Spinning the straw in your stash into pure gold
This week we are opening up our stashes to spin straw into gold and hoping that we can avoid waking up Rumplestiltskein!
Hand-dyed yarns come in various styles that give different effects in the finished knitting. I’m just going to cover some of the most popular in this piece.
When you are buying indie dyed yarns it is worth checking the description and if you are at a yarn show actually talking to the dyer. If there isn’t a sample swatch for you to examine then you can look for projects others may have knitted with the yarn to get a feel for how it might knit up.
The best way though to get an idea of how a yarn will behave is to untwist it from its skein and inspect it closely. Of course this is not really possible if you are buying online or at a show. It took considerable effort to wind it all up to look pretty. You will be very unpopular if you try to undo that hard work. Do ask if there are any hidden colours or any surprises. If there are then try to make a note on the label.
In the comfort of your own home though it’s a different matter. The colour you see on the outside of a skein may be considerably different from what is on the inside. It is important to understand exactly what you are working with before you get started and not get too much of a surprise when you get round to using the yarn.
It’s the first thing you need to consider when you retrieve one of those lovely yarns from your stash though. Open the skein and have a really good look at what exactly it is that you’ve bought. The chances are high that it is one of the following dye styles.
These are created by layering dye mixes to give subtle tonal variation and intensity of colour. Semi-solids can look like a single colours mixed with subtle darker and lighter tints, or they can be more tonal with several shades all within a single colour family. You hardly ever see true totally solid shades from indie dyers.
Potential problems: Variations can be very noticeable between skeins even if bought at the same time. Don’t expect to order another skein and have it match as dye runs are usually short.
Solution You must buy as much as you need at the time. (We will look at ideal quantities to buy when we get to Goldilocks and the Three Woolly Bears!)
Suggested patterns: these are ideal sweater and cardigan yarns. You may need to alternate skeins as you transition from one to another to avoid lines but it will be well worth the effort. These yarns look gorgeous with lace or cables as the variations are subtle and won’t detract from the stitch definition. My favourite choice to show them off would be a sweater or cardigan with a bit of lace.
2. VARIEGATED SHADES
This is the most common style of indie yarn you will come across. The yarns usually look amazing in the skeins but it is very hard to imagine them knitted up just by looking at them. They are created either by dipping skeins in several different coloured dye baths, or by pouring dye solution onto yarn submerged in trays of water. The result produces fairly regular but usually short repeats of colours or gradients.
These are the yarns that we most often fall in love with in the skein but are then unsure how to use. They need simple stitch patterns that allow the busy yarn to show off those colours. Avoid cables and intricate lace. Garter stitch can work amazingly well in variegated yarns, giving a complex effect with the simplest stitch of all. It also breaks up pooling so that’s an added bonus.
They can also work for Fair Isle and give an interesting effect but you have to pair them with a very contrasting yarn shade that isn’t present in the skein. Be prepared that the result can be a bit random at times.
Do not expect them to be ‘self striping’, not even for socks. You may get thin stripes but you are unlikely to get even bands of colour.
Potential problems; these are the yarns in which you can get ‘pooling’ or ‘flashing’. Sometimes these effects are lovely but sometimes they can lead to unexpected ‘pools’ of colour right where you don’t want them to be.
Solution - wind the skein into several smaller balls or cakes and alternate them as you knit. If it is a very pronounced effect consider using a helix stripe method. Alternatively investigate planned pooling techniques but this does require some maths
3. SPECKLED SHADES
These are created by applying dry powder pigment directly to the yarn, usually over a semi-solid or dip-dyed colour base. The finished yarn has random splashes of colour. As this method involves flinging or splattering dye directly onto the yarn each skein is unique.
They are often labelled one of a kind (OOAK) and they are definitely not repeatable. The splattered effect usually looks fun and attractive in the skein.
You probably won’t know what it will look like knitted up until you actually use it.
Again garter or stocking stitch usually work best for these busy yarns.
Suggested pattern ideas: Lovely for accessories like hats, plain socks and mitts. If you prefer a sweater then a set of 4 or 5 related skeins can be lovely for fades, lots of baby patterns, almost any plain baby hat.
Painted Woolly Toppers by Woolly Wormhead is an entire book of hat patterns designed to really highlight variegated, speckled and hand painted yarns. It is well worth investing in a copy.
Almost anything by Stephen West will work for busy yarns. His genius is to pair them with tonals using tuck stitches, mosaics or brioche to create amazing, complex fabrics. His work is definitely not for the faint hearted but if you are brave the results can be stunning.
Next time I will look in more detail at some of the less common yarn styles Self Striping yarns and Ombrés and how to use them. I will also be looking at more ways of avoiding Rumplestiltskien and his nasty little pal the Yarn Baby.