Friday, August 10, 2007

A Colorful Dilemma

I love handpainted yarns. I love lace yarns. I do not love handpainted lace yarns. In the skein, they are glorious. When knitted into lace, they often look, well, is ghastly too strong a word?

Now that the Icelandic shawl is finished (pix soon), I have been casting about for the next project. Of course, I had to scrutinize the current lace yarn offerings and I am sorry to report that virtually all the handpainted lace yarn I viewed this week is quite unsuitable for lace.

Let's take this exquisite shawl by Janice Kang as an example. Here it is knitted in dark hunter green.

Autumn Grace Shawl (formerly Ivy Leaf Lace Shawl)


And here it is knitted in a famous handpaint.

You can see a closeup picture of this stole on Janice's lovely blog. Unfortunately, it looks even worse in detail. The breathtaking effect of the pattern is totally annihilated by the wildly variegated yarn.

Here's another example of what doesn't work:


I acquired this design somewhere and couldn't discern the actual lace pattern until I Photoshopped the picture so the shawl was shaded as plain old black. It's very pretty, but you wouldn't know it from this picture.


Note: Both these patterns are available here.

For the past several years, handpainters have showered knitters with a colorful riot of sock yarns. But what works for socks does not work for lace. A cornucopia of rich color rarely looks bad in a sock. In a shawl, though, the results can be, um, confusing.

Lace can look lovely in a subtly variegated yarn. It also can look pretty with commercially printed yarns. For example, both my Swallowtail and my Icelandic shawls were knitted with the latter type of variegated yarns purchased in Japan. Yarn Place's Graceful and JoJoLand's Harmony lace yarns are two examples available in the U.S.. I've seen both knitted into lace, and the results are stunning. The long, gradual color blends produce quite a different effect from the short, abrupt flip-flops often seen with handpaints.

I have a drawer full of handpainted lace yarn destined for the black or dark blue dye pot. I learned my lesson and won't purchase any more of the wildly assorted color mixes, no matter how seductive they look in the skein.

If you are a handpaint artist and want to sell me lace yarn, you might want to tone down the palette. A lot. Store owners: I would be so grateful of you would seek out lace yarns that provide a bit of scintillation for the knitter without interfering with the actual pattern. You'll earn my heartfelt thanks, and I doubt I am the only lace knitter out there with a similar opinion.

38 comments:

Laritza said...

I agree 100%. Lace just does not do well with wild color changes. Lavish Lace is a book that talks a lot about that same topic. My blog post today is also on color problems. This sock yarn looks beautiful in the skein, not so when knitted into socks. I also have a big pile of "to the dark" dye pot of lace weight yarns. Big as in huge!

LittleBerry said...

I agree whole heartledly with what you say Fleegle, what works for socks definitely doesn't work for lace... all the hours of work obscured my colour is such a waste of time of both the knitter & the designer.....

Bogie said...

I wonder if it would surprise your readers to know that I agree 100% as well? lol

That's why I chose to show the solid color version of the shawl on the blog post as well as the variegated version that won the contest. My preference for a lace pattern as strong as Autumn Grace is to show it off with a yarn that showcases the pattern, not competes with it.

With that, I have no regrets for entering the contest and extend my thanks to the yarn company for their support.

Thanks for using my photo as the example for "good", not "ghastly".

BadCatDesigns said...

I totally agree. I posted a few weeks ago showing two lovely lace leaves, one in a solid and one in a hand painted yarn. Because the handpainted yarn is tonal, it works well. Maybe it is about contrast in the multi-colored yarn? Anyway, I too am temped by the riot of colors in a skein but have learned to leave them at the store...

Jane said...

Dear fleegle,

You are so right about this.I have more varigated yarn that won't ever work for lace than I can count and now that you mention it, I may just go ahead and finish Peacock and try to dye her a solid color. She is just so wrong in the colorway I choose and there is just no one to blame but myself. Of course, I'm kicking myself because there was the one moment when I thought to knit it in a solid and just failed to make the right choice. Even if it doesn't dye a solid color, maybe the over-dye will still be pretty? Will test a bit of the yarn out and see first. You always have such good ideas!

fluffbuff said...

I couldn't agree with you more. While often gorgeous in the skein, variegated yarns just don't work out satisfactorily in the actual knitting.
I would go even further and say that lace really looks its best only in solid colors or at most, subtly heathery yarns.

Karla (ThreadBndr) said...

Now you have me waffling. So far all my lace projects (except one scarf) have been in solid colors. I have 1200 yard of lush merino in a weight that's either a thin fingering or a heavy lace.

It's a fairly subtle color change in the skein at least. My one lace scarf in a hand paint worked out beautifully. But the color shift was so subtle as to be almost invisible in the skein. I think yarns like that work best for lace - the eye reads them as "solid".

Batty said...

I know what you mean. For some reason, I love variegated yarns for lace socks, but shawls are trickier. It has to be the right variegate, or the result really is hideous.

Kelly said...

