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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

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Mo March 15, 2015, 2:09 PM

    I like all types – the projects dictate what is best! But what I really love is the backstory you provide here. Thank you!

  • Cynthia March 23, 2015, 5:34 PM

    I love the variegated ,it so beautiful………..

  • Irham February 26, 2016, 9:45 PM

    I have a Little Gem II, Keli.Yes I wound the balls directly from the slndipe, but there is more than one cop’s worth in each ball. I spun the tail of the ball to each new cop and then wound on.

  • Anne Westbrook March 29, 2016, 1:09 PM

    I like them all too depends on the project and my mood. ~♥~

  • Lori Struckman September 11, 2017, 2:00 PM


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