Knitting with hand-dyed yarn is a colorful delight. Yarns that are hand-dyed have colors with rich depth and a stunning complexity. So why is it that some of the skeins are so different, and how do I prevent my project from turning into a blotchy, striped mess?
Because humans craft it instead of machines, hand-dyed yarn is prone to variation. Anything from water PH, amount of dye used, how the wool absorbed color in the dye-pot, and other factors make up differences between skeins, even from the same batch. Using hand-dyed yarns successfully takes a little more intention and planning than using super-consistent, commercially-dyed yarn, but it’s worth the effort for the unbeatable color and uniqueness that comes with its variations. Plus, we get to support our local artisans, and that’s a beautiful thing!
Alternating skeins is a technique that visually disperses the differences between hand-dyed yarns, creating less abrupt color transitions in a multi-skein project. Interspersing rows knit in the working skein with next skein produces a softer change and more even color distribution.
In this post, I’d like to show you how I set up my colors in a multi-skein project to ensure I get the smoothest ómbre that I possibly can.
Checking Color When Purchasing Yarn
If I’ve chosen a multi-skein project, my first stop is my local yarn store. I prefer to see the yarn in person and select skeins that are as similar in color as possible. If I’m ordering online, I cross my knitting needles and hope for the best, and try to leave a note at checkout that if possible, I’d love to have all of the skeins in the same dye lot or dye date.
To see how similar the color is between skeins, I have a few different methods. Regardless of method though, there is one thing I always do.
1.) Compare The Colors In Natural Light
Have you ever fallen in love with a color of yarn only to leave the store and realize what you thought you saw is completely different out in the sunlight? Many yarn stores keep their wares in boxes or bins filled with shadows and have yellowy fluorescent lighting that can play tricks with the color.
The best way to view and compare color is to take the yarn to a window with natural light. Even if it is a cloudy day, the full-spectrum sunlight is a better starting point for making color decisions.
Reading Color Value
If you’re not a color guru, an easy way to visualize the differences in color value (the lightness and darkness of a color), is to snap a photo with your phone and reduce the saturation to 0, converting it to black and white. Viewing in black and white makes it simpler to see which skeins are lighter or darker. If you’re already an Instagram user, snap a photo, choose Edit, find Saturation (the icon looks like a water droplet), and drag the slider all the way to the left.
2.) Reading Color For In-Store Yarns
Most yarn stores are very accommodating when it comes to checking for color matches and will allow you to take the steps below, as long as you are courteous and return the yarn how you found it. It’s polite to ask anyway – every yarn store is different!
Yarn In Hanks
To read the color for yarn packaged for sale in hank form, I untwist the hanks and lay them next to each other for comparison. I’ll step back and view them from a little bit of a distance to get a better feel for color distribution and any odd color tones. Once I’ve selected my skeins, I retwist the hanks and return to the shelf the ones who will have the joy of being adopted by another lucky knitter.
Yarn In Balls / Donuts / Skeins
To read the color for yarn packaged in ball, donut, or skein form, I see if there’s an end readily available that won’t completely demolish the skein. If there is one, I take the ends from two and twist them together to compare. Twisting them together allows me to see them right next to each other to see if there’s an obvious difference between the two strands.
If an end isn’t available, I try to pull a strand of yarn from each ball and hold the individual strands together to compare this way.
Reading Color At Home With Caked Yarn
You can also use the tips above to interpret the color of yarn in your stash, and because you’ve already taken the yarn home, you have a one more great option available to you: winding the yarn into cakes.
Looking at yarn in cake form is my favorite method. Being able to study the color variations from the top of the cake shows differences in hue and value between skeins. It visually distributes the color better and makes it more obvious to see the unique distinctions of each skein.
Plan The Project & Own That Ómbre
Since every hand-dyed yarn has subtle variations, I like to plan the order I’m going to use my colors – especially on projects over two skeins. I prefer to create as close to seamless transitions as possible, which blends into a nearly unnoticeable ombre/gradient effect.
