How To... Malabrigo hand-dyed yarns - LoveKnitting blog

Published on August 13th, 2014 | by Elizabeth Bagwell


How to knit with hand-dyed yarns

As Elizabeth Bagwell has been raving about hand-dyed yarns, we asked her for some tips for how to knit with them.

Hand-dyed yarns feel the same as commercially dyed yarns as they slip through your fingers. You can use a hand-dyed yarn to knit any pattern that you’d use a commercially dyed yarn to knit. That said, they do have a few quirks you might want to be aware of.

How to knit with hand-dyed yarns - FREE LoveKnitting tutorial

1. Most hand-dyed yarn needs to be wound
Hand-dyers work on a much smaller scale, so they don’t have the fancy ball-winding machines big companies do. They typically sell yarn in what’s called a skein (UK) or hank (USA). This is essentially a coil of yarn, like a coiled up garden hose. As with the garden hose, you want to uncoil it carefully to avoid a big knot. The easiest way is to get one person to hold the yarn loops tight across two hands while the other winds a ball starting at a loose end.

2. Colours look different knitted up
We see colours differently depending on what they’re next to. This means that hand-dyed yarns with dramatic colours can look very different in the skein, in a ball and knitted up. The ball gives you a better impression of the colours, as they’re more jumbled.

3. Many colourways are unrepeatable
It’s not that dyers don’t want to repeat a colour, they may not be able to. So if you want to knit a big project, buy yarn for the whole project at once as later dye lots may not match well.

4. No two skeins are identical
As they’re hand made, even skeins from the same dye lot will vary. This means you’re unlikely to get identically matching socks, mittens, etc.

5. Dealing with pooling
Many hand-dyed yarns have short colour changes, where just 2-10cm (1-4in) of yarn is dyed each colour. When you knit them up, the colours may ‘pool’. This is where the same colour stacks on top of each other each row. You may like the effect or you may not. If you don’t, knit 2-row stripes using two different balls of the same colourway. The colours won’t sync up so much and pooling is avoided.

6. Colours may shed in the wash
Even if a hand-dyed yarn is machine washable, it’s a good idea to wash a garment by hand the first time as a little bit of dye will often come out. Hand-dyed yarns are often not fixed as firmly as industrial dyes, as the chemicals required are too dangerous to use at home. This means that you may see some fading over time. That said, I have socks made from lovely bright yarn dyed by a friend in their kitchen, which I have machine washed dozens of times with no noticeable fading, and commercial yarn which is a ghost of its former self after a couple of careful washes.

7. Washing instructions vary
Washing instructions are often conservative as no one, particularly a small business, wants you to ruin your knitting. Knit a swatch and wash it on your usual setting to see if it’s safe to treat your hand-dyed project that way.

About the Author

Elizabeth is a keen knitter, occasional designer, enthusiastic traveler and a professional freelance writer. She spent three years working for British knitting magazine, Simply Knitting, and has also written for The Knitter and other craft titles. She blogs at:

Last updated: February 20th, 2015.

9 Responses to How to knit with hand-dyed yarns

  1. Anita Cruywagen says:

    Thank you very much for this article – I find it very helpful. There are some aspects of hand-dyed yarns that I didn’t realize, so this article will come in handy with a shawl I plan to knit with hand-dyed yarn. I especially didn’t realize how different the yarn would look on a ball compared to the skein. On the skein it had a lovely gradual colour change, but as soon it was on the ball it looked much more jumbled and I was almost disappointed! Anyhow, I’m sure once it’s knitted, I’ll be proud of it anyway.

    All the best to you!

  2. Jody Wyles says:

    Thanks for this article, especially the part about colour fastness. I have often bought commercial yarn and been shocked by colours running in the wash, I always worried about colour fastness in hand dyed yarns but it’s best to be safe.

  3. BergenGirl says:

    Just wondering what you think of setting the colors in hand died yarns with a vinegar soaking when blocking out the finished garment? If I do use vinegar to set the colors, can I use my special wool wash at the same time or should I do that afterwards? Thanks.

  4. Victoria says:

    As a spinner and hand dyer myself I have a permanent ‘must do’ on my yarn list now. ANY wool or wool mix yarn, industrially dyed or done by hand, even my own, hits a vinegar bath for 30 minutes before I knit with it. The bath I use is simple, A very clean sink or, in my case, a nice plastic Rubbermaid basin, enough water to cover the skein(s) or unwound hank(s) and 1 cup of white vinegar. As I said, it soaks for 30 minutes and then I rinse it in clear water until the vinegar smell is gone. I then lay the skein on a towel or hang the unwound hank to dry. I had a couple of terrible mishaps before making this mandatory in my yarn stash. For instance, one skein out of six from the same dye-lot bled so much that it ruined the sweater I had knitted as a gift. I was mortified when my friend brought it to me in tears. I have not had a problem since opting for colorfast yarn before the project is started. I love not having to worry if my colors will run. Hope that helps anyone who wondered about vinegar baths. :o)

  5. Lee Carlson says:

    Thank you so much. I have not tried this type of yarn because I had questions which you have answered, Thank so much.

  6. Gretel Walker says:

    Elizabeth Bagwell: Thank you for your column. And thank you also to Victoria for the information about vinegar “setting” baths. Now I’m ready to experiment with hand-dyed yarns with different colors in a hank. I am a very conservative, classic-style knitter. Time to branch out!

  7. vicki says:

    This article and Victoria’s advice are just what I needed, and at the perfect time. I’m going to hand-dye some yarn this weekend, but would not have known to use a vinegar bath. I am so grateful. Thank you!


  8. Nina says:

    This is a great article. I love hand dyed yarn and is mostly what I use on my projects. I learned the hard way about pooling. This is great information/ Thank you very much.

  9. hilde denys says:

    Doesn’t salt do the same job as vinegar? and you don’t have the smell.

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