Posts filed under Yarn Theory

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.

Alternating Skeins: The Necessary Evil of Hand-Dyed Yarn

A common issue with hand-dyed yarns is that it’s sometimes very difficult to get two matching skeins, even if they came from the same dye pot. The first time I encountered this was when I was shopping at the yarn store in which I worked. We had some lovely hand-dyed sock yarn from a fairly well known company in stock, and I wanted to order a few more skeins of the same color for a larger project. When we got the shipment of new yarn, I was surprised to see a very noticeable difference in the two lots; the first lot I had ordered from was a darker red with orange and green while the second lot was a slightly lighter red with more orange and yellow and green. Both were beautiful, and I could easily understand how they are considered the same colorway. I also noticed that I saw minor differences in shade throughout the dye lot; some skeins were a little darker while others had the fall colors more evenly distributed. For that project, I chose skeins that were the most similar to each other, and was able to create a beautiful scarf with multiple skeins of hand-dyed yarn.

I now have the pleasure of being on the other end of the market, and I see exactly why and how hand-dyed yarn can end up with a bit of variety in each pot. There are an incredible amount of different factors that go into how a skein looks by the end of the dyeing process. The yarn takes dye differently depending on where it is sitting in the pot, how close it is to the heat source, the different chemicals that are added, at what time the different chemicals are added, how much water the yarn is floating around in, the pH of the water, other chemicals in the city water we use, and the phase of the moon. (Obviously the moon phase has little to do with dyes, but the underlying point is that there will always be an element of randomness to it, even with the best laid plans.) So what can we do about this issue while making our projects? We can alternate skeins!

I’m not going to beat around the bush with this issue: alternating skeins is a pain. It takes forethought, extra winding of yarn, and it means that you have to carry more yarn with you if you’re traveling with your project (and don’t forget the occasional untangling). On the other hand, if you don’t alternate skeins when it’s needed, it can mean that you will not be happy with your finished project that you spent hours carefully working on. Why risk disappointment?

I’ve recently been preparing to make a sweater, which requires around 6 skeins of Norwegian Elkhound yarn. Even when they were hanging to dry, it was noticeable that there were variations between the different skeins.

Skeins of Norwegian Elkhound In Running Dog Nebula drying after being dyed.

After the skeins are wound, it’s easier to tell which skeins have the most contrast to each other; Some are more pink while some have a little bit more blue in them.

When the skeins are wound into center-pull balls, it's easy to compare how the colors will be distributed.  You can see the bottom right skein is slightly more blue than the rest.

If we were to knit the two most contrasting skeins next to each other in a project, we would be disappointed in the result because it’s very obvious about where the first skein ends and the second skein begins.  By alternating the skeins, even with the stark difference in the first swatch, it’s difficult to tell that the skeins were all that different to begin.

The obvious half-way line shows where one skein ends and another begins.

It's difficult to tell that there are two different skeins being used because the colors are distributed more evenly.

How do I alternate skeins?

To alternate skeins, you will need to have two skeins of yarn from which you are ready to knit or crochet. If you’re making a flat project, work two rows, one row for the front and one row for the back with the first skein. If you’re making on a project in the round, work only one row instead.

Once you have worked back to your starting point, drop the yarn from the first skein and pick up the yarn from the second skein, leaving a six inch tail to weave in at a later time.

Work one/two rows until you return to the starting point, and drop the yarn from the second skein.  Pick up the first skein and repeat switching back and forth until you are done with your project.

Crude drawing of proposed alternating skeins method

If you’re working on a larger project, like the sweater I’m planning on making, you can start off working more than just one or two rows from the first skein so that the changes between the skeins are more gradual. I plan on knitting with about half the first ball before I start alternating with the second skein so that I won't suddenly have to switch from one set of two skeins to another set of two skeins mid project.

When is alternating skeins necessary?

Alternating skeins isn’t needed all the time with multiple skein projects. If you have two skeins of yarn that appear to match identically, it may not be worth the effort to alternate them. However, with hand-dyed yarns, alternating skeins is always the safest course of action to make sure that you won’t have to redo your project, or worse, hate your project when it’s finished.  

Have you ever had a project where you've been able to see the difference between ending and starting points of the skeins?

Posted on December 11, 2013 and filed under Yarn Theory.

Weight For It: Yarn Weights Explained

A number of people have recently inquired about yarn weights and associated meanings, so I decided it was time to dive deep into the topic and explain some things.  There are a number of things that are added on to yarn tags that don’t always provide useful information, such as icons from the Standard Yarn Weight System, gauge ranges, and recommended needle sizes.  I believe they are arbitrary pieces of information, and I will explain why below.

Standard Yarn Weight System

The Craft Yarn Council of America defined the Standard Yarn Weight System with 7 different size designations.  Each size (or weight) is assigned a name and a number:

0 Lace
1 Superfine
2 Fine
3 Light
4 Medium
5 Bulky
6 Super Bulky

Although most yarns from big box stores (Hobby Lobby or Michaels) have this notation on them, the fact that they have “standard” in their name is a bit of a misnomer.  Sadly, there is no agreed standard with anything regarding yarn, and the only truly useful piece of information for yarn weights is called wraps per inch, or WPI.  To measure WPI, you can wrap the yarn around a ruler (or similar measuring device) and depending on how many times it can comfortably wrap around the ruler in the space of an inch determines which category of weight it falls into.  In the spirit of loose standards, the restrictions of the categories can be subjective depending on the source.

