When Two Yarns Meet: The Art of Stranding

If you’re a fan of quick-knitting projects or enjoy unusual textures and color combinations, why not consider stranding your next project? I don’t mean dumping it out the car window or leaving it on a deserted park bench. 

Rather, I’m talking about the kind of stranding where you knit with multiple strands rather than just one. It’s a marvelous but often misunderstood technique that offers almost limitless possibilities. 

Rules of the Game

There are a few things to know before you begin experimenting. First and foremost, the effect you want to achieve impacts your choice of yarns. The three main variables in stranding are:

  • Stranding for bulk or added thickness
  • Stranding to achieve interesting fabric texture
  • Stranding to achieve unusual color combinations

Stranding for Bulk

If you simply want to bulk up your project, either for added thickness or to make it knit up faster, the world is your oyster.

Your easiest option is simply to double up on the same yarn in the same color. You may also want to try a subtle variation in colors to add depth to your work. Even a slightly different shade of the color can produce lovely results.

Adding Texture

Stranding is also an easy way to add texture to an otherwise flat garment. Two of the most common texture-producing additions are boucle and slubby yarns. The above images show a combination of slubby and furry yarn (left image) and a pairing of mohair and boucle (right image).

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that not all yarns will strand harmoniously. Those with a tight spin and high surface definition tend to hog the spotlight if you try and blend them with a quieter yarn. The result is an awkward “did you mean to do that?” effect.

A way to get around this is to match your colors as closely as possible. The similar colors help subdue the yarn differences and give the fabric a three-dimensional effect at the same time. Keep in mind that up close it may still look slightly odd.

Creating Color

Obviously it’s easiest to strand two of the exact same yarn. This gives you a faster-knitting, bulky project without adding any complexity. (The above-left image shows one such combination.)

If you want to have more fun, here are some other color options and the effects they generally produce. Keep in mind that some colors simply won’t mix. (The above-right image is an example.)

  • Blend your dominant color with a slightly lighter one in the same color family.
  • Pick a multicolored yarn for one strand, then pair it with another strand that picks up on the predominant color in the multicolored strand.
  • Use a lighter hue for your dominant color, then pair it with a light gold or silver, which will produce nice highlights and a subtle illuminated effect.
  • Pair your dominant color with either white, black, brown, or grey to produce a tweed-like effect

What Are the Best Yarns for Stranding?

How well will two yarns combine? Here’s a simple test to find out. Take one strand of each, twist them together, and then wrap the combined strand several times around your finger. How well do the two blend? Does one strand jump out at you more than the other? 

The “Blur” Factor

Since you’re trying to achieve a harmonious blend with your strands, often the best blends for stranding are those yarns with a softer, more blurry look to them. An example of this is Classic Elite’s Pandemonium, which combines a strand of brushed mohair (La Gran) and a strand of mohair boucle (Commotion). 

Chenille

Chenille yarns also blend well, especially with brushed mohair. Classic Elite’s three-strand Wildflowers yarn is made up of a strand of mohair, rayon chenille, and textured cotton.

The only problem with chenille when stranded with other yarns is that it may have a tendency to “pop” out of the fabric. Be prepared to tug it back into place periodically, either by hand or with the help of a crochet hook. Berroco Chinchilla is a lovely chenille for stranding with Glace (also from Berroco) because it has a furry texture with a good amount of heft and slink.

Other successful combinations I’ve seen include brushed mohair and rayon (Fiesta Yarns’ La Boheme, shown in the above image, is an exquisite example of this).

Down in Front!

When you’re stranding two types of yarns, rarely will they blend perfectly. Instead, one strand normally dominates the pattern while the other moves to the background and anchors the work.

This is especially true when you’re working with brushed mohair. It will naturally subdue whatever else you’re using with it. This can be good if you’re working with bright-colored yarns (especially silk or rayon), because the mohair will subdue the intensity of color.

It’s not a good idea to pair mohair with a yarn whose texture and color you want to see clearly, however. I tried blending mohair with an exquisite yarn that combined angora, cashmere, and silk, and all subtlety was lost. I ended up using a strand of Henry’s Attic alpaca instead.

Getting Good at Gauge

Be sure to give your stranded work ample breathing room. You may have to go up several needle sizes before you reach a comfortable texture.

Speaking as someone who didn’t give the strands enough room and ended up with a bulletproof sweater, I can assure you that the extra time to get your gauge right will pay off in the end. If you’re stranding two bulky yarns, prepare to use surprisingly big needles.

A Few Words on Fulling

Stranding is a popular technique for fulling. Here you are more free to experiment with tighter-spun yarns because the fulling process will cause them to relax and combine with their companions. (The images HERE show a combination of Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Worsted and Hand Paint Originals before and after fulling.)

Because spun fibers require free movement before they can full, be sure to leave even more open space in your work than you would with a normal-sized project. Most fulling patterns will specify the exact gauge you need.

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