Thoughts on Socks, Hand-Dyed Yarn, Colorways, and Better Labeling

I'm two-thirds of the way into another sock class I'm teaching at A New Yarn. We're using my MUMTU pattern to teach Magic-Loop technique, working two socks at once, toe-up, and using a gusset heel. You're already well-familiar with my pattern (download here) and in-depth pictorial workshop, so I thought I'd share my response to the sock yarn I selected this time around, as well as some thoughts about hand-dyed yarn and yarn labeling, in general.

It's Pagewood Farm's hand-dyed sock yarn in the Butterfly colorway. This is their Denali line, with a fiber content of 80/20 Superwash Merino and Nylon.

I'm particularly drawn to this yarn's lovely sensitivity to color. Pagewood Farm incorporates so many different colors and shades, but they do it in such a way that you don't end up with distinct overall striping on your project.

As with my other recent socks, I've reinforced the toes and heels not with a packaged reinforcing thread but, rather, with a 100% wool lace 2-ply in my stash—Lydia brand from a Russian mill, Moscow Wool Company. I have both a dark grey and a light grey in my stash, and I've found that one of them always looks perfect with whatever yarn I'm using on the body of the sock. In the above pictures, you can see the reinforcing on the toes and on the decorative Eye of Partridge heel stitch. Isn't it remarkable how well that grey scans so it appears to match the darker purples in the main yarn?! I highly recommend reinforcing toes, at least—it protects your hard work and is a nice way to use up left-over lace wool!

For the cuff, which is done on 60 stitches this time, I selected a twisted rib variation with a 6-stitch repeat: K3, P1, K1tbl, P1. It adds a nice architectural line to the rib, giving it a more-striking look that also works to show off the yarn.

It always makes me cringe to see hand-dyeds knit up using stitches that compete with rather than complement them. I believe one of the beauties of hand-dyed yarn is its tremendous capacity to make large areas of otherwise unchanging (a nicer word than "boring," but you know what I mean) stitching very interesting. It acts to augment. The problem is that if the stitch is too fancy—and I'm mostly talking about cables and laces here—the yarn and stitch clash. As a result, neither the yarn nor the stitch gets featured in its best light.

That's why I tend to keep my sock patterns simple when I use variegated hand-dyeds. Yes, there's room in the MUMTU pattern for lots of creativity... lots of room to substitute fancy stitches. But I pay a premium price for hand-dyed yarns, and I want to make sure the focus is on them whenever I use them.

Which brings me back to the Pagewood Farm yarn. I simply adore this colorway. It made me happy the moment I saw it, and even though I've been operating under a self-imposed moratorium from purchasing more sock yarn until I work down my stash, I made an exception for this one. The sheer number of colors used is spectacular, and I could tell at a glance the color would knit up the way I like. Plus it's very soft. (BTW: Pagewood Farm also makes a version of its sock yarn that includes some bamboo content for those looking for even mushier softness.)

I do, however, have two critiques:

First, there's quite a bit of drag on this yarn when you work with it. It's an elastic kind of drag. You can feel this strongly when winding the yarn from swift to ball, but you can also feel it when knitting. It's made me question whether there might be more distortion in these socks than in others I've made or whether I might notice a difference in terms of elasticity in the finished product.

The other critique gets back to color. I know I've just spent much of this post talking about how much I love the colorway of this yarn—and I do—but I noticed a problem. Let 's see if you can see it, too:

Did you catch it? The socks are, overall, different colors. The right sock is more pink; the left sock more purple. Now before you ask, let me assure you that this is not a dye lot problem. These socks were knit from a single skein of yarn that I divided in my own home. But there is clearly a blue-ish "dot gain" (to borrow a design/printing term) over the course of the skein.

It's disappointing. Will anyone notice it when the socks are on my feet? Probably not. But I notice. And it's the kind of thing I've noticed before in other hand-dyed yarns. Maybe I'm being overly picky or exacting. I don't know. I guess it wouldn't bother me so much if the label just gave some indication that I should expect a gradual color shift over the course of the skein—whether that means from light to dark or from one color to another.

The problem is especially troublesome when companies are marketing sock yarn in 100g put-ups. Why? Because the customers are definitely going to split those skeins and are definitely going to be disappointed when the two socks look completely different (and not always in the most optimal way).

I think sock-yarn labeling, in general, needs an overhaul. If the label doesn't have a picture of a knit-up sample and the LYS doesn't have a swatch knit up, it's not always possible to tell whether there's a distinct color repeat in the yarn or not. If yarn companies provided us with a simple statement indicating that the yarn either did or didn't have a distinct color repeat, it would save a good deal of time for those of us who actually do like to knit matching pairs, when possible. And if there is, in fact, a distinct repeat (created through a space-dyeing technique, right?) why not do like the wallpaper companies and tell us the length of repeat. You know what I mean? It could be as simple as this:

Colorway: Apple Pie, 24-inch repeat -OR-
Colorway: Crazy Neighbor, 16-foot repeat -OR, as in the yarn I'm using now-
Colorway: Butterfly, all-over variegation

... or some such.

Wouldn't that be nice?

I get that hand-dyed yarns shouldn't be held to the same consistency standards as machine-dyed. I love them for it. And I love all the techniques for striping and dyeing we see today. Bring it on! Just give me a label that provides a slightly better sense of what I'm getting. Nothing worse than loving the way a yarn looks skeined up but hating the way it works up because you didn't have just that little bit of extra information (which you know the manufacturer/dyer already has) that could give you a better chance of making an appropriate project choice for it.


Lubricating the Economy

Did you happen to notice a link to this new Etsy shop in the sidebar?

Last month, Olympic Fiber Arts entered the world of online fiber artists and merchants. (I did mention that my sister and I have been busy with some great expectations....) This month, we're raising our profile: doing our part to help lubricate the stalled U.S. economy by holding a

Bailout Blowout Sale!

Every item in the shop has been marked down 40%-70% from regular prices.

Olympic Fiber Arts has a truly massive inventory just waiting to be processed and posted to the shop: If we only post one new item each day, it will take more than a year to get everything listed. Of course, we're working to make things available to you faster than that!

The heart of Olympic Fiber Arts is its exquisite, inspiring, hand-dyeds.

In our massive inventory, you will find everything from wools to cottons and cashmeres; silks to mohair, raffias, and lingerie tapes; yarns to rovings, and more. In the coming months we will be adding other fiber-related items, too, such as custom-designed needle cases for your KnitPicks Options Interchangeables.

We add new items frequently—and will continue to post new fibers and colorways throughout the sale—so check back often.

Click on the shop images in the sidebar or link to Olympic Fiber Arts at http://olympicfiberarts.etsy.com.