Multi Colored Yarn Talk

Last Saturday I’d been asked to talk to the Salt Lake Knitting Guild about the best ways to use multi colored, or variegated, yarn. Because I live with the stuff, it’s easy to forget the details of its confounding effects on so many knitters. I mean, I know it can be intimidating, and it takes some work to figure out exactly how best to use multi colored yarn, and projects with variegated yarn can end badly, but I’d clean forgotten exactly how the the questions and concerns flow.

I wanted the presentation to be pragmatic and useful, so I’d asked guild members to bring examples of garments that really worked well, that did not knit up to expectations, and yarn skeins that they had issues with.

I started off chatting about how pooling happens, shared my axiom of pooling:

For every skein of multi colored yarn, for every knitting gauge, there is a number of stitches when knitting in the round, and another number of stitches when knitting flat (i.e. back and forth), that will “stack” the colors.

This “magic pooling number” of stitches I’m starting to refer to as the MPN.

We talked about ways to keep yarn from pooling, and we talked about ways to make yarn pool enjoyably. Yea, delightfully.

Shell Lace Wool Beanie Hat

Shell Lace Wool Beanie, by Windy Brook Spiner, in Intrepid Tulips DK

We discussed monochromatic yarns with their lovely hand dyed shading. Several people asked about keeping the shading from blopping all on one sleeve (or such). I treat such skeins as if they came from different dye lots. To wit, as you’re winding your skeins, divide each one into several balls – say 3-4 balls from each skein. Label the things, or put them in labeled bags, so that you remember which balls came from each skein. Then, as you knit a garment, be sure that you use balls from each skein in each part of the garment. That is, make sure that each sleeve has some of each skein, that the back and front sections do too.

I know some knitters make a case for changing skeins with every row of knitting, and I find that a bit fussy. After all, it’s knitting, not string art.

Jardin Ruffled Cardi, by Nitza Coto in Intrepid Tulips DK

Jardin Ruffled Cardi, by Nitza Coto in Intrepid Tulips DK

We talked about pooling with regard to different garment types. This seems like a really fruitful line of discussion, and I’ll return to it in a couple weeks. Then we got into the nitty gritty of multi colored show and tell. “you see / you’re given this skein (gorgeous skein sails towards me through the air), how do you figure out what to do with it?

A Multi Colored Decision Tree

  1. Length of color sections: Are they short i.e. 3″? Are they medium length (3″-10″ in my world)? Are they long (10″- 24″)? Are they ridiculously long? These later yarns I’m inclined to call “striping” because that’s what they do. Apparently some of Noro’s lovelies fall into this category.  The shorter the color sections, the less likely the yarn is to pool and the easier it is to get away from the MPN. The longer the color sections are, the more likely they are to need some thought. The shorter the sections are, the busier the end result will be. The longer the sections are, the stripier but calmer the final product, at least when compared to a yarn with short color sections. (Yeah, I need to read that a second time too!)
  2. Contrast among colors: If all the colors are light, or dark, or on the same side of the color wheel, or pale, or equally muddy (just for example) then the end fabric will be more subtle than if they are dark and light, from all around the color wheel, and all really bold and saturated.Color Wheel
  3. Once you’ve worked through these first two questions and come up with a general analysis, keep in mind that these two data points interact. Short bursts of high contrast colors will be busy. Long stretches of plum, merlot, and navy could be sophisticated and soothing. Relatively.
    Variegated swatch with Feather and Fan Lace

    High Contrast and Busy

    Basketweave swatch

    Low(er) contrast and less busy.









ITY on Ravelry


Knitter, hiker, skier, dog owner. Zealous novel reader. Loathes licorice. Owner of Intrepid Tulips Yarn in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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2 comments on “Multi Colored Yarn Talk
  1. cdaniele says:

    I would love to be able to take this class online, barring that are you planning on teaching it in the Tucson/Phoenix area?

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks. There isn’t an online class version, as yet. I don’t have plans for Tuscon, but would certainly consider a guild or store invitation!