How to Spin and Knit with Variegated Yarn

Spinners have many opportunities to see the world through rainbow-colored glasses. Since we possess so much control over our raw materials, we can incorporate colors before, during, or after spinning. I always love spending a day in my studio’s kitchen with dyepots, especially now that I’ve learned what types of dyes work best on protein fibers! But the spinning itself can get a little dull: the constant creation of white or cream yarn feels like driving along an endless highway. When I want to play with color during the spinning process, I get off that highway with one-of-a-kind batts or braids from indie dyers. (Someday when I get really ambitious, I’ll stash dyed top in a wide collection of colors, and then I can blend fiber in unique color combinations—Deb Menz and Judith MacKenzie have inspired me over the years with their superb books and videos. And stay tuned for future posts where I played with color before spinning.)

variegated yarn: malachite yarn

Spinning in color can raise new questions, unless you’re working with monochromatic fiber. Do I want colors to blur together or remain distinct? How will the number of plies change how colors turn out? When I spun yarn for my surplice sweater, I sampled before deciding to make a singles yarn for the project. Roughly a decade later, when I spun my Malachite batts, sampling wasn’t necessary: I knew that singles would work best, since a 2-ply yarn would homogenize the mix of colors that had stolen my heart. (A now-defunct fiberista on Etsy created this colorway with an intoxicating mix of blues and greens; she produced a special large order of her batts for my sweater.) I wanted dramatic streaks of color running down my yarn—just as they ran through the drumcarded batts—so I spun an Aran-weight singles and set the twist.

variegated yarn malachite mannequin

Then came the next step: finding the perfect sweater pattern to show off my lovely variegated handspun. Multicolors and hand-painted yarns often end up in my stash because their beauty seduces me, but when I take them home, they terrify me—kind of like Fatal Attraction for knitters. This project paralysis stems from traumatic memories of 1970s fashion and my well-documented phobia concerning clown barf. It’s all too easy to pair a pattern and a multicolor yarn that fight against each other. Unless I chose a sweater design knitted from side to side, I’d be knitting from top to bottom or vice versa. Cables, lace inserts, ribbing, and many other design elements would thus form vertical lines. But the variegated colors in my yarn would introduce horizontal lines into the garment, obscuring those verttical lines. I had to choose between a stockinette-only sweater or one that already included horizontal elements.

Wendy Bernard’s Ingenue sweater became the perfect antidote to clown barf (plus, it flattered my figure). A stockinette body with pops of texture would let the yarn’s variegation shine. The pullover’s silhouette balanced a wide neckline with textured bands at the waistline and cuffs of its long sleeves. Waist shaping defined my waist and the textured neckline drew attention to my face. Nine years later, although my hourglass body has become a rectangle, I still feel pretty in my handspun sweater.

—Deb


Read more “Closet Full of Sheep”!

How to Build a Giant Yarn Stash for Less (HA!)
How to Spin and Knit with Control: Sample, Sample, Sample
Dyeing Lessons
Running Before You Can Walk in Handspun Socks
Textured Knitting Stitches and Handspun
Surplice Sweater
Handspinning for Lace: Another Pair of Socks
How to Pet Your Sheep: Preparing Raw Fleece for Spinning
Fiber Preparation for Spinning: Of Washing Machines & Drumcarders


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