27 Feb 2021

Seeing Double: #4 – Blending colours with doubled yarns

Ocean Currents Rug by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

As knitters, we are used to working with colour using techniques such as Intarsia, Mosaic knitting or Fair-Isle stranding, and these are all wonderfully creative ways to enhance our knitting projects. However, have you thought about working with two or more strands of colour at the same time? If you haven’t, then you’re missing something – it’s like painting with yarns! By changing first one colour strand and then another you can create absolutely stunning gradients and shifts of tones and shades.

So in today's addition to the “Seeing Double” blogpost series, I want to explore some of the colour effects you can get when you mix different colours together just by using two or more yarns held together while you work.

Graduated Colours

Yarn for Ocean Currents Rug by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

The Ocean Currents Rug pictured at the top of the blogpost shows one of the beautiful effects that you can achieve by gradually changing the value of the colour. The rug uses five closely-related shades of blue and they have been worked together in the order of their “depth of shade”. This is a term used in dyeing to show how strong the colour will be, but can be translated into the simpler concept of dark vs light colours.

By arranging the yarns in the order of their depth of shade we can move from a darker combination to a lighter one. A smaller number of starting colours will give a sharper transition while a larger number of starting colours will allow a more subtle colour shift. 

Blending with two colours, Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

So if you have just two colours, say dark blue and light blue, you can get three different combinations by working with two strands at the same time:

1: Dark Blue + Dark Blue
2: Dark Blue + Light Blue
3: Light Blue + Light Blue

Now if you start with two very similarly toned colours then you will get a gentle transition from one to the other. You can also use this limited transition to move from one colour to another, say from a blue to a green via a lovely kingfisher blue-green in the middle.

Marled Colour Effects

Teversham Cowl by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

However, a completely different effect can be achieved by working with two highly contrasting yarns. In the Teversham Cowl above, a light colour has been teamed with a much deeper shade to give a wonderfully tweedy look. This is so popular in menswear right now – somehow encapsulating both a modern edge and a “classic” look at the same time. The solid shades have been used to provide edge details which also help to emphasise the central tweedy section.

This combination of dark and light yarns held together gives a “marled” or “marbled” effect as it resembles the colour veins that you often see in rock strata. Of interest, the two colours do not uniformly show in the mixture as they might in a plyed yarn. Instead, the colours emerge and disappear to give a lovely effect. 

Indeed, we can use this technique to bring “pops” of colour into the work, by teaming a colourful strand of yarn to run alongside a darker background shade. Hand-dyed yarns often look beautiful when used in this way as their natural variation of shades can give some wonderfully unexpected results.

Ombré Patterning

Blending with five colours, Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

However, for a really subtle shift of tones from dark to light, then you need to increase the number of starting colours. The diagram above shows how the same dark blue I used in the first diagram has now gone through a much gentler colour shift to get to the paler tone, giving a beautiful ombré effect.

You can see this patterning in the photo of the Ocean Currents Rug. There the five closely-matched shades show a gradual shifting from dark to light tones and back again, like waves on the sea shore.

Those particular yarns were handspun and the five “colours” were already blended during the spinning process to produce the starting shades. However, you don’t need to start with handspun yarns to achieve a beautiful effect. There are many commercial yarns such as Cascade 220 that come in a wide arrange of colours so you can select colours to tone together.

Grading from one colour to another

Transitions from blue to yellow using two ends of yarn held together, Diagram by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

Indeed, you can also use this effect to transition not just from dark to light but also from one colour to another. You can produce a wonderful colour shift or a whole rainbow effect just by arranging your colours in a pleasing way, then picking up first one yarn then another to work in an ever-changing fashion.

This idea is not only a creative technique to bring colour into your knitting but also a great way of using small remnants of yarns. You often see examples of this shift in colour in old-time knitting, when a small child’s sweater would be undone and the yarn reused in a larger project supplements by other shades.

Using Natural Colours

Rare Earth Rug by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

The same graduated effects can also be achieved with natural shades of whites, creams, greys, blacks and browns. In the Rare Earth Rug, the same sort of dark to light ombré appearance has been achieved using purely natural shades.

