Garter Stitch Colourwork

This slightly uncomfortable looking mess is the result of my experiments in colour work in garter stitch.

My sleek and vicious looking shark design is being tested so I thought I’d take a break from knitting killing machines and try something more peaceful, like a giraffe or a cow. But this presented me with a problem. Cows and especially giraffes need some colour work to really identify them. Garter stitch is great for short rows and terrible for colour work. I’d like the cow design to use short rows and garter stitch so she could match the Round Pig, Round Sheep and Round Duck.

So is it possible?

Traditional Intarsia work in garter stitch is impossible because you are always knitting with the yarn at the back of your work. When you join the second colour on the back of the right side of the work, you will tun and find that when you knit the wrong side, the first colour yarn you dropped will be forward of the work, so you can’t wrap it with the yarn in the back.

If you search the internet hard enough you will find knitters who claim that the answer to this problem is simply to swap the yarns over, put the front yarn in the back and the back yarn in the front, this will certainly link the yarns to connect the line of knitting, but it also creates a problem. You can see from this photo that doing this switch results in what looks like an extra stitch:

Instead of the familiar alternate above and below stitches of garter stitch, the colour change creates two below stitches. It looks ok if you’re just making vertical lines, but it won’t stand up to a complicated design. I’ve used this technique before for this robin’s red breast, I hid the colour change under his beak becauseĀ  it looked a little clumsy.

So I tried working the colour changes in stockinette stitch patches. That was also very ugly and of course it didn’t work because stockinette stitches are slightly taller and slightly narrower than garter stitches. Another messy experiment:

I even tried knitting every other row in the alternate colour. This solution, looks OK but, because you’re only working across the alternate colour every other row, the alternate colour yarn end is not there for you to work with when you start the third row of the colour bloc; it’s still at the other end of the block. I tried to overcome this with some fair isle style carrying the yarn along the back side of the work, but where I twisted it together with the working yarn it made a very obvious line:

This may be the best way I can find of doing colour work in garter stitch. This technique of knitting every other row in the alternate colour could lose the line in the middle if you started a new length of yarn in each row although that would mean a lot of woven in ends.

Having exhausted all the possible ways I could think of for knitting in colour I started to think about embroidery.

Oversewing or Duplicate Stitch simply doesn’t work with garter stitch. Because all the stitches are raised, you can’t simply embroider over the existing stitch, the colour you’re embroidering with simply slides off and you’re left with a confusing mess.

I had much more success with simply sewing a circle onto the knitting in running stitch.

Although it still needs some imagination and perhaps more sewing skill than I have.

I’m still working on this, so if you have any other ideas, please let me know. The design of a cow might depend on your information!

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