Dominant and resessive

We’ve been having a bit of a conversation in the naknimitmo group regarding color work and yarn dominance. If you’ve never heard of yarn dominance the basic idea is that the stitches made with one yarn stand out more than the other based on how you’re holding them. Yarn dominance only comes into play when you’re knitting with two strands and it only matters at the edges between the two colors. But when it matters it can matter a lot.

The dominant yarn is always the one you hold closer to the fabric or under the other strand or strands. In this case I’m holding the white yarn dominant:


When working with two colors I normally hold both yarns in my right hand like this:


You can also hold one in each hand. Since I don’t knit continental I find this slows me down although it’s a pretty good trick when I want to knit with three colors in a single row.


I’m only brushing the surface here on “ways to hold your yarn.” I’m not even trying to cover things like yarn guides, or where to put third or fourth strands if you’re doing more than two colors in a row. Every knitter has their own preferences, techniques, and tricks for maintaining tension. I think the goal for stranded colorwork is to find something you’re comfortable with that doesn’t involve dropping and picking up each yarn as you go. (and hey, if you don’t think that slows you waaaay down, go for it)

But no matter where you hold the yarns or how you knit the dominant yarn is the one closest to the fabric and this makes the stitches just slightly bigger. If you’re looking at your hands and you still can’t figure out which is dominant my suggestion is to knit TWO gauge swatches. I know many knitters dislike them. But there’s really no better way to see how much yarn dominance is going to affect your knitting than to try it out. Any time one stitch is surrounded by a sea of the other color, or you have a diagonal line of single stitches, or little curlicues, or anything like that and you usually want the motif yarn to be dominant. That’d be whichever color your using for the flecks, lines, curlicues, flowers, and snowflakes.

I discovered something else about yarn dominance recently. It really matters when knitting corrugated ribbing. The dominant yarn should be the knit stitches, purls need to be the recessive yarn. If you get it backwards:

purls dominant

Then it just looks wrong. The purls are trying to come forward which just doesn’t work. Even the stitches themselves know that purls are supposed to recede. Poor things look so awkward. If you reverse things (ie frog it all and try again) and put the knit color yarn in the dominant spot:

knits dominant

See how much happier everything looks? The knits are coming forward just as they should. The purls are happily receding. So even though I’m using the white yarn as the dominant color in the hand of this mitten it needs to be recessive in the cuff. Sometimes I learn these things the hard way. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to make them yourself!


4 responses to “Dominant and resessive

  1. Thank you– this really clarifies it and makes it easy to remember!

    • I’m so glad it helps! Taking pictures of my own hands is tricky, but I do think actually SEEING the difference is key to understanding it. At least for my own style of learning.

      On Tue, Jan 27, 2015 at 12:53 AM, Ramblings wrote:


  2. And here I thought this was going to be a genetics post . . . .

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