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Ask Patty: Stripe Trauma – Mason-Dixon Knitting


With spring comes color, and with color comes great stripes, and with great stripes comes great responsibility. This month I had not one, but two excellent color questions.

Joining It In

Dear Patty,

What is the best way to join new yarn when you have run out for stripes?  I read a great article on Mason-Dixon Knitting recently that named several methods of joining a new ball. It covered when to join in the middle, when to join on the edge, all sorts of examples except for the one I need, a striped scarf. I can’t join in the middle if I’m changing colors (like I would for a single color scarf). I can’t just start knitting on the edge (that leaves a big loop). I can’t tie on (a knot makes a lump). To quote an old TV commercial, there’s got to be a better way.

Living on the Edge

Dear Living,

Like with so many knitting “rules,” this one left me in the dust for years. First, when I was a new knitter I was told to “always” join a new ball at the start of a row. Then in later years, I was told to “never” join a new ball at the start of the row when knitting a shawl or scarf. Like you, I felt stuck between the nevers and the alwayses.

What’s a girl to do? Make it up! I don’t know if this is the best way, but it’s my way, and it works.

If you just start knitting with the new color, the edge is pretty sloppy, even when you purl back and snug up the tail.

For a neat join, I start by putting the tail of the new color under the old color. If you are a thrower (English-style knitter), you can hold the tail going to the left:

Or, if you’re a picker (Continental-style knitter), to the right:

Knit the first stitch with the new color, and then holding the tail and the working yarn together with the old color trapped between them, like this:

English (thrower).

Continental (picker).

Knit the second stitch. Then drop the tail and just start knitting with the new color.

When you purl back over the doubled stitch, work it like one stitch.

When you’re back on the RS row, give a little snug to the tail of the new color.

And, ta-da! A neat, clean stripe:

This is my way and it works for me. I’m a huge fan of making things up.


Carrying It Up

Dear Patty,

I want to work stripes in flat work (like shawls). I don’t want to cut the yarn at the edges. (All those ends!) I’ve frogged the project three times now because when I carry the yarn up, it makes the edge all gathery. How do you properly carry yarn up the side of a project? Thanks for flattening out my shawl,

Wrinkly Edges in Chicago

Dear Wrinkly,

Your query reminds me of the first time I did Fair Isle. I carried the floats too tightly across the back of the work, and the whole piece ended up looking like an old man that had been in the water too long.

If you pull on your yarn too tightly when carrying yarn up the side for stripes you can have the same issue.

When you bring your new color under the old color, the yarn you are carrying up the side is like a vertical float, so if you pull too tightly you can get a slouchy look.

If you notice your stripe is getting slouchy, it’s not too late. You can give a tug to your work to let the carried yarn relax before you go back to the first color. But, if you start the next stripe without de-slouching your work, it’s all over but the crying.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of de-slouching, so here’s how to avoid it in the first place. When you bring your new color under the old color and enter the first stitch, you can hold onto the fabric as you knit the first stitch. I hold onto it with my thumb and middle finger and pull down a bit. This will make sure you are keeping your carry loose enough to not hike your fabric up.

If you do this for the first stitch of each RS row you’ll have a perfectly smooth, non-slouchy, non-wrinkly striped marvel! As with so many things in life, the secret is to relax your grip.

Speaking of Relaxing

Dear Patty,

I have been knitting for about two years now. I love it, but I’m clearly doing it all wrong. I keep reading articles about the health benefits of knitting. It’s supposed to be relaxing. It’s supposed to lower my blood pressure. It’s supposed to boost my brain power, and it’s supposed to teach me patience.

My kids have pointed out that none of these things are happening.

Relaxing? I love it, but I mostly knit lace and I have to concentrate like crazy. I get stressed, I drop stitches, I rip, I swear.

Boost my brain power? I need to cast on 182 stitches and have to rip and redo it 3 times because I can’t seem to count to 182.

If patience means snapping at my kids “not now, I’m counting,” or “wait until I finish the row,” then, yeah, I’m patient.

So, how do I reach this knitting nirvana that I hear so much about?

Not calm, patient or smart in Tucson (Janet)

Dear Janet,

I have so many feels about this particular myth.

I blame Instagram for the unicorn of the “calm and patient knitter.” There’s Instagram, where we see a serene knitter, sitting by a lake with her bare feet in the grass, calmly knitting double-sided brioche seemingly without looking. What we don’t see is real life, and happens right after that picture is snapped: the knitter looking down, seeing a mistake four rows ago, swearing, crying, ripping, and throwing up in her mouth a little bit.

Let’s look at the real health benefits of knitting.

Blood Pressure

I must ask, do you love knitting? Does it make you happy? Of course it does. If everything in life came easy, we wouldn’t appreciate it. I still maintain that living in a place with winter makes me appreciate the spring, summer, and fall. So think about the feeling you get, the ecstatic high that comes from fixing a mistake in cables or lace. That joy would not be nearly as powerful without the soul-crushing low that came when you first saw the mistake.

So, knitting does lower your blood pressure—after it’s raised it.

Brain Power

I guarantee you knitting makes you smarter. So you occasionally can’t count to 182, but you can take two sticks and string and make a hat where there never was a hat. That’s brilliant!


How many times have you ripped out and then tried again? That’s patience. Anytime we press on with our knitting instead of throwing it on a bonfire or wadding it in a ball and sticking pins in it like some kind of sad crafter’s voodoo doll, we are showing more patience than most people will ever know.

So, knit on, swear, cry, laugh, feel the lows and the highs of what it is to be a knitter, and know that you are calm, patient, and smart—on the inside.

Patty in Your Pocket

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Categories:   Knitting