Alternating Skeins : Own That Ómbre

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.

Checking 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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