Feb 12, 2023

Ladder Back Jacquard Invisibly Manage Long Floats in Stranded Knitting

Ladder Back Jacquard, where have you been all my life?

Many of the special hand knitting techniques that I have adopted over the years were discovered through desperate necessity. Late at night, absolutely exasperated and muttering to myself, “There's got to be a better way!" Then turning to Google or YouTube to compose a series of clumsy search queries.

Some of my favorite go-to methods were discovered like this—slip-knot cast on or the icelandic bind-off, for instance. Occasionally, this has lead to me “unventing" something unique, like my method for vertical stranding or 2-row jogless stripes in the round.

I recently found myself in a desperate moment like this while designing a colorwork motif for my new design, the Arquette Pullover. The Fair Isle motif requires a series of very long floats and the good ol' “Catch the Float" method just wasn't cutting it.

Enter, the Ladder Back Jacquard technique—a very cool method for invisibly managing long floats in stranded colorwork. I went on a deep-dive and learned everything I could. And now, I'm going to pass on my learnings in a long and rambling blog post. But if you'd rather just watch the video, this one's for you:

What is the Ladder Back Jacquard Method?

The Ladder Back Jacquard method is used in Fair Isle colorwork knitting to turn a series of long floats into a “ladder" of interlocking stitches on the back side. This neatly secures the floats and gives the piece impressive elasticity.

The term “jacquard" refers to any kind of fabric that has a layer of floats on the back. This method turns those floats into columns of stitches (ladders) that are only visible on the back side—hence, “Ladder Back Jacquard". It's actually a simplified version of double knitting.

Why would you use the Ladder Back Jacquard Method?

There are three related reasons why you would choose the Ladder Back Jacquard method to manage long floats in your color work—elasticity, tension, and stitch distortion.

1. Long floats are more susceptible to getting caught on things like fingers or jewelry. Snags can seriously distort the beautiful design that you've painstakingly knitted.

2. Also, it can be difficult to maintain a loose, even tension when managing long floats. If you aren't careful, your knitting may become tighter and tighter with every progressive row. This will cause puckering in your knitting and make it extremely in-elastic. To even out the puckering, you may have to stretch the floats in blocking which will cause the stitches to distort.

3. The longer your float is, the less elastic your knitting will become. If you need to stretch your knitted garment, like to get it over your head or ankle, you may end up pulling the long floats beyond their natural limit and distorting your motif. I've even heard of people accidentally tearing their colorwork because of this problem.

Ladder Back Jacquard Vs Catching Floats:

There is another much more common technique called “catching a float" or “trapping a float" that addresses some of these same problems, but it has drawbacks, especially if you're using it many times in one piece.

The catching floats method is not nearly as elastic as the Ladder Back Jacquard—it's about the same as doing nothing, in fact. It can be difficult to maintain a loose tension and it can still be slightly visible from the front side.

For these reasons I mainly use the “catching a float" method when I have an odd long float here or there within a fair Isle motif.

If you want to see my method for catching floats without getting your yarns in a tangle, check out my video.

How to Knit Ladder Back Jacquard

The Ladder Back Jacquard method is especially suited for sections of circular colorwork that have multiple rows of long-floats stacked on top of eachother or if there are especially long stretches between motifs that require carrying the unused yarn great distances (more than 10 stitches). Later in this post, I'll explain how to identify where to place the ladders.

Create the Initial Ladder Stitch:

a. Bring the main color to the front of your work first, then bring the float color to the front.

b. Do a M1L increase and...

c. Purl into the back loop with the float color. You can actually use any increasing method here, but I prefer either using the lifted increase or a M1L increase because they are invisible and anchor the ladder to the fabric.

d. Move both yarn strands to the back side at the same time.

This new stitch is the “Ladder Stitch". This extra stitch will live on your needle for all subsequent rows until you are done with the section that has long floats.

Continue the Ladder Pattern:

a. On the next row, work to the Ladder Stitch

b. Move the working yarn to the front of the work between the needle tips, then move the float color to the front, in that order. This keeps the ladder floating neatly behind the work. If you mess up the order it will be obvious after a row or two. You can fix it on a subsequent row by using a crochet hook to rework the layers.

c. Purl the Ladder Stitch with the float color.

d. Move both strands to the back of the work and continue working the motif as normal.

Continue working the ladder stitch on every row as described until the width of the float is 5 sts or less. I usually continue the ladder until the motif no longer requires a float in that column of stitches.

End the ladder:

a. On the next row, work to the ladder stitch.

b. Knit-2-together using the color indicated in your motif.

c. Continue working as normal. The ladder stitch should be invisible from the front side.

A few extra notes about the Ladder Back Jacquard technique:

  • • You can identify where you want to put your ladder stitch on the fly, but personally, I like to plan it ahead of time and mark my chart so that I don't get confused. You want to place your jacquard stitches so that you never have a float longer than 5 stitches, or 6 stitches max if you must. I've already done this work for you on the chart for my Arquette Pullover, which you can see below.
  • • You could do a knit stitch instead of a purl for your ladder stitch, but I think purling is easier and looks prettier on the back.
  • • The Ladder Back Jacquard technique is really best used when knitting circularly, but it is possible to perform all the same steps when working flat, just reverse everything when working the back (purl) side.
  • The Ladder Back Jacquard technique can enable you to knit intarsia motifs in the round, but this conversion is really only feasible if only 2 colors are used in one row.
  • • If your motif has many areas of long floats on every row, consider extending ladders beyond small sections to span the larger motif area. You could create an even mesh of ladders that covers the entire back side of your work. You would set up ladders evenly spaced—say 5 sts apart— on the first row of your work and then maintain all the ladders throughout, switching which color you knit the ladder with when the motif dictates a change, until you finish the last row of colorwork. On the back, the ladders would make long, tidy columns spanning all the way from top to bottom.

You can see this technique in action in my new knitting pattern, the Arquette Pullover, available on my site, my Payhip shop and Ravelry Shop. Using the Ladder Back Jacquard method is optional in this project, but I made it easy by including handy symbols on the color work chart to help you plan where to place the ladder stitches, which you can see pictured below.

I hope that you had fun learning and will incorporate the Ladder Back Jacquard method into your knitting projects.


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