Pretty sure I have mentioned this before, but I have a thing for variegated yarns. In the skein they seduce you with their wild and beautiful colors and one must bring them home. Then they sit in your stash and you pet them lovingly, happy just to have them as part of your household.

Then you decide to knit something.

You wind them into something more usable and suddenly the beautiful skein has become a riot of colors, and you are wary. This is where the love affair frequently starts to go sour. You cast on and start to knit and everything is all wrong.  The colors obscure the pattern or the pattern is to simple and you get all kinds of wonky pooling.

It’s heartbreaking.

It’s why I started designing.

A hand knitted lace shawl in variegated  yarn

Lorna's Laces "Monkeyshines" is not everyone's cuppa ..

While I had knitted a prototype of Alia I had not yet knitted my own version of Lady Jessica. Once I saw the ones that my testers had finished – I had to have my own. When I went to the yarn store I decided to put my pattern to the test. I try very hard to design pieces that will look good in both solid and variegated yarns. Let’s see how I did?

Detail of lace on hand knitted variegated shawl.

The details - where variegated usually loses it.

Luckily I was pleased. This colorway is not to everyone’s liking – I have found that people either love it or border on hating it – luckily I am in the love category. Regardless of how you feel about the actual color, it will let you know if the pattern works in variegated. I have my own opinions – but would love to hear yours

Lace on the back of a hand knit variegated shawl.

A larger detail of the back

But what makes this work (assuming you think it does)? How can you look at a pattern and decide if it is a good candidate for a variegated yarn? There is no definitive answer, but I can tell you my opinions, what I look for. First off, if it is nothing but stockinette  you are at the mercy of the yarn – if it pools it pools and if it doesn’t it doesn’t – the only thing to do there is alternate two skeins of the same colorway (assuming you are working on a big enough project to need 2 skeins or more).

But do you know what looks pretty awesome in variegated? Garter! The texture of garter stitch breaks up pooling visually and really accents the beauty of the yarn, but all garter all the time gets boring. We want lace! But lace and variegated do not always play nice together.

Look at the lace – note the hole to fabric ratio. What do I mean by that? Well, look at the lace pattern – is the lace more hole than fabric or is it holes set into a bed of either stockinette or garter? For a variegated to look good you need to have at least a 50/50 ratio of hole to fabric. If you get more hole than fabric then you will start losing definition on your lace – obscured by the color changes in the yarn. You will do a whole lot of work for detailing that will not be particularly visible.

In Lady Jessica you can see that the lace gets pretty fine towards the bottom and I have definitely violated the hole/fabric ratio, but that was a calculated choice. One I could get away with primarily because I was working in Sport weight yarn. In fingering or lace it would not look as good. Then again, because it is only the bottom portion of the shawl, it worked out fine. If I had used that lace as an all-over design it would look horrible in this yarn.

OK, I have babbled enough for now. Of course I haven’t gotten into textured stitches or cables or such – each has it’s own set of considerations, but now you know how to look at a lace shawl and decide which member of your stash is at bat.

One thought on “Variegated

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