Choosing the Right Knitting Pattern for Hand-dyed Yarns

Note from the SpaceCadet:  My friend Abigail of TAAT Designs is a wonderful knitter and real connoisseur of hand-dyed yarns.  And I am delighted that she agreed to share how she chooses the right pattern for each unique yarn…


By Abigail

In a recent post on my blog, I was reflecting on my relationship with yarn and I realized that it’s not just about the yarn, but also about the potential contained within it. When I see a skein of yarn, I see more than just the yarn itself. I see the twist of the yarn, the way the colors blend together and how the fiber appears. From here, however, it’s not always straightforward to picture what the yarn will look like when it is knit up, which makes it hard to choose a pattern. Especially with handpainted yarns, there’s always a bit of uncertainty. How long is each bit of color? Do the colors repeat in a systematic manner, or are they completely random? With experience, it becomes easier to predict these things without knitting a swatch, but even a prediction is still no guarantee of what the finished product will look like.

Most handpainted yarns do have a predictable repeat. This means that they will tend toward pooling or striping, depending on the length of each stretch of color. The best way I have found to determine this is to unwind a length of the yarn – two yards is usually enough. If the entire length is all one color, then the yarn will stripe in many usages (socks, children’s sweaters, hats, mittens – anything that is less than about 2 feet in circumference or width). If the length is multiple colors, then you can try to predict whether it will stripe or not by estimating how many stitches you can get out of each color section (a good rule of thumb is that it takes 3x as much yarn as the length of fabric you are knitting across).

Once you know roughly whether the yarn will stripe or not, it becomes easier to choose a pattern. My preference is for yarns that do not stripe, or have minimal striping – I like a new color in every row of my knitting. I’m also a big fan of knitting socks with handpainted yarns, so that’s usually where my mind first goes.

When I received my skein of SpaceCadet Creations’ Cold Waters earlier this year, I wasn’t sure at first what it wanted to be. The colors were so subtle and yet striking all at once, and I wanted to choose a pattern that would really show off the colors. From looking at the yarn, I was able to predict that it would stripe slightly, but not be too overpowering. There was also not much chance of pooling (which I do my best to avoid). This told me that I didn’t need to choose a pattern that would actively reduce pooling, but I didn’t want to choose a pattern that was too busy, either, so that I didn’t overpower the yarn. Because Cold Waters uses tonal shading rather than lots of different colors, however, I knew the pattern could have a little something going on.

The stockinette portion of the sock clearly shows the beautiful, subtle, not-quite-single-row striping of Cold Waters.

Around the time I received my Cold Waters, I also received a gorgeous pattern from Yarnissima (through a monthly sock yarn club I belong to), The Portland Gussets. I had been looking for the perfect yarn for this pattern, and Cold Waters seemed like it would fit. It had everything I was looking for: medium-length color repeats (too short, and the pattern would be lost in the yarn), not too much color variation (any more, and the yarn would obscure the pattern), but enough visual interest (not enough, and the pattern would be boring).


I quickly cast on, and the socks just flew off my needles. The pattern and yarn were a great fit!

When you’re knitting hand-dyed yarns, each skein is a unique adventure.  With a little practice, it becomes easy to match a yarn to pattern.  If you take the time to examine the yarn and read its color repeat, the yarn will help you decide which pattern to choose for it.

TAAT Designs is a newly formed design group created by four friends — Trisha, Allison, Abigail and Tesia —  to combine their love of knitting with their desire to create unique and fun patterns for knitted objects of all types.  Read more about their adventures on the TAAT Designs blog.

Getting Started in the Tour de Fleece

Note from the SpaceCadet:  My friend Natalie (npeace on Ravelry) is a prolific spinner who creates her wonderful yarns almost exclusively on spindles.  With the Tour de Fleece coming up, it felt natural to ask her to share her thoughts on the best way to get started…


By Natalie

July 3rd marks the start of one of the biggest events of the spinning year – the Tour de Fleece.   For 3 weeks, spinners everywhere will spin along as the cyclists in the Tour de France work their way across France.  During this time, gorgeous handspun yarns will be popping up all over the internet as spinners show off their tour projects on their blogs and on Ravelry.

It was actually all this frenetic tour-based posting of handspun that got me interested in spinning a few years ago.  If you find yourself drooling over yet another absolutely stunning barber-poled yarn or wondering how it would feel to play in a big pile of cloud-like merino… well, that’s a pretty common side effect of the Tour de Fleece.

Natalie spinning SpaceCadet Creations BFL combed top in Garden in Spring, on a Butterfly Girl spindle

It used to be that people felt they had to invest hundreds of dollars in a wheel in order to do “real” spinning.  This often seems like too daunting an investment to make just to give something a try.  Fortunately, with the current resurgence in popularity of the humble spindle, spinning is becoming ever more accessible.  If you get all fired up by the Tour de Fleece and want to give this spindle thing a try for yourself, here’s a list of resources to get you started:


Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont – If you’re only going to buy one spindle resource, this is the one to get.  It starts with the basics but will continue to be useful as you gain competence and experience.  There is also an accompanying video available as a DVD or as a video download from the Interweave online store.

Productive Spindling by Amelia Garripoli, also known as the Bellwether.  This book covers a lot of the same material as Respect the Spindle, but the approach is different, and it is an equally valuable resource.

Internet Resources:

Both authors above have informative blogs.  Abby Franquemont’s is and Amelia Garripoli can be found at  Both have extensive archives of general spinning and spindle-specific information.  Abby Franquemont has also posted a number of fabulous instructional videos to you tube, which you can find here.

Also invaluable to the new spindle spinner is the Spindlers group on Ravelry.  The “Stupid Questions” thread is full of answers to every beginner question imaginable, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for there you can post a new question.  Many experienced spinners generously spend their time monitoring that forum and answering all manner of questions for the new and confused.

There are many, many more resources out there, but starting with the list above will have you up and spinning very quickly.  Have fun!