Should I Alternate Skeins? Yes, And Here's Why...

June 17, 2015 0 Comments


Knitting with hand-dyed yarn is such a pleasurable, visual experience. Hand-dyed colours are complex and the fabric that they create displays a wonderful depth of colour that can't be matched by commercial yarn. However, when choosing to knit hand-dyed yarns without alternating skeins, you may be a little less than impressed with your finished object. The truth is knitting with hand-dyed yarn takes much more work than its commercial counterpart, but the end results are stunning and well worth the extra effort.  Today we will be looking at the technique of alternating skeins and why, when it comes to hand-dyed yarn, it is so important. I'll also be adding a quick video tutorial at the end on how to alternate skeins when working in the round.


Alternating skeins is the technique of knitting from two skeins of yarn and alternating between them every row, or every second row.  This is the BEST way to ensure even colour distribution when knitting with hand-dyed yarn for projects that require two or more skeins.


Working With Hand-Dyed Yarn

Colour variation within a dye lot is a very normal occurrence in hand-dyed yarn. There are lot's of reasons why colour variations occur: fluctuations in temperature, water level, dye and mordant amounts to name but a few.  Sometimes these colour variations are obvious. For example, one or two skeins might be a lot lighter or darker than the others. However, there are times when these variations won't be visible until after you have started knitting with a new skein. Unintentional colour blocking is the term used to describe this kind of knitting dilemma, where one skein is either lighter or darker than the rest, which results in a colour blocking effect.

In the picture you can see that the bottom section of the cardigan is lighter and more purple than the rest of the garment.  If I had alternated skeins, the variation in colour would be unnoticeable. Alternating skeins solves the problem of unintentional colour blocking by ensuring an even distribution of colour. 

Mismatched Dye Lots

Because hand-dyed yarns are dyed in very small batches, you might find yourself in the predicament of having to buy mismatched skeins, whether it be because you've run out of yarn and need to order more, or the only skeins left to buy at your LYS are from different dye lots. Whatever the case, alternating skeins will help to ensure your dye lots blend together nicely and will hide any dye-lot issues. 


Variegated Yarns and Pooling

Colour pooling can be a problem when working with variegated yarns. Importantly, not all variegated yarns pool. It all depends on whether the colour repeats are long, short or random (but that's a whole other blog post!).  Sometimes pooling is desirable (see picture below); however, if it isn't, it can ruin your project.


Pooling occurs when a colour that is repeated regularly in a colourway, knits up in the same area row after row, causing the colour to pool.

If you're worried about colour pooling, be sure to alternate skeins. By simply alternating skeins you are shifting the order of colours around so that the same colours won't fall on top of themselves row after row. This will ensure an even balance of colour throughout your project.


Alternating Skeins in the Round - Video Tutorial

Alternating skeins when working a project flat, is simple: all you need to do is carry the two yarns up the side of your knitted piece, alternating yarns every second row. However, when working in the round you need to alternate skeins every row, making sure to lock both yarns together at the back of your knitting, otherwise you can end up with a huge hole where the two yarns meet. This technique can be a little tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it, you'll find that it's really quick and easy to do. I have put together a quick video tutorial - hope you find it helpful!



To Sum it all up

  • Alternating skeins is the BEST way to ensure even colour distribution when working with hand-dyed yarn for projects that require two or more skeins.
  • Colour variation that occurs naturally within dye lots can be easily managed by alternating skeins - no more unintentional colour blocking!
  • Mismatched dye lots are easily blended together by alternating skeins.
  • Alternating skeins of variegated yarns will help to shift the order of colours around, which will prevent colour pooling.


If you've found this post useful, please let me know in the comments below, and be sure to share it with your fibre-loving friends.