with lettering done in purl stitches and was not too happy with the results. It seems that straight up and down, single columns of purl stitches almost completely disappear into the fabric on the right side and alphabets are a mixture of straight and diagonal lines. Although,.... wait a minute......I just had a thought......hmmmm, I wonder if a garter stitch alphabet would work better??......oh no!!... I feel another sample coming on! :)

Anyway, here's how:

To do this, you'll need a piece of elastic cord and some hairpins - the ones that are u-shaped (there were two types in the package - some thinner, some heavier). I thought the heavier ones worked better because they didn't get bent out of shape as easily (pun intended, hehe!). Or you could use wire and cut it the right length then shape it the same way.

Anyway, I straightened out each hairpin, then using needle-nose pliers shaped one end around a knitting needle to form a loop and bent the other end into a hook. Ok, ok, I admit, it doesn't look too professional but the main thing is that they are all the same length, from head to toe, so to speak! After some experimenting, I also removed the plastic coating from the tip of the hooked end by squeezing it with needle nose pliers. Made it much easier to unhook the pins from the knitted stitches.

The elastic string is pulled through the loops and then tied to the clamps right above the wingnuts that the Bond is attached to the table with, see drawing below. The hooked part of the pins should be facing away from the machine as they are hanging down from the elastic cord so they don't get stuck in the fabric.

To Knit:

Before casting on and to keep them from plying together, the two strands of yarn are fed through two short pieces of a straw which are taped together with freezer tape. For this technique, you'll need the intarsia keyplate in the carriage without the wire guide as it interferes with the pins.

Lay the strands of yarn across the open needles in the basic color arrangement that you want. Hold the straw between your fingers right about where the strands come off the needles as you hook the pins and also as you knit across to control the flow of yarn and to assure the strands remain in the same position. Always put the strand that you want to be the main color on the front or the knitted side, furthest away from you across the needles, the other one behind it. Then at the beginning of every row, between the first and second needle, always hook a pin over the strand that you want to be the main color on the right side.

In the drawing below, the red yarn is to be the main color on the front or knitted side so for that color arrangement, the strands would always be placed across the needles in that order and the first pin would always be hooked over the red yarn between the first and second needle of each row. Later, if you want to change so the blue yarn is the main color on the front, flip the straw holding the yarns so the blue strand is now furthest away from you, then always hook the first pin over the blue strand between the first and second needle of each row.

How Does it Work?

The way this works, I guess, is that when you hook a pin over one of the two strands in between two needles, the flow of that strand is slowed down or interrupted and that causes the other strand to knit on the purl side or on the side that is facing you. That color strand will now keep knitting on the purl side until another pin is hooked on it further along the row to make it switch places with the other color strand again. Unfortunately, sniffle, it doesn't work for changing only one stitch and not always dependably for two stitches, it works best for groups of three and more stitches. Single stitches and groups of two I reknitted - actually repurled - manually, bringing the other strand to the foreground. I put the transfer tool into the stitch below the purl bump and pulled back the needle releasing the stitch and doubled float onto the tool. I pushed the needle forward again, letting only the stitch slide behind the latch and dropping the doubled float into the open needle hook. Then depending on which strand I wanted to suppress, at either side of the needle, I pushed down on the "unwanted" strand with the prong of my transfer tool and pulled the needle back. This caused the other strand to go through the stitch first, changing the color.

The pins should be hanging on the strands with just a little tension to keep them in place but not so much as to pull them down, otherwise you'll get very small stitches. You'll need to adjust the rubber string to get the right tension. At first I thought the pins should be right between the two needles where I wanted the color change to take place. I soon realized though that the colors already change one stitch before the spot where the pin is hooked. So when working from a pattern, I always hook a pin between the space after the first needle that I want to knit in the other color. Now I have to be honest, this is not rocket-science or one-hundred-percent foolproof but it does work most of the time. As you knit across the row - slowly - you'll see the strands switching right before the spot where a pin is hooked over a strand.

How to Position Pins:

The basic arrangement of strands across the needles for the sample chart below is white strand furthest away from you, blue strand next to it on each and every row. (The knitted heart sample at the top of the page was knitted in the reverse colors.)The chart shows the colors as they will be on the right or knitted side. They will be reversed on the purl side so that the main color on the side that is facing you will be blue, the heart motif will be white. To start each row, hook a pin over the white strand, between the first and second needle regardless of the direction in which the carriage is moving. This will cause the blue yarn to be the main color on the purl side. In order to change the color from blue to white for the heart motif, hook a pin on the blue strand after the first needle that you want to be in the white color, in this case between needles 17/18 (the first white stitch should be on needle 18 after the row is knitted) and then to change colors back from white to blue, hang a pin over the white yarn between needles 12/13 (the first blue stitch should be on needle 13 after the row is knitted). Keep in mind that the color scheme that will be facing you on the purl side is exactly the reverse of what is shown on the chart.

To keep track of the stitches more easily, I always put a strip with the stitch numbers right on top of the row that I am working on. To hang the pins and always proceeding in the direction in which the carriage will be moving, I say to myself "18 blue" which tells me to hook the pin right after needle 18 on the blue strand of yarn, then "13 white" which tells me to hook the pin right after needle 13 on the white strand. (The pins will always alternate between the two colors, if the last one was hooked on a white strand, the next one will be hooked on a blue strand, without exception, you just have to make sure that they are hooked between the right two needles.)


If the carriage was going to be moving to the right instead of to the left, the pins would be placed to the right after the first stitch that was to be in the other color. For this same row, the first pin would still be hooked after the first needle and on the white strand, then the next pin would be hooked on the blue strand between needle 14/15 so that 14 would be the first white stitch, then on the white strand between needles 19/20 so that 19 would again be a blue stitch.

To knit the lion at the top of the page, there were numerous color changes and quite a few pins. Also single stitches had to be repurled manually. It is definitely faster to knit simple motifs with broad outlines than motifs with detailed features.

Below are some motifs and an alphabet I charted in Designaknit that I think might work nicely for a "quilt-look" baby afghan. They would be knitted in panels of 30 stitches with the colors of background and motifs alternating every 38 rows to make them look like square blocks. You could leave the second and the second to the last needle at each end out of work (just add two needles to the panel on each side of the 30 stitches, then leave needles 2 and 33 out of work), and at the end latch the panels together, so that a white square would be next to a blue square, etc. Or you could join the panels with a crochet hook using this slip stitch technique and two strands of yarn in either one or the other color or both. I used two strands of Bernat Baby Softee yarn for the sample below but any yarn that can be knitted with two strands will work. The fuzzier yarn strands seem to cover each other better than, for instance, smooth cotton strands do. You could use different colored yarns as well, maybe knitting each block in another 2-color combination and really mixing it up! Of course, then you would have to work in the extra ends. To get started, try just one easy motif, such as the heart and see what you think! Let me know if you have any questions, I must have knitted another 20 feet of samples in this technique.


Click here for Baby Quilt Block Knitting Charts

Click here for Chart for the Pink Flower shown in the picture above

Click here for Chart for the Lion shown in the picture above

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This page last updated - 5 June - 2000