Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Not All Surprises Are Good Ones

 Pattern: Pretty Basic by Janina Kallio
Yarn: Sundara Fingering Silky Merino, in Love Like Lightening colorway
Needles:  size 6

Those of us who love to knit also love to buy yarn. Maybe we even love to buy yarn more than we love to knit, although we won't admit it. Always, always, it's easier to make a yarn purchase in person. To put your hands on the yarn before you make a purchase and see what it feels like. To pick it up and walk to the window to see what it looks like in daylight, to see its true colors. 

But buying in person isn't always possible. I live 45 minutes away from the closest yarn shop. That's nearly two hours involved if I drive there for yarn. Probably longer when I factor in some real shopping.  And I still might not find what I want. It doesn't matter how wonderful your local yarn shop is, they won't have everything you need. There are just too many suppliers, too many yarn bases, too many colors for them to stock. And there are wonderful indie yarn dyers who only sell at vendor markets at yarn shows and knitting retreats or offer them online. 

Photo credit: Jennifer Lewis

So ordering online offers you, the knitter, limitless possibilities. But online ordering can be an "adventure," to put it politely. What might look perfect online, might look very different when you open that box that arrives in the mail. This purple yarn was one of my "uh oh" moments. 

I was at a knitting retreat when a fellow knitter told me about the fabulous Sundara yarns. (She was right. It is.) She was especially excited about the series where the yarn colors are inspired by beautiful nature photographs. Every week or so, you get an email with a gorgeous nature photo and a yarn dyed to replicate those colors.

As we were talking, one of those emails popped up on her smart phone. A lovely stormy sky photo and a purple yarn. Surrounded by knitting friends, inhaling yarn fumes, I got carried away and ordered immediately from my own phone. The yarn arrived quickly and I was excited to open the package. Then I was less excited. I'll admit that I ordered too quickly. All I saw were shades of purple. I failed to notice the peach/coral. I thought the colors were more subtle. My disappointment when I saw the yarn had nothing to do with the yarn dyer—it had everything to do with me.

This is one of the pitfalls of online ordering. What you get may not  be exactly what you expected. It could be wonderful yarn. It just isn't the yarn you envisioned. This purple (a favorite color of mine) mixed with lots of splotchy peach color did not match the picture in my head. 

But the yarn! It felt marvelous. It was half silk. It felt....well, it felt silky. It's very different from 100% wool that I use most of the time. So I was determined to use this yarn and make the best of my purchase. I figured I'd learn to love it. When I mentioned my plan to a good knitting friend, she told me, "If you don't love it while you're knitting it, you won't love it when you're done."  That's good advice, but I loved the feel of this yarn so much, that I ignored that and forged on.

There are many knitters who love a skein of variegated yarn above all others because they can be truly beautiful. Exciting, even. But then they can't figure out what to do with it once they own it. When this colorful yarn is knitted up, it is not always quite so wonderful. It is harder to find a pattern to show off those special yarns. So here are a few tips that I've learned from my own experience and from the wisdom of other knitters

Don't chose a pattern with intricate lace or cables. The color variations will hide all of your hard work. When you knit lace or cables, you want that design element to be the star. Here, you should let the yarn shine. So keep the pattern simple. Also, I have found that garter stitch works better than stockinette. It breaks up the colors and can minimize "pooling, "which is what you call blobs of random colors in your knitting. It's caused when some of the contrast colors randomly stack up in portions of your knitting. You want the colors dispersed over your work. 

So, if lace stitches don't work so well and cables aren't a good choice, what else can you use? I like an open mesh stitch. Again, open mesh helps break up the colors so that you don't get a spotty result. The pattern I chose, Pretty Basic, fits these parameters. Reyna and Brickless are also good patterns for a variegated yarn. I do try to make a note of patterns that would work with variegated yarn when I find one. I rarely use variegated yarn, but every now and then I give in and buy one. Oh, add Lacy Baktus to your list. I made this after a false start with a similar scarf in stockinette. The garter stitch and the open work turned out to be a much better match for the busy yarn.

Patterns with a slip stitch also work well with a busy yarn. And you can pair a vibrant variegated yarn with coordination solid or tonal yarn. A busy yarn striped with a solid can be a perfect solution. When I found a light purple silk/wool yarn in my stash, I considered trying the striped option. But by the time I was doubting my yarn choice, I had already knitted a good portion of this shawl and laziness won. I didn't want to take out all my work, look for a new pattern, and start over. But if I had taken more time, I might have gone from a "shawl I like" to a "shawl I love." I'll never know.

So now you've made a shawl or scarf or cowl with this multicolored yarn. How do you wear it? One simple tip. Let your clothing be the background for the knitting. Solid colors, simple lines. Let the knitting, the yarn, be the focus.

And I'll throw in a couple of things I've learned about online yarn ordering, too. I do order a good bit of yarn because it's convenient for me. It gives me a broader range of choices. But I mostly use online shopping to buy yarns that I know. Yarns I've used before. I know how it feels. I know how it will work up. I try to keep "surprises" to a minimum.

Choosing a color, even solid colors, is still a bit of a gamble. The color displayed on your computer monitor can fool you. You can see the color variation of this yarn in my photos here. So often I'll look at the same yarn on more than one website. Their photos can vary a good bit. I'll even go to the website of the yarn brand to see if I can find that particular yarn there. I figure it's in their interest to make the most accurate photo. Seeing several different photos of the yarn at least lets me know that I might not get "the one" I fell in love with. Just go into buying online knowing that what you see is not always what you get!

Well. After it was all done, what's the verdict? I've worn this shawl a lot. The size and the drape are perfect. That's good. The colors? I don't think I'll ever call it my favorite, but it worked out better than I anticipated. Do I love it? No. But I like it a lot. A whole lot. That's not bad. And I learned a few things along the way. That's very good.


  1. You made the yarn work for you and you're rocking that shawl!!

    1. It could have been much worse! I must say that it feels as good as any shawl I've ever made. That counts a lot.

  2. I probably wouldn't have picked the yarn if I saw it before I bought it either. But the scarf is beautiful, and looks so good on you.

    1. I know I wouldn't have bought it if I had seen it, but all in all, I've enjoyed the finished product. Do you think I've learned my lesson? Probably not. :-)


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