Best Tip for Choosing Colors for Stranded Knitting

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When knitting toys, choosing colors for stranded knitting can make or break a project. But I’ve got a trick to help you pick the best colors every time!

Stranded Knitting and Summer Camp

You may be asking yourself what in the world stranded knitting and summer camp have to do with one another. Unless I’m missing something, I don’t think they do. But last week I spent my days as a camp counselor at Wings of Eagles Ranch, a therapeutic horseback riding facility for children with special needs. By night I was a stranded knitting colorwork queen.

Stranded Knitting

Stranded knitting is a type of knitting where multiple (usually two) colors are used in a single row or round to create a pattern. It varies greatly, and you may see large motifs, longer floats or repeats, small geometric patterning, elaborate shape with long repeats, or multiple colors per round.

Kelbourne Woolens

I have become more and more interested in stranded colorowork knitting. The beautiful colors and motifs that can be achieved are endless. The differences between the types of colorwork, how they came to be, and when they gained in popularity is absolutely fascinating. If you fancy learning more check out the link to Kelbourne Woolens.

Animals in Clothing

Not only do I love colorwork sweaters, cowls, hats, and mittens, but handmade animals wearing them as well! I have always adored animals in clothing. I love them layered up in button down cardigans, fair isle hats, cozy scarves, colorful dresses, sweet pinafores, and argyle socks. Maybe it stems from my love of Beatrix Potter stories and her whimsical illustrations. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is cuter than a bunny rabbit in a bright blue peacoat. (Where are my Peter Rabbits fans?) So combining my two loves is a dream come true for me.

Difference in Choosing Colors for Amigurumi Project vs. Colorwork

There is a big difference between choosing colors for a knitting or crochet project and choosing colors for stranded knitting. Deciding on colors for your colorwork projects could be the most important step you take. Picking the wrong colors can create a project that while technically perfect, falls flat.

Just because two or more colors look good together does not mean they will work for stranded knitting or fair isle. When I decided to make little Elliott Elephant (from the Little Cotton Rabbits patterns) I knew that I wanted him to be a boy and that he would wear a cute colorwork sweater. When I decided on the Family Car sweater I began working out which colors I would use.

Primary Color – Red

I knew right away that I wanted the car to be red, just like it is in the pattern. I also knew that I would use black for the wheels and white for the windows. But I did want to change the background color. I initially chose two different color greens to see which would look best. I knew that I wanted the red car to really pop and not get lost in a busy or dull background. Both greens looked beautiful side-by-side with the cranberry red color.

If you would like more information about choosing colors for amigurumi or hand knit toy projects check out my blog post Amigurumi 101: Part 2 – Choosing a Pattern and Color Palette.

Trick for Choosing Colors for Stranded Knitting

Choosing color for stranded knitting is the most important step in colorwork, in my humble opinion. It isn’t enough to just know how to knit colorwork. Two colors that look beautiful next to one another may not work for stranded knitting.

Take the two colors you would like to use and twist them together. (I demonstrate this technique in the Youtube video if you would like to see it in action.) If you see high contrast you can safely assume they will work well for colorwork. I initially tried the cranberry red color with a gorgeous deep jade green. When I twisted the two together the combination just looked muddy. I then thought a lighter army green would work and I twisted them. While the contrast was definitely better, it was still pretty muddy.

I then pulled out a light tan color and twisted it with the red. Voila. Gorgeous, high contrast. If you don’t achieve that contrast with your two colors you may end up disappointed in the final result. I knew that I wanted my little red car to really pop and be highly visible. To achieve that result I needed yarns with high contrast.

Summer Camp

This was my second year volunteering at Wings of Eagles Ranch. It is a therapeutic horseback riding facility for children and adults with special needs. Each summer they organize four, weeklong summer camps for kids. There are children who attend that are developmentally typical all the way to severely disabled. Each group has a mixture of the two and each child has a individual counselor. My older son, who was once a special needs camper, is now a counselor. My younger son was also a counselor and what a blessing it was to be together and share this experience together.

