Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Hand-dyed Studio, pt. V

Remember this?

It's a scarf in a simple diamond-lace pattern, made of Schaefer Yarn Co. "Andrea," in the color called Elena Piscopia. The considerations that got me to this fabric were as follows:

1. The yarn has a lot of contrast, so complicated patterns are out of the question.

2. Like all of Cheryl Schaefer's yarns, this skein was painted cross-wise, and will take every opportunity to stack or zigzag or argyle; because the colors are so strong and so disparate, whatever they do will dominate.

3. The yarn is 100% silk and tightly spun; it has no surface fuzz and won't fluff up or "bloom" at all during blocking. Ergo, any pattern has to be knit densely enough to show a clear difference between the ground and the pattern, even before blocking; knit too loosely, the fabric will look stringy. (I was wrong here, as we'll see shortly, but that was my reasoning.)

4. I could make a short-rowed shawl, which would move the colors around and fight pooling, but there might not be enough yarn: 1,093 yards sounds like a lot of yarn, but it's really not, if you're working at 8 or 10 sts per inch. Besides, I'm trying to knit a sample to show off the yarn, not get into something that's going to take 6 months to knit.

5. So, it's back to a scarf, but with some simple, clear, almost graphic pattern to help obscure whatever color-repeat tricks the skein decides to play on me.

And that worked. But then, weeks later, I saw Jenny B's Field of Flowers shawl knit at a gauge of about 4 sts per inch over garter after blocking, on about a US#6 needle, and I was blown away. Sadly, I seem to have been so blown away that I didn't take a picture; here's the picture from the official Fiber Trends site:

Yes, the pattern is very simple; and yes, Jenny's skein was Greenjeans, which is a much more subdued colorway than Elena Piscopia. But it wasn't a close call, there was no doubt about it: the yarn works in garter stitch knit very loosely.

This immediately put me in mind of the Highland Triangle shawl from Folk Shawls:

I knew it wouldn't work in Elena Piscopia, but along came a couple skeins of the color called Harriet Tubman, and I was ready to go:

Just to show what a difference contrast makes, I swatched the same thing in Elena:

These two swatches tell us what we already knew--that the amount of contrast (hue or value) determines whether a pattern will read or not. You can even see why: it's not that the Harriet swatch doesn't form pools of color like the distracting, un-beautiful one along the (viewer's) upper right-hand edge of the Elena swatch; it does. (You can see diagonal drifts of color in this photo, especially a darker blue near the bottom echoed by a green shade just above.) It's just that they matter so much less when the colors are so close.

The comparison also tells us something we knew but haven't mentioned yet: that some dyers may have characteristic dye patterns or color ranges (no one does gold like Alchemy; skeins from Great Adirondack will always show the color repeat clearly), but a successful dyer can do more than one kind of color well. Therefore, the strategies you've used to knit with one colorway from a particular dyer won't necessarily work with all the others.

Now, let's have another look at the scarf-in-progress, so we can compare the same skein knit densely vs. loosely:

Note that both patterns offer about the same degree of simplicity; both are allover, small-repeat, highly regular eyelet designs. Density and garter-vs.-stockinette are the only material differences. But while reasonable minds may differ about whether the scarf is successful--some people would probably feel that the stitch and the colors are fighting one another, to the detriment of both--I don't know anyone who'd want to see the Highland Triangle done this way.

The knitting gods have sent us another example:

The top two are Wendy's Pi Shawl, in total and in detail (Wendy's getting a lot of exposure in these posts, chiefly because she knits with so much hand-dyed yarn--and actually finishes things, unlike me.) The bottom is a sock Sherry is making, out of the exact same color, from the exact same dye lot. I'd like to get both items in the same photo, so that you can see them in scale together, and also so that the camera's color distortion will apply equally to both. But you already get the idea: knit loosely, in a texture that involves elongated stitches and clustering stitches, the colors blur together; knit tightly, in a stockinette-based fabric, the colors are much more distinct. Also, the sock is obviously worked on a much smaller number of stitches, which plays up a striped effect that's absent in the shawl.

I'd like to pause at the end of today's lesson to point out that this is a lot of stuff to consider. If you've ever had a project with hand-dyed yarn disappoint you, or do something you didn't expect, it should be a comfort to know that it's a very tricky thing you're doing!


Laurie said...

Thanks so much for doing this tutorial. I use a lot of handdyed yarns -- and I even have a skein of the Great Adirondack that I bought from you when I was in Philly for conference! Anyway, it is VERY useful to read all of this info in one place.

And it helps me think about my dyeing adventures as well!

Lynn said...

I agree: this has been fabulously useful. I feel like I get it now.

Deborah C. said...

Would you PLEASE consider publishing this series as a pamphlet, and/or a downloadable pdf file? This is series is really useful and comprehensive, and I finally feel like I have a handle on using variegated and handpainted yarns.

Knitt'nLissa said...

Color me crazy, but I LOOOOVE the bright one! But then again, I would...

Koko said...

Thank you so much for the fabulous tutorial. I'm now thinking about Schaefer's yarn and have already got the scarf pattern. I have wondered what yarn the scarf was knitted with..(actually, I guessed it was Louisa May Alcott.) This is the first time I've tried variegated yarn so, I'm quite disturbed what yarn I should pick up.

Your information really helps me.
I'm thinking more..

By the way, you show pictures on your blog? I couldn't see anything on my PC.