In colorwork or mosaic knitting it's important to keep your floats loose enough on the wrong side so that your work doesn't pucker or pull on the right side. They can't me too tight, nor too loose, but just right — like in Goldilocks.
Knowing what constitutes as loose enough comes with experience but there's also a clever trick to short-cut the process: a simple yarnover. I've picked up this technique over the years but rarely seen it referenced anywhere. (As in: I tried to google it and came up empty.)
This technique works in both mosaic and colorwork knitting when the float length is about 3–7 stitches. For shorter floats I wouldn't bother and for long colorwork floats I'd recommend using the Ladderback Jacquard technique.
This example is from my latest shawl pattern, Enter the Dragon, which features a very simple two-color, slip-stitch mosaic pattern. Here's how it goes.
Step 1: On a right-side row, join contrasting color and work to where you're about to slip stitches. Do a yarnover just before slipping the next three stitches.
Step 2: Slip the next three stitches.
Step 3: Knit the next three stitches. Lather, rinse, and repeat to the end of the row. You'll now have extra strands of yarn crossing over the needle at regular intervals. Don't include the yarnovers in the stitch count.
Step 4: On the following wrong-side row, work to where you're about to slip stitches. Yarnover again just before slipping the next three stitches.
Step 5: Slip the next three stitches. What you have next on the left-hand needle is the extra yarnover from the previous row.
Step 6: Drop that extra yarnover from the needle to the front of the work. Notice how the float relaxes once it's dropped. Knit the next three stitches and then repeat from beginning.
Step 7: Back on right side again and we're switching yarns to the main color. Work to the next yarnover from the row before and drop it off the left-hand needle to the back of the work. Work the next stitches until you reach the next yarnover, drop it off again, and so on.
When working mosaic in the flat remember to always drop the yarnover to the wrong side of the work so that the float doesn't obscure the patterning on the right side. Here's how the floats should look from the wrong side: pretty and even Goldilocks floats.
The yarnover technique can also be used in colorwork knitting. I like to use the technique of catching floats on the following round. But sometimes I concentrate so hard on following the colorwork pattern itself that I forget to pick up the strand from the previous row. With the yarnover trick you simply can't forget! The strand of yarn running across the needle is so glaringly obvious you cannot but stop, drop it, and catch it.
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