Making Variegated Yarn Work For Me

Many needleworkers have a love-hate relationship with multi-colored yarns. We love the interplay of colors. And it's nice having yarn that does the work of creating visual interest for you, rather than having to focus on a pattern stitch. At the same time, though we hate that the colors have a tendency to pool...
This is a hand-dyed ribbon from Mountain Colors.
Notice the splotch of navy blue around the center left.

...and stripe and that the pattern of the variegation changes as we change stitches or do shaping. Here's another hand-dyed yarn--worsted weight.
Notice how the even striping on the upper part (worked in the round)
is interrupted when I started doing shaping in rows.
Here are some ideas for making the most of variegation while avoiding its drawbacks:

  • Try stranding with another yarn (solid or tweed). Stranding a variegated yarn with a solid or tweed, especially if the solid is a little fuzzier than the variegated, is a good way to minimize striping and pooling. It draws attention away from the "stripy-ness" of colors and adds something consistent throughout the fabric to unify all the colors. It can also be used to emphasize your favorite color in the variegated yarn. If you use a strong solid color that is at least as thick as the variegated, it can make the whole thing look like a variegated tweed. Muted colors or bi-colored tweeds combined with bold variegateds make the variegation more subtle and muted.
    This is the same variegated as the second one pictured above. This time, it's stranded with another worsted in solid red. You are looking at the top of a ribbed, baby-sized, watch-cap. The red worsted matches the red in the variegated perfectly, allowing the variegated to spiral, despite the decreases at the top.
    On the left, you see a variegated from Missoni, knitted on its own, in seed stitch. Notice how high-contrast it is. The hat on the right, is the same yarn stranded with a Cascade 220 green and black tweed. The tweed really tones down the contrast.
  • Make the fabric compete with the colors. If the yarn is going to stripe horizontally, using a simple ribbing will create a strong vertical line to draw your eye in the opposite direction from the variegation. In knitting, the purl side of the fabric draws attention away from color and towards texture, so using a stitch with lots of purling can also break up the effect of variegation.
This sweater was knitted in Noro's Kochoran (a bulky) and Joe Galler's Peruvian Tweed (a DK).
Note how the vertical movement of the body's pattern stitch and the ribbing distracts the eye from the stripes of the Kochoran.
Nothing interrupts the stripes on the sleeves, which are in stockinette.
  • Try striping with a solid. Alternating between solid and variegated yarns is a great way to include the interest of variegation without allowing it to take over. Using thin stripes of a multi-colored yarn doesn't give that yarn enough space to establish a real pattern. Alternating thin stripes of variegated and solid can also mimic Fairisle work with a minimum of effort--especially in crochet.

Two sock yarns in alternating stripes.
Two Mountain Colors variegateds (including the one in the first photograph in this post) striped with four solids in crochet. Here, each yarn only gets one row per stripe.
In this crocheted sweater, the background color is done in double crochet, with stripes done in single crochet net (sc1 in the ch1 below, ch1, sk1).
The variegated yarns are the bright blue and the green (which is tone-on-tone).
The use of variegated yarn in this sweater works with the pattern stitches involved to mimic the effect of Fairisle knitting.

Variegated yarns can do a lot to add depth and interest to your work, whether in knitting or crochet, but you have to play with them to find techniques or combinations that are flattering both for the yarn and for your project.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for the tips! I googled 'variegation stitches' to work with Noro Kogarashi. It's chunky and I want to design a cowl the likes of which the world has never seen. It's my first time, be gentle with me :)

I'm going to try your idea of a vertical design to tone down the horizontal striping. By the way, the sweater looks great.