For the next post in the ColourRIOT series, I invited my friend Mandy to write about how to cope with vibrant, variegated yarn. I tend to gravitate to semi-solid, tonal yarns, myself, at least when it comes to knitting — but I have a stash of more highly variegated yarns waiting for me to figure out what to do with them. Mandy, on the other hand, has a way with those multicoloured skeins, and the persistence and curiosity to keep trying new things until she finds a pattern that works with the yarn she loves.
Mandy is an erstwhile member of my local knitting group, the Uptownknitmob, although she moved back to her hometown of Winnipeg last year. She’s also a talented designer of shawls and other accessories — and (in case that wouldn’t keep her hands busy enough) she’s the mama of three little girls, two of whom are twins born just weeks after her return to Winnipeg. I’m delighted that she was able to steal enough time during naps to share this post with us!
Like so many who have contributed to Annie’s Colour Riot series, I love colour. I love rainbows. I love those skeins of yarns that look like they rolled around in a rainbow like a pig in mud.
If you’re like me, you snag that skein of yarn at your LYS, you snuggle it, you take it home, and then you wonder what can I actually make with this? Oh, the possibilities for yarn are endless, but I’m talking realistically. Let me rephrase the question: What can I make with this fabulous yarn that will not look like a clown puked all over my knitting?
What you do not want is this festive sock when you thought you were buying self-striping yarn such as was on display at the LYS. Despite being knit up in a simple rib, this colourway was too festive, even for my tastes. Admittedly, this is an example of yarn I would not wittingly buy for myself. However, they are very “festive” and are fitting for cool nights at folk music festivals while garbed in rainbow tie-dye clothing.
You know the finished object will be bright, colourful, wonderful rainbow goodness (assuming you like the colourway). Sure, not everyone wants to wear a rainbow (their loss) and, like a neon t-shirt, you may offend some colour sensibilities, but let’s assume you want to wear that rainbow. You just don’t know how to get the rainbow from snuggle yarn form to wearable art form. That was the situation I was in with the lace weight yarn above.
I had some experience with variegated rainbows before I bought the yarn. I believe it all started with this yarn that my mom bought me when I first took up sock knitting.
The colours were vibrant. It was one of my first skeins of luxury yarn – a sea-cell blend – and I wanted to do it justice. However, I also did not want to knit a plain vanilla (or in this case, rainbow sherbert) sock. I love lace and at the time I was rather obsessed about lace. I tried a design that would break up the direction of the knitting and avoid pooling. Ugh, ick, and eww were my results. I tried a few patterns. Nothing seemed ideal for the yarn’s colourway. I thought I was doomed to have pink clown puke socks. And then I pushed on, started turning a heel, and discovered a rainbow.
I frogged those ugly socks and, based on the number of stitches in the heel gusset, I tested to see how many stitches I would have to knit in the round to get a beautiful rainbow effect with the yarn.
Alas, the number of stitches required did not accommodate any designs I could imagine. Too many stitches for socks or even a cowl. Too few for anything larger – and I only had one skein. I tried a chevron cowl pattern to shrink the circumference, but even that wasn’t working for me. In the end, I concluded I was not going to knit that perfect rainbow – at least not into anything wearable. I took a long hiatus from the yarn. Eventually I said “Skew it!” and knit myself a pair of socks.
As it turns out, my problem with other socks in the pink rainbow was that the patterns were too busy. If I’d simply worked a relatively plain sock I would have saved myself a lot of frogging and frustration. Lesson learned. Fortunately for me, the Skew sock pattern from Knitty satisfied my need for something other than plain vanilla when it comes to patterns, while still being stockinette. The continuous change in row lengths (because they are knit on the diagonal and turned with short rows) ensured there was no pooling to tease me with rainbows. I learned with later socks to use slipped stitches to break up potential pooling without complicating the pattern.
Having knit a few successful pairs of socks that were not plain (in pattern or colourway), I played with a sampler of variegated yarn using a range of stitches to break up pooling. I’d recommend fellow lovers of variegated yarns to try their own samplers. I’ve elaborated upon this sampler further in a separate blog post.
As I played with more multi-coloured yarns, I learned a few more tricks to avoiding clown puke.
One option is to hold the yarn doubled with a solid colour. This keeps the variegated colours from being too overpowering.
Another option I like is to work in double garter as I did for my daughter’s scarf. She dyed the yarn to her liking (with pink and blue food colouring) and I broke up the colours with some plain white. Double garter requires the use of double pointed or circular needles and is delightfully simple. Knit across with one yarn, slide the work back to the other end and knit across with the second yarn.
Of course, any sort of striping with a second (preferably solid) yarn will break up the colour pooling. As a lace knitter, I have to remind myself, often, of how lovely garter, stockinette, reverse stockinette, and simple ribbing can be with a beautiful yarn. My MO is to work in lace, but often it’s the simplest stitches that work best for variegated yarns.
To return to the rainbow lace yarn, I did indeed knit it into lace. I chose a pattern that had large sections in stockinette, a lace design with strong lines, and a central panel of mesh that broke up the colours. I knew that these combinations each would work well with variegated yarns. However, the final decision maker for me was to look at examples of other shawls knit with variegated yarns using this pattern. This is where Ravelry project pages are extremely beneficial. If you are wondering what to do with that colourful yarn in your stash, why not look to see what others have done? (I.e., search projects in that yarn.) You may not like all the options, but you will inevitably find something to emulate. Likewise, if you are wondering about a particular pattern, check to see if anyone else has knit it with a variegated yarn. Let them do some of the testing for you. When I have my designs tested, I like when volunteers ask to use variegated yarn. My response is always yes because I’m curious to know if it will work; if it doesn’t, at least we know.
In summary, to avoid clown puke:
1) keep the stitch pattern simple (stockinette, reverse stockinette, garter, simple ribbing) or
2) alternate with a solid yarn to break things up or
3) blend with a solid yarn to tone it down or
4) don’t buy rainbow, variegated yarn and
5) play, [test, frog, check out other projects] repeat as necessary.