Try Portuguese-Style Fair Isle for Even Easier Colorwork

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If you haven't tried Portuguese knitting yet , you're in for a real eye-opening experience, especially when it comes to colorwork.

Stranded colorwork often results in a big mess of tangled yarn, too-loose floats that catch on everything, or too-tight floats that make the fabric pucker up. Portuguese-style knitting for colorwork can really help with a lot of those common problems.

And yes, you're seeing that right: Portuguese colorwork is worked on the wrong side.

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What you need

In addition to your regular yarn, needles and notions, there's one thing you'll definitely need: Portuguese knitting pins .

While one-color Portuguese knitting can be created using yarn wrapped around your neck or threaded through a knitting pin, for two or more colors and colorwork like Fair Isle, you'll probably want to stick with knitting pins. Wrapping the yarn around your neck would end up in tangles.

If you don't have a knitting pin, you can just use a safety pin or binder clip.

Portuguese-style stranded colorwork

To make things easier, I'm going to demonstrate the technique with only two colors of yarn. (I'm using Hedgehog Fibres Sock in Electric and a speckled Budgie.)

However, you can use this technique to incorporate more colors like you would with Fair Isle. With Fair Isle, you can separate the colors on different pins, or combine two colors on one pin. Just do whatever feels easiest for you.

I'll use Electric as my main color (MC) and use Budgie as my contrasting color (CC).

Setting up

Attach one pin to each side of your shirt: one on the left and one on the right. Thread one yarn through each pin.

Thread the yarn through a finger on each hand. The yarn pinned to your right side will be threaded through your right hand, while the yarn pinned to your left side will be threaded through your left hand.

This might feel totally awkward at first. Just be aware that you can't just pop up from your seat to grab something, because all your yarn and the project will come with you. Remove those pins before you go anywhere!

Portuguese colorwork: purling

I have my in-progress Sunset Highway sweater by Caitlin Hunter here that I already started. Because purling is so simple in Portuguese-style knitting, most knitters work in the round on the wrong side. (I know it looks crazy! But it's so much easier.) So we're going to be purling instead of knitting.

First, let's review what a purl stitch looks like in Portuguese knitting. Insert the needle into the stitch you want to purl.

Use your left thumb to flick the yarn around the needle. The tension that the knitting pins and the yarn running through your fingers will help make this movement small and simple.

Pull the working yarn through the stitch using the right needle, then drop the stitch from the left needle.

Portuguese colorwork: changing colors

Let's say you worked 3 stitches in your MC, and now you're ready to change to CC.

When you purl the next stitch, you'll simply flick the CC instead of the MC.

Trapping long floats

In colorwork, you don't want long floats on the back of your work. Long floats are notorious for getting tangled up in jewelry (like in a mitten, for example), so to avoid that we trap the float. Here's a little trick I learned from Craftsty instructor Andrea Wong :

Let's say you're working 5 stitches of MC before you switch over to CC. That's going to result in a pretty long float.

To prevent it, after you work 3 stitches of MC, insert the needle into the stitch you're going to purl.

Wrap CC around the needle from back to front. (Note this is the opposite direction than the one you'd normally wrap a purl stitch.)

Wrap MC around the needle just as you would for your usual Portuguese purl.

Use your thumb to flick CC off the needle, creating a nice little twist that traps the float.

Continue purling the next few stitches. You'll notice that the twist created a little trap that tacks down the CC until it's time to use it again.

The number of stitches you'll knit before you trap the float depends on the weight of your yarn. For sock weight yarn like I have here, there's not much space between the groups of stitches because the yarn is so thin. But for something that's bulky, the stitches are spaced farther apart, so I'd probably trap my floats more frequently.

Have you ever tried Portuguese-style knitting before? How about using that style with colorwork? Tell us how it worked out for you in the comments!

More Portuguese Knitting Tips

Follow along as Andrea Wong shares methods requested by knitters like you. Watch in Bluprint Get the Class

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Try Portuguese-Style Fair Isle for Even Easier Colorwork