To accomplish this, I arrange the skeins from light to dark first and see how they look in sequence.
If I’m not entirely happy with the sequence, I’ll also look at color variations. For this project, I noticed some skeins look yellower or bluer, and so I arranged them from most yellow to most blue.
I continue swapping the sequence of the skeins until I’m happy with a slow-changing, barely noticeable ómbre.
Once I’ve decided the order, I number my skeins for easy reference.
Thanks for reading Part 1 of 3 on Alternating Skeins. Next time, I’ll be sharing a few methods for alternating skeins on a knit-flat project. Did you learn something new from this blog post, or have an idea for another? Share in the comments below!
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Breakthrough: An act or instance of moving through or beyond an obstacle.
Breakthroughs come in many forms. In the forest, some trees grow beyond the understory to the canopy, free of a life of stunted growth into a layer where they struggle less to survive. There are many trees in this layer, and the competition may seem fierce. Many trees never grow beyond this layer, content with enough. Other trees keep growing and reaching into the light.
Breakthroughs come in life too. In family life, my knitventure guide and mentor, my grandma, recently found her path into the light. She broke through beyond her body that bound her with pain and shackled her spirit. In health, I’ve partially overcome anxiety by correcting a magnesium deficiency. In business, I moved through the uncertainty of what’s going to happen by committing to making it happen.
I released the second piece in the Breakthrough series of the Woodland Passage Collection today. The concept behind the collection was cemented and in the process of happening far before I knew my grandma was fulfilling her last days. Designing this cowl and hat gave me comfort during the transition, and in grief, from having a talent we shared.
Grandma marked her days by writing on a calendar. Small snippets – which crafts she worked on, who called, who visited, who got married, what the weather was like, what she cooked. She marked her days by sharing her wisdom with her children, grandchildren, and unofficially adopted children. She made quilts, blankets, warm and fuzzy relics that keep her loved ones cozy even now that she’s gone. She strove to leave the world a little better than she found it, and she accomplished that. It struck me how simple her daily life was, and yet her legacy is unforgettable.
I wondered, how will I mark my days? I started writing down daily information in a journal, and realized I’m simply too free-spirited to keep that up every day. As I’ve been knitting the past months since her passing, I’ve come to realize that through these designs and these stitches, I tell my story. Each knit, each design, ties into my memories. I can vividly remember what life adventures were surrounding what I was creating. Stitching gives me comfort of knowing it connects me with an incredible woman who taught me to knit and shared her wisdom, it brings me calm against the waves of emotional turbulence that anxiety can bring, and I want it to be a piece of my legacy. A legacy where I hope to empower knitters with confidence not only for their knitting skills, but also self-trust in themselves, and in doing so, leave lives a little better than I found them.
Breakthroughs can’t exist without obstacles, and obstacles are a sign of blocked action. I’m starting to appreciate obstacles as a reminder of my movement, and instead of stressing about the roadblock, I focus on breaking through. Am I trying to chisel through the brick wall when I might have a better time climbing over it or going around it? Looking beyond the obstacles helps me to find ways past them instead of letting them stop me In my tracks. The effort in the process of breaking through makes the reward so much sweeter when a path reveals itself.
What about you? Is knitting a part of your legacy? In what ways do you confront obstacles that hinder your action?
A Brief History
Ah, 2012. It wasn’t the best year. I was newly married and laughing about this so-called honeymoon period everyone talks about, was learning to live outside of my parents’ house for the first time in my life at 24, and wasn’t enjoying my work all that much. My general and social anxieties were nearing their all-time high and me being the “have to prove it to myself” stubborn person that I am was trying to figure it out on my own with self-help cognitive behavioral therapy.
