How to Choose the Best Pattern for your Yarn

One of the questions I periodically get is “How do I choose a good pattern for my yarn?”  I’d like to go more in depth with this issue, and go over some guidelines for choosing a good pattern that will show off your yarn at its best.  When looking at patterns, we need to look at the yarn, and think about the color, texture, and materials.

Types of Colors

I’ve outlined the basic types of categories that yarn colors can fall into.  Do note that some of these categories can overlap.

The yarn is entirely or almost entirely one color.  Solid colors are very versatile, and can be used with almost any project successfully.

An example of solid yarn

Solid yarn used in a Watermelon sweater

The yarn tends to stripe in the finished project, and features many yards of one color at a time.  Self-striping yarns are great for more simple projects, as they can add interest to a simple pattern.

An example of self-striping yarn

Jeff's socks made out of a self-striping yarn

The yarn is a few or many different colors, spread out evenly throughout the yarn.  Depending on how the colors are spread out, this type of yarn has the potential to pool, or have groups of colors sit next to each other and create its own pattern.  

An example of a hand-painted yarn; notice the large sections of colors together in the skein

A bag made out of hand-painted yarn

Kettle-dyed Semisolid
The yarn is a few or many different colors, often spread out in a random pattern.  It does not usually pool.

Our own semi-solid yarn, Afghan Hound in Every Dog Has Its Day

A hat out of Afghan Hound in Cerberus

The yarn transitions smoothly from one color to another.  Gradient yarn is labor intensive to create, and is either done by hand spinning the yarn or by dyeing the yarn in sections.

Gradient handspun yarn

A shawl made with gradient yarn, courtesy of Valley Ridge Yarns

Textures of Yarns

The texture of the yarn generally refers to the number of plies (which determines roundness of yarn) or refers to how much of a “novelty” yarn it is.

A singles yarn will have a similar texture to yarns that have three or more plies, in that they are all very round and are great for textured or cabled patterns.  In general, the more plies a yarn has the rounder the yarn will be.  The roundness of the stitch makes textures in patterns such as these cables have a lot of dimension.

Our 8 ply yarn, Bluetick Coonhound in Pavlov

A cabled hat made out of Bluetick Coonhound

Two-ply yarns are more textured, and that texture can detract from textured or cabled patterns.  Two-ply yarns can be great for more delicate and intricate lace patterns, as well as more pieces featuring a lot of stockinette.

Our two-ply sock yarn, Dachshund, in Bark Mitzvah

A shawl made out of our two-ply lace, Basenji

Novelty yarns can cover a large group of yarns; they include eyelash yarns, yarns with halos, thick and thin handspun, ribbon, boucle, and yarn with other objects in them (such as feathers, beads, or sequins).  For yarns with these features, it can be best to choose more simple patterns that won’t distract from the yarn.  

An example of a novelty yarn in which the stitches would easily get lost

A cowl made out of fluffy handspun angora rabbit


When working with more than one color, it’s important to keep in mind the contrast of the colors and its importance to the final project.  A great way to see if colors will have enough contrast to be clearly seen is by taking a picture with a mobile device by switching it to black & white mode and comparing the yarns side by side.  If you can easily tell the difference when it’s black and white, there’s enough of a contrast to make the colors pop in your project.

The yarns appear to be high contrast...

...until we find out that the pink and grey are actually very close in value.

...until we find out that the pink and grey are actually very close in value.

Here are some examples of projects that may not have worked out in an optimal way for showing off the yarn.

Here’s an example of pooling.  

There are varying opinions on whether pooling is desired in a garment, and it can sometimes be avoided by alternating skeins.

Here are a few examples of variegated or handpainted yarns in projects with too much lace or texture.  The variety of colors in this shawl hides the shapes that were created while knitting this shawl.  This yarn with sequins hides the cables and lace.

It's hard to see in all those colors, but there are sequins in there!

This is a low-contrast colorwork piece that was created on purpose as a gift to someone who is colorblind.  The red and the green have similar values, and even though they are opposite colors, they are still challenging to pick apart from a distance.

All of these suggestions are general guidelines, and are not in any way hard and set rules. I’ve found that, whether or not I have the yarn or pattern in mind first, being aware of how the yarns colors and textures can affect the final product is extremely helpful.  

Special thanks to Kate of Valley Ridge Yarns for loaning her shawl for photographing.  Please go check out her site and yarn!  More thanks to Sarah for letting me photograph her beautiful sock, and Reverie Yarn for letting me take sample photos!

What techniques do you use when matching yarns with colors?



Posted on July 24, 2014 and filed under Yarn Theory.

Borzoi & Jeudi

The Jeudi baby sweater by Elisa Di Fiore was chosen as a sample for one skein of Borzoi in Double Dog Dare Ya because of the asymmetrical cabling and back buttoning.  The pattern was modeled after the Vendredi sweater, which looks almost identical, with the main difference being Elisa’s version is in English, rather than French.  There’s only one size offered, but that can be easily changed with adding stitches to the cast on, or using larger yarn or needles.  The sleeves are raglan, meaning that they extend in one piece from the collar, and the buttonholes are added as yarn overs, with the buttons being added after blocking.

