I spend A LOT of time thinking about gradients. I know this probably won't come as a huge surprise to most of you since we've been dyeing and selling gradient colorways in one form or another since 2009. Eleven years. Just like watching your children grow up, it doesn't seem possible that so much time has gone by in the blink of an eye!
Much of this gradient thinking-time is spent on playing around with colors for new gradient colorways. I'm happiest and most creative when I'm working with colors in new and unexpected ways to create gradient colors that are not currently available. Sometimes the challenges and uniqueness are apparent as in completely new assembly of colors for the gradient, but other times it is more subtle like changing the primary dyes so they will break and separate upon binding and setting (why a dye breaks is, perhaps, a topic for another day) giving a depth and complexity to the colors that is unpredicatable and controllable at the same time. So colors dominate much of my thinking when it comes to gradients.
However, much more of my gradient thinking-time is spent on the use and applicability of gradients. When we began offering gradient colors over a decade ago, we began with 3 colorways and they were only available on spinning fiber. Today we have over 40 gradient colors currently available on two different skein lengths (255 yards and 470 yards) as well as six midi-skein gradient collections. The two terminal solid colors for all gradients are also available. We keep all of these in stock so there is usually no wait time meaning you can take your time deciding which color you want to use without the stress of worrying that it will only be available today, this week, or this month. Once in a (rare) while there can be a shortage, such as when a new colorway is released celebrating a festival or event, but in typical day-to-day situations, everything is available online. No games.
This is all well and good, but it can be overwhelming as well as a bit daunting to figure how to use gradients in a project, especially if this is your first foray into gradients...not only do you need to figure out what color speaks to your heart, but with a gradient there are often several colors all in the same skein and with the long length of transitioning colors, this presents it's own unique challenges. So, today's blog is the first in a series addressing how to creatively use gradients. Herein, we cover the basics today in how to customize yardage for shawls.
When most knitters see gradients, they immediately think of shawls. Shawl designs act as a large blank slate to beautifully feature all the gradient colors. Since the colors transition slowly, only one color is being knitted at any time so complex lace or intricate cables can be highlighted rather than obscured as is often the case with more traditional multi-colored yarn. At the same time, the shifting hues and multiple colors in a gradient colorway add a dimension to the shawl not observed for a single color. Gradients and shawls go together like peanut butter and jelly, each enhancing the other.
Shawls come in all sorts of sizes from scarf-like shawlettes to behemoth-sized wraps more akin to blankets than shawls. So, it's not surprising, then, that the main question we get from customers interested in using a gradient to knit a shawl is how to make the color transition through the entire length of the shawl. The answer depends on both the yardage required to knit the designs AND whether or not the pattern is repeatable/expandable for additional yardage. Below are some common examples of gradient usage in shawls:
SHAWLETTES (less than or equal to 255 yards):
Flying Home is a small shawlette designed by Kat Coyle that requires 221 yards of fingering weight yarn. The shorter length 255 yard gradient skein is longer than required. However, it works well for this pattern since the lace is easily adaptable to use all of the gradient simply by knitting an additional repeat or two. This project, by the way, makes an impressive gift for that special someone (especially if it's you!) that doesn't take long to knit up because of the small amount of yarn required. Couple this to the fact that a 255 yard skein of our gradients on kashmir (80% superwash merino wool / 10% cashmere / 10% nylon) is only $27 and you've got a stunning item to give that is a work of art yet economical from both a time and cost perspective.
SMALL SHAWLS (255 - 470 yards)
Shawls that require yardage in between the two lengths we offer (255 yards and 470 yards) can be addressed in one of two ways:
1.) With a 470 yard skein, additional repeats in a lace design (similar to what we did in the Flying Home shawlette above) can 'force' a shawl design to use the full color range in a gradient. However, while the vast number of shawl designs are amenable to simply working additional repeats, there are a few where the lace design is non-repeating making this option difficult.
2.) For non-repeating lace edged shawls, the best option is knitting the shawl in one gradient 255 yard skein and making up the additional yardage with a skein of the terminal solid that you want to have at the cast off edge.
If you aren't sure which of the above categories your shawl falls into, please feel free to give us a call at (513)248-0752. We'd love to chat!
MEDIUM SHAWLS (470 yards - 940 yards):
Scottish Thistle designed by Anne-Lise Maigaard and knit from one 470 yard skein of the Scottish Thistle gradient plus one skein of the Lilac terminal color.
Scottish Thistles designed by Anne-Lise Maigaard requires 711 - 984 yards. Our shop model, shown above, is the smaller size, requiring around 711 yards. The border is a beautiful thistle flower design that is not easily adaptable to extend for additional yardage. In this case, we used one gradient skein in the 470 yard length (Scottish Thistle colorway in the photo above). This shawl is knit from the top down so the teal-green end (this colorway is called Spruce) was used to cast on and the first 470 yards knit, ending with the Lilac end. Once the gradient skein was used up, the remainder of the shawl (241 yards or so) was knit using a solid skein in the terminal Lilac color. It might seem like a lot of yardage in the terminal color would overpower the actual gradient itself, but since it is used in the widest arc along the edge of the shawl it acts to highlight the beautiful lace edging and to frame the gradient colorway.
LARGE SHAWLS (940 or greater yards):
Dreaming of Spring designed by Annemarie Wright and knit from two 470 yard skeins of the Cameo gradient plus one skein of the terminal solid Cinnamon color
There are numerous large shawls that require yardage equal to or greater than the sum of two longer length (470 yards each) skeins of a gradient. Two such examples are Don't Panic designed by Nim Teasedale (shown above following the introduction for today's blog) and Dreaming of Spring designed by Annemarie Wright (shown directly above). Both require nearly the same amount of yarn, with the former requiring 1094 yards and the latter 1100 yards. These large designs work best if the gradient is worked over a a majority of the shawl. To achieve this, two skeins of the long length (470 yards per skein) gradient are used plus enough yardage of the solid color corresponding to the ending terminal color of the gradient. For Dreaming of Spring, for example, two skeins of the Cameo gradient were used and, cast on with the Rose Petal end. These two skeins were used simultaneously, alternating between skeins every two rows. This creates a gradient colorway that transitions over 940 yards rather than the 470 yards in a single skein. Once all of the yardage for these two skeins was used, the remainder of the shawl was knit using the solid terminal color, Cinnamon. Both terminal solid colors are available for all gradients, making it easy to customize the yardage for whatever project design you are planning. In fact, you will find direct links to the corresponding terminal solid colors in each gradient colorway item description.
I hope this has inspired you to consider knitting your next shawl project in a gradient colorway!!! If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a line or give the ring up the shop at (513)248-0752. We'd love to help! Next up, we'll discuss gradients in sweaters!! See you in 2 weeks! Until then -- Happy Knitting!
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With a little extra care to keep the pH below the isoelectric point by addition of 2 tablespoons of white vinegar (per gallon of water) to the wash and rinse solutions, your projects will keep their vibrancy and beautiful colors!