I agree with you 100%. Hanpainted yarns are absolutely lovely to look at while still a skein but the beautiful variegation just doesn't work with lace. You lose the pattern. I'd sure love to see how you dye yours.

Opal said...

For the most part I agree, except I recently acquired a handpaint in silk. I'm hoping it won't be a complete disaster once I knit it up. I'm going to try and use a pattern that doesn't have a complex design so that the yarn and the design doesn't compete. Here's hoping that works.

--Deb said...

Yes, me too. There are lace patterns that aren't "harmed" by variegated yarns, and even some that seem to relish the changes, but for the most part . . . solids. Or some tonal variation. But, yeah, solids. Especially for anything remotely like a complex lace pattern where the lace should the be star.

That said, I should confess that I made my Peacock Feathers shawl in the Turquoise variegate Shimmer from Knitpicks--and it does work, even if it does (admittedly) take away, just a little from the stunning lace. I have a skein of plum Claudia Hand-painted silk lace in my stash, too, which I look forward to trying sometime, but that, too, is mostly shades of plum--not plum and blue and red and yellow and . . .

I entirely agree that I cannot imagine what so many yarn designers (be they "big" or "small") are thinking when they make some of these multi-colored lace yarns. That Shimmer yarn? Loved the feel, love the drape, but there's not one other color I'd be willing to risk on lace because the colors are too broad-spectrumed.

You'd think that the people who make their living by making and selling yarn and yarn colors would think this through a little more and restrict their more fun and fanciful efforts to sock yarn. Because, there is a place for fun and inventive in yarn colors . . . just, um, not in lace.

Kitty Kitty said...

Hear Hear!!! I agree as well. Though a lesson learned the hard way. I love fun hand painted sock yarn in wild and exciting colours. But the last major lace project I did I made the sad mistake of using a hand paint. The final outcome was pretty, but you can hardly see the details. It made me so sad. A mistake I will not make again. :(

Laura said...

So true. Your photo demonstration speaks volumes. Sometimes a *solid* handpainted yarn can work, but beautiful lace deserves the simplicity of just one color.

Judith said...

agree, agree, agree! though sometimes "semi-solids" work well with some lace patterns - i.e., some of the patterns at knitspot.com like Morning Glory look great in a semi-solid I got from Fearless Fibers (NAYY on both sources). I've overdyed a bunch of variegated in a solid color and it works well. For something *really* complicated like Sharon Miller's patterns, I'd stick to completely solid.

Kenny said...

That is soooooo true. I don't even like variegated yarn in sweaters or socks. If I want color, I want to do the coloring on my own, by knitting the colors. But I'm not that good yet. :(

So, I'll stick to the heathers and the tweeds..... to me, those are still ok. :)

Kenny said...

BTW, who's Harry?

Laughingrat said...

I tend to waver on this one, predictably. :-D My first lace shawl was made with Lisa Souza yarn, and my first lace scarf with a handpaint I bought from an Etsy seller. I really like how both turned out!

In part it must be a personal aesthetic kind of thing, but also I do see what you mean about the colors. Part of what made both of those projects work is that the colors in the yarns all had a similar value. The colors changed, but the intensity and shade didn't, so the changes weren't as jarring.

What seems a shame to me is that I often don't enjoy knitting with solid yarns these days. I'm thinking of doing a gansey project, though, so that might cure me of my dislike for solids. ;)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this, by the way.

muki-muki said...

Yup...... I agree, You are 100 percent correct. All dyers should take note of these comments. Lets see some soft color changes with long runs of color.

Carol said...

totally hit the nail on the head. I was test knitting a lace sock pattern for someone and wanted a solid colour yarn so that
1. I could see what I was doing
2. The lace would show up nicely

And in general, I don't always WANT multicoloured socks. And my husband REALLY wants solid coloured socks. It can be a problem. The wild colours are nice, but that seems to be the only thing on offer now!

2trees said...

I love lace patterns, and I love handpainted yarns, and can never quite grasp that the two rarely work together.
BTW, when you say commercial yarns have long repeats of color, roughly how long are they?

LittleBerry said...

I agree with your comment you left on my blog too Fleegle about dyers being more selective about their colours. Sometimes I think they make a name for themselves and stop thinking about what they're creating. They may start off creating sock yarn and because they knit socks they know how it knits up. They expand the business with different yarn types such as lace but they don't necessarily knit lace , you know the rest.....

n of Yarn yard (button on my blog) doesn't produce a lot of yarn but she carefully thinks about her colours..... and I know she will be doing some lace yarn soon :)

fleegle said...

Dear 2Trees--

I would say the repeats are measured in yards instead of inches. I have never measured them, but I took a look this morning and several yards are a good estimate.

LittleBerry said...

thanks for the tip about YArn Chef off to have a perusal... Keep an eye on her site as I know she was talking about doing some more lace shortly.... I think if it's in the Lace section they're repeat colours etc and that's all she has at moment... if it's under Limited Edition / Lace then they're individual dyes.... the blue I was doing my design with is one of hers....

Iris G said...

