Now that you know about what the different dyeing techniques create in a skein, it’s time to take this knowledge and buy some hand-dyed yarns. This the 2nd post in my 4-part series Creating with Hand-Dyed Yarns. If you missed the 1st, go back and read Understanding The Terms. My goal with this series is to help you know what you are buying and help you determine how best to use it in your next project.

As I explain my tips for buying hand-dyed yarn, I’m going to share a series of images featuring another exclusive color we carried on the Yarnover Truck. It’s So Cal Gal from Yarn Love. It was so popular that Katie, the dyer behind Yarn Love, has decided to continue dyeing it and now she calls it California Girl. Click HERE to order some.

What’s In A Skein

The most important thing I can tell you about shopping for hand-dyed yarn is that the skeins you see, wrapped up so pretty, don’t tell you the whole story. In fact, I used to say to people who came to shop from me on the Truck that hand-dyed yarn skeins can lie to you. Beautiful hand-dyed yarn skeins are typically sold in wrapped skeins like this.

In this form, you only see about a third of the full skein, and you cannot really see what the colors will do once they’re worked up. You can do a couple of things when buying hand-dyed yarns to help you get a better idea of how the skein you’re buying will look in a project.

When buying variegated colorways it’s good to think about and be aware of a couple of different things as you buy. How long are the color runs? Are they short or long? Some patterns are written explicitly for either long or short color changes. Short color changes will give you bursts of color when you work with them, and longer ones might lend themselves well to stripes if you knit something with a small circumference, like a pair of socks. This is not the same as a self-striping yarn created specifically to stripe, especially in socks. Some variegated colors can lend themselves to striping, even though they were not specifically designed to do this. It’s hard to tell if the skein you want to buy will do any of these things when it’s wrapped like this.

Talk to the shop staff or indie dyer you are buying from and ask if you can see the skein unwound. Doing this really helps you see how the colors change through the skein. Always ask the shop or dyer before you unwrap a skein, but most should have no problem opening them up for you to see. I’m seeing more and more indie dyers adding these types of photos to their online shops, too. I think this really helps customers make better, informed online shopping decisions. We always included pictures of all our skeins unwrapped in our online shop or would take photos as customers requested them. If you are shopping online, ask for these photos if you are not seeing them. Or check out the social media pages for the company. Often, you’ll see skeins unwrapped there.

Swatches

Square image of 1 knit swatch and 2 crochet swatches with a full skein and a tin with a photo of a truck.

Look for swatches of the colorway you are buying. I worked hard to create swatches of all of our variegated colors, and when I did this, I made three different ones to show off the color. One was knit in stockinette with a garter border (to help keep it flat), one was a crochet stitch sampler going from single crochet to half double crochet to double crochet, and one was a crochet granny square.

Many of the colors did look different as you moved between the different crafts. I always found this so fascinating!

Check The Fiber Content

Another big factor in shopping for hand-dyed yarns to know the fiber content of the yarn you are looking at, and how dyes react to it. Here is a photo of four skeins of So Cal Gal. These are all the same color but each has a different fiber content in the skein.

If you look closely at these four, you’ll likely notice that the skein on the far right is brighter than the others. This is because this skein has the most wool in it compared to the others. Going from right to left, the percentage of wool in the skein reduces to none. The ones on the far left are a silk and linen blend without any wool. The colors are not quite as bright in these two. Katie from Yarn Love is a master dyer, so there is not much of a difference in her skeins, but other dyers have pretty dramatic color differences when they are dying a wool blend versus blends without any wool in them.

Close-up for 4 skeins going from pinky red to green to blue.

Samples

It’s also a good idea to look for is samples made using the yarn you’re considering buying. In most cases, samples can show you what you’re buying. You’ll see the length of the color changes, how it interacts with other colors, and how the yarn looks in a completed piece. If they have both swatches and a sample, you can compare and see if the colors react differently in a small swatch compared to a larger piece.

This is why shopping from an LYS or yarn vendor with lots of samples is essential with hand-dyed yarns. And if you’re shopping online, this is why following the shop or dyer on social media is also super helpful! We all need to see what the yarns look like once they have been used in a project, and samples do this so well. The sample below on the left is Spotlight by Janina Kallio and the one on the right is Kings Cross Stole by Maridee Dangcil.

Triangle shawl on a mannequin in front of a thatch background The shawl is multi color with peach, green, orange, and blue.
Shawl with large stripes, purple solid sections and multi-color sections, draped on a white mannequin in front of a thatch background.

Use this knowledge and these tips and go have a blast at your favorite LYS or next fiber event and buy all the beautiful skeins! Remember, this is the 2nd post in my 4-part series about Creating with Hand-Dyed Yarns. If you missed the 1st, go back and read Understanding The Terms and be on the look out for Picking Your Project.

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