Socknitters Home Page Cybersocks Home Page Message board no longer operable Introduction Printer Friendly Version
Lesson 1~planning your sock Lesson 2~handling two colors Lesson 3~planning the heel Lesson 4~finishing
Extra Credit
A more complex pattern
Extra Credit
Catching in a long float
Extra Credit 
The Dutch heel
Extra Credit
Avoid Gusset Patterning

Judy's Kick-back Two-color Socks
Instructor: Judy Gibson

Lesson two - Knitting with two colors

In Lesson One, you decided how many stitches you need for the leg of your sock, cast on in one of the colors and knitted ribbing for an inch and a half or two inches. Now knit one plain round in the same color as the ribbing. If you did the ribbing on smaller needles, use this round to change to the needles you'll be using for the rest of the sock. If your color pattern needs more stitches than you used for the ribbing for an even repeat, add the extra stitches evenly spaced around this round by lifting and twisting the yarn between stitches and knitting into the back of the loop.

In this lesson, we'll do the leg of the sock in the two-color pattern you have chosen, and double-check to make sure it's all working out right, in preparation for going on to the heel. I'll use the 2-stitch repeat pattern for my examples, and comment on the others in passing. 

I hope you'll forgive me for taking things out of order. Rather than talk about events in the order you'll encounter them in your sock, I'm going to take the fun part first!

Handling two colors

Relax. The key to two-color knitting is to remain relaxed and gentle, and don't let your knitting get tight. Your goal will be to hold one color on each hand, controlling the yarn in the manner you're used to (wrapped around forefinger, or around pinky and over forefinger, for example) on both hands. But at first you can start by picking up the yarn to manipulate it with your unpracticed hand, just as beginning knitters do.

In stranded knitting the yarn is not twisted between colors, as it is for intarsia (where it's twisted because each yarn has to go back the direction it came from). You simply trail the unused color behind the work until it is needed. Keep this strand (called the "float") relaxed, but not so loose that it hangs down. It helps to keep the stitches spread out on the right needle, not bunched up, so that your hands can feel the distance the float has to reach.

Ideally your knitting should come out at about the same gauge as you get in the same yarn in one-color knitting, and should lie smoothly without puckering. It will not be as stretchy as plain knitting, but will have some stretch when you pull it, and will spring back into place when you let go. Don't overcompensate and knit too loosely, because then you'll get distorted stitches and poor definition of the pattern.

Let me demonstrate with some photos. I'm holding a white yarn in my right hand and a turquoise yarn in my left. 

To make a stitch with the right hand, I hold the left yarn back and away, and knit with the right yarn above and in front of the left yarn. 




To make a stitch with the left hand, I hold the right yarn close to (or against) the needle, and knit with the left yarn behind the right yarn. 

On the back of the fabric the float for the yarn in the left hand automatically lies below the float for the yarn in the right hand. They do not cross or twist.

By the way, notice how puckery the fabric looks. I chose a checkered design on purpose to show this. The most difficult kind of color pattern to keep smooth is one where the floats line up vertically, as in vertical stripes or checks. In this one, the floats are actually loose enough, and will flatten out with blocking, but while working it the knitting will pucker. The next hardest kind of pattern to knit smoothly is one with long floats (see the extra credit unit for this lesson), since it's hard to guess how tight they should be. Easiest is a pattern with frequent color changes and no floats longer than five stitches. Classic ethnic color patterns using stranded knitting are almost always of this kind.

I won't go into the issue of which color to hold in which hand--just be consistent. Hold the background color always in one hand, and the pattern color always in the other. (I hold the background in my right.)

The simple color chart we're using for these socks has only one pattern row, in the center of each stripe, and it is simply alternates colors every stitch. Then you have four plain knit rows to recover your composure before trying it again! Are you ready?

Note for those using the other charts: The eight-stitch repeat chart is essentially the same as the basic chart, but gives more practice. It will, however, be more difficult to maintain the pattern later through the gusset shaping. So if you don't want to do a lot of hard thinking, it's not too late to change your mind and do the two-stitch repeat instead (or else plan on using a single-color foot).

