Week 5: Color- Everything You’ve Been Dyeing to Know

Hello again!

Welcome back to Mastering Yarn. Last week we talked about yarn structure- a fascinating aspect of yarn that’s often overlooked. Today we’re going to brighten things up as we discuss color!


Studies have shown that color is the first thing we notice about any product. It evokes the strongest emotional response and is usually a deciding factor when we select any kind of product. Yarn, of course, is no exception! So it’s only natural that manufacturers put a lot of effort into producing yarns that use color in innumerable exciting ways. Understanding these dyeing techniques and how they translate into a finished product can help you make your colorful dreams a reality!

One caveat before we begin: nothing we’re going to discuss here is a law! There are no color police; there is no wrong way to choose or use a colorful yarn. These are merely guidelines to help you make your decisions. In the end, the only thing that matters is that you LOVE the way your knitting looks!


The most basic way to dye a yarn is cover it completely and evenly with a single, solid color. Solid colors are often a wonderful choice for very detailed patterns, as busier colorways might distract from or obscure the pattern itself. Cables and lace especially have the greatest impact when knitted in a solid color yarn. But there are many subtle ways to add depth to a solid color.

Heathered Colors


Heathered colors offer a natural look with a lot of hidden depth.

When the fiber  it’s called heathered. Heathred yarns have just a touch of other shades or hues spun into them, giving them a subtle variety that doesn’t compete with a stitch pattern.

Tonal Colors


Tonal yarns yield a soft, washed out look.

Tonal colorways are similar to heathered; they are dyed unevenly in a single color to create a range of shades from dark to light. However, because they are dyed after spinning the variation in the color is more pronounced. When knitted up, the shades will blend together and still show off a stitch pattern well.



Tweed yarns lend a fun, rustic effect to a project.

As tweed yarns are spun, they are sprinkled with small pieces of fiber dyed in different shades or colors. These pieces stand out from the main yarn, adding a splash of color and texture to the smooth, solid background. Tweeds are an excellent option for plain or detailed patterns.


The only thing we can assume about a variegated yarn is that it contains multiple colors. Beyond that simple description, the possibilities with variegated yarns are endless! Below are a few factors to consider when selecting a variegated yarn.

Length of Repeat

The colors in a variegated yarn may be divided into sections shorter than an inch or longer than several yards! When you look at a variegated yarn, gently pinch a single strand between your fingers and see how long you can follow that strand before the color changes. If it’s a only a few inches (as in the photo on the left above), then the frequent color changes will yield an all-over mottled look when knitted up (as in the photo on the right above). However, if the color repeat is long enough to knit a row…or two…or several before changing, the result will be stripes. The length of the stripe depends on the length of the color repeat AND the width of your rows! You can see an example of a self-striping yarn in the photo below.


A color repeat almost 24 inches long resulted in these stripes.


When the color changes line up for several rows, they may form a patch of color that stands out more. This phenomenon is called “pooling”. Pooling can be a fun and fascinating effect, but it’s also quite unpredictable. If pooling is not desired, you can break up the color repeats and prevent pooling by alternating between two skeins of yarn as you knit.


Self Patterning Yarns

Manufacturers can carefully control the distribution of color during the dyeing process so that the yarn creates special effects when knitted. Self-patterning sock yarns are a very popular example of this. By combining different repeats (long sections of solid colors to form stripes, and other sections containing colorful dots), the yarn mimics the look of complicated colorwork when knitted in simple stockinette stitch. Brilliant!

Self Shading/Gradient Yarns

When the color change in a yarn is very gradual, the result is a self-shading yarn. Self-shading yarns look beautiful in almost any pattern- plain old stockinette will display the full range of colors as blended stripes, while special techniques like entrelac take advantage of the slow color changes to create the illusion of colorwork without using different yarns.

It’s also possible to dye a yarn so that the color never repeats at all; the color may change so gradually that it takes the length of the entire skein to shift from one color to another. These stunning gradient yarns have been hugely popular during recent years. Some manufacturers dye a single skein to achieve this effect (as in the photo above) while others dye a series of miniskeins in successively darker shades and offer them as a kit.


Handpainted yarns are simply variegated yarns that have been produced by a dye artist applying colors by hand, rather than an automated dyeing machine. The result is sublimely mingled colors with a rich, organic quality that computers just can’t reproduce. Because we can’t help raving about their beauty, we’ve blogged about handpainted yarns before. For more information, see our previous post The Joys and Challenges of Working with Handpaints.


That’s it for today, everyone! I hope this rather deep dive into the wonderful world of color in yarns has been fun. Join us next week as we wrap up our series on Mastering Yarn with a crash course on reading yarn labels. Until then, happy knitting!



5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. 8OtCOdhwUNFjADGh5KVbdqy2XwwiqnXdienQfRUsKwA=
    Sep 25, 2016 @ 18:25:55

    Thank you for another informative blog. I’m fascinated how the different colors come together.



  2. Suze
    Sep 25, 2016 @ 18:27:48

    Thanks again for another informative blog. I love learning how the yarn is dyed.



  3. Suze
    Sep 25, 2016 @ 18:28:37

    Thanks for another informative blog.



  4. Gail
    Sep 27, 2016 @ 07:21:00

    This was another great blog. I especially love your clear explanations of each yarn and the pictures that accompany it. Tonal yarns were never clear to me but now I understand much better. I have to tell you that I think you all taking the time to do these blogs and explain things so clearly are a testament to you always thinking of your customers and how to help us. Kudos to you all.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: