Using Handspun Gradient Yarns

Gradient yarns that slowly shift colors from one end of the skein to the other are a great spinner’s challenge. Spin-Off editor Anne Merrow posted a roundup of some of the most popular gradient yarn constructions. With so many great gradient-dyed fibers available today, who can resist trying them all?

I’ve been working on a fun chain-plied gradient skein lately. As most spinners experience at some point, this fiber was lovingly stashed for a few years. Sometimes fibers are just too beautiful to dive into! I decided to spin this delicious Polwarth/silk braid from Fiber Optic and knit a last-minute sample for Interweave Yarn Fest. Alas, it was still in skein form as I headed to Loveland this year for another amazing Yarn Fest weekend. The perfect pattern was eluding me.

Why is finding the perfect pattern for gradient-spun yarns so difficult? In part, it is because we need just the right yardage. If the pattern doesn’t require the last twenty yards of your perfect gradient skein, it could omit an entire color from the project. Here are four tips to consider when you pattern-surf on Ravelry or the Interweave Store for gradient knits:

Watch the gradient groups to get ideas. It’s so much fun to see what other creative fiber folks do with their handspun. The Fiber Optic Fans group on Ravelry is a great place to see what other people do with their gradient skeins.

Purple Yarn. Photo by Kate Larson

Worried about having enough yarn to bind off? If the remaining yarn is at least three times as long as your work, you should have enough to bind off. Photo by Kate Larson

Seek patterns with adjustable yardage. Some patterns are easier than others to omit the last pattern repeat or add ten extra rows to use up your gradient skein. Look for patterns like the popular wedge-shaped triangle shawls that start at the tip with a few stitches and have long bind-off edges. Tip: Do you have enough yarn to bind off that last row? The remaining yarn usually needs to be at least three times the length of your row to bind off.

Photo by Kate Larson

Lemon alone is a bit bright for Kate, but paired with grey Shetland it makes her very happy. Photo by Kate Larson

Add contrasting colors to set off your gradient colors. Sometimes a gradient punctuated by stripes of a solid color makes the gradient shifts more alluring. I’ve been having fun working with gradient hues that are outside my typical palette, softening them with natural sheepy shades.

Pay attention to knitting or crochet direction. Gradient yarns stripe. They might be wide or narrow stripes depending on the length of the rows you are working. A cowl knit in the round with several hundred stitches in each row will have narrow stripes that are horizontal when the cowl is worn. The same cowl knit in shorter rows like a scarf will have longer color changes that transition vertically when worn. The choice is yours!

Stay tuned next week for a list of pattern picks for gradient yarns.

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