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Colorwork Help: How to Hold Your Yarn for Stranded Knitting

As part of my New Year’s resolution (yeah, remember those?) to perfect some of my sloppier knitting techniques, I decided to start a stranded knitting project. I find that one of the challenges in stranded knitting is figuring out exactly how to hold my yarn, so before I got started I tried out a couple of different options.

We all have preferences and habits when it comes to the style and method of knitting that we use. Some of us knit continental while others knit English style. Style is particularly important in stranded knitting because you need an efficient way to hold on to all those different colors. As I soon discovered, sometimes it works to combine those styles!

The rules for holding your yarn are not strict by any means.

Check out a couple of different options you have when holding your yarn for stranded knitting — and feel free to try out your own variation.

Holding stranded yarn with both hands

Both hands

To see both hands in action, I pulled up Patty Lyons’s Improve Your Knitting class where Patty demonstrates combining both continental and English style using a simple Fair Isle swatch. Bluprint instructor Eunny Jang also uses this technique to make the banded yoke in her Choose Your Own Sweater Adventure class.

To try it, hold one strand of yarn in the left hand and the other strand of yarn in the right hand. When you need to knit with the left strand of yarn, pick the strand with your needle English style. When you need to knit with the right strand of yarn, throw the yarn continental style.

I like this style because it seems to move quickly. I’m not constantly picking up and dropping different strands of yarn.

Holding both yarns in the right hand

Right hand

If you’re accustomed to knitting English style, or throwing your yarn, then holding both yarns in the right hand might be a good choice for you.

I tried two different ways for holding my yarn in the right hand: 1) I wrapped both yarns around my index finger and ring finger (pictured above). 2) I wrapped one yarn around my index finger and the other yarn around my middle finger. When both yarns are in the right hand, you’ll throw the yarn as you stitch.

Holding both yarns in the left hand for stranded knitting

Left hand

The left hand works similarly to the right in terms of how you can hold the yarn except that you’ll be picking stitches instead of throwing them. This usually works well for Continental knitters.

Like with the right hand option, you have a choice of wrapping both strands around your index finger and ring finger (as seen in the photo above) or wrapping one strand around your index finger and the other strand around your middle finger. Try both and see which one feels more comfortable — or try any variation of this. Then you’ll use Continental style — picking the stitches — to knit.

A few tips to get you started

First note that none of these ways of holding yarn are going to feel natural at first. It takes a bit of practice to get into a rhythm and figure out what’s going to work best for you.

It also could be that several of these ways work for you. If that’s the case, use them all! As I said before, there aren’t strict rules for how you hold your yarn for stranded knitting, so if a variation of one of these works for you, then go for it.

As you’re test out these different holds, one important thing to remember is that you should use the same style throughout a project. Switching your holds can result in inconsistency in the stitches.

How do you hold your yarn when knitting stranded colorwork?

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Sharon Kolb

Do you switch and cross your yarn (in the back)? If so, after how many stitches?


Yes, definitely! The number of stitches depends on what the project is (sweater, tech case, etc) and the gauge. For this sweater, I was using a sport weight yarn. Because it’s a sweater, I don’t want long floats in the back because I might get my fingers caught in them as I’m putting on the sweater, so I crossed every 3-4 stitches. For something like a tech case though, I might be ok with longer floats.

It alsos depend on the pattern. If you’re working stranded colorwork that changes color every two or three stitches, then you won’t have to worry as much about crossing them. Hope that helps!


For me, it also depends on whether I’m using a superwash wool or not…I find that with superwash yarn, the yarn that is carried in the back can peek through a little when it’s caught. I’m working on a sweater with a lot of long floats (20+ stitches) and so catch it every 9 or 10 stitches, though I’m working at a fine gauge (38 stitches per 4″). With non-superwash, as the yarn is fuzzier, that fuzziness helps to blur out any colour peeking through from behind where it’s.

One tip – don’t catch yarns in the same place on the next row, as that will accentuate any problems.

My rule of thumb is to not have any floats longer than an inch.


How do you prevent the carry yarn from being too tight? Every time I try to carry the unused color behind it ends up being pulled too tight in the back.

Aideen O'Kane

You need to leave the threads quite loose so it does not pucker so knit a few stitches ans give the work a firm tug which will let you see how loose you need to leave your yarn. Just keep checking very few stitches to begin with and you will soon see how to carry on. hope this helps

Aideen O'Kane

Have you any advice when carrying yarn between rows when knitting stripes? My edges look so untidy

Aleen Caplan Yamasaki

Do you use a selvedge stitch? I usually have a slipped stitch edge and for stripes, I slip the first and last stitches of the wrong side row. So if I am changing color for the next stripe, I just knit the first stitch with it. And if the color/stripe will not be changed for more than a few rows, I make sure that I carry the unused color up the side “crossing” it over the current color before knitting the first stitch on the right side. I do this every 4 rows or so, depending on the the gauge. It gives beautiful edges.


i find my yarns get tangled around each other with each crossing and un crossing how do you keep this from happening?!


When I do stranded knitting, because I work in both directions ie: forward and backward, it depends on which direction I’m knitting. If the amount of sts. per color isn’t balanced I decide which is the main color and which the contrast then…on rs rows main color in left hand contrast in right. For ws rows, which I knit backwards/reverse, main in the right and contrast in the left. I have also developed a way of flipping the carried yarn so I don’t have to drop or twist the strands and tack the carry yarn every 3-5 sts. It rarely shows through and makes keeping the floats even, not to tight and easy to determine if it is. I don’t like long floats and this makes it very even.

Kim Clark

Does it matter which finger I use for the dominant color and/or the secondary color?


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