Special Needs and Typically Developing Kids

I was a group leader and had seven boys and their teenage counselors in my group. We had boys with Downs Syndrome, genetic disorders, autism, and typically developing. They did all the things kids are supposed to do at summer camp. They made crafts, sang songs, and rode horses. Also they were able to participate in high ropes activities like zip lining and rock wall climbing.

The camp ran from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. It was exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally. And it was wonderful. Those seven boys were the most amazing kids and I was genuinely sad when the last day arrived. Watching these boys have fun together, encourage one another, and overcome tremendous obstacles was truly inspiring.

Camp Story

One wonderful story came about on our next to last day. The boys were at an activity called “Tree House”. It is a high ropes course 20 or more feet in the air. There are three stages ranging from a swinging bridge, a narrow beam, to a single cable all connected to two trees. Each boy was strapped in a harness and then attached to a cable above their heads. Experienced high rope guides took them across one by one.

Tree House

Each camper has the right to make the decision whether or not they want to participate in any activity. It is not uncommon for a child to decide not to do a high ropes course but it is common for everyone to encourage them to try. One boy in our group was very scared to attempt the Tree House course. He was afraid of the heights and was very unsure. This little camper also has Downs Syndrome is ten years old.

As he sat on the platform one of the other campers sat next to him. This young man is 12 and has severe ADHD and experiences tremendous self doubt. But as he sat there, he put his arm around his friend and said, “I believe in you. I know you can do it.” He said it over and over.

Guess what? Our little camper with Downs Syndrome began to believe it himself. He ended up doing two of the Tree House courses and while he was getting harnessed he asked everyone to cheer his name. We were more than happy to indulge his sweet request. Our entire group began cheering his name and as our voices began to tire he would say, “Louder!! Cheer louder!” This would result in the whole group erupting in laughter and louder cheering and clapping! My voice was almost gone by the end of that day but my heart was so full watching two of my campers reach their potential.


I wish I could share more about each boy and the challenges he is facing. Some of them would break your heart. They have wonderful families, they had smiles on their faces every minute of the day, and yet life isn’t easy. Two of them are quickly approaching their life expectancy. One is eighteen and is still in a diaper. Another is so bright but has so so much self doubt. I just want to wrap my arms around them and keep them safe from the trials and tribulations they will continue to face.

My Motto

My motto for Le Petit Saint Crochet is “Making Small Things with Great Love” and a version of it applies to my time at summer camp. I cannot take away the trials these boys will face. I can’t make their life spans longer. I cannot change the way the world sees them. But what I can do is change is one week of their lives. I can “Do Small Things with Great Love.” That phrase was made famous by the incredible Mother Teresa. I can love on them, play with them, accept them, and keep them safe while in my care. That is what I did this year and I plan on continuing to do that as long as I physically can.

Thank You

Finally thank you for allowing me to share a little bit about what is on my needles and on my heart. I would love to hear from you. What are you currently working on? Are you a fan of stranded knitting? Have you ever tried the trick for choosing colors for stranded knitting? Do you volunteer someplace that makes your heart sing? I want to hear all about it!

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  1. Beautiful and informative post, Elise. You are always inspiring me in so many ways. I definitely want to learn stranded knitting!

      1. You’re right, nothing is cuter than a bunny rabbit in a bright blue peacoat, but surely Elliot Elephant disagrees! Beautiful post.

  2. I so love your work and I know your tips are for real because all your colors work so well together!! Also love reading about your family and your camp experience <3!

  3. Very interesting and informative article. You’re blessed to be able to share your love with your special needs campers. I love your knitting creations. They are so cute and each has a unique personality!

  4. I love your creativity and your heart Elise! My husband and I were camp counselors for our church for several years. We always said, “we thought we were here to change a child’s life but if they only knew how they’re changing us.” What an amazing opportunity for you!