I love local indie-dyed yarn. I love all yarn too, but there’s a special place in my heart for yarn dyed in the United Kingdom. I have had such good experiences with it. The quality, the ingenuity, and the price has made it incredibly attractive for me. I love buying it as I get to support local businesses and they often include personal touches that I adore. (Personal messages from the dyers are the best! How do they have time for that?) However, it can be hard to break into that perfect skein.
Last summer, I spotted yarn I simply had to have. This doesn’t happen that often to me, so when it does I like to view it as a treat and indulge myself. I love having a few special, one off skeins that aren’t part of a jumper’s quantity or for a blanket because it makes it easy to stash dive when I simply must cast-on a new pair of socks or a cowl. I call it shopping in my stash (someone else called it that first; I wish I was that original) but sometimes you have to buy those (few) skeins so you can do that.
The yarn I fell in love with was dyed by Hand Dyed By Kate, a dyer who took (or takes, because I hope she will again) part in a Facebook ‘Market Night’ with some other UK-based dyers. I saw so many new dyers that way, it was fantastic. But what inspired me to switch from admiring to sending my bank details was the watermelon gradients.
How fun are watermelons? They’re such a cheerful fruit! Delicious in hot weather and great for sharing. The pinks and the whites and the greens make for a similarly cheerful yarn, as dyed by Kate. Each ball was a gradient from pink to pink with flecks of black to white to light green to a darker green. I bought two. It was the summer and this was perfect summer yarn.
That was last summer. It took me roughly a year to work out my plan for that yarn. It was a wee bit tricksy. Did I want to knit a Sock Arms where the arms were watermelon gradients? That would be awesome! But what would the body be? Black seemed like the logical answer as matching the pink or the green would be a nightmare and who wants to knit a mainly black jumper? (Other than my mum; I love her but that is odd.)
I had bought two skeins of yarn as I wanted to make a slightly larger thing with my amazing yarn. What would be better than a watermelon knit thing than a slightly larger watermelon knit thing? And it had to be a simple (no lace, no cables) knit thing because I didn’t want to detract from the awesomeness of the gradient.
I finally hit jackpot with a plain circular shawl. In hindsight, this should have been my first idea of what to do with the yarn but whatever. It would look like an actual watermelon!
I looked around Ravelry for a plain, circular shawl knit out of fingering weight yarn but nothing was quite what I wanted. Instead, I went to my bookshelves and pulled out Knitters Almanac by Elizabeth Zimmerman. I want to grow up to be Elizabeth Zimmerman. I would write my own Almanac given half a chance but I could never be as witty and as friendly as she comes across. However many years divide us I don’t care because it feels like nothing reading her works.
For the month of July, she includes the recipe for knitting a “PI” shawl the idea of which was exactly what I was looking for. I took the concept and ruthlessly changed it to suit my own desires.
The cast on she calls for? People have improved on the ‘magic loop’ technique in the past few years so it is definitely worth trying one of the new methods. While I was at it, I changed up the stitch count and the increases too.
EZ suggests using yarn overs which work brilliantly. I wanted an even less lacy shawl so initially switched to using a m1 increase. This did not actually work as well as I wanted it to and caused the (pre-blocked) fabric to pucker. It makes sense if you think about it: a m1 twists a loop of yarn from the row below to create a new stitch which pulls the stitches around it a bit tighter. It’s not at all noticeable for me when a patten calls for it a few times per round, but it seems to have an effect when done every other stitch like this pattern requires.
Instead, I used an increase which I call the ‘mk1’. It’s a m1 but done over two rounds so that there is no puckering. On the increase round, you treat the mk1 as a yarn over. Then on the next round, you knit the yarn overs through the back loop to twist them closed. In it’s completed form, it is identical to a m1 except that it is stretchier. (I am such a nerd but this side of knitting makes me so happy. There’s an increase for every occasion.)
My other technique is one of my favourites at this point: helical knitting. It’s one of the most useful techniques ever.
(Actually, long aside here. Weaving in your ends when knitting is the most useful technique for my knitting. There’s so many ways to do it but here’s my way for those who know how to do stranded colourwork already. Catch your tail like it is a float, knit a stitch and catch it again. I usually catch it three times and then consider well and truly caught. So simple and no new muscle memory to develop.)
But helical stripes. The easy way to do one row stripes without having to carry up the yarn. But they are even better than that!
Are you using hand dyed yarn that recommends alternating skeins but carrying your yarn up the inside sounds annoying? Helical stripes.
Are you working a texture pattern in the round and getting a jog at the start of your round? (This happened especially on my honey cowl.) Helical stripes.
Are you trying to use two (or more) balls of gradient yarn simultaneously to merge them together seamlessly into something awesome? Helical stripes.
See what I mean when I say they are fantastic? They really are. And they’re dead simple to do. Go watch a YouTube video for more (better) detail but the vague concept is: attach a new strand of yarn and knit until you reach the stitch the other yarn is coming out of. Slip that stitch and pick up the old strand of yarn and start knitting. You knit with a strand until it has almost caught up, and then switch to the other strand. One should never overtake the other. Genius.
Since I didn’t start the helical stripes right from the very first round (and because the skeins weren’t exactly identical and why should they be?), the colours were ever slightly offset. There are a few ways to manage that but since it didn’t really bother me I mostly left it alone. (I didn’t even use dpns to start it off as I didn’t have any to hand so this was a very lazy project indeed.)
Actually the yarn being slightly out of sync lead to a brilliant ‘fade’ effect when the colours changed. I have never done a ‘Fade’ before but now I can see why people find them so mesmerising.
And there it is done! It took only two and a bit weeks to complete but I put that mostly down to the fact that I am free of all responsibility for the summer and had several long journeys to work on it. It clocks in at a 850m which takes my total up to 2362m!
I cannot recommend the dyer, Hand Dyed By Kate enough. And if you would like to find the free pattern I wrote up detailing how I knit my plain circular shawl you can find it here.
As always, thank you for reading this ramble. I hope you have a good week!