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three types of hand dyed yarn colourways

hand dyed yarn

We talked last time about striping and non-striping variegated yarn, but there are many other types of hand dyed yarn colourways!

We’ll talk about three types right now:  semisolid, tonal, and variegated.

Semisolid colourways

Semisolids are, well … almost solid.  Meaning, an entirely indigo blue skein of yarn, with some variation in depth and tone.

melisandre angelique phydeaux hand dyed yarn

Melisandre (see above) is a great semisolid example:  deep, warm reds without introduction of other colors (no pinks or blues or oranges).

Sometimes, a semisolid is dyed in one, single pot of color:  submerge the yarn, let the dye strike, ad it’s done.

Phydeaux semisolids generally take at least three pots of dye, layering colors on top of one another.  For instance, Melisandre takes four pots of color in different shades and tones of red, building and interacting with one another to create that final, rich warm red with a much deeper final, sheer glaze.

Semisolids can be somewhat “flat,” (one shade/tone) or much more dimensional (multiple tones and shades).  When I’m working on a new semisolid colourway, I’m gauging the color’s dimension and depth with each pot of color.  The colourway isn’t finished until I’ve reached a sufficient depth (meaning the colors seem more three dimensional than two dimensional) and dimension (meaning that there is more complexity to the color than initially meets the eye – there may be pots of color that you couldn’t ever guess involved in the process).

Semisolids are perfect for garments and projects involving complex lace stitch patterns.  More variegated colourways can make a lovely lace stitch pattern too confusing for your eye to really see.  In most cases, save your variegateds for more simple lace patterns.

Sometimes, semisolids are less solid and more “tonal,” making them… tonal.  Meaning, there are more colors than just “red” or “blue” (more about semisolid vs. tonal).

Tonal colourways

Tonals are my favorite colourways to dye.  I love creating a colourway with shifting shades, tones and color families from seemingly disparate pots of color.

hand dyed tonal yarn from phydeaux:  colourway mediterraneo

For instance, Mediterraneo (see above) involved four pots of color, moving from bright sky blue to neon green to golden yellow to deepest brown.  Each layer builds on the previous layers.  If I stop adding colors too soon, there will be jarring spots without color, lacking transition.  By adding additional layers of color, the transitions are seamless and more interesting interactions are created.

Tonals are great for just about any kind of project, from straight stockinette blankets to more complex lace stitch patterns.  I love a garment worked in a dimensional semisolid, but please do alternate skeins when doing so, to avoid weirdly different arms or lapels.

Both semisolids and tonals can be dyed in infinite ways, from kettle/immersion dyeing (which is how I dye these colourways) to applying dye onto the yarn laid out on a flat surface, to crockpot dyeing to steaming via microwave or oven, or any other number of methods.

Variegated colourways

We talked a little bit about variegated colourways last time (striping vs. non-striping).  Variegated colourways are probably the most popular when it comes to Phydeaux yarn:  lots of color, short color repeats, and non-striping overall effect.

They’re also, usually, the most difficult and time consuming to dye.

pumpkin spice in soie fingering, hand dyed by phydeaux

For instance, Pumpkin Spice, Phydeaux’s #1 or 2 most popular colourway, is notoriously time consuming:  I dye in pairs (two skeins to a pot) and it can take up to a half day to finish one pot.

Why so long?  I’m continually manipulating the yarn to place random bits of color.  Sometimes, the color just doesn’t want to “stick,” and the gold and deep pumpkin colors can be particularly obstinate about not sticking.  Each time I dye it, I think, “this skein is never going to turn out,” and then it ends up being gorgeous and  I have no idea what my issue was.

Of course, other dyers have their own methods for dyeing variegated colourways.  There is no right or wrong way, as long as the dyer gets their desired results!

I love variegated yarns in accessories and sweaters.  Or used in tandem with semisolids or tonals in stripes or other colorwork patterns.

You really do need to use alternating skeins with hand dyed and painted variegated yarns, regardless if the yarns are semisolid, tonal or variegated.  Every skein is so unique when hand dyed – alternating rows reduces jarringly obvious transitions between skeins.

Semisolid?  Tonal?  Variegated?  Which is your favorite?  Share in the comments below!

Next time:  a brief history of variegated colourways


Variegated yarn: striping and non-striping

phydeaux hand dyed variegated yarn: lots of shorter and longer color repeats

I didn’t know know there were different types of colourways when I first started knitting.

Of course, I knew skeins or balls of yarn were different colors, but when I was learning to knit many years ago, yarn came from a hobby or five and dime store, usually Red Heart acrylic, and I was pretty happy with whatever was available.

I worked in a yarn and needlework shop for a very brief stint close to 30 years ago and I was blown away by the amazing hand painted Italian yarns.

Then I lived a block away from the most amazing little yarn shop, 20 ish years ago, which started my love affair with hand painted and dyed yarns.

I’d treat myself each Christmas to luscious mohair blend skeins to knit and crochet scarves as gifts.  I loved watching how the colors interacted as the scarf progressed.

Phydeaux's "amour" colourway" is likely to stripe/pool, with much longer color repeats - you can see the two main colors clearly in this photo

But would get frustrated when the colors striped or pooled – I wanted truly variegated color, but didn’t know how to attain it.

After I started selling hand knit scarves and cowls, I learned a lot about variegated yarn, including how to avoid buying the pooling/variegated kind.

Come to find out, yarn with longer color repeats will stripe and pool.  Many yarns are dyed intentionally to do so, including repeats designed to work perfectly with socks.

Yarn with shorter repeats will stripe and pool less – or not at all.  Dyers will often work with the skein longer, adding bits of color in random sections to achieve non-striping/pooling color.

