FLASH DANCE – PART II

Yesterday I wrote about establishing the flash value.  Today I write about what might go wrong while you’re doing so.

First, there’s the gauge problem.  When I do it, the gauge of the row that I pick up off the provisional chain isn’t exactly the same as my plain old stockinette gauge.  The waste yarn choice or tension of how I knit that first row can cause all sorts of oddities.  This is especially true for me when I use larger size needles (anything over a US #3).  As I knit the second row I might find my color alignment drifting because there are too many or too few stitches in the pick-up row.  Not many, but enough to throw things off.  For example, row two might hit a designated color change point several stitches before that same spot appeared on the cast-on row.  If that happens I might cheat on the knit row immediately following my cast-on.  If I see the color repeat drifting too much to the right, I might knit two stitches together.  Conversely, if I "over-run" a color match point, I might rip back a couple of inches, then do a make-one to add a stitch, bringing the target sploches into better alignment. 

I do however have to take care if I change the stitch count.  If you look at my parrot-color sweater, you’ll see wide swings where the colors lurch from side to side.  That’s normal.  Two things make the zig-zags happen.  First, one’s tension is not always uniform.  Most of us have near imperceptible changes in gauge as we sit through a knitting session.  We knit more tightly when we sit down, then loosen up a bit as our hands relax.  Finally when we get tired, we tighten up again.  Tighter knitting migrates the colors to the right.  Looser knitting migrates the stripes to the left.  I knit my parrot sweater’s body in two sessions.  They’re easy to pick out.

Hand painted yarns also have a playful imprecision in color placement.   They are never as regimented in their color placement as machine printed yarns (sock self-stripers).   That’s the second factor, and what makes the edges of the stripe so step-like.  Color segments seep into the hank at different rates at different places, yielding different saturations and slightly different lengths of the color segments from strand to strand.  And some blobs may not go all the way through the hank and may seem to disappear after several repeats.

You can see clearly, above.  Look at the 8:00 position on my skein.  There’s a spot of brown.  It encroaches on the teal and bleeds into the khaki, but doesn’t do it uniformly through the hank.  It’s most evident on the top of the skein.  Underneath it looks like the teal touches the khaki directly, with no intermediary fling into brown at all.

This brings me to the second thing that can go wrong.  Not every hand-painted skein is ideal for this type of knitting.  The longer the repeat and wider the individual color splotches, the better suited a yarn is for flashing.  My new yarn is borderline.  I expect some parts will align nicely.  The big teal areas show special promise.  I am expecting the brown and  khaki bits to dance between the teal areas because they are so short and so haphazardly sized.  I am not going to get the clear zig-zag stripe of my parrot sweater.  Instead I’m expecting something with more of a softer forest floor/camoflauge look.

UPDATE:  The third factor that limits flash is generated by how the skein is dyed, in conjunction with the total garment circumference.  Strands that are adjacent in the original hank when it was dyed are more likely to be close or near-close matches than are strands that are further apart.  If you have a garment that’s small enough to be traversed around by only two repeats, the color stacking you will see will be much more in alignment than will a garment knit from the same yarn that takes five full repeats to complete one round.  That’s wny it’s not uncommon to see flash kits for toddler sweaters but less common to see them for adult sizes. If I were into dyeing and wanted to aim for flashing yarn in an adult circumference, I might try winding my yarn into hanks that are significantly wider around than the sizes most commonly used.

Now after several fits and starts of my own project – all the result of the pitfalls outlined abouve  (you have to be willing to rip out several times if you’re going to start a flash sweater), I think I’ve got the stitch count thing down.  I hope to have actual pix of it in the next post.

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