August 15, 2013

Working With Hand-Dyed Yarns

Hand-dyed yarns are special. Their tonal quality and striking colors make them come alive in a way that mass-produced yarns do not. They add something indescribable to projects and are a joy to knit with, which is why the vast majority of the yarns I use now are hand-dyed. Like anything special, hand-dyed yarns require special handling to really shine, so I thought I would share a few tips on how to use them to their best advantage.

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The Brennan Cardi, worked in Shalimar's Hand-dyed Breathless DK
First, the uniqueness of hand-dyed yarn is its strength, but also one of its bigger challenges. Each batch of yarn, although made from the dyer’s standardized color recipes, is going to be unique, and vary from the next batch – often quite noticeably. Most of the dyers I know kettle dye in small studios, and there is a limit to how many skeins can happily co-exist in the dye pot – often 6 or less. (If you are curious, ask your dyer!) So you will want to be sure that the skeins you buy were cozied up in that pot together to minimize the variation. For small on-line orders this should not be an issue, as the dyer will organize the orders to make the dyelots within each order consistent. If you buy from an LYS, it will likely be the same, but you should always ask the sales person if the skeins are from the same dyelot or bag. Even within dyelots there will be some variation, so once you get your yarn home, uncoil the hanks and compare them to one another. If there are particularly dark or light skeins, make sure that you alternate them with skeins that fall closer to the mid-range to minimize contrast. Avoid putting a light-colored skein with a darker one. Which leads to my main topic – alternating skeins. Whenever you work with hand-dyed yarns you should alternate skeins. You may be able to get away with not doing it here and there, but why take the risk? Even what seems like a minor difference in the hanks can look awful in a finished object if you don’t alternate. Here’s how to do it:

1. Skein 1/3 of a hank of yarn. This will be skein #1.

2. Skein the other 2/3 rds of the same hank and reserve. This will be the last skein you use.

3. If you are knitting flat in pieces, wind remaining yarn into whole skeins. If you are working a seamless sweater, like my Brennan Cardi or Corazon, wind one of the remaining hanks into three separate skeins and reserve.

4. Work the first two rows of the sweater with skein #1, then change to a second full skein for two rows (skein #2). Continue to alternate these two skeins every other row, twisting them together when you change from one working skein to the other. In most instances, you can change skeins at the end of the row or round.

For a cardigan like Brennan, each end of the work is part of the self-finishing edging, however, so it is best to work about 4 sts into the next (WS) row and switch yarns there. All that matters is that you are consistent about where the yarns alternate. You can choose the location where you switch to suit your purposes. If you have an edging that will show, make the change in a place that is less obvious.

5. Continue to work in this manner, adding in new skeins as needed. When you get to the point where you only need a third of a skein to finish your project, it is fine to stop alternating skeins - just be sure that you have enough of the final skein to finish.

If you are working a seamless sweater where the body and sleeves will come together without the visual break that a seam supplies, you will want to use the hank that you divided into three skeins as one of the alternating skeins at the portion of each piece where it meets the other two. Having at least one skein in common will help prevent an obvious visual line where the pieces meet. Plan to start using one of these "common" skeins about 1-2" / 2.5-5 cm below the point where the pieces will meet.

Happy Knitting!

Posted by Julia at August 15, 2013 06:14 AM
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