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All About Tonal, Variegated and Speckled Yarn and how to work with them in one project!

Different styles of dyeing yarn are better used for different types of projects. When we make a harmonious pairing, the yarn and the pattern shine. When we have conflict in our pairing the yarn can often compete with the stitch pattern for our attention and neither the yarn, nor the stitching is shown off to its full potential.


Of course there are many different methods of dying yarn, which create many different styles of finished yarns. In this post, we will dive into three styles dyed yarn, the types of fabric that let them shine, and explore them via the kits Bad Sheep Yarn has created for the Leah's Lace Shawl. Of course I'll offer tips if you wish to build your own kit.


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Leah's Lace Shawl



Leah's Lace Shawl:

Leah's Lace is a crescent shawl that seeks to highlight the spirit of the different dye methods used to create yarn making it a perfect shawl to discuss three different styles of dying yarn. You can check out the Design Diary here for more info about the shawl. You can also shop the pattern here in my shop or on Ravelry. If you decide you want to purchase a kit from Bad Sheep Yarn the pattern is included but if you choose to build your own kit, you can also find the pattern on the BSY website. The Leah's Lace Shawl, as with most SDK patterns, is priced using a Pay What Works Model of Pricing, however, discount codes can only be applied on the SDK website or Ravelry.


Variegated Yarn

Technically, we can define variegated yarn as any yarn that has more than one color. By that definition, the speckled yarn is variegated as is self striping yarn and gradient yarns. The kind of variegation explored in this section is referred to as "highly variegated" and characterized by many short color changes between three or more colors. The effect is created by submerging yarn in a pan of heated water and applying dye (either liquid or powered - depending on the desired product). When knit or crochet into fabric, the color changes may produce a "flashing" or a "pooling" of color. Flashing is, just as it sounds, when one color jumps out from a back ground. Pooling is when the same color in different rows or rounds line up with itself. In the purple yarn shown below (named Lupine from Bad Sheep Yarn), you can see the yellows flashing and the dark purples pooling in both the knit and crochet swatches.



It is often recommended that highly variegated yarns be used in projects with a consistent fabric rather than a textured or lace fabric. It is safest to stick to stockinette or garter ridge fabric in knitting because the consistency of the knitted fabrics allow the colors to shine without competing visually with texture. In crochet we are advised to use variegated yarns with stitches that are shorter such as sc or hdc in crochet because shorter color lengths combined with taller stitches can create a busy looking fabric. Now, this isn't to say that one shouldn't ever create texture with cables and lace or crochet tall stitches when working with variegated yarn! There are countless examples of a skillful combination of texture and color that is visually pleasing to the eye. The info in this paragraph is more useful as a simple guide to paring stitch pattern with yarn without creating a busy fabric in which the color and texture rival each other for our attention.


Tonal Yarns

Without going too deep into color theory, tonal, for our purposes and as defined by Miriam-Webster, is 1) a color quality or value, the tint or shade of a color or 2) the color that appreciably modifies a hue, a white or a black (and in terms of tonal yarn, it would not modify a hue but only a white or a black). In other words tonal yarn has only one color but many different tints and shades of that color. A tint is the pure color plus white while a shade is the pure color plus black - in technical terms a tone is the pure color plus grey but on "tonal yarn" we are referring to the application of a single color onto a base. It can range from near solid to highly variegated in appearance (given that the variegation is between more and less saturated sections of yarn, all with the same color).


Tonal yarn is very challenging to reproduce consistently and one of the ways I assess the skill level of an indie dyer is their ability to offer unique color-ways of tonal yarns. One reason for this challenge is that while the finished yarn is a range of tones of a single hue, that hue (or color) is often created by mixing dyes. To mix multiple hues and be able to apply them to yarn and have them taken up as a single hue takes practice and careful recipes. It is created in a kettle (aka a pot) or a pan in two different ways. The wet fiber can be submerged in a warmed kettle of dye and allowed to absorb the dye withe little stirring (this creates and inconsistent uptake of dye and thereby the "variegated" tonal effect). The fiber can also be submerged in a pan or tray, heated to the appropriate temperature and the single color of dye applied to the warmed water/fiber. As with variegated yarns, the dye can be added as a liquid or a powder depending on the desired effect.


Marcie of essentially conducted a color study with Bad Sheep Yarn's Jarn Collection pictured below. Other impressive tonal yarns from Bad Sheep Yarn include my favorite Bad Sheep Yarn color-way ever: Impressions, Starlight, and Nevermore (an interesting example because the tone is shades of green while most tonal yarns are tints of a color).

Because tonal yarns range from nearly solid to highly variegated (in tone - not color) and may or may not be speckled, working with tonal yarns requires an assessment of the individual yarn in question. Is the range of tints and shades and the saturation within that range wide with short spaces between changes? If so I would consider the same guidelines I consider when working with highly variegated. Is the yarn nearly solid? I would feel comfortable working with a wide range of crochet stitches and knitting techniques. It is useful however to consider that because each skein is dyed by hand, the uptake of the dye will be in slightly different lengths. If we change strands of tonal yarn in a project, we are likely to see a line where one skein begins and the other ends. We can prevent this by "striping" between strands for a few rounds. This helpful technique can also be applied to


Speckled Yarns

Speckled yarns may be solid, tonal, or variegated. "Speckle" refers to little specks of color that seem to pop out of the finished fabric. The speckles themselves can be a single color or multiple colors. It is often created in a pan or tray by sprinkling dry dye powder over the warmed fiber. While this may sound simple, there is some skill involved in the sprinkle technique because if too much dye is added, the finished yarn is better described as blobbed than speckled. If too little is added they won't show up.


The example below is Wildflower Patch from Bad Sheep Yarn. While the speckles are different colors, they are applied to a light tonal base. Because the speckles can be added to any base, when choosing a speckled yarn for a pattern, I tend to give more consideration to the dye style of the base. In the Leah's Lace Shawl pattern, I wanted those speckles to pop but I also wanted the lace to shine. There for I chose a lighter tonal yarn with speckles. You can imagine that had I chosen a more highly variegated yarn with speckles such as Kenai, the lace would be hard to see.

Working With Hand Dyed Yarn

Regardless of whether we are using tonal or variegated yarn, with our without speckles, it is often a good idea to "stripe" between strands when beginning a new skein in a project that requires more than one. When a human dyes yarn, the dyes, even in nearly solid tonal yarns, are not taken up in the exact same spacing. This difference in spacing can show as a line when we switch strands.

Leah's Lace Shawl uses striping between a tonal or semi-solid yarn and a highly variegated yarn to break up any potential pooling that may occur with the variegated yarn. The tonal yarn acts to ground the dramatic color changes and create a calm look to the finished shawl while still letting us play with dramatic color. By choosing a lighter colored speckle for the lace, the lace pattern gets to be the star while the speckles are just down right fun.


Pairings Created By A Professional

Marcie knows color - especially color on yarn. Its her job after all. We can learn a lot by studying the pairings that professional dyers create. Check out these kits created by Marcie with a mind to what we discussed above about variegated, tonal and speckled yarns. Or explore the BSY website and create your own kit!


I would love to hear from you! Do you have a favorite dye style? Do you work with variegated yarn often? How do you pair pattern and yarn in a way that lets them both shine? Share in the comments!


Happy Making! ~Sönna


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