Ailbiona is an Irish designer and expert in colorwork. You can see her colorwork designs here
The featured image is the Dervla Colorwork Sweater - view here
If you’ve done any stranded colorwork knitting in the past, you have probably encountered the phrase ‘color dominance,’ and have seen mention of its importance.
However, even some experienced colorwork knitters get confused by what it actually means.
Color dominance in a nutshell
In a nutshell: The position of your yarn determines whether that yarn will show up as a foreground color or a background color. More specifically, the yarn positioned on the left will create slightly larger, ‘stronger-looking’ stitches than the yarn positioned on the right.
For this reason, before you begin a stranded colorwork project, you first need to figure out which color in your pattern is the foreground (i.e. dominant). You must then take care to always hold that color yarn in the leftmost position.
Some colorwork patterns produced today save you the guesswork and tell you which is the dominant colour. But if your pattern does not specify, just think of the colorwork motif as a drawing upon a piece of paper. Which color is the drawing, and which is the paper?
The color that is the drawing is the dominant color and should always be held in the leftmost position. Make sure to be consistent here. If you set down your knitting, then later pick it up again, remember the correct positioning when setting up the strands around your fingers.
Okay, I think I understand…But how important is this really, and what happens if I get it wrong?
If you get itconsistently wrong (meaning, always hold the background color dominant instead of the foreground color), your colorwork motif will appear weak and thin against the background. It will lack the full extent of the ‘wow factor’ the design was meant to have.
If, on the other hand, you are simply careless as far as which color you hold on the left vs the right, and keep switching the positions of the yarns, your colorwork will look messy and uneven, with the foreground motif often appearing jagged, poorly defined, or thick-and-thin.
Even the experts have trouble
It is worth pointing out that even knitters who have been doing colorwork for years can have this problem, and wonder why their colorwork never looks as tidy and nice as on the samples shown in their pattern’s photos. The answer is, color dominance! The effects are subtle as you are working each individual stitch, but I assure you they show up in the finished work.
Now that I have you convinced and terrified about the importance of color dominance, you probably want to get it just right! And so it might help to clarify what I mean by the ‘leftmost position.’
If you are working English-style, with both strands of yarn wrapped around the right index finger, the ‘leftmost position’ is on the top.
If you are working Continental-style, with both strands of yarn wrapped around the left index finger, the ‘leftmost position’ is on the bottom.
And if you work stranded colorwork two-handed, that is easy enough: Always hold the dominant yarn in your left hand.
A great resource
If you would like to delve deeper into the topic of color dominance, the resource I strongly recommend is this video by Norwegian colorwork expert Dianna Walla.
Regardless of what method you use, color dominance awareness and consistent yarn positioning are crucial skills - if your aim is beautiful, crisp colorwork.
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