New to hand-dyed yarn? This inquisitive knitter is here to help.
I’m so excited that you have decided to try out hand-dyed yarn. It opens a whole new world of colour possibilities and the chance to support some really awesome small business owners. Before you get started though, there are a few things you should know about hand-dyed yarn to make sure you get the most out of your knitting (or crochet) experience.
#1 (and most importantly): Alternate your skeins!
This basically means to “stripe” your yarn, even when knitting with only 1 colour. This avoids having big colour spots known as “pooling”. Some people like this effect, but usually it is an unwanted occurrence and can be avoided by alternating skeins every 1-2 rows/rounds. Alternating skeins also avoids any potential colour differences that can occur even within the same dye lot.
To give you some insight into why this is always important: it is impossible to get a “solid” colour with hand-dyed yarn. Although many dyers have optimised their technique and can get really, really close, hand-dyed yarn is always considered “semi-solid”. This is because dye uptake is substantially affected by heat. There will always be areas of the dye pot that are hotter, such as folds in the yarn that trap heat or areas closer to the heat source. You will not be able to have a 100% consistent temperature all the way through your dye pot, even when stirring consistently and not over-crowding the pot. These gentle changes are what make hand-dyed yarns special, but it’s important to understand how they work to make sure you are as happy as can be with your finished product.
#2: Wash with gentle soaps.
Anything that holds pigment will fade over time. To ensure the longevity of your hand-dyed pieces, only wash them when necessary and make sure to use gentle wool washes. We all have experience with putting a new piece of clothing in the washing machine for the first time and having the colour bleed onto our other clothes. Be gentle with your knits and they will be there for you to love for years to come.
[Note: This concept is especially important with naturally-dyed yarn. Natural dyes fade more quickly than manufactured dyes and you will need to take care to dry them in the shade and minimise washing wherever possible.]
#3: Wet block your swatches.
Along the same lines as #2, blocking your swatches will help you get a feel for whether your hand-dyed yarns are more susceptible to colour bleeding. Indie dyers put a lot of effort into ensuring that the yarn that arrives with customers has been properly rinsed and should have little-to-no excess dye remaining. That being said, things happen! And some dyes in particular are more susceptible to bleeding (like reds and blues). So, before you embark on that big colourwork sweater, make sure that you block your swatch and check for any colour runs.
[Note: If you do find some excess dye coming out of your swatch, contact the dyer from whom you purchased. They will be able to give you the best guidance on how to proceed. For the most part, it is probably an issue of using a different soap and if you carefully wash all of your skeins with your wool wash until the water runs clear, you should be good to go.]
#4: Colours between dye lots can often vary substantially.
Keep in mind that yarn dyed in small batches can have major differences between dye lots. Always, always buy enough yarn to finish your project because there is no guarantee that yarn from another dye lot will match what you have now. The reasons for this could fill up their own blog post, but here are a few of the major contributors:
- Differences in wool chemistry, even from the same sheep. Dyes (both natural and manufactured) rely on particular bonding groups that exist throughout the chemical makeup of the fibre. The availability of these groups can be heavily affected by things like diet and environment and can cause changes in the colour result.
- Differences in dye chemistry. Although this will be much more significant for natural dyes, each new purchase or collection of dyestuff will have a different chemical makeup. Manufactured dyes can generally be relied upon to be fairly consistent, but nothing will ever be 100% perfect. This difference will be even more dramatic for natural dyes because the plants/insects being harvested as dyestuff will have been exposed to completely different environmental conditions with every harvest.
- Margin of error within dye measurements. Most of us operating out of our homes do not have expensive and precise equipment with which to measure dye. When using manufactured dyes, even tiny differences in dye quantities can cause noticeable shade differences.
When you buy from an indie dyer, you are investing in their talent and their artistic creations. You may not get exactly what you see in the photo on their website, but rest assured that we are all fully committed to providing the best product to our customers and would never send a skein that does not match our high standards.
Now that I've gotten you all excited about hand-dyed yarns, here are a few of my favourite dyers:
Oysters and Purls (based in NYC)
Woolly Mammoth Fibres (based in Northern Ireland)
Moel View Yarn (based in Wales)
Tulliver Yarn (based in Germany)
Papiput Yarn (based in Indonesia)
Tusken Knits (based in Seattle)
......and so many more!