The rug again used five starting colours, but this time toning from a creamy-white to a deep brown-grey. I worked a set of matching cushions using single yarns to give pure colours, but in the rug the yarns were doubled up to give both a thicker result and also to allow the graduated shading from dark to light.

I am going to return to this idea of making matched sets of items using either single or doubled yarns in a later blogpost in this series.

Colour Value

Judging the colour value of yarns using greyscale, by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

Beyond the concept of transitioning from one colour to another is the idea of producing a heathery mix by holding two very similar yarns together. 

Heathered yarns offer a much softer look to the "marled" effect I mentioned before. They result from a mixture of two or more colours with a very similar “value”. Neither stands out as being much darker or lighter than the other, but just vary by their colour. For example, a soft loden green could be combined with a dusky brown to give a lovely country feel to the final combination.

You can tell if a yarn has a similar value to another one by taking a photo and then looking at it in greyscale or monotone. Many phones will allow you to do this transition really easily. The photo above shows the same yarns used for the Ocean Currents Rug, but this time in greyscale. The lighter shades show up as white, while the darker shades are in black. Used the lightest and darkest together would give a marled effect as they have the greatest difference in value, but for heathery yarns the middle colours would be best.

Heathered Mixtures

Edinburgh Shawl by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

In the second blogpost in this series I featured a shawl I had made that turned out to be magically warm – and this shows the beautiful heathery mixtures you can get from yarns which have a close colour value. The blue and mid-green layers almost seem to meld together.

Of course you can find many lovely heathered yarns in the shops, but how much more exciting it is to blend them yourself for a completely unique look. Selecting two or more thin yarns and blending them for yourself gives you a much greater choice over the exact shades used and the final effect.

Another interesting point is that when you are working with your own mixture of colours, you can select when to drop one colour and bring in another. This can give some wonderfully subtle colour banding and shading. You could, for example, have a band where a dusky brown background yarn has a blue colour held alongside, before shifting to another band with the second yarn in green. This would give a wonderfully subtle shift in colour as you work your scarf or sweater.

Again, this would be a very creative way of using small remnants of yarn to give interesting combinations – here a band of grey with burgundy and there another band with the same grey mixed with blue, for example.

Rescuing "surprise" colours

Changing colour appearance with a second strand of yarn, Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

We can also use this idea of combining colours to help rescue “surprise” yarns that the Postie has just delivered. I am sure I’m not the only person who has ordered a lovely dusky yellow from the internet only to have a bright mustard colour appear on the doorstep… It is certainly hard choosing colours in this way rather than in person!

However, you could run a soft yellow yarn alongside that unfortunate mustard shade to tone it down, or add an indigo blue to take the sting out of an overly bright green. You could also add a brighter more zingy orange colour to take a blah brown into an exciting combination colour. It is amazing what a second strand of yarn can do to change the look completely.

Working with two strands of yarn held together is also an excellent way to blend different dyelots. We knitters have many ways of hiding the slight differences in dyelots, but bringing them together at the same time is an excellent way to disguise any differences.

Next time . . .

I hope that gives you lots of inspiration for creating tonal, blended and tweed effects in your knitting! Next time in the series, I will be chatting about texture and using different combinations of fibres to extend the range of fibre combinations in your knitting world.

If you would like to go back back to the start of the series, then please click here.

Until next time – keep safe and happy!


8 Feb 2021

Seeing Double: #3 – It's good to have options!

Joules and Joulietta Hot Water Bottle Covers by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

I suppose I must be a creature of habit because I used the same title for a blogpost back in 2014! At that time I was referring to adding extra sizes to the Beckenham Scarf  knitting pattern. However, this time I am thinking about options for choosing yarn. It really is good to have alternative strategies when you go to your yarn store or dive into your stash to find the perfect yarn for your next project.

I mentioned this in my last blogpost when I was talking about a shawl I was making. I couldn't find the perfect weight of wool in my local yarn store but they had the exact colours I wanted in a thinner yarn. Working with two ends of this yarn held together gave me exactly what I wanted – and more besides, as the shawl ended up being much warmer than I had anticipated!

So in this third blogpost in the "Seeing Double" series, I would like to explore how we can put two or more ends of yarn together to expand our yarn choices.