"Mon Coeur" (a phydeaux colourway) is full of very short color repeats and LOTS of bits and flecks of color - very randomly variegated

I now dye yarn myself, of course, and strive to achieve non-striping and pooling color.

My variegated yarns do have short color repeats, and I often add bits and flecks of color to break up stretches of color or white space.

When you look at a skein of multi-coloured yarn (which is “variegated”), you can often tell that it will stripe and pool due to how it’s skeined and twisted.  Many dyers don’t reskein their yarn (that’s a lot of work to do so), allowing you to see the color repeats as dyed.  If you have a skein with two or three or however many evenly blocked colors … that yarn is going to stripe or pool as you knit or crochet it.

If the yarn isn’t reskeined and you see lots of bits of color, interspersed throughout, that yarn is less likely to stripe and pool (p.s., you can learn more about this at Space Cadet yarns).

But what do you do if the yarn has been reskeined?

dentelle scarf from phydeaux designs showing self striping hand spun yarn

Look for the length of the color repeats.  If you’re able, untwist the skein or hank so that you can see the sections of color laid out in front of you.  A fairly long  (more than several inches) of color probably means striping and pooling.

Conversely, pretty short stretches (less than three inches, probably closer to one to two inches) are much less likely to create striping and pooling.

I prefer non-striping/pooling colourways and that’s what I try to dye at Phydeaux, but many many knitters and crochets much prefer the longer color repeats that create stripes and pools of color.  No judgment – the world would be a boring place if we all like the same thing, wouldn’t it?

Which do you prefer?  Striping or non-striping.  Share in the comments below!

Next time: semisolid vs. tonal vs. variegated hand dyed yarns.


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Not so very long ago, I was always stressing over budgets or getting to the next meeting on time or the logistics involved with a new program I was setting up or a crucial recruitment I was working on or (fill in the blank … the options are endless).

I often dreamed about living in the mountains, working in a creative field (like painting or writing).

Amazing how life works out, isn’t it?

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Not so very long ago, these two sweet faces didn’t get to see me a whole lot. Twelve hour work days were common, with an hour commute on each end.

Now they get lots of kisses throughout the day.  Whether wanted or not.

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I remember, not so long ago, mapping out how many crockpots I could put in my guest bedroom to steam yarn, in order to create the volume of hand dyed yarn needed for a viable business.

Two weeks ago, Dad and I reworked the outdoor dyeing space.  We may now (in theory) dye up to 300 skeins a day.  I spent an afternoon scrubbing my beautiful six burner restaurant stove – it sure has come in handy!

(BTW, I think 300 skeins in one day would both do me in and warrant a celebratory dinner!)

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Not so very long ago, I had two dye pots.  Two.


New dye pots added in the last few weeks:  three more 12 quart, two more 32 quart, and one more 40 quart.


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Not so very long ago, Dad kept asking me, “So explain this to me again?  You dye the yarn and people actually want it?  I don’t get it.”

And now he’s Chief Re-Skeiner, while tying off all skeins for dyeing (not an enviable job!), and Right Hand for All Things Phydeaux.

2015-02-16 11.18.24

Not so very long ago, I crunched numbers or sat in meetings or worked on new programs or interviewed potential employees or (fill in the blank – again, the options are endless!) in artificially lit rooms in big buildings with lots of other people doing similar work.  Spending time outside meant rushing between buildings to the next meeting.

Now my views beyond the dye pots or drying yarn involve a lot of trees. Clean, pine-scented air fills my lungs.  My distractions might include squirrel antics, exchanging pleasantries with one of the several feral kitties, squinting up at an eagle far overhead, hoping that the loud rustling in the forest beyond the fence is a feral cat rather than a mountain lion (!!!).

Not so very long ago, I was desperately holding on to a life that I needed to let go of.  Little did I know that a fantastic life – one that I’d dreamed of living – was just up ahead, albeit with heart break, stress, and super hard work.  Which is true of any life, isn’t it?

I didn’t plan for this life in the mountains, surrounded by yarn and nature, living with my dad, working harder than I’ve ever worked.  And yet, it’s exactly the life I needed.

I am blessed.

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Jimmy Beans 12 Days of Yarn-Mas

six geese a layin colourway for jimmy beans wool hand dyed by phydeaux

One day in October, I found an email from Leanne at Jimmy Beans Wool in my inbox.

I was pretty excited, as a HUGE Jimmy Beans fan (have you been to their warehouse in Reno?  WOW).

And even more excited to read my invitation to participate in their upcoming 12 days of yarn-mas:  an exclusive colourway a day from a yarn dyer they don’t currently carry.

Of course, I said “yes,” as fast as my fingers would type.

six geese jbw soie 2

My day was “six geese a layin.”

Oh good, I thought, I can come up with a goose-inspired colourway super quick.

Famous last words …

Come to find out, geese are kinda … white and black and grey and maybe amber/orange if they have that color of bill or feet!

six geese jbw soie 4

I dyed a LOT of new colourways, thinking about different angles:  my beloved Northern California geese (love hearing them honk overhead!), the goose who laid the golden egg, Mother Goose.

Then it hit me:  goose feathers.  Those gorgeous geese who visit the lake just down our hill are covered in iridescent, amazingly beautiful feathers.

Greys in all hues:  deepest charcoal to palest mist, with tiny subtle flecks of color.

In fact, six feather-lined nests in a row, for those six geese a layin’, lovingly blanketed in goose down and feathers, to protect those precious eggs.

And Six Geese a Layin was born.

Watch Jimmy Beans carolers sing The 12 Days of Yarn-mas (up to day six!) here.

And order your own skein of Six Geese a Layin’ right here (quick, before they sell out!)!

I’ll share some great complementary colourways later today!