Mastering Variegated Yarn with 5 Knitted Shawl Patterns

I’ve been knitting the Cait Shawl by Megi Burcl from Knitscene Accessories 2015 and I am in love with the way it’s turning out. I chose to knit this shawl using the Catty Gray and Icy colors in our Cait Knitted Shawl in Icy Kit and it’s so much fun! The way the colors are coming together reminds me of the movie Tron Legacy. Because I’m a nerd.


Tron Legacy from Disney StudiosImage from Official Tron:Legacy Trailer on YouTube

As our featured designer, Megi created five incredible knitted shawl patterns for this issue, and the challenge she set herself was to use variegated yarns in unconventional ways. For the Cait Shawl, she created a pattern where the yarn dictates what stitches you use. You only ever knit or purl (with the occasional make-one increases to make the shawl bigger), but whether you’re knitting or purling depends on what color you’re using. It’s a really cool way to keep an otherwise mindless knitting project just a little bit exciting—I only ever have to really pay attention on one out of every six rows!

Megi also wrote an article for this issue encouraging readers to experiment with the variegated yarns they might have occupying space in their stash. We all get distracted in the yarn stores with the fancy colorful yarn, but then we get home and sometimes struggle to figure out what project it wants to be. Here’s a bit from Megi’s article to help you decide what your yarn wants to be when it grows up.

Solid-color yarns are the easiest to work with, despite being the least interesting to look at  in a skein. They show off stitch patterns, lace, cables, and texture, and they are perfect for colorwork and color blocking. They can fit themselves into almost any pattern, even ones that were not designed for solids, with a little tweaking. Ombré yarns, such as the Freia Handpaints Ombré Sock in Ship That (top image) or gradient-dyed yarns or mini-sets (used in the Beacon Shawl, bottom image)) are almost as cooperative, as they tend to behave like a progression of solid colors.



Variegated and self-striping yarns are a bit trickier to control and predict, but so easy to impulse buy. Both are dyed in sections of different colors and at varying lengths of color sections. They can be made to stripe or form blocks of color when worked over a controlled number of stitches, spiral when worked in the round, or allowed to pool randomly when worked over large sections or over rows of increasing numbers of stitches.  Despite all the wonderful things they can do, they unfortunately also can muddle stitches and design elements or add undesirable or unexpected color effects. Working the yarns in different directions, as in the Harper Shawl, mitigates the muddled effect.


Now, I applaud these types of yarns for having a clear idea of how they want to act, but I also enjoy giving them a clear set of instructions to follow. My favorite way to harness these free spirits is by only working them over a set number of stitches. It’s easy to see how they will then behave by making a swatch to that stitch count and planning a design around it. This technique lends itself very well to modular construction. Modular construction—especially with changes in direction—also adds colorful patterning elements, such as directional stripes, and gives added definition to solid colors, with the changes in direction yielding different textural properties. The Sarcasm Shawl uses a modular construction, built on narrow strips of fabric, to force a self-striping yarn to behave a certain way.


Variegated yarn can also be made to behave a little more predictably alongside a coordinating or contrasting solid by using alternating, sometimes slightly irregular, stripes of the two yarns. Pairing multicolored yarns with solid colors helps to break up chaotic pooling and yet still highlights differences in color. Using a consistent solid color along with ombré yarn also showcases all the different values of color and draws your eye to the areas of progression more than the ombré can on its own. By pairing the self-striping yarn in Your Mom Knits Icy or Catty Noir with the coordinating Catty Gray solid and adding a simple texture technique, we can create a simple, dynamic effect.


When pairing different yarns together, depending on pattern and construction, it’s important that they either match or contain highly contrasting sets of colors. The easiest way to check for contrast is to photograph your yarns in grayscale. If you can still easily see the same number of shades of gray as you have colors in your yarns, you have good contrast. There’s still hope if you don’t. For instance, when a variegated yarn is comprised of many similar color values, but is paired with a highly contrasting solid, there will still be lovely definition between the two. Variegated yarns comprised of similar color values can also be suitable choices for textural or lace stitches because when viewed from afar, they don’t read as multicolored variegates, but as one muted hue.


For all the knitted shawl patterns seen here, as well as more tips on mastering variegated yarns from Megi, be sure to pick up Knitscene Accessories 2015! And grab your own Cait Knitted Shawl Kit for a fun and easy knit!

Bonus Tip!

If you like working with hand-dyed variegated yarn, you’ve likely noticed that the variations in the dying process can cause some sections of your knitting to be lighter or darker, especially when you’re using more than one skein in a project. How can you avoid this? Check out this Interweave Yarn Hack!

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