The Joys and Challenges of Working with Handpaints

Here at The Yarn Patch, we get very excited when a delivery truck pulls up to our door. That’s because they’re usually bringing us something wonderful; with beautiful yarns, tools, and accessories always on their way, opening each box is like reliving Christmas morning.


This week, the mailman was especially good to us when he brought two BIG boxes of Malabrigo! Malabrigo’s Rios (worsted) and Arroyo (dk) are two of our all-time favorites; these superwash merinos come in a vast range of handpainted colorways that knitters obsess over (we’re looking at you, Kathy.) We’ve been anxiously awaiting a refill on these gorgeous yarns, and now we can’t get them off our minds. What’s so special about a handpainted yarn, and what’s the best way to use them?

If you’ve ever worked with a handpainted yarn before, you know that each skein is a unique work of art- literally. A dye artist lays out skeins of undyed yarn on a table and uses brushes, squirt bottles, or other tools to paint the liquid dyes onto the yarn. The artist can create endless effects by changing the amount and placements of the colors, and every artist develops techniques and colorways that distinguish their work. However, because of the process no two skeins are every exactly alike!

This is the beauty and the difficulty of handpainted yarns. Skeins  of the same colorway, even from the same dye lot, may be noticeably different. Their color repeats are unpredictable and hard to duplicate, resulting in mismatched repeats or unwanted color pooling. Fortunately, there are many simple solutions that will prevent these issues and ensure the best results when working with a handpainted yarn.

1. Purchase appropriately. Handpainted yarns are usually dyed in small batches, so the odds of finding a matching dye lot after you’ve run out are not good and the differences between dye lots can be astonishing. Always purchase the correct amount for you project the first time!

2. Swatch, swatch, swatch! It’s very difficult to predict what a handpainted yarn will look like knitted up simply by looking at the in the skein. A generous swatch in your project’s stitch pattern will give you a better idea if and how the colors will repeat, pool, etc.

3. Plan for your project. Is your project knitted in pieces- a sweater with set in sleeves or a vest with button bands, for example? If so, and if the variations in your handpainted yarns are minor, you may be able to  disguise them by using different skeins for different parts of the project. A slight difference in color will be less noticeable if it is visually separated from the adjoining piece by a seam or change of stitch pattern.

4. Alternate skeins. This is probably the most effective way to use handpainted yarns. By changing skeins every other row,  you can gradually disperse minor differences in color throughout the project so they are practically invisible! It requires a little extra work, but it’s not daunting. Simply attach two balls of yarn and work with one for two rows, leaving the other hanging from the beginning of the row until you return to that edge. Before beginning the next row, drop the first strand and lift the second strand so that it travels up the outside edge of the work and crosses over the old strand. Then work 2 more rows and repeat. No wasted yarn, no weaving in ends!

5. Use two strands held together. While it’s not always possible to use a double strand, if your project calls for it this is a wonderful opportunity to use a handpainted yarn! The two strands running side by side will break up the color repeats and blend together beautifully with a minimum of effort.

We hope some of these tips will be helpful to you. Have fun knitting with handpaints…and be sure to show us your beautiful finished projects!




4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sandra David
    Jul 27, 2016 @ 17:30:22

    Being aware of the challenges is so important, so thanks a lot for pointing them out. Handpained yarn can be so much fun, and dealing with the challenges is just part of that. Some of us actually have learned to love and embrace pooling, given the right project, so that’s another option. Paritcularly on socks, I find watching the pooling happen somewhat entertaining. I’d happily embrace that black blob in the sock photo. As always, thanks for a useful and enlightening post!



    • yarnpatch
      Jul 29, 2016 @ 09:34:30

      Our pleasure, Sandra! And I agree 100%- pooling can be a fun effect. I love how (for me, at least) a K1,P1 ribbing in a handpainted yarns seems to always create spirals.



  2. Kathy kithcart
    Aug 18, 2016 @ 17:31:34

    Thanks for all the info Emily, and all that Malabrigo, takes my breath away



  3. Trackback: Week 5: Color- Everything You’ve Been Dyeing to Know | The Yarn Patch

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