A step-by-step tutorial on how to switch colors in knitting – no matter which yarn or which technique (intarsia, fair isle, stripes, etc) you are using.
So, you started your first colorwork project but now it’s time to change colors and you have no idea how to do that? Or are you an experienced knitter and you are wondering how to avoid holes when switching colors? Well, then I’m sure you’ll find this tutorial very helpful because it contains altogether 6 simple methods.
Why so many? Because there is a fundamental difference between knitting stripes, intarsia, or entrelac. As a result, there is not THE best way to change colors. It will also depend on the yarn you are using. Slippery cotton yarn will behave quite differently compared to fuzzy Shetland wool.
But don’t be scared. We will start with super simple methods first. And then, as you scroll further down, things will get a bit fancier but also a bit more invisible. I added project recommendations for each method to change colors for your convenience.
Reading tip: 10 ways to join in a new ball of yarn
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- Finishing knitting one row and turn your work around as normal. Make sure your knitting is facing you with the right side.
For most knitting stitch patterns, like garter stitch, you will get the best results when the first row you knit with the new color is on the right side. Here's a tutorial that compares the right side vs the wrong side in knitting in case you have doubts where you currently are.
- Pick up the new color and tie a simple overhand knot around the tail of the old color.
- Pick up the new color and start knitting the normal way.
- Once you finished knitting, you have to undo the knot.
And then you have to weave in the tail(s) using a sharp tapestry needle.
This method works very well for stripes, entrelac, fair, isle, mosaic knitting, or any other colorwork project where you always knit full rows in any given color. It's not an option for intarsia projects or patterns knit in the round.
2. Weave in as you go
Another very handy method to change colors is weaving in ends as you go. And the best part, you can use this technique anywhere in your project, so it will be perfect for knitting in the round. You can also combine the basic method with the first one I showed you, so you don’t have to weave in tails later on.
This method would be my personal preferred technique for Fair Isle projects in the round. You will create floats on the backside anyway and your yarn has to be sufficiently fuzzy so the tails don’t come loose as well.
Good for: Projects in the round, especially stripes & people who don’t like weaving in tails
Recommended yarn: slightly fuzzy and feltable fibers
Note: You can also use a similar technique to change colors in a purl row.
3. Twist and Weave
Another excellent way to switch colors at the beginning or in the middle of a row is called Twist & Weave. The method might seem a bit tricky at first but once you did it a couple of times you won’t want to use any other way. Trust me.
It’s just so versatile, neat, and creates a very seamless transition without holes. It even works fairly well for intarsia projects. Again, this is a method where you have to weave in ends later on. But nothing speaks against weaving in the tails as you go if your yarn allows it (meaning it’s a bit fuzzier). The only problem is that you will have to weave in both tails at the same time – which can be a bit noticable.
Good For: An extremely versatile method for any colorwork project
Recommended yarn: Any yarn works
4. Weave in and twist
For the longest time, I struggled with my intarsia projects. I just didn’t know how to avoid holes when changing colors. No matter what I did, I wasn’t 100 percent satisfied with the transition. And that’s why I came up with a technique I call “Weave in and twist”.
What makes this technique so special is the fact that you create an anchor for both tails – the new and the old color. You see, often holes are not created when changing colors, they appear when you weave in the tails. This often applies force to a stitch and makes it lopsided. And this method fixes it.
And while I wouldn’t do this for an Intarsia project (the multicolored floats tend the be slightly visible), this method will easily allow you to weave in the tails as you go – unlike the 3rd technique from above.
Good For: The maybe best method for intarsia but will work well for projects knit in the round
Recommended yarn: Any yarn works
5. The back join
There are some great techniques to join in a new ball in the same color. The Russian join or the spit splice instantly comes to mind as you don’t have to weave in any tails and you almost create no waste. But they all share one problem: They don’t allow you to switch colors in a precise spot. So, they are utterly useless for colorwork. And the back join fixes that problem.
You will need a needle or a paper clip for this method but that’s what makes it so ingenious. Basically, you mark the spot where you want to change colors, reverse knit three or four stitches, and then you do a simple overlap join – which makes it excellent for reversible projects as there are no knots or visible tails.
Good For: Almost any colorwork technique except Intarsia. Excellent for reversible projects
Recommended yarn: Slightly fuzzy, feltable fibers
6. Alternating stitches
The last method I want to show you is not a true method in and by itself. It’s rather a very useful technique for creating a transition. Sometimes you are working with colors that might clash a bit. Or even two different yarn bases. And then you might want to blend these two different hues/fibers together in a seamless way.
Good For: Any project where you want to blend two different hues into each other
Recommended yarn: Any yarn but probably better for novelty or handspun yarns or yarns with an inconsistent dye.
How to change colors when knitting in the round
When knitting in the round, you are facing one problem. There’s no edge. So all methods that rely on tying knots at the beginning of a row simply won’t work. And even if you try them, you will create a hole because you will create one stitch that is not connected to a previous stitch.
Most projects you knit in the round are not reversible. Your typical sock, hat, or mittens only have one good side. And this means you can use any technique where you can hide the tails on the backside.
My favorite method would definitely be “weave in as you go”, as stated above – except you are working intarsia in the round. For the latter, it would definitely be the Weave in & Twist method.
A lot of tutorials will show you to simply pick up the new color and start knitting without any special technique. Just keep the tails tangling down. This will definitely create a hole. While you can indeed graft stitches to fix things, I feel it creates much more inconsistent results and is quite a bit more difficult – especially when we are talking about begins who just want to switch colors to knit some stripes.