Catching floats in stranded colourwork

When working in stranded colourwork using two strands of yarn, the yarn not being used is carried at the back of the work – commonly referred to as a ‘float’. If the pattern requires the floating yarn to be carried for too many stitches without being used, this can result in a long float which could get snagged when using the garment. For this reason it is usual for longer floats to be woven or ‘caught’ into the work every few stitches.

It is a matter of debate or preference how frequently to catch the floats. When using ‘sticky’ yarns which felt easily (such as Shetland), it is possible to carry floats across up to 7 or 9 stitches as the floats will naturally felt themselves into the fabric over time without causing a snagging problem.

There are many tutorials available online about how to catch the floats in stranded colourwork. Here is a concise one I found which shows the method when knitting with one yarn in each hand, as was used in creating the Torcello cowl (pictured above). (There are other online resources available which cover the method when knitting stranded colourwork on a purl row or where both yarns are held in one hand and I will update this post in the event such techniques are required in any of my designs).

The yarn used in the Torcello cowl is a superwash DK weight meaning, firstly, that it does not felt and, secondly, that a float of 7 stiches will be longer than when using, say, a finer Shetland 2-ply yarn, due to the different gauge involved.  For this reason I caught the floats on the diamonds in the Torcello cowl in any stretch of 5 stitches or more. In the 5-stitch floats I caught the yarn mid-way and in the 7-stitch floats I caught the yarn either side of the mid-way stitch. I did this in order space out the positioning of where I caught the floats, as previous experience showed me that it could result in a line appearing up the middle of the diamond if all the floats were caught on the middle stitch of each diamond row. This photo shows the floats from the reverse side.


With hindsight, it may not have been necessary to catch the yarn on anything other than the 7-stitch floats. This would also have reduced the risk of the floating yarn from peeking through the pattern – if you look at the picture at the top of this post, you can spot a couple of places where the white yarn is peeking through the black pattern!