Inspired by Knitting in Color Nanette's recent post on the effect of dominance in stranded knitting, I decided to do a little test on how dominance affects MY knitting.
Wait! What IS dominance, you ask. I'm talking about the way that some stitches appear ever so slightly larger than the others. Maybe you've noticed that some of your pattern stitches sort of disappear (this can really be vexing in, say, a Scandinavian lice sweater with individual pattern stitches being used in a large background). Or maybe your knitting seems uneven.
The general wisdom is that, when holding the yarn in both hands, the yarn in the left hand will be dominant. This has nothing to do with your "handedness," by the way. But dominance occurs when you hold both yarns in the right or left hands--it seems to be affected by which yarn comes from under the other. Ann Feitelson in The Art of Fair Isle Knitting (page 58) looks closely at this effect.
I decided to do some swatching to illustrate how dominance affects my knitting. I hold my yarn in both hands when knitting two colors; in one-color knitting, I hold my yarn in my left hand (Continental or pick style). In general, I have better and tighter tension on the yarn carried in my left hand; my right hand yarn is somewhat sloppy in comparison. Even so, take a look at the startling effects of dominance below.
Top half: Dark yarn held in my left hand; light in my right.
Bottom half: Light yarn held in my left hand; dark in my right.
The next photo shows the back side of the swatch. Top half: dark yarn held in left hand. Bottom half: light yarn held in left hand. Note the dark line in the middle where is switched hands.
And here's the shadow-knitting effect when the swatch is viewed from the side:
Knowing this about my knitting, I set up my charts so that I use the dominance effect to my benefit. First, I chart patterns so that the pattern stitches are the X's. Second, I know that any time I see an X in the chart I use my left hand. It doesn't matter that the X indicates a lighter color than the blank square--the X indicates pattern, NOT value (darkness)! I never have to worry about what I was doing when I pick up knitting that has been relegated to a closet time out (I may have other worries about the project, but which hand I was using isn't one of them!).
When we unwittingly ignore the effect of dominance by changing in the middle of a project, the problem is obvious. Sadly, however, it's not always glaring while the knitting is in our hands--the cruel reality is that we might not notice until the garment is blocking. And blocking won't solve the problem (the swatches pictured above were blocked). Elizabeth Zimmermann wrote about trying to wash out a soiled area in one of the socks she knit for her husband--and then realized that the "dirt" was simply an area where she had absentmindedly switched hands.
Nanette correctly notes that not everyone's knitting shows the same dominance effect--my experiment shows that it's worth spending the time to learn about how dominance affects YOUR knitting.