I can't agree with you more! As much as I love the great looks of variegated yarn, I stay away from them. Not even for socks. Heard about a few tricks such as working in reverse stockinette stitches, but they do not work that well.
I guess the whole variegated yarn thing started with Missoni knits?

June said...

Oh, I am right there with all of you! I think that we are so attracted to the color, that we fool ourselves into thinking it will work.

Angeluna said...

Amen Sister!

I am so often seduced by the handpaints which are so beautiful in the skein, but KILL an intricate pattern.

The manufacturer you showcased here is almost single-handedly responsible for my developing aversion to hand paints in lace, etc. To make such beautiful yarns, they seem to have no clue when it comes to creating patterns for them.

Anonymous said...

(Okay this is not a repeat!) I agree 100% with everything you mentioned - it is so true! Although I am not nearly as good at lace knitting as you, Mistress of Lace :), I do know and can see a project that looks way off w. the yarns you mention. Terry

Dallas Schulze said...

Delurking to throw in my two cents worth. I agree that multi colored yarns rarely work with lace but I do think there are exceptions. I've seen many Feather & Fan variations that look lovely in a variegated yarn - something about the way the pattern undulates seems to agree with the color changes.

Personally, I love a mostly solid handpaint with lace. Someone mentioned Yarn Chef already, I think. Chewy Spaghetti is another dyer who does lovely work and Fearless Fibers is one of my favorites. A slightly more obscure yarn is Kaalund Classic Two which is from Australia. They manage to blend multiple colors in such a way that the finished product reads as nearly solid.

My first lace shawl was Charlotte's Web, done in Koigu. Looking back, I think it was a great choice for a beginner. The yarn is delightful. It's mostly solid so you see the lace a bit but the variegation in the yarn also helped to hide the inumerable errors I made. Also, the loveliness of the yarn was really a joy to someone who hadn't yet learned to love lace purely for itself. So I wouldn't totally eliminate hand painted yarns for lace but their use is certainly limited, at least for my tastes.

Mary Kay said...

You said it much more diplomatically than I, but thank you...I hope the dye pot is kind.

Courtney said...

I agree with you, the lace looks much better in a solid yarn. Why bother knitting lace if you are not going to be able to admire the beauty of the pattern.

missalicefaye said...

Most of the time, I don't even like handpainted yarn in socks. :) For me, the beauty of lace is all about very sharply defined positive and negative spaces. The photos in your post speak volumes...

KnitYoga said...

I SO agree - it has to be subtle to work. In the UK, I've found solid coloured laceweight to be thin on the ground. Though, recently, I was delighted to find that we now have two sources to choose from to buy Jaggerspun Zephyr laceweight. Regarding a Cirkeltroje KAL, I'm up for it. Like you though, it'll be a couple of months probably before I can start. I thought I might use Kid Silk Haze as I noticed in the back of the book that KSH is mentioned as a suitable substitute for this design.

Kitty Kitty said...

Thanks so much for the comment... This is one of those times I really wish blogger gave emails to respond.

The fiber is a mystery. I signed up for one of the fiber clubs to get you to experiment spinning with different fibers. So it has tiny mylar filaments in the roving. It is probably going to go off to a friend since I am really not a blue person. It is something I would have never bought, but it is fun. And certainly something to procrastinate from getting back to work.

yarnlot said...

I agree completely: variegated yarns are not the best choice to bring out the pattern of a lace shawl; the same goes for socks with a pattern, often it is wiped out.
I made a Print o' the Wave Stole in yarn of the same brand as that in the pictures; of the two skeins from the same dye lot, one was considerably darker than the other, so I tried using it for the border, but the result was not very nice. Besides, my fingers went totally green when knitting. I am very suspicious about handpainted variegated yarns now, I would prefer them only slightly variegated.
What cán be nice is variegated yarn with long ends of each colour, so that you get more stripes instead of flecks; good examples are Tapestry from Rowan and Noro Kureyon. The result is also dependent on the pattern you use.

KnitYoga said...

December sounds good to me re Cirkeltroje! :-)

miyamojo said...

What a great discussion!
I get tempted by the colorways too.
The same goes for Aran/cable knitting! Why distract from all your hard work!

Thanks for the hot pink award - I'm so NOT worthy! I like the way you decided who got it too! I couldn't choose either!
m :)

Anonymous said...

(A little after everyone has commented but -) I thought alot of this entry and mostly just now as I finished an order with earthfaire DOT com for some wonderfully, subtly colored alpaca lace yarn by Lissu. (spelling is probably wrong) Just an alert if you're interested, looks like a lace yarn that isn't wildly dyed. Terry

Winterhart said...

This may win the prize for most after the fact comment left on your blog, but my excuse is that I am reading through the archives!

As a matter of fact, I agree with your post completely, emphatically, and 100% - particularly since I have knitted that Carnival Glass shawl (with a slight variation to eliminate the so-sharp-you-could-stab-yourself-on-it pointed border) and it is a lovely pattern. Nevertheless, every time I look at that picture I can't think how I came to knit it. I think divine intervention is the only answer.