Color Dominance - Fact or Myth 04-10-23

Color Dominance – Myth or Fact?

In preparing to teach, I have again learned much more about my workshop subject. With stranded knitting, there is the possibility of color dominance!

Color Dominance – Who Knew?!?!

I’m putting together workshop materials for a two-handed, stranded knitting workshop at the Men’s Knitting Retreat in May. I’m also creating samples of knitted items using the technique. During my research, many of the experts seemed to think that how you hold your yarn during stranded knitting can affect the visual prominence of one color over the other.

The prevailing theory is that the yarn held to the left will create a slightly larger, more prominent stitch. Most of the people that discuss this phenomenon say it’s because you use more yarn to create stitches from yarn coming in on the left-hand. So, with two-handed, stranded knitting, you’d want to hold the color that you want to show up more clearly in your left hand.

I had to test this theory for myself. In the two gaiters in the feature photo, can you tell which color I held in my left hand?

Two-Handed Stranded Knitting Workshop Piece 04-07-23 01

Especially on some of the diagonal lines, and the legs of the deer, it is noticeable. In the green/yellow version I held the yellow yarn in my left hand and the purple/yellow version I held the yellow in my right hand.

Other Things I Learned

My theory, however is the more prominent stitches are caused by the position of the floats behind the work…not the amount of yarn it takes to execute the stitch.

I also learned new ways of keeping floats neat, but relaxed enough not to restrict the stretch of the fabric.

Anyone else have thoughts or ideas about this?

Current Knitting

Fred and Connie both guessed cables for my new project. But Connie was closer when she suggested an edging for a knitted piece. Although Fred was definitely correct that it is Malabrigo…Rios to be specific (promotional link).

I’m doing a slip-stitch afghan that starts with an i-cord cast-on. I’ll be using six or seven different colors of Malabrigo Rios, so it will continue to look very different as I progress.

So far, it’s been a very pleasant knit.

12 comments on “Color Dominance – Myth or Fact?

  1. I was shown that when I took my first stranded colorwork class from Beth Brown Reinsel years ago. (Back in the early 90s I did a lot of Icelandic sweaters and the prevailing wisdom was to strand the lighter color under the darker so it wouldn’t show through.) Since learning about color dominance I found It definitely works better for me to have the pattern color in my left hand. OTOH, Arne and Carlos say that there’s no such thing as color dominance, it’s just people’s bad tension. I take issue with that. Why be so judgmental and, frankly, pompous? As with all knitting/spinning theories, I say try it out for yourself and see which way you like it best and do that.

    1. Thanks for this additional historical information. I honestly can’t rule out bad tensioning techniques in my experiment. I used a different length cable/circular needle and the shorter one really screwed up my gauge and made the floats too short. But I still think just the difference in positioning of the floats would make a difference in how protruding the stitch is on the front side.

    2. I don’t consider Arne & Carlos to be pompous. I’d have to agree with them that it’s tension related. I have an Estonian background and learner to knit from my mother and aunt. They both did a lot of colourwork knitting and it was soooo even. Never once had I heard mention of colour dominance until recent years through my internet explorations. I have been knitting since I was 4 years old. I’m 66 now.

  2. Like most things YMMV 😀 Interesting result. If you hadn’t pointed out the legs, I would have missed the difference.

    1. The example I saw on the web when I was doing research was on two different stranded knitting mittens…the difference in the two mittens was quite noticeable. It’s a lot less important on a single garment like a gaiter/cowl.

  3. I’m curious if the hand you normally hold the yarn in makes any difference. Is there a difference in which hand the pattern color should be in for continental versus English knitters?

    1. I’ll be teaching 12 guys how to knit two-handed stranded, and for keeping organized, I plan on separating the guys who hold their yarn in their right hand from the guys who hold it in their left…so I’ll get some data to find out in May.

  4. Even if you don’t do your stranding with two hands, the color which is held below will be dominant. If you’re not consistent with the yarn position, there will be a visible difference. I’ve always had difficulty with two-handed stranding because my right hand seems to impart more twist to the yarn when I throw and to affect my tension. Someone once suggested that it has to do with the way the yarn is spun—s or z twist. I am happy enough to pick up the strand I need and pay attention to its position. If it’s good enough for Wendy Johnson, it’s good enough for me. I also find it’s not really very slow. This is not to say that people shouldn’t knit two-handed. It just doesn’t give me joy.

    1. This makes me believe that my theory about the positioning of the float on the reverse of the fabric affects how much it dominates on the front of the fabric. And I could totally see how throwing the yarn could impart more twist…the ply comes untwisted for the tail-end of the yarn and adds twist to the ball-end yarn when I’m doing a long-tail cast-on. It also untwists my ply when I’m sewing up a seam.

      1. The positioning is exactly what yarn dominance is about. See p. 58 of Ann Feitelson’s “The Art of Fair Isle Knitting.” Also worthy of a look is the discussion and photo on p. 55 of “Knitting with Two Colors” by Meg Swansen and Amy Detjen. The other illustrations and photos should prove to be invaluable teaching aids.

  5. Tone and value of a color has much to do with which color is prominent. But, also the size of the stitch matters. The standard continental knit stitch is bigger than an english knit stitch. Therefore an English purl stitch is bigger than a continental purl stitch. It depends on far the yarn has to travel before it can kiss or saddle up to its neighbor. When blocked the smaller or tighter stitch may recede a tiny bit more into the fabric. Therefore, as an English knitter and the project is done in the round, I would hold the motif color in my left (continental method) hand so that it is more prominent. As for floats, would you wear a black t-shirt with a white shirt over it?

  6. Chiming in as another “two colors in one hand” knitter. I hold both colors in my right hand* and keep the color I want to be dominant (usually the motif) under or below the other color. I learned how important this is to *my* style of knitting when I made a swatch of some Sanquhar patterns and couldn’t distinguish the motif–I hadn’t paid attention to which yarn went where.

    I’d make the suggestion to use the “under/below” explanation rather than the “which hand” explanation, even if you’re teaching two-handed stranding, since it’s a more generalized description. That way, if one of your students changes the way they knit, or if they teach it to someone else, it will be more readily understood.
    *And I don’t experience the untwisting that another commenter mentioned…weird.

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