Yarns to Dye For: Creating Self-Patterning Yarns for Knitting|
by Kathleen Taylor
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About five years ago, I started hearing talk of a magic yarn that made a pattern all by itself when you knit with it. People were snatching it by the skeinful to knit pair after pair of vividly patterned—and deceivingly easy—socks.|
Everything Old is New Again
Self-patterning sock yarns aren't new, as it turns out. They've just been out of favor for a long, long time. Back in the 1950s, a yarn was custom-dyed to produce argyle patterns when knit into socks.
Today, the argyle has been retired in favor of fair-isle, stripe, and jacquard themes. Regia and Opal are the original leaders of the self-patterning sock yarn revival, although dozens of other yarn companies have also started to offer nearly identical designs.
Making it Fun
Just as the market began to show signs of saturation, Kathleen Taylor—author of Knit One, Felt Too—has revived the subject with her upcoming book, Yarns to Dye For. In it, she shows how you can create similarly self-patterning yarns from the comfort of your very own home.
Don't get too excited—you aren't creating yarns that are as crisply colored and complex as their industrial-strength counterparts. But the mere idea of coming anywhere close is both exciting and ingenious.
The Secret to Stripes
The trick to these yarns, as it turns out, is in the skein. Normal skeins (I usually call them hanks, but Taylor calls them skeins here) tend to be 36 inches in circumference.
But to produce distinct and repeatable patterns, you need to have a far larger skein—at least 40 feet in circumference. Winding this skein could be great fun, perhaps an excuse to invite friends over for a party?
After the skein is wound and secured, Taylor has you place the skein on a large work table and apply the dye by hand, aided by a yardstick for precision. After each yard is complete, you wrap it in plastic wrap, wipe off your table, and pull over the next section for dyeing.
It's really quite simple, yet the possibilities for experimentation are endless.
After learning about the basic dye process, we are taken to the patterns: 22 in all, including socks, mittens and gloves, a vest, a child's sweater, hats, and scarves.
Patterns are divided into four categories based on the pre-patterned dye designs they use: graduated color bands, zig zags, stripes, and Fair Isle. Taylor also includes tips on embellishments and how to use up bits of leftovers.
Patterns, in turn, feature two elements: dye instructions and knitting instructions. The dye instructions are thorough and easy to follow: Taylor specifies all the colors, how many inches of each color to apply, and in what precise order. She even gives you the precise proportions for mixing dye, vinegar, and hot water for each color.
The knitting instructions are equally clear and well-illustrated with schematics and product photographs.
Each pattern calls for a pale-colored incarnation of easily available yarns, eliminating even more guesswork for beginners. Projects call for either Rit, Country Classics, or Gaywool dyes, all three of which are easily available in most parts of the country.
A Little Thing Called Cost
These are not cost-saving projects, and your initial investment in dye will seem steep. Depending on the brand, they can run about $5.50 a jar—and each pattern calls for three to five different colors. Add the yarn and your standard sock project could run you over $30.
Just remember that you won't be using the whole jar of dye. In the case of Country Classic dyes, for example, each jar holds 3 ounces of dye, and you only use 1/2 teaspoon of dye per project. You'll be able to get many projects out of one jar.
For that reason, this book would be especially fun as a group project. Not only would you be able to share your dyes, but you'd have help winding those 40-foot-long skeins.
Plus, it could be great fun to compare your finished results.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a skein to wind!
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