On Working with Hand-dyed Yarns

Lorna's Laces Honor - in the hank and wound. The wound yarn gives a much better idea of how your hand-dyed yarn will look when knit.

How many times have you bought a gorgeous hand of hand-dyed yarn, taken it home, wound it up, and then started working with it –  only to be deflated by the resulting look?!  I think that this has happened to every single knitter who loves hand-dyed yarns.

I find that hand-dyed yarns sometime need a little lovin’ to show to best effect.  Don’t get me wrong, I love hand-dyed yarns.  I have the sweaters, shawls, gloves etc. to prove it….but hand-dyed yarns sometimes do take a little more preparation than solid yarns.  The colours in the yarn can obscure the pattern that you are trying to showcase or pool in an unpleasant fashion.

Take a little to analyse and play with your hand-dyed yarns.  There are many techniques that are great for showing off the beautiful range of colours in your yarn.  You may have to audition a technique or two with your yarn to get the best result.

Hand-dyed Yarn Only!

Hacho - by Mirasol. Knit from two balls alternating and using a couple of different stitches to show off the colours of the yarn.

What is pooling?  Pooling is while knitting your yarn, the fabric created starts to build up solid blocks of colour in one spot, usually right where you don’t want it.  This usually won’t happen when you are working with a pattern that changes its stitch count per row fairly regularly.  Shaping a triangle up or down is a perfect way of ensuring that pooling is not an issue.  Another method of minimizing pooling is to knit from two balls of the same colourway at once.  If you are working with only one ball of yarn, divide it into 2 balls before you start.

Pooling Deliberately: 

Pooling works up into vertical stripes once the cast-on is figured out!

This technique takes what could be a drawback and makes your yarn sing.  The hand-dyed yarn is worked deliberately to pool the colours, and stack them side by side to create vertical stripes.  I find it particularly effective for lace, though there is a group of knitters who set-up the pooling to  create argyle patterns in socks and scarves – check out the pooling forums on Ravelry for lots of information and idea’s.  Pooling does involve a fair amount of preparation and usually more than one start as you figure best stitch count and needle size to get the yarn to pool deliberately.  But the results are worth the effort!

Texture and Hand-dyed Yarns:

Malabrigo Baby Merino Lace - The beads in the curves created by the lace pattern add a real focal point for the lace. This is a farily good style of pattern for hand-dyed yarn as the increases and decreases form curves, accented by the beads. These curves help show off the hand-dyed yarn.

One of the best aspects of a hand-dyed yarn is the way that the colours combine to create a wonderful rich movement in the colours.  This movement of colours can obscure a stitch pattern in your knitting, making the extra work extraneous.  This is especially true of lace patterning.  Colour movement plus lace patterning usually does not work well together.

Adding beads to this kind of work, can improve the effect as beads can emphasize a shape to make it stand out from the rest of the work.  Semi-solid hand-dyes, one colour, many tones, are usually gorgeous in lace work.

Hacho from Mirasol - Textural stitches between eyelet bands and a few beads all add up to interesting colour movement!

Textural knits, simple ribbing, garter plus stockinet and cabling can be very effective with the colour movement.  Purl stitches and knit stitches each show differently and therefore show the colour differently.  Cables are quite often effective for that reason, cables are usually framed with purl stitches and therefore the hand-dyed yarn can show to great effect.

Textural knitting is usually my choice when working with a hand-dyed yarn for a sweater.

Mitred and/or modular Knitting: 

Sweet Georgia - CashLux Fine - Lace Mitre knit modularly. As each row gets shorter the colours start to pool, The colours in the yarn, move from stripes to colour blocks, Adding interest to the yarn.

Both of these techniques move your knitting in many directions, allowing hand-dyed yarns to show well.  Rows are always changing lengths and stitch counts and moving from longer to shorter so that the colours in your hand-dyed yarn can combine in different ways.  Mitred or Domino Knitting is often combined with modular knitting.  Mitred, refers to a specific shaping technique, while modular refers to the fact that there are no seams and every shape, except the first, is started from another piece or module of knitting.

Entrelac or Entrelace:

Koigu KPPPM - knit tightly in a small entrelac pattern.

This basketweave  style of knitting loves hand-dyed yarns.  Because each square is created independently with short-rows, colours can build up and sing out.  There is almost no opportunity for the colours to muddy themselves up!

Entrelac also works well when you combine a hand-dyed yarn with a solid colour or multiple solids, alternating the colours in rows.  There a few other techniques that combine hand-dyed yarns with solid colour yarns.

Hand-dyed Yarn plus Solid Yarn!!

Faux Fair Isle: 

Fleece Artist Merino Sock and Confetti Solids - combine create fair-isle look without all the ends!

Take a hand-dyed yarn and a solid yarn and combine to create a fair-isle look without changing colours.  This is a great way of using up left over bits of hand dyed yarns.  Collect a few balls of similar colourways and a solid to connect them and you have a great little project.

Mosaic Knitting:

Mosaic knitting has a similar look as fair-isle, but does not involve the carrying of yarns across your knitting.  Instead you change yarns every two rows and carry the yarn not in use up the sides of your knitting.

Hand-maiden Cashmere 4-ply and Sublime Cashmere, Merino Silk DK - Mosaic patterning.

You create the pattern with slip stitches.  Each row for each colour involves knitting (or purling) certain stitches and slipping the stitches that are not worked.  When you combine knits and purls you can create a very rich fabric.  This is true when working with solid colour yarns only and especially true when working with a hand-dyed yarn plus a solid.

When you use your imagination and allow a little time to familiarize yourself with your hand-dyed yarn and the way the colours move in the yarn when knit, you will be able to create a spectacular garment!  Have fun, play and create!

Happy Knitting


3 Responses to On Working with Hand-dyed Yarns

  1. Pingback: FO Friday: Baby legwarmers and Winner: 30 Min-KnitsUnderground Crafter | Underground Crafter

  2. C says:

    This was very helpful, Thank you 🙂

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