Recommended Needle Size

Another thing that is commonly listed on yarn is the recommended needle size.  I’ve been asked by a beginning knitter a few times this week if she should buy a certain needle to go with the yarn she purchased.  I advised her to buy needles for patterns, not for what is recommended on the yarn.  Why is this?  Because a lovely ball of worsted weight yarn could recommend a size 8 needle, yet the pattern you’ve chosen asks you to use a size 6 needle.  I’m certainly not against collecting knitting needles, but it’s nice to be frugal when possible.  On top of the recommended needle size for the pattern, there is the issue of personal gauge with the yarn to keep in mind, which is a topic that will be discussed in a future blog post.

Yarn Weight & Ply Relationship

A third piece of information that can be often listed that can be a little confusing is the listing of a weight and then a number of plies.  An example from Ravelry’s search option shows exactly this.

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 9.10.32 PM.png

This references back to when factories were only able to spin one thickness of singles, but it could be plied together as many times as needed to get the appropriate thickness.  


A final piece of information that is more often seen on cones of yarn is a designation similar to the format “3/2” in regards to weight.  These are usually on yarns that are meant for weaving, and in the US 3/2 would mean size then plies, and to further confuse things, it’s the opposite in Great Britain.

Now, we will go through all of the different weights from thinnest to thickest that Fiber Hound carries, with some brief mentions of others.  

Basenji is 22 WPI

WPI: 18+
Ply: 1-2
Other Names: cobweb, crochet thread

Lace is the category in which very fine yarns are stuck in, which means there’s a fair amount of wiggle room for what could be considered a lace yarn.  Cobweb is the term used for extremely fine yarns that, much like their namesake, could be as thin as a spider’s silk.  The word “lace” is heavily derived from terms meaning net or snare, which brings to my mind lacey shawls.   Fiber Hound’s Basenji is on the relatively heavier side of lace, achieving a 22 WPI, while Saluki is a finer 24 WPI.

Italian Greyhound is 20 WPI

Italian Greyhound is 20 WPI

WPI: 14-22
Ply: 3-4
Other Names: baby

Many people use the terms “sock” yarn and “fingering” yarn interchangeably, but there can be a minor difference.  In regards to thickness, fingering weight yarns are a little thinner than sock yarns.  As well, when the term “sock” is associated with a yarn, it could be assumed that the yarn would be a good choice for socks; this is not always the case, and can be misleading.  The origin of the term “fingering” is derived from fingram, from the French fin grain, which means “fine grain”.  In relation to yarn, this could imply that it is a more fine weight of a yarn.  Fiber Hound's Italian Greyhound is the thinnest of the three fingering weight yarns at 20 WPI, Dachshund is 18 WPI, and the luscious Borzoi is 16 WPI.

Bluetick Coonhound is 14 WPI

Bluetick Coonhound is 14 WPI

WPI: 12-18
Ply: 5
Other Names: baby

The name of this weight confused me when I first saw it as I couldn’t understand what sports had anything to do with knitting.  While the name is not actually related to athletics, the yarn weight is preferred for “sportwear” and associated clothing. Fiber Hound's Bluetick Coonhound is 14 WPI.

Afghan Hound is 14 WPI

Afghan Hound is 14 WPI

WPI: 11-14
Ply: 8
Other Names: light worsted

DK stands for double knitting (or double knit), which is a reference to having two thinner yarns being plied together to make a thicker yarn.  There appears to be a few different anecdotes floating around in regards to the origins.  The first story is the yarn weight’s use in WWII, where factories in Great Britain frugally created size between sport and worsted that could “double” for either in the final product.  The second origin cites the weight being doubled up from fingering weight.  Fiber Hound's Afghan Hound is 14 WPI.

Norwegian Elkhound is 13 WPI

Norwegian Elkhound is 13 WPI

WPI: 9-11
Ply: 10
Other Names: afghan, aran

The term worsted finds its origins from “worstead”, the name of a village in Norfolk in which yarn and cloth were crafted.  The term often causes confusion because of the spinning term worsted (in contrast to woolen).  Worsted in regards to spinning means that the yarn is smoothly spun with the fibers prepared in a method that makes them parallel to each other. Woolen can mean anything that does not fit into the worsted category, and the resulting yarns are often much more lofty and fluffy.  Neither of these things matters when referencing yarn weight, but they’re important to know for context.  Aron  (pronounced Aaron) yarns are often considered being thicker than worsted weight yarns.  Fiber Hound's Norwegian Elkhound is 13 WPI.

You may have noticed that a couple of the yarns are also known as “baby”.  I have not yet discovered the origins of this, but I suspect the designation is an attempt to point customers into the idea of “this is good for baby garments”.  

I find the differences in yarn weights to be highly arbitrary and subjective, and if I had a say in anything, I would remove all the names of the yarns and go entirely by WPI, but I do not see that happening in the near future.  Each yarn company and mill has their own ideas of which yarns fit into what category which can cause more confusion for our customers.

If you had to choose one option to go by to sort the weights of yarn, what would you choose? Do you have a better solution?