I use a lot of hand-dyed and variegated yarn in my designs and in my knitting in general – and I love, love, love the look. You can have hand-dyed that is not variegated, and you can have variegated that is not hand dyed, but I find often, even if it’s only tonal, the two run hand in hand. The yarns are beautiful and fun, but do sometimes require a little extra attention when planning a project. In any case, while working on the Baby Hepburn Crop Coat pattern, I got the classic hand-dyed / variegated yarn question – “should I alternate skeins to get a better blended result for this kind of yarn?” So, here is my personal view from experience with several types of yarn, and in part my response to my tester’s question, on the whole alternating skeins issue:
The general advice when working with hand-dyed yarn is to alternate two skeins throughout the entire project. In circular knitting this generally means alternating every row, “one row first skein, next row the other”, and in anything worked flat it generally means “two rows one, two rows the other”. With variegated yarn, there are different types, some of which you may decide to alternate as well.
Now, having said that, I rarely alternate skeins. It can be tricky to judge, but if the overall tone matches (think dye lots – the grey is the same color grey in both skeins, the aqua is the same color aqua etc.) then sometimes the distribution of those colors doesn’t read as “two different yarns”, just as a little more blue toward the bottom, a little less at the top. This happens when the skein is dyed in a way where perhaps a base is laid in first on all the yarn, but then “embellished” with other colors that my vary in placement and intensity along the skein. You would not see any even intervals of color, just a general sense that one section is lighter or darker. You can see this effect with the first Silk Tipped Toddler Tee I made using Purl Soup Worsted (an Etsy boutique yarn).
The overlay colors were heavier at the start of the skein, and I did not alternate, so it just blends down the sweater. The only thing I did do, is ensure that I chose a similar point in the second skein when I started a new one about half way down the body.
This type of effect becomes more extreme with a long repeat variegated yarn. Generally, once again, I would not alternate because that would detract from the beautiful gradual movement from one color to the next. (Think Noro.) This is the case with the Rowan Kaffe Fassett Colourscapes Chunky yarn used by my tester for this Baby Hepburn Crop Coat.
The only “special attention” required in this case is again making sure when you change skeins or join yarn (as for the sleeves) that you try to match up the color you were working in before the new yarn so that the colors continue to flow gracefully and symmetrically in the garment. Of course, that said, you can achieve a very interesting striped appearance by alternating skein or alternating in a solid, both of which I’ve seen and liked in a lot of projects using Noro yarns.
There is another way in which alternation can soften the look, which is to break up repetitive color spacing in the knitting. The overall colors may match perfectly, but depending on how regular the spacing of the colors is in a skein, it can cause “pooling” or a kind of moiré effect as well. That’s more what happened in the sleeves of the most recent version I made of the Baby Hepburn Crop Coat using the Cascade Yarns Baby Alpaca Chunky Handpaints.
You can see the repeat created no real pattern in the body, but the sleeves have a diagonal pattern on them. I find this acceptable, so I once again did not bother to alternate skeins. If it had really pooled (all one color in an area like a puddle of color was dropped on the sleeve) I could have alternated skeins on the sleeves to blur it a little more.
Sometimes, you even get lucky and in a very short and more irregular repeat hand dyed skein, nothing will really repeat neatly and overall the garment comes out really blended with no alternation. This happened with my “mystery” Pam Murray Knitwear bulky yarn that I used for the first prototype of the Baby Hepburn Crop Coat.
The only time I feel alternation is a must is if you hold the skeins up and they look like one is really overall different from the other. It can be a tonal, or a more variegated yarn, but if you think one is just brighter, or warmer, or more yellow etc., definitely alternate skeins. I did alternate for the Scarlet Sparkler Scarf, for example, because holding the two skeins of Madelinetosh Tosh Sock side by side I could see that one was a touch lighter than the other and if I did not alternate it would look like a dye-lot mis-match when I went from one to the other. I did a two-row alternation and it blended them to make it all seem like it was one color.
One last example is the hand-dyed yarn that does match as it is part of a “batch” made by the dyer. This was the case with the lovely Blue Heron Rayon Metallic I used for my Sunday Rain Cardigan. I bought three skeins from the same 4-skein batch which the dyer effectively dyed “in the same pot”. The skeins were nice and even, and were effectively a matched dye-lot even though lot numbers were not assigned. In this case I was able to use the yarn just as I would any commercially made dye-lot matched yarn – no alternating, no matching up joins, just knitting through the skeins one after the other as needed.
If you are making a larger project like this with hand-dyed goods, I think it is best to see if you can get several skeins from the dyer that were dyed together so that you can avoid the tedium of alternating throughout such a long project. This may mean waiting for a fresh order to come in (almost two months in this case), but it’s well worth it!
So that’s what I’ve learned over the last couple of years of working with these fun yarns. BTW – all of the above advice is derived only from my personal sweater knitting experience – I know there’s still more to learn!