The complex X-and-+ design will only fit once on the leg of the sock. It might be nice to put a couple of plain rows above and below it.

Joining the new color

You'll start the color pattern simply by dropping the color you have been using and starting to knit with the new color, leaving about a 6-inch end. Let the end hang until later, and then work it into the back loops of the stitches in the opposite direction to the direction the row was worked. This will help close up any looseness in the first stitch.

Meet the Jog!

Because circular knitting is really knitting in a spiral, a jog will be visible in color patterns at the end of each round. I have been calling this point a "seam," but it isn't actually a sewn seam, just the point where the rounds begin and end. The jog is always there, even though it doesn't show in single-color knitting. A good way to hide the jog is to use
Meg's Jogless Jog

In our striped color patterns, we'll have a jog to deal with at every change of background color, but we'll ignore it within the two-color patterned area.

Alternative methods

There are other ways to deal with the jog. You might choose to simply let it show, but arrange the jog so that it is at the center back of the sock, and the center of the sole of the foot, where it will be less visible. In very fine gauge knitting this works very well.

Another trick, which was demonstrated in the extra credit unit for Lesson One, is to add a vertical pattern with a single-color line at the first stitch of the round. This way the jog lands within a single color--even if it's only one stitch wide--and doesn't show.

Cut or Carry?

A question that must be settled in a pattern like ours--which is basically a stripe--is whether to carry the unused color from stripe to stripe, or to cut the yarn and rejoin the next time it is used. This depends somewhat on how fussy you are. The first and last stitches of a color tend to be looser if you carry the colors between rounds. I think this contributes to the diagonal ripple that shows in my example of Meg's jogless jog. On the other hand, if you cut the yarns each time, you'll have a lot of ends to work in.

Usually I let laziness win, and carry the yarns if they won't have to go more than four or five rounds. In our pattern, the most it would ever be carried is two rounds, so I wouldn't cut the yarn.

Working the leg of the sock

Each time you finish a two-color section, stretch it out with your hands and feel if it seems too tight. If the two-color round seems to bind up while the plain color rounds stretch way out past it, maybe it's too tight and should be done over.

Work about two inches of the leg of the sock. Then it's time for a reality check to see if all your decisions about gauge and number of stitches are working out. Using a tapestry needle, run a scrap of yarn through all the stitches and remove the needles from your sock. 

Slide the cuff onto your leg. Can you get your foot and heel through it? How does it feel on your foot? Is this the number of stitches you'll want for the foot? Does it fit around your leg? Is the ribbing tight enough to hold? Does the patterned part stretch so tight that the stitches pull in and you can't see the pattern (too tight)? Does it feel too tight? Too loose? How high up your leg can you slide your "sock"? 

If it all feels right, you can decide now how high to make the leg of your sock. Pull it as high as you want the top to be (or as high as it will go) and measure the distance from the top of the cuff to your inside ankle bone.

In Lesson Three I'll be giving you the choice of whether to do a solid-color heel or a salt-and-pepper heel as shown in the gold-and-rust sock. If you plan to do a solid color, end your leg with a stripe of the opposite color. In either case, end at a place where the next row will be the first row of a stripe.

Put the stitches back on your needles and finish the leg, or--boo hoo!--recalculate and start over on a different number of stitches. By the way, that's what I chose to do on the 8-stitch pattern socks that I started on 64 stitches. I started over with 72, and I'm glad I did! They're looking very nice. I'll be showing them (okay, it!) to you next time.

See you then! And be sure to check the message board for questions that come up. This was a pretty technical lesson, and there's sure to be a lot of follow-up.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Copyright March, 2000 by Judy Gibson. All rights reserved. This material may be used by individuals for personal use only. It can be distributed to and shared with others as long as it remains fully intact, including this copyright notice. It may not be sold, used to produce items for sale, or used on a webpage or in a compilation or archive without written permission from the author.