Sunspun Fine Yarns


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In focus: Working with hand-dyed yarns

We recently began carrying new yarns from two companies that specialise in hand-dyed yarns, Skein and Shilasdair, and, while we’ve carried hand-dyed yarns for a while, they are new to some of our customers- so we thought it might be useful to look at some of the joys and challenges of working with them! It’s definitely true that the things we love about hand-dyed yarns are often also the things that make them challenging to work with. Those beautiful shifts in colour that make us want to keep knitting just one more row just to see what happens next can sometimes overwhelm a stitch pattern, making it hard to see the lace or texture you’re so carefully working. And the fact that each skein is truly individual and one-of-a-kind means that colour variation between skeins can be difficult to manage, even within the same dye-lots.

So what do you need to think about when using hand-dyes yarns? Basically there are three issues- choosing the right pattern for the yarn, avoiding colour pooling and smooth transitions when changing balls.

Choosing stitch patterns

It’s important to choose a design with a stitch pattern that is going to play to the strengths of your yarn. Textured stitch patterns, such as those made of slipstitch, knit-and-purl and brioche, are a great way to break up the colours in variegated yarns (these are yarns that contains more that one colour), allowing little blips of colour to stand out.  The Supernova socks are a great example of a slip-stitch pattern that highlights the various colours in this yarn by bringing a knit stitch the the front of a background of purl stitches.

 

Supernova by Chrissy Gardiner

Supernova by Chrissy Gardiner

 

The undulations of lace and chevron patterns can work well to highlight the colour shifts in semi-solid yarns (those that are made up of different shade of one colour) but can get a bit lost if used with too busy a yarn.

 

Nami by Chrissy Gardiner

Nami by Chrissy Gardiner

 

Avoiding pooling

“Pooling” is where a colour occurs in a similar place in successive rows, creating a blob or vertical/diagonal line of colour that stands out in a very obvious way. If you have a yarn with long stretches of colour, you won’t get this effect, as your yarn will form subtle stripes- it’s the variegated yard with short runs of colour that are likely to pool. Some people love it and spend a lot of time deliberately engineering pooling in their work- there’s even a group for it on Ravelry!- but, if you’re not going for that look, you need to know how to get around it.

Pairing hand-dyed yarns with a solid color, or even another hand dyed yarn, to work Fair Isle, slip-stitch or even plain stripes not only breaks up pooling but creates impressive-looking colour patterns. In these Broken Seed Stitch Socks, the combination of pairing a solid colour with a hand-dyed yarn and the use of a textured stitch really makes the the pooling recede into the background.

 

 

But what about for a large project, such as a garment, where you don’t want to use texture or a second colour to avoid pooling?  For simple stitch patterns such as stocking and garter, the best way to avoid pooling is to alternate between two balls of yarn. For working in the round, knit one round and then change yarns. For working flat, knit two rows and then change. You’ll need to start the second ball at a different colour from the second so that they can’t pool. And if you only have one skein? You just wind it into two smaller balls.

You don’t need to cut your yarn at the end of each row/ round; assuming you’re changing every one or two rows, you can just carry the unused yarn up the side and pick it up two rows later. Keeping the balls in separate project bags prevents the strands from getting tangled, as does placing one ball to your left and the other to your right as you work. If you are making a cardigan and will be adding a button band later, just change yarns at the edge so that the little strands created through this process are hidden by the button band. If the button bands are worked as you go, change at the inside edge of the button band.

(Incidentally, alternating balls works equally well if you have to work with two different dye-lots in commercially-dyed yarns!)

Holding yarn doubled is another great way to avoid pooling, as long as you are careful to ensure that your two strands of yarn begin at different points in the colour repeat.

Ensuring a smooth transition when changing balls

Even yarns dyed in the same pot can end up different in the ball, which means that even if you choose your skeins very carefully and they all look the same, you may end up with an abrupt colour change when swapping from one ball to the next. To avoid this, you can alternate yarns as indicated for avoiding pooling for 6-10 rows. You’ll need to make sure you leave enough of your old ball to alternate with the new one- 12-20 times the width of your knitting should be plenty.

