Knitting with multiple colors at once is always really tricky, but especially when you have several balls of yarn rolling around. Most of the time, it can be quite annoying to unravel and detangle the different strands of yarn as you juggle them to create a colorful pattern.
Fortunately, there is a way to assist you with all of the different strands of yarn when you are knitting a piece using Fair Isle or intarsia techniques. You can use yarn bobbins!
How do you knit with bobbins? Knitting with bobbins is as simple as wrapping a few grams of each yarn around the bobbin for each color needed and treating them like any skein of yarn. Bobbins are lightweight so having 2 or more hanging in your colorwork is generally easy to work with.
You have probably heard of bobbins used in sewing, but what about knitting? In this article, we will tell you all about knitting with bobbins and how you can use them to make knitting with several colors a lot easier.
What Are Yarn Bobbins?
Yarn bobbins are small plastic clips or frames that you can find in most craft stores, like this set from Clover shown here. They can hold small amounts of yarn, which makes the yarn bobbins very small and light, perfect if you need to juggle several strands of yarn to feed to your work.
Yarn bobbins are the most useful when you have to alternate between several strands of yarn in the same row to create a pattern, for example, in intarsia, Fair Isle knitting, or any kind of colorwork.
When you knit with these techniques, you will find that you have to alternate between two or three colors quite often, which can cause a lot of tangles. If you are using several big yarn balls, it can be painful to have several yarn balls rolling around and even jumping out of your yarn bowl, collecting dust on the floor. Yuck.
Yarn bobbins can relieve you of that stress. Since yarn bobbins are quite small and light, they can hang freely from your work and weight until the strand is in use. If you are using the clip-on yarn bobbins, you can even clip the yarn bobbins to the bottom of your work, which keeps them quite organized.
Yarn bobbins come in all kinds of shapes, and you can purchase them in most craft stores and online. In the next section, we will walk you through the most popular types of yarn bobbins and how to use them.
How To Use Yarn Bobbins
How many yarn bobbins should you use for a single pattern?
The answer to this question depends on how many color changes that the pattern requires. Before you start knitting, you should look at the pattern and see what the row that requires the most color changes is to see how many yarn bobbins, minimum, that you will need to use.
For example, if you have six different colors in a single row, you should use seven yarn bobbins (six colors means that you have to change to a new strand seven times).
Then, you can start winding the colors onto the yarn bobbins to use in your work. There are a few types of yarn bobbins, but the most common types are bobbins that look like clothespins and bobbins that look like bread clips.
If you are using the “clothespins” type, you should wind the yarn around the middle of the clip (where the thinnest area of the clamp is). Winding the yarn this way allow the clip to remain functional, which means you can open the clip and secure it around the bottom of your work as you knit.
When you get to a new color change, simply unclip that color, unravel some yarn of the new color from the clip and change the yarn. You can secure the clip that holds the old color on the bottom of your work when it is not in use.
When you secure your bobbin this way, you can keep your work super organized and avoid tangles as you work. The clothespins bobbins are especially useful when you are using three or more colors because they allow you to keep your bobbins in one place.
If you are using the “bread clips” type – these bobbins look like large versions of the clips that we often use to secure sandwich bread bags you get at the store- you won’t have the option of clipping the bobbins onto your work.
We recommend using this type of yarn bobbin when you have two or three colors of yarn because these bobbins are quite light and small.
When you use this type of yarn bobbins, you should also wind the bobbins before starting your project. Since these bobbins will just be hanging around freely as you knit, you should wrap the live strand once around the clip opening when you finish winding the bobbin so that it doesn’t unravel when you don’t want it to.
After that, you can start using the yarn bobbins as you normally would and replenish the bobbins when you reach the end of your yarn.
Tips For Knitting With Yarn Bobbins
Getting a feel for knitting with bobbins will take time and practice, but here are a few tips to make your learning process a little smoother.
How Much Yarn Should You Have on a Single Bobbin?
This is a tricky question since you don’t want to make your bobbins too heavy, but you also don’t want to have to replenish your yarn too often. Stopping to add more yarn every couple of rows – especially with a smaller project – just gets frustrating.
We recommend having a few grams of yarn (several yards, depending on yarn weight) around your bobbin at a time.
You don’t want your bobbins to be too heavy because it can cause a lot of strain on your work. You definitely don’t want to have to pick up a really heavy piece of work, which will make it more tiring to knit and slow your progress. That’s not kind to your wrists!
You will find that heavy bobbins will also increase the tension on your work, while empty bobbins will not create too much tension, so it will be difficult to keep the tension even with your stitches.
How To Do a Magic Knot
Since a few grams of yarn is not a lot, you will need to replenish your yarn as you work. You can use the magic knot to add more yarn, so the knot won’t be too visible as you will surely have a lot of knots around your work.
Here’s how to make a magic knot:
- Put your two strands of yarn together, with the ends facing opposite directions.
- Wrap strand 1 around strand 2 and create a knot around 2” from the end.
- Wrap strand 2 around strand 1 and create a knot around 2” from the end. You will now have two knots a few inches apart, with two parallel strands of yarn in the middle.
- Pull the long tails of the two strands in opposite directions. You will have a secure knot in the middle. Clip the short tail.
But if you’re a visual learner, here’s a video tutorial showing you how to make a magic knot from crocheter Bella Coco:
A magic knot is a great way to extend your yarn. The knot is quite secure, and it can appear invisible if you don’t pay close attention – hence the name “magic knot.”
While You Knit
When you knit, it will be easier to let out a few inches of yarn at a time to feed to your work. You don’t want the working yarn to be too long because it may get tangled as you knit, especially if you are using the bread clip type.
If you are working back and forth to make a flat piece of knitting, we also recommend using straight needles instead of circular needles. Straight needles make everything easier to keep track of, and you don’t have to worry about an extra cord getting in the way as you make your way through the row.
But if you do need to work with circular needles, you can let your bobbins hang down the middle of your work. Just be sure to keep them from tangling.
Yarn Bobbin Substitutes
Although some people prefer to use plastic yarn bobbins because of their practicality and ease of use, they are surely not required. If you want to find a free substitute for yarn bobbins, there is a way to create a yarn bobbin with no tools at all!
To create a yarn bobbin with no tools, you can wind your yarn with your fingers as below:
- Place your thumb, and your index fingers about 3-4 inches apart.
- Wrap your yarn around your index finger a few times to secure the end of the yarn so it wouldn’t unravel.
- Wind the yarn around your two fingers and make a figure 8 with the yarn.
- When you have enough yarn, pinch the middle of the figure 8 and remove your fingers from the yarn.
- Use a short piece of spare yarn to tie the bobbin in the middle of figure 8, make sure not to pull too tightly as you will need to make room for the yarn to be pulled from the bobbin.
- Pull the yarn from inside the bobbin using the end that was previously secured around your index finger. This way, the yarn won’t get tangled as you pull from the bobbin to feed your work.
Repeat these steps to make as many bobbins as you want to assist with your knitting.
This method works if you are knitting a small piece with only two or three strands of yarn. But if you are using more than three different bobbins, we recommend investing in a few clothespin bobbins that you can clip on your work to make colorwork a lot easier.
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