Joules and Joulietta Hot Water Bottle Covers by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

As an example, here is a stripey hot water bottle cover that I have just finished. This is the small-sized cover from the Joules & Joulietta Hot Water Bottle Cover  pattern. The pattern actually uses just a single colour in a Worsted weight but I was keen to use up some of my stash yarns and make a striped version.

The dark blue colour was a remnant of Worsted weight hand-spun yarn from my Ocean Currents Rug  which I made over 10 years ago! However, I didn't have a good combination colour in the same weight.

So, I decided to look at thinner yarns and found a lovely soft lilac-blue sportweight yarn which gave a perfect colour combination. The next question was: would this be a good match for the thicker yarn if I used it doubled up? Fortunately, there's a nifty trick for checking that which I learnt during my spinning days...

Comparing Yarns by Looping Them Together

Comparing Yarn Sizes, by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

So to see if two yarns are going to be a good match when knitted at the same time you need to loop them together, give a little twist and then run your hand across the join. Spinners use this to make sure that they are spinning the same thickness of yarn consistently across a project, but here we are going to check if one thick yarn is about the same overall thickness as two thin ones, so:

Twist Test:
.   Take a single end of your thicker yarn and make a long loop.
.   Pass two ends of your thinner yarn together through the loop and then back on themselves.
.   Now gently twist the two yarns together along their length.
.   Run your fingers across the join and see if you feel a difference in the thickness. If you can, then they are not well matched. If it feels pretty even, then it looks as though you have made a good choice!

Needle Gauge Test:
.   Then to double check, thread two ends of the larger yarn into a space in your needle gauge so they just fit. 
.   Now take those out and try 4 ends of the thinner yarn. 
.   If they also fit comfortably in the same hole then the yarns are probably a good match.

I did exactly this and found that the two yarns went together perfectly even though they were different weights! I'm pleased to report that the bottle cover came out beautifully and I can see it being very useful now the weather has turned so much colder. I'm also pleased that I could finally use the last remnants of that hand-spun yarn!

Using a Yarn Chart

Now, of course, you don't always have the two yarns together when you are trying to make your choices. You may be shopping on the internet or not have the second yarn with you when you go to the yarn store. So it is useful to have a guide to show what you might expect when you work with two ends of yarn held together:

Yarn Chart by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

Comparing the Metreage or Yardage:

Between those three methods, you should get pretty close to finding a good combination of yarns to use together. However, there are a couple of other things you could try. One is to look at the metreage or yardage of the yarns.

We are so used to buying yarns by weight, eg a 50gm ball or a 100gm skein. However when we knit we are not knitting a set weight of yarn, we are knitting a length. So the important figure to look at when you are combining yarns is how many metres or yards your yarn is going to provide.

Yarn Diagram by Moira Ravenscroft, Wyndlestraw Designs

For example, if you have a DK yarn with 150m: 50gm ball, then one ball will provide 150m of yarn to travel along the knitting path.

Now if you bring in another ball of the same type to run alongside it, then this second yarn will travel the very same knitting path. The path is wider but the same length. It's like two friends walking around a reservoir together. You each walk 2 km, just side-by-side.

So when you have finished knitting with both balls of yarn you will have knitted 150m in length and your knitting will weigh 100gm – ie about the same as if you had used an Aran weight yarn with 150m: 100gm.

The same principle applies to working with different sizes of yarns, for example if you wish to add a strand of fingering weight yarn to a DK yarn, then you might achieve something similar to a light-weight worsted. 

The Necessity to Swatch

Then once you think you have a good combination of yarns, it is really important to try them together in a swatch. Use a needle similar in size to your "Needle Gauge" check you did earlier, then one or two sizes either side and see how the yarns work together in practice. Even with all the above checks and calculations, there is nothing quite like a swatch to show how two or more yarns will work together.

Oh and it is a good idea to pre-wash your yarns too, so you're sure you won't get any surprises when you finish your completed project later! This is especially true if the yarns have a different fibre content. You can read more about how to pre-wash your yarn here.

Next time . . .

Next time, I will be looking at using two or more yarns together for some wonderful colour effects, so please join me then. If you would like to read the complete blogpost series please click here, then follow the links at the bottom of each page to read the next post.

Until next time, keep happy and smiling,



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