 

So… we hope that these tips are useful for you! We certainly don’t want to make knitting with hand-dyed yarns seem like hard work and plenty of people do it without worrying about any or all of these things… we just want you to be happy with your end product! Do let us know if any of it is useful or if you need some advice. We’d also love to hear any tips you might have on working with hand-dyed yarns!


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In focus: Shilasdair Yarns

We’ve just received more of our eagerly-anticipated new yarns, this time from Shilasdair on the Isle of Skye, off the west coast of Scotland… Allow us to to introduce you to Shilasdair Luxury 4ply and DK! These beauties are naturally dyed with traditional dyestuffs and come in the most wonderful, rich and saturated range of colours:

 

Shilasdair Luxury 4ply and 8ply

Shilasdair Luxury 4ply and 8ply

 

After moving to Skye from London in the early 1970’s, Eva Lambert started dyeing with natural materials as a way of creating the colours she wanted to use in her work as a tapestry weaver. Lots of interest from other craftspeople and yarn shops meant that, before too long, Eva was dyeing full time and had opened Shilasdair, a small yarn shop and studio in Waternish, now a much-loved stop on the Skye tourist trail. She recently handed over the running of the studio and shop to others, allowing her to concentrate on dyeing large quantities to sell to yarn shops all over the work- like us! We are super excited to be the first shop in Australia to carry Eva’s beautiful yarns.

Eva combines locally-available dye plants, such as tansy and meadowsweet that she harvests herself, with exotic cultivated plants, such as madder and indigo, and this combination of everyday and rare plants allows her to create an range of 24 varied and subtle colours. Any given colour may be the result of 2, 3 or more turns in the dyepot, so the process is slow and full of magic. She has developed a system of dyeing 20kg of yarn at a time, so, although shades may be different from batch to batch, the dye lots are large enough to make knitting garments from Shilasdair easy, something that is quite uncommon in natural dyeing.

 

Reds, pinks and purples

Reds, pinks and purples

Blues

Blues

Greens

Greens

 

Some are solid colours, while others have more variegation:

 

Subtle colour variegation

Subtle colour variegation

 

And below, next to the yellows, is the undyed yarn, a lovely, soft fleecy colour that works beautifully with the dyed yarns. You can see more of the colours at Shilasdair and, of course, in the shop!

 

Natural and yellows

Natural and yellows

 

You can also see the lovely texture of the yarn base, a luxurious blend of merino, angora, camel and cashmere. This is the kind of yarn that blooms and softens the more you wear it; it’s plenty soft for childrens garments but is also durable enough to stand up to being an everyday garment. And the slight halo that lifts as you knit with and wash it makes it a perfect candidate for colourwork, ensuring that stitches and colours blend and merge in a wonderful way.

So, can you tell how excited we are about Shilasdair?! We hope you love it too.

(And, if you’re interested, you can see a bit more of Shilasdair, including the surrounding landscape, studio and more on Jules’ blog from her visit there in 2010!)

 

Ideal uses for Shilasdair Luxury:

Adults and children’s garments, baby blankets, colourwork knitting…

 

Vital stats for Shilasdair Luxury 4ply:

Yarn weight:  4ply or fingering

Tension:  24- 28st/ 10cm

Needle size:  3 to 3.5mm

Metrage:  200m per 50gm

Fibre composition: 40% merino, 40% angora, 10% cashmere, 10% baby camel

Price: $14 per 50gm skein

 

Vital stats for Shilasdair Luxury DK:

Yarn weight:  8ply

Tension:  22st/ 10cm

Needle size:  4mm

Metrage:  300m per 100gm

Fibre composition: 40% merino, 40% angora, 10% cashmere, 10% baby camel

Price: $25 per 100gm skein