"Floats" is a term used in colorwork. This word describes unused strands of yarn, thread or fiber that are carried across the back of a piece due to a color change on the front of the work. This term is used in the same context by crochet enthusiasts, hand knitters, and machine knitters.
Depending on the project, floats can be problematic if they are too long.
Short floats are not a problem with items where the back will not be exposed. A good example would be double-layered potholders, where you sew the wrong sides of the potholder together so they do not show. You still want to avoid excessively long floats, because they can cause your work to distort even if they won't show on the right side of the work.
With projects where the back side of the work could come into contact with anything or anyone, long floats can create problems. It doesn't matter if the floats are visible or not.
For example, you wouldn't see the inside of a sweater that has floats. But, when you put the sweater on, the floats could catch on your jewelry, fingers, or shirt buttons.
Same thing with a purse or bag that has long floats. Anything you put in the bag could potentially get caught in the floats.
In crochet, long floats are easy to prevent. All you have to do is crochet overtop of the unused strands of yarn instead of stranding it across the back of the work. This technique is called "tapestry crochet." You may wish to view our tapestry crochet tutorial for more information about this technique.
How Long Is Too Long for Floats?
There is no universally correct answer to this question. I'll share my own general guidelines, but these aren't set in stone. Please take these into consideration, but feel free to use common sense to figure out what's best for any particular project.
- For crochet, there are certain projects where I don't like seeing any floats longer than a single stitch - scarves, shawls, and purses are good examples. (Your comfort zone here might vary, and that's perfectly OK.)
- Then there are projects where I don't mind floats of 2-3 stitches across the back of a piece. If the floats would be any longer than that, I tend to prefer crocheting overtop of the unused threads.
- If I were to crochet a piece where the back was guaranteed not to show - a cushion, a double-thick potholder, or a framed piece of wall art - I'd be willing to push my luck with longer floats. But not too much longer, due to potential issues with distortion.
- When I took a machine knitting class at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, my instructor, Eliza Boughous, recommended that any wearable piece with floats of 6 or more stitches be given a lining. I think that's good advice, but with crochet, there's no reason to do this; if you crochet over the unused strands to start with, you avoid the problem of floats all together.