I love yarn and color so this is a topic I’m excited to try to tackle. I’ve given you information on fiber content, ply, twist, treatment of yarn and fiber, so now color. The alchemy of yarn and color is what gets us excited about hand dyed yarn and every other yarn.
A funny story before we go too far. I am opinionated. I am sometimes quicker to make a judgment than gives me time to formulate a reason for that judgment. At TNNA in Las Vegas I walked by a yarn vendor’s room and as I looked through the window, I deemed the yarn hideous. It was not dyed in colors or in a way that appealed to me (it really wasn’t hideous). My roommate (who can remain anonymous), loved, loved, loved their yarn. I did go back and look more closely, but still, just not my thing. So I’m not the customer for that yarn which is fine as there is plenty of yarn I am the customer for.
So what can we learn from that? I think it is that we all perceive color somewhat differently, we have ideas about what works for our intentions, and so it is not possible for there to be color rules as such. If I remember correctly from physics class, color is really our perception of the light being refracted. I believe that how we perceive color is then individually determined by how our eyes perceive those colors. That color perception is determined by the make up of our individual light preceptors, and also by culture, geographic location, and all the things we learn and absorb about color as we experience the world.
Dyeing for Color and Yarn
Yarn and color is destined to be complicated. As more yarn is hand dyed, I love seeing the “signature” of each dyer and each company. I think we are in a time of unlimited color opportunity, though we do need to match our yarn and color to get the result we desire. As you look at yarn and color, don’t forget fiber, ply, twist and treatment! Each of those things is going to play into the yarn and the best way to use it in your knitting to make both you and the yarn happy!
- Solid Color Dye
The goal here is a solid, consistent color that is predictable and repeatable. For years and years this was all that was available to the hand knitter unless they had access to small yarn batches. This is what I think of as “regular dyeing”. It is what we get from big yarn companies, where every skein is the same. This is perfect for a project that needs continuity from skein to skein, but even this will have variations from dye lot to dye lot. Imagine how difficult this can be if the fibers are not exactly the same. I would guess that some of our more interesting non-solid colors have resulted from that!
There are small dyers who use this method of dyeing too. There are variations in how each fiber takes the dye, so even this type of dyeing may have variations if there is more than one fiber in the yarn.
- Kettle Dye
I think most of us love this type of dyeing. I like it because it gives me the opportunities to continue to use texture without having to use only solid dye yarn. Kettle dyeing can be done by small and large dyers. This method of dyeing produces subtle tonal variations throughout a skein of yarn. The tonal variations can be subtle or not-so-subtle. However, from skein to skein there will be variations even in the same dye lot and it is always recommended that you mix skeins if using more than one. I work with Anzula Luxury Fibers and all their yarn is dyed to order to facilitate matching.
This can produce the most amazing colors because it blends two shades. Overdyeing is done both intentionally to achieve a particular color, and as a way to salvage an undesirable dye job. Although it seems relatively straightforward, the dyer must understand how the colors relate to each other and what mixing them will achieve.
- Multiple Colors / Hand Dye / Hand Painted
Multiple colors are done by hand dyers and large large companies. The “signature” exists at all levels, but is more intimate and interesting in the smaller batch hand dyed yarns. Some knitters cannot get enough of these yarns, but others are confounded by them. These come in long repeats, medium repeats and short repeats. Each has benefits and challenges and be sure to ask for an explanation if possible.
What you see in the skein is not necessarily what will happen in your project, and swatching doesn’t give you a great idea of what will happen because the display of color changes with stitch pattern and width. There is nothing more wonderful than watching this yarn play out; my favorite parts is finding the colors created where two colors blend together. Worked in the “wrong” design or color, a lot of incredible knitting or incredible color can end up hidden.
- Splatter Dye
We are definitely seeing more of this right now and the trend looks to be continuing into the near future. It is fun and playful, but can be tricky to get the right result. The intensity of the splatter combined with the background color will impact the knitted results.
- Specialty Colors
Other dyeing methods can create different color results. Be sure you know what you are getting and whether it is reproducible or if it is one of a kind (OOAK).
How We See Color
I am pretty certain that my spouse and I see many colors differently. I don’t know whether this is a gender difference or due to the fact that we grew up on different sides of the U.S., or perhaps a combination plus different cultural influences. So when I say something is gold (meaning a shade of yellow) he thinks I mean the color of gold, or will look at the same color and call it brown.
Knitters and Designers often shake their heads about people who want to knit something in the same color as the photographed sample. Where is their imagination? Why that color? Don’t they want to pick their color? Maybe it is because they can see the result, and don’t wish to be any more adventurous than that. If color is an adventure for you, as it is for me, this is hard to imagine.
When asked I will often tell yarn companies that I do not care what colors they send me. I assume that they have a message they want to deliver, and unless I am knitting for myself, I will enjoy whatever color I’m knitting (less enjoyment of blues, I admit!). I will usually decline black because I find it hard to work on. But they almost always make me choose; then I have to look into the color choices and try to picture the final yarn. Whichever way it happens, I learn something from every color and yarn.
Interactions of Yarn and Color
Although first attracted to the way the dyeing creates the color presented, we should not forget to consider the yarn structure and fiber content (the “base”) as we imagine what to do with a particular yarn. A juicy three- or four-ply will create a much different canvas for our stitches than a simple 2-ply. So fall in love, but think about what result you want from the yarn and the color(s) to make sure you formulate a suitable match.
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