Wearing more me made clothes this month has led me to really hone in on the kinds of garments I wear most often. A Fair Isle vest would probably be included in even the tiniest of my personal capsule wardrobe so it seems absurd that I don't actually have one I made myself. Enter swatching. While focussing on playing with colours and practising knitting with dpns and a belt I got distracted from paying attention to the arrangement of my yarns. Although I quickly swapped the colours to the correct hand I started wondering just how big a difference colour dominance really meant.
So I made a mini swatch in the same colours and pattern to see what happened when I switched the dominance. I was shocked by how different the two swatches were. So now we know that colour dominance matters here's how it works.
In any stranded colourwork you hold one colour so that it's always coming from under the other colour when you switch yarns. This will naturally be consistant across a row as long as you're not dropping the yarns and picking them up again when switching colours. I prefer to hold one in each hand but you might like both in one hand better.
If the colour is held higher it's going straight across to the next set of stitches in its colour. The yarn held lower is dipping down a little before stranding across and then back up again to reach the stitch. Some of that extra yarn naturally transfers into the stitch, making the stitches in the lower yarn bigger. Hence dominant colour — it makes the pattern pop more against the background.
These swatches are a great example of the effect this has: lines made up from single stitches only create a joined up line in the pattern when worked in the dominant colour. The only thing that's changed between the two swatches is which colour was dominant on each row otherwise they're the same pattern in the same colour combination (except for one row on the first swatch where I was trying out the the other background colour). The one on the right is a bit distorted at the edges because the swatch was so tiny.
Knowing which colour should be dominant
The pattern colour should always be dominant but it's easier to tell which is the pattern and which is the background on some charts than others. For traditional Fair Isle charts I vastly prefer charts like this where the pattern and arrangement of colours are separated.
The dotted squares are worked in the pattern colour and the empty squares in the background colour. The coloured columns then show which colour is to be used for the pattern and which for the background on each row — sometimes the same colour will be a background colour on one row and a pattern colour on a later row. In this case it also allows two very different palettes to be given for the same pattern.
Not all designs have a clear pattern vs background. In that case the most important thing is to be consistent.