I love the uniqueness of hand dyed yarns, and I like to support independent hand dyers.
Hand dyed yarns require a little extra attention when you knit or crochet with them but using them produces truly beautiful one-of-a-kind garments.
The Difference Between Hand Dyed and Commercially Dyed Yarns
Commercially produced yarns have dye lots. Each skein within a particular dye lot is guaranteed to match all the other skeins within that dye lot. Computers and precisely calibrated machines produce skeins that are exactly alike.
Independent hand dyers dye each skein by hand. That means every skein is unique; each skein is its own dye lot.
If you’ve been working with yarn for any amount of time, you know that if you change dye lots mid-project, there will be a noticeable line in your work where you changed yarns.
So, if you’re project requires more than one skein of yarn and you want to use hand dyed yarns, what do you do? Good question!
Working with Hand Dyed Yarns
You’ll work with 2 skeins at once. This balances out the differences between the skeins. Don’t worry, it’s not hard. Just follow these steps:
- Cast on with one skein and knit or crochet 2 rows (or 1 round).
- Drop your working yarn from the 1st skein. Don’t cut it.
- Pick up the yarn from your 2nd skein and knit or crochet the next 2 rows (or 1 round).
- Drop your working yarn from the 2nd skein. Don’t cut it.
- Pick up the yarn from the 1st skein and knit or crochet the next 2 rows (or 1 round).
- Repeat steps 2-5.
By following this method, you’ll be stranding the yarn up the edge (or beginning of the round). Be careful when you pick up the new yarn to leave enough slack in that strand so that your work doesn’t pucker. Each strand is traversing 2 rows (or 1 round).
Tips for Using Hand Dyed Yarns
Be sure to strand your yarns up the wrong side, though this usually happens naturally. The strands are not usually noticeable unless you are specifically looking for them.
If you are concerned about seeing the strands on the edge, you can knit or crochet the first one or 2 (or more) stitches of the row and then switch yarns. This will place the strands one or 2 (or more) stitches in from the edge.
When stranding 2 skeins on garments that will be seamed, be careful to strand your yarns up a side that will be seamed so that the stranding is completely hidden in the seam (as opposed to the button band, for example).
If your project requires more than 2 skeins of yarn, I recommend that you start with one partial skein and one full skein. That way you won’t run out of yarn on both skeins at the same time, and your colors will blend more uniformly. If you don’t have a partial skein, just cut one half way through the skein to force staggering your new skeins.
I know, I know… the thought of cutting a perfectly good skein of yarn in half drives me a little crazy too, but it’s worth it to make a great looking garment.
To avoid doing that as much as possible, I like to wind all of my skeins into balls before I start my project. That way, if there is a skein with a knot (which we all know happens from time to time), I cut out the knot and use that skein as my partial skein.
Winding all the skeins ahead of time also allows me to examine them more closely and I can see which skeins more closely match. This is important for deciding which skeins to use for which part of the pattern.
For example, you’ll want to choose skeins that closely match for the 2 fronts of a cardigan. Matching the front to the back is not as critical, since the seam is on the side and it is not as noticeable as the fronts not matching.
Types of Hand Dyed Yarns
I’m not going to go into detail about the methods of dying. I’ll leave that to the pros. Suffice it to say, there are 4 broad categories of yarn when it comes to color: solid, semi-solid, variegated, and self-striping.
(Heather, marl, & tweed yarns need to be dyed before they are spun into yarn; so I will not be addressing them here.)
Solid color hand dyed yarns often have a dye lot. It’s usually very small because independent dyers work in small batches. So, a dye lot could be as small as 6 skeins. Some dyers put the dye lot number on the skein label; others specify that each bag is a separate dye lot. (Dyers usually sell their yarns to yarn stores by the bag – generally 6 or 10 skeins per bag).
Hand dyed solid color yarns with a dye lot can be knit or crocheted just like commercial yarns. No stranding necessary.
Semi-solid yarns are often called kettle dyed. They are, as the name suggests, one color in varying shades. The skeins tend to match more closely than variegated skeins, but not as much as solid color skeins.
When I have semi-solid skeins that match well, I don’t use 2 skeins throughout the whole project. When I get ¾ of the way through my first ball of yarn, I attach the 2nd ball and knit or crochet from both skeins until the first one runs out. Then when I get ¾ of the way through the 2nd ball, I attach the 3rd ball, and continue. This fades the colors together from one skein to another.
Variegated yarns are dyed with multiple colors. There are a lot of different methods for this. Some common types of variegated yarns are ombre, speckled, hand painted, and space dyed.
Variegated yarns need the full “special treatment” of staggering the yarns as described above. Each skein is truly unique.
Self-striping yarns are dyed so that they produce stripes. Some are thin stripes; some have thick stripes. I’m including gradient yarns in this category. Gradient yarns fade gradually from one color to another.
How you decide to work with self-striping and gradient hand dyed yarns will depend on the project and how closely the skeins match. You may decide to treat them as a solid yarn if they match well since the stripes mask small differences in dye lot changes.
Or you might treat them like a variegated yarn and match up the stripes/gradient of each skein and knit them together. This will make the stripes twice as big, but you run the risk of fading from one color to another if the skeins are not striped exactly the same. This method might work better for gradient yarns than for self-striping yarns.
How to Buy Hand Dyed Yarns
Now that you know how to work with hand dyed yarns, let’s talk a moment about how to buy them.
If you are buying a single skein, just pick one you like.
If you are buying multiple skeins of hand dyed yarn, I strongly recommend that you unwind the hanks, lay them on a table, and carefully compare them. You might be surprised how different they can look when you untwist them. Choose the ones that most closely match.
Any customer-oriented, friendly yarn store should be happy to allow you to do this.
If you enjoyed this article and are a knitter, you might benefit from joining the online Knit Along Club. Our goal in the Club is to help you become a faster, more confident knitter.
Each knit along includes written and video tutorials to guide you through every step of the pattern – and they’re all online so you can participate from the comfort of your home! Click here to learn how you can take your knitting skills to the next level faster and easier than you ever imagined!