The pattern starts off with a normal cast on, continuing with rows of garter stitch, eventually switching to stockinette and the beginning of the cable pattern.  I ran into a few issues with the cable pattern that were not the patterns fault, rather my misreading of it.  The cable pattern box starts off with row one and has 8 rows total; I missed where the pattern stated to start on row 2 of the cable pattern, and so I was going for a while with the honeycomb cable showing backwards.  It didn’t take particularly long for me to figure out my mistake, and rip back to the garter stitch section.  The pattern continues with the same stitches until the end, where there are more rows of garter stitch to match the collar and sleeves.  

The pattern is beautifully written and Elisa did a great job at recreating the original Vendredi sweater into English.  The cable pattern isn’t charted, just written out, but it’s easy enough to quickly memorize.  It takes 3 buttons total, and I was able to use some of our new Scottie Buttons to complete the pattern.  The pattern is available for free on Ravelry, so go get it!

Posted on July 16, 2014 .

Norwegian Elkhound & Windschief

Windschief by Stephen West is one of my favorite hat patterns; it works easily for both men and women, and it’s fun and quick to knit, making it a great pattern for last minute gifts.  The pattern also includes instructions to create a matching cowl, making the pattern even more valuable.  The pattern features ribbing on one fourth of the pattern, with the rest being stockinette.  I created our sample out of Norwegian Elkhound in Muddy Paws.

The pattern starts out with  1:1 ribbing, then goes into the stockinette on the rest of the hat, with the ribbing from the brim continuing up and angling with increases and decreases.  This is a pattern that is easily memorized, and uses measurements rather than row counts to determine when to continue on to the next section, which makes it forgiving for different yarns and gauges.  The main difference between the cowl and the hat is how the bind off is handled; with the hat, there are decreases until 8 stitches remain, whereas the cowl has ribbing to mirror the beginning of the pattern.

I’ve made this hat 3 times now, once with my first colored handspun yarn and twice with Norwegian Elkhound, and I am still in love with the pattern.  There are three sizes available in the pattern, and the pattern is available in English, Japanese, and German.  Find this pattern here!

This was the first time I had knit with any of my handspun, and it's my favorite hat!

This hat is also out of Norwegian Elkhound, in Bark Mitzvah.

Posted on July 9, 2014 and filed under Pattern Review.

Italian Greyhound & Mont-Royal

In an effort to find a hat to make out of Italian Greyhound in Argos, I specifically was looking for something with the following qualities: simple (to better show off the different colors Argos displays) and geometric (to better show off the round nature of the singles yarn).  I found the perfect match in Mont-Royal, a slouchy hat that features sections of garter stitch and sections of what are actually cables going back and forth in a criss-cross pattern. The designer, tshep, enjoys designing articles of clothing with textures or pattern to show off what the yarn can do, and this pattern fits nicely with the rest of her collection of patterns.

The pattern starts off with ribbing, and goes on to written instructions to detail the simple cables.  There are no charts for the pattern, but with only 20 rounds for the repeat, it’s simple enough that there isn’t an excessive amount of text on the page.  The pattern repeats itself four times total, and finishes off in a standard decrease.

This pattern was a great weekend knit for me, and even though it’s made from thinner yarn, it was still very cozy and soft.  It’s a free pattern, too, so get it here!

Posted on July 2, 2014 .

Saluki & Cloud Illusions

Last October I got married, and before I even had my dress, I knew that I wanted to make some sort of shawl for the occasion.  I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of the delicate-looking BFL & silk laceweight yarn, Saluki, as well as use one of my favorite colorways, Barking Up The Right Tree.  After searching through hundreds and hundreds of patterns, I opted for Cloud Illusions, by Boo Knits.  I have made many patterns from Boo Knits, who is known for versatile lace patterns that can be easily customized to the desires of the knitter or the limits of the yarn.  

Because Boo Knits’ patterns can have a lot of different options, I looked through all of the projects made with the pattern on Ravelry, and see if there are any variations I liked more than others.  For Cloud Illusions, there are options for small and large versions of either a garter stitch body or a stockinette stitch body (referred to as stocking stitch in the pattern), and then the lace or extended lace section, as well as beading options.  I chose to go with the stocking stitch body and the normal lace section, to keep the shawl smaller, and added my own beading option in the lace section rather than just the border.  

The method of casting on is typical for many shawls, in that it starts with 9 rows of 2 stitches, and picks up stitches around the knit area.  The shawl continues on easily with either the garter or stocking stitch option.  When the appropriate amount of stitches have been made for the size desired, it goes on to the lace section in addition to a change to a larger needle size.  As with the rest of her patterns, Boo Knits includes written out and charted lace, for those with preferences.  The lace border, which also is written out and charted, includes instructions for adding beads if desired.  Finally, a picot bind off is used to create a delicate ending to the lace sections.  

Because this shawl was made for a special occasion in mind, I used Swarovski beads, but seed beads work fine as well.  You can buy the pattern here.

And, as a bonus, here's some pictures from our wedding, courtesy of OMG Photography.  You can click on the pictures to see them larger.

This was right after the ceremony. Copyright OMG Photography

We went to the zoo afterwards.  We're petting a goat. Copyright OMG Photography

Of course I'm knitting at my reception. Copyright OMG Photography

We also had giant Jenga.  (I won.)  Copyright OMG Photography

Posted on June 25, 2014 and filed under Pattern Review.