Tips & Tricks | Knitting with Handpainted Yarns
An unctuous skein of Madelinetosh, a vibrant ball of Malabrigo, a freshly set skein of handspun- handpainted, variegated and handspun yarns present a few unique considerations and a handful of techniques to ensure your desired outcome is achieved. We will discuss some of our most common and used tips and techniques to create successful projects using unique yarns.Many of these techniques and tips apply to using different lots of commercial yarns as well.
#1 | Purchasing appropriately
First and foremost, get enough yarn for your project, maybe even more. Handpainted yarns, yarns with short production lots, and some of our favorite and more unique yarns can often be unavailable if you don't get enough when you first decide to buy it. You can always try to track down another skein or two to complete it, but don't rely on it. Many handpainted yarns don't even have lot numbers, and vary dramatically enough, that pretty pale aqua you bought might be almost electric in another lot.
Also, as you are knitting you might notice that within a dye lot the hues, saturation and tones vary a lot. You will want to assess the skeins together and find those that are the closest to one another. Sometimes it is wise to purchase extra in case the skeins are dissimilar, so you have more flexibility (and yardage) to strategically place skeins that differ from one another.
#2 | Visualizing Color
Non-commercially dyed yarns (and even some commercially dyed yarns- Noro ;-) can be difficult to visualize how they will look worked up. Yarns that are hand dyed or painted may be left in the same put up as they were when dyed, or they might be reskeined or even balled to detangle or blend the look of the colors.
If you are knitting from a yarn in it's original dye skein, envision each color as one third the length. That means your stitches will appear in each color along the skein about one third of the length of the unknitted yarn, so a 3 length of bright blue will appear as about 1 inch of bright blue stitches before changing to the next color.
In the case of yarn that's been reskeined after dyeing, the same rule of a third applying, but the order of which the colors change will not be readily apparent. If it is skeined, unskein it and take a look at how the colors blend from one to another on a few different strands. The reskeining does give you a good idea of the overall tone and saturation of the yarn, however.
Noro, Kauni and other yarns with very long transitions and repeats of color cannot be judged by the outer appearance. Take a moment to examine the interior layers and transitions of colors. Seriously, dig deep if you can, and again, remember the rule of thirds.
#3 | Pooling
Pooling is a term for when colors group together in a visible and strong pattern. Some find this desirable and others abhor, while most vary from usage to usage. Pooling is caused by the dyers techniques. If your yarn is presented in it's dyed form (not re-skeined so the colors are more jumbled), you will notice dye spots of each color sit together, as the dye was applied. This means that as the yarn is knit, the spacing between these colors is roughly constant, meaning that there are roughly the same number of stitches between this color and it's next reappearance.
If you wish to prevent pooling, randomness is key. You may wish to alternate two skeins every other row, so as to break up repeats. Please note: alternating exactly every other row is also a pattern, so pooling might be noticeable in a still undesirable fashion. You may wish to alternate for a few rows then knit with one for a few more before alternating again or switching to the other, to keep things as random as possible.
#4 | Pay attention to your project
First of all, use these yarns where appropriate. Tried and true stockinette, garter stitch, seed stitch, etc. are often livened up by a handpainted or variegated yarns. Heavily detailed textures such as cables and intricate lace patterns might get lost in yarn that is too inconsistent in texture or dramatically variegated.
For simple scarves, we love the basic stitches, all over lace patterns like Feather and Fan and ribbing. Ribbing has the added advantage of being double sided and breaking up pooling a little bit more vertically.
Using a contrasting or harmonizing solid yarn can extend and compliment handpainted yarns in a variety of ways, such as in stripes, faux isle or contrasting button bands and hems.
If you are making a garment, think of it's construction. Is it top-down, knit in one piece? Is it made in pieces and seamed together. Is it a cardigan? Are there picked up edgings or hems?
Top down, or all in one knitted pieces benefit by applying the same yarn symmetrically around a project. Alternating two skeins of the same yarn is often enough to break up any pooling and distribute colors evenly. More complicated are seamed pieces. In most cases, people want both sides of their cardigans to be relatively symmetrical. With variegated yarns, it might be important to make sure the skeins you use for each half are very close. We often knit half of a hank and half of another for one side, and use the other halves on the other side. In the same vein, Most will want both sleeves to be similar, and all body pieces to be relatively the same. We suggest, if you notice a skein of yarn is very different from the others, you reserve it for hems, edgings and areas where people won't focus. Expert tip: Use a provisional cast on and don't work the hems until you have finished the main portion of each piece. Go back and pick up from the cast on for the hems.