Monday, September 16, 2013

On Using Hand-Dyed Yarns

In today's post, I'll be talking about how to successfully knit (or crochet!) with hand-dyed and variegated yarns! 

Each skein of hand-dyed yarn is unique and often has subtle variations that might not be evident in the skein til you begin to knit with it. Shaded solids are often the easiest to manage when knitting a larger project, while variegated yarns behave differently depending on the dye process. 
A selection of hand-dyed yarns.
A general rule of thumb for hand-dyed yarns is to alternate skeins of yarn every couple of rows to minimize differences within the dye lot. Yes, I know it sounds fussy, but trust me - it works and it's worth the extra effort! Alternating skeins tricks the eye to blend the colors of each row, which makes it the knitted piece appear more uniform. Not only is this a handy trick when knitting with skeins from the same dye lot, it also works if you are knitting with skeins from different dye lots! Don't believe me? Let's see some examples to illustrate these points.

First, we have a hat that was knit with two different dye lots of the same color of yarn. At the time, I didn't even notice because they looked the same side-by-side in the skein. In fact, the subtle difference wasn't evident until I washed and blocked the hat - suddenly, a noticeable color change was evident, you can tell that the top of the hat is ever-so-slightly lighter than the bottom of the hat.
In this next exampleI used 3 unmatched dye lots of Sincere Sheep Tenacious sock, alternating skeins every couple of rows. Would you know that to look at it? No way, thanks to the magic of alternating skeins! 
Here's another sweater I knit using two different dye lots of Malabrigo Rios. Instead of alternating dye lots every couple of rows, I decided to try a "cheat": I would knit with a single skein of yarn til I was down to the last 50 or so yards, then I would introduce the second dye lot yarn into the mix by alternating rows til the first skein ran out. Again, can you spot the differences in the dye lots in the finished garment? Nope! 
In this third example, I was knitting a striped sweater using some stash yarn when I ran out of one of the colors. Naturally, the colorway I needed was tough to track down - after numerous google searches, I finally found one skein for sale in a fellow Raveler's stash. When it arrived, it was wildly different from what I'd been using, and I debated for a bit on whether or not I should rip back and alternate skeins or simply make the dye lot difference a "design feature." In the end, design feature won out. From far away, it isn't noticeable, but up close, you can definitely see the difference in shades! 
It's important to note that, even  within the dye lot, hand-dyed yarns can vary quite a bit. To illustrate the point, here are the two skeins of yarn I'll be using for my sweater in October; I dyed them back when I worked at Lorna's Laces, so I know that they were in the exact same dye bath and even cooked in the same pot...yet notice that one skein is definitely darker than the other (no, it's not a trick of the light!). Obviously, I'll be alternating skeins throughout my sweater! 
Finally, let's take a moment to consider variegated yarns. As I mentioned earlier, some variegated yarns are dyed in such a way to minimize pooling (you can see examples of pooling here - the good, bad, and the unfortunate). Other skeins of yarn have more regularly-repeated colors and often result in a pattern emerging - again, you might want to visit the link in the previous paragraph for more examples or click here to join the Pooled Knits group on Ravelry. 
Pooling examples: Looks fine for socks, but I'm not so sure
I'd like this in a sweater!
Recently there was a fantastic article in Twist Collective talking about how to use these repeating colors to achieve some pretty stunning patterns on purpose. For many projects, planned pooling can be a fun way to use include several colors in your projects without having a lot of ends to weave in at the end, but for an adult-sized sweater, the end result might be a little too busy (though, of course, it's all a matter of taste!) While many colorways look gorgeous in the skein, but it's important to realize that they aren't suited to all projects. 

Using hand-dyed yarns can make your next project extra-special, whether you're knitting a sweater, socks, or anything in between. 

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