18 January 2014

Controlling Color

The Sir Thomas entrelac scarf used a long-print yarn, Crystal Palace Mochi Plus. Long-print yarns are yarns in which the color changes occur at wide intervals. Unlike a typical hand-painted sock yarn, in which the color changes are only 2-3 inches/5-8 cm long, long-print yarns often have several yards/meters of color. When rolled up into a ball, long-print yarns can surprise. You'll see a couple colors on the outside, but who knows what is hidden inside? Sometimes that's part of the fun!

Probably the most popular long-print yarn is Noro Kureyon, but more and more manufacturers have been experimenting with the type. Some have completely random color changes. But many long-print yarns have predictable color sequences, they are just very long (many yards or meters). Sometimes the color changes are in sequential order: A B C D E, then more A B C D E. Often they are symmetrical. In those yarns, the color order will be A B C D E D C B  and then begin again at A. If you have Laura Bryant's wonderful book Artful Color, Mindful Knits (Sioux Falls SD: XRX, Inc. 2013), pages 16 & 17 contain some useful illustrations. Page 17 shows what Laura calls "dyeing around the skein" -- i.e. sequential color. Page 16 shows "dyeing across the skein" -- symmetrical color.

Sometimes a single skein will contain most of a sequence but not the full sequence. If you are willing to put in the extra time, it can sometimes be worth it to splice several skeins together in the proper sequence for a large project.

Mochi Plus skeins, wrapped on cards for inspection

So how to do this? For Sir Thomas, I wrapped all four skeins of Mochi Plus around large pieces of cardboard. This gave me the chance to see what I had, and to see if there were any knots or strange spots in the dye lot. (If you are working with Noro, searching for knots and color discontinuities is essential, as they are notorious.) I then stood all the pieces of cardboard up against a wall. This gave me a chance to look at the color sequence.

In this example, you instantly notice the symmetrical color sequences -- ABCBA. I could see some broad stripes of green. There were also a couple stripes of grey with blue in the center and on the edges. When I've done this before, sometimes I will overlap cards to line up colors. Sometimes I'll need to rotate a board 180 degrees. So this is very much a puzzle. In this example, you'll notice the skein on the far right has a wide pale stripe that doesn't appear in any of the other skeins. When I spliced the skeins together, I made sure to put that at the very end of the big skein. Wrapping the yarn on boards also gave me a chance to see what color is at the beginning and end of each skein. Since I was working little entrelac blocks, I didn't worry much about perfecting the color sequence. I was primarily interested in getting the colors to jump around so the blocks would be interesting. I didn't want to end up with a lot of blue and gray all in one end of the scarf and all the green in the other end.

If you remember this shawl from Mother's Day 2010, I used the same technique. But in that case, I broke up the skeins and spliced them so I had one giant ball with a very consistent color repeat. Serendipitously, the length of the color repeat was close to the length of each section repeat in the shawl, which is part of why the shawl is so pleasing to the eye. The color sequence was not random luck but carefully planned.

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