Reading variegated colourways is a handy skill to have. Firstly, it enables you to plan which project will suit a particular yarn more effectively. Secondly, there will be no nasty surprises like unexpected pooling, because you would have known in advance to alternate skeins. Predicting what a variegated yarn will look like when knit up, however, is easier than it sounds. Basically, it all comes down to dye techniques and knowing - just by looking at a skein of yarn - which method the dyer has used. Once you learn how to identify these dye techniques, reading colourways will become a breeze.
These type of colourways are made up of long repeats of colour that have been placed systematically by the dyer. You can see in the picture above that there are long blocks of colour. When the skein is unwound, the colour blocks become even more obvious:
Speckled and blotchy, these type of colourways have had dyes randomly applied. You won't find long blocks of colour, only short spots and speckles here and there in random places. These colourways are easily identified in a skein, and here is what the above looks like unwound:
Unlike the long-colour repeat yarns, these ones will knit up to produce a fabric that is speckled with colour. The random placement of colours actually prevent striping, flashing and pooling from occurring in knitted fabric; instead, colours will distribute evenly across the knitted piece. Here's an example of a randomly dyed colourway knit up:
Sometimes reading variegated colourways can be difficult, particularly if you're looking at a skein of yarn that has been rewound. Some dyers like to rewind their skeins, a process which breaks up colour blocks, making it difficult to determine what type of colourway it is. There is a simple solution, however: wind the skein into a cake using a ball winder, and long-repeat colourways will form a pattern similar to this:
You can see there are areas of yellow and areas of grey, and that the colours have pooled together in the cake. If this happens, you know it's a long-colour repeat yarn.
On the other hand, random-dyed colours look like this when caked:
Lots of random colour, but no colour pooling.
Until next week, happy knitting!