But then there was knitting. I’d picked knitting back up more out of necessity than of desire to make my husband’s dad’s girlfriend a hat, mitten, and scarf set out of Lion Brand Homespun and had boarded the hardcore knitting education train. I’d taught myself cables, made my mom a full cabled set out of some worsted weight acrylic, a few accessories for other family members, and a bunch of those terrifying ruffle scarves.
And then I thought, well hey, I should totally be a knitting blogger. So I bought a domain – skeinon.com, and went to work. I sporadically blogged about my knitting escapades, wrote pattern and yarn reviews, and dropped modification tips and tricks for the patterns I worked on.
I’d knit my first pair of socks (out of some box store alpaca blend…shows how much I knew then) and my knitting knowledge was immensely growing.
I decided that since I’d been modifying patterns anyway and was frustrated with the way some were written, I was going to start a new adventure: designing. But Skein On…wasn’t a great brand name. So I took my first and middle names, spliced them together, and thus began the era of amaleah designs.
I published free patterns before I had any idea what I was doing (they have all since been revamped). Sometime in 2015, I realized no one knew how to pronounce “amaleah” (ah-mah-lee) and began the hunt for a new name. I settled on daisy chain knits at the time, because while it didn’t feel “perfect”, it was good enough. It brought me warm fuzzies thinking back on the times I spent frolicking through the daisy fields and making daisy chain crowns like the little flower child that I was.
I started planning my “for real” knitwear design business in July of 2016, and made it official by launching in January of 2017 under the daisy chain knits brand. Over the past 9 months, it’s become increasingly apparent to me that even though I changed up the look of the brand to be more modern and professional, the name is just not right. I did some serious deep diving into what I believe in, who I want to serve, and where I want to go with this business. It’s flowery, but my brand is full of adventure. It’s whimsical, but my brand is bold. It’s demure and cute, but I’m not designing “cute”.
Atlas Knits, Now
My life is significantly different now. I’ve proven to myself that I am force to be reckoned with, my husband and I have found a balanced marriage that only comes from growing together, and I have more good days than bad days lately with anxiety. Starting a business has pushed me farther than I thought I could go, and I believe I’m capable of more now than I even dreamed was possible a few years ago.
So, enter Atlas Knits.
An atlas is a collection of diagrams, maps, or illustrations on a topic. That’s what I’ve been creating over the past year and will continue to create for knitting in the future. At some point, I hope to expand into writing technical knitting books and how-to guides for traditional publishing methods.
Atlas was a Titan in Greek mythology, condemned to hold the sky for eternity. Atlas is a symbol of endurance, a value I’ve grown to admire and cultivate through my first year in business.
And of course, there’s Atlas Shrugged, one of my top 10 favorite books. “No one’s happiness but my own is in my power to achieve or destroy” has become a mantra of mine in overcoming social and general anxiety in everyday life. That book continues to be an anthem that I read over and over again. One of my favorite excerpts:
“In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man’s proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.” – Ayn Rand / Atlas Shrugged
That’s what’s in this name. It is the right fit, finally.
So, what’s next for Atlas Knits?
Over the next year, I’ll be finishing my first collection – the Woodland Passage Collection, with the Into The Light series. I hope to have this collection professionally photographed, designed, and edited into both an eBook and a traditionally published book.
I’m working on a collection inspired by the elven jewels in Lord of the Rings that is all shawls and heavily utilizes cables and lace, which my aim is to release by next May.
I’m working on transforming Conquer Cables and Fair Isle Forge into evergreen workshops so you can sign up for them and watch them again and again whenever you’d like.
I’m also going to be focusing some energy into knittingforlefties.com which is going to be a learn to knit and reference site for mirror knitters.
I’ll be continuing my podcast, though probably once a month instead of every two weeks, and including more content for aspiring or new knitwear designers and other fiber industry folk.
That’s what I know! As always, things shift and move and priorities change, but here we are.
“If you don’t know, the thing to do is not to get scared, but to learn.” – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Knitventure on, brave knitters! Until next time,