As a prelude to writing this post, I looked up the definition of sampler. I had always thought of it in terms of an embroidered piece used to practice different techniques. Beginners would create a sampler and in the process be introduced to a variety of techniques and materials.
Turns our there is some disagreement. Many definitions emphasize that a sampler is for showing off your best skills. Another complained that the term is often misused and must include an alphabet. Still others extend the definition to the person as well as the piece.
Well, I feel pretty safe calling my scarf a “sampler” of color strand knitting. I made it to try patterns and colors without committing to a single scheme. I didn’t really plan it out ahead of time, but rather looked for a pattern I liked, chose some yarn, knit for a few inches, and finished a section. Then I moved on to something new.
Color strand knitting is fun, but challenging. For me the hardest part is getting the tension right. The stranded colors are carried behind the main color and it is easy to pull them too tight and make the work bump up or pull in. While watching a video a knitter answered the question “how loose is too loose?” (for the color strands). Her reply was that there is no such thing as too loose.
For me, the easiest patterns are those that interchange the colors a lot. If the colors change every stitch of two, then the yarns aren’t pulled on the back. On the other hand, if one color is carried for a lot of stitches before it is used again, there is an opportunity for it to get messy.
Each sections taught me something about color strand knitting. Where I worked up the pattern myself from my imagination or examples that I saw, I have included the pattern. For those sections where I used a pattern created by someone else, I did not include it.
I chose to make the scarf on size 7 circular needles so that all the strands would be on the inside and not messing. In this way, I didn’t even have to weave ends! I cast on 72 stitches. I love this number. It is divisible by 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 18, 24, and 36. This meant I had a great deal of latitude when choosing the size of the pattern to be repeated. Each section starts and ends with two rows of the main color. This helps delineate the sections.
The yarn is acrylic yarn from my stash. If I make another, I will choose better yarns. But this was a good choice for a starter scarf. I hate to waste my good yarn on projects if I don’t know how they are going to turn out.
It is wonderfully warm and thick. I can’t wait to liven up my gray coat with it this winter. I wonder what people will think.
Section 1 – Gray and White Fair Isle
I started with an easy section that didn’t need a written pattern or row counter. The stitches switch color often enough that there was not trouble with tension. Every other row has stitches of every other color. The white thread is just carried up the rows when not in use. I didn’t want the too ends to be the same, exactly, so I reversed the colors for the last section. I like the way it turned out.
Section 2 – Sheep
Baaaa! This was a big leap for me. It is one of only two sections where there are more than two colors in any one row. The sheep are a bit “puffy” due to inconsistent yarn tension, a mistake. But most people like them. Some even thought I had done this on purpose. It seems to be the favorite. Maybe I will make a scarf with just sheep the next time.
Section 3 – Red on Red Diamonds
Whenever I used bright colors, I tried to make the sections more narrow so the color did not take over the scarf. In this section I use a solid red and a variegated red yarn. I thought the diamonds would look nice, but instead the yarns were so close in color that the pattern is lost. Lesson learned. In the future I will choose more contrasting yarns.
Section 4 – Egyptian Border
I designed this pattern from some borders on old Egyptian textiles. You can see that I was still having tension problems. Here is the pattern:
Section 5 – Fish
These are supposed to be gold fish swimming in the pond. I chose a blue sparkly variegated yarn for the water and I like this choice. For the fish I use the only orangish yarn I had, a fluffy, variegated, yarn with varying thickness. Bad choice. The details of the fish are lost where the yarn is extra fluffy. Some people even have trouble seeing the fish when I tell them they are there! Next time I will use yarns that are similar in texture, especially with small detail patterns.
Section 6 – Argyle
I love argyle. What I learned from this section was not to knit when I was tired. I left out a row! Can you see where? I didn’t notice it until it was far too late to go back.
Section 7 – Transition
This pattern transitions from one color to another and the second half of the pattern is the mirror image of the first. This section turned out longer than any so far. I think if I made another scarf I would try to make the sections more similar in size. Perhaps two sizes.
Section 8 – Squares
This is another bright, an therefore narrow, section.
Section 9 – Owls
This section also turned out larger than I would have liked. In order to get any detail in the owls, they have to be large. I probably would choose simpler outlines next time so the section did not turn out so long compared to the other sections.
Section 10 and 11 – Fair Isle Geometrics
This is a narrow red and gray section, followed by a more intricate fair isle pattern in blue, light blue, and white. Here again, there are three colors in some rows. I hold the main color in my left hand and “throw it” while holding the other colors in my right hand and “picking them”. It isn’t that hard to keep two colors in one hand, but it does increase the complexity of keeping all the tensions even.
Section 12 – Binary
This black and white section actually says something – the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (preamble and article 1). Each letter was converted to an eight character ascii code consisting of zeroes and ones. The digits were then knit in black and white. Because each letter is eight characters and 8 goes into 72 evenly, the letter line up. Each letter has a some similarities and when it is knit you see stripes of two black stitches. This section was very difficult to knit since it did not repeat in any meaningful way. To help keep track of the pattern, I used a pattern reading device made of cardboard, similar to the one shown here. Once I transferred the pattern to a spreadsheet and printed the columns, it worked very very well. There is a typo. I dare you to find it.
Section 13 – Camino
This section commemorates my hike on El Camino de Santiago del Norte. As you walk along the route, you find your way by following blue signs with yellow arrows and shells.
There are official signs and those painted by helpful people. I tried to work out a pattern for the shells, but the diagonal nature of the lines made that difficult. I like the way the arrows turned out.
Section 14 – Purple Fair Isle Diamonds
This is similar to the argyle section but better. I didn’t skip a row and the yarns show more contrast.
Section 15 – Peace Baby
I knew I wanted many colors in this section but I couldn’t work out the color rows in a way that I liked. So instead a chose a rainbow variegated yarn. I wonder how it would look with the yarns reversed, rainbow background and white or black peace signs.
Section 16 – Diamond Fair Isle
This is a geometric pattern was good practice carrying the yarn with loose tension. I thought it was getting too long so I stopped the pattern one diamond series earlier than the pattern shows. By this section I was getting pretty good at “trapping” the carried yarn into a stitch in between where it shows through. It was tricky to learn and makes the work go more slowly, but in the end it is worth it to control tension and the loose hanging yarns.
Section 17 – Cats
These cats are adorable and I copied them from a cross stitch towel at a friend’s house. Nothing I came up with was any cuter. Each little face is different. This is another section where a color was carried for 10-15 stitches on the back. So here again I “trapped” the yarn. There are good YouTube videos to learn this technique.
Section 18 – Gray and White End
This section is the opposite of the first, with the white yarn being the dominate color.
I sewed the ends of the scarf closed with the invisible stitch. I had planned to decorate the ends with pom pons but the consensus was that they would detract from the scarf. I can always add them later I decide it needs them.
I worked on the scarf off and on for months. I’m glad its done and mostly happy with the way it turned out.
Here are the main lessons I learned:
- Control the tension of the yarns.
- Be sure the yarns contrast enough that the pattern can be seem.
- Use yarns that have the same thickness.
- Keep motifs of a similar size.
As always, your polite and helpful comments are welcome.