This might be the question I hear most often at trade shows when people first see my yarns. Even though gradients are what I have worked with almost exclusively since I started dyeing them over 13 years ago, they are still new to so many crafters. I love the wonder in people's eyes as they lose themselves in all the unexpected color combinations we offer. I can see their minds whir with thoughts and ideas and possibilities. Then, inevitably, as they hold a ball in their hands comes the statement "Gosh, I love these colors, I want to put it on a shelf and just look at it all day!" followed by "but what would I make with this? How would it look?"
When knitting with gradient yarn, there are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of its unique color transitions:
Choose a pattern that showcases the yarn: Gradient yarns can look especially beautiful when used in patterns that highlight their color changes. Look for patterns that use simple stitches or textures that won't compete with the yarn's colors, such as stockinette stitch, garter stitch, or a basic lace pattern. Most of all, look for patterns that highlight the play in color you can only get from a gradient.
Whether it's direction or shape, the gradient plays best if it has an integral role in the design.
Check the dye lot and plan ahead: Like all hand-dyed yarns, gradient yarns can have subtle variations in color, it's a good idea to check the dye lot and make sure that you have enough yarn for your project. If you're working on a larger project with a distinct color flow, you may want to alternate skeins every few rows to ensure that the color transitions are consistent. Ultimately, keep in mind that hand-dyed yarns will often have variations in tone or hue even within a dye lot, so be open to using different dye lots if the color of the yarn is indeed as similar as you'd like it to be regardless of the lot number on the label.
To match or not to match: For something like a sweater, decide if you'd like the sleeves to match the gradient of the body of the garment, you will likely need a bit more yarn to do this, but you will also get a more polished look to your project.
Oh those color changes! The wonder of knitting with gradient yarn is watching the colors develop as you work. Take your time and enjoy the process, and you'll end up with a stunning finished project that showcases the yarn's unique beauty.
Every so often I get ahead of the order curve and my mind turns from the every day production, dyeing and shipping to "what next?". Most of the time the "what next" refers to new colors in the works which I focus on twice yearly for spring and fall new color releases. Other times I get to thinking about what gaps we have in our yarn lineup, or what I might have a hankering to work with (and thus create).
Working with a mill and developing a yarn is both challenging and hopefully, if things go a planned, quite wonderful. You begin with a concept of what you think you'd like. For me I start with the weight of the yarn. Do I want to bring in a new lace, sock or bulky yarn? Then I consider the fiber. How important is softness, loft, ply, durability? Is this a yarn to be used for a luxury seasonal accessory or am I filling in a gap in our workhorse wear-every-day yarns? If it's to be a blend, what would I like that to be, and how will it take to our gradient dyeing process? What do I feel I am missing when I look at the shelves of Freia Yarn and want to knit something?
The next link in the chain is finding the right mill for the job. They all have different capabilities, equipment and available time in their production schedules. After determining the right mill (or mills), I take these ideas and try to translate them into words to communicate what end result I'm hoping for. From here it's up to the mill, if I've done a good job of explaining what I want, then within a few weeks if I'm lucky I'll have a couple of samples that fall within the ballpark. As time and money allow, from here we might go back and forth a couple of times, adjusting the yards per pound, the twist, the fiber content and all the while taking a good look at the cost and trying to keep a finger on the pulse of the knitting community and it's wants and desires.
In the grand scheme of things I probably fall in the 'very slow' range of yarn development. I'm careful and deliberate in much of my decision making. I'm definitely not the type to just throw something together - be it colors of a gradient or a type of yarn - to 'see if it sticks'. I rely heavily on instinct, gut feeling but also taking the time to figure out what I want and to get it right. For me, offering the best product is so much more valuable than offering every, or just any, product.
So much of the feedback I get is about the colors we produce, yet yarn is a tactile and visual product - and the package as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Before the world came to a grinding halt I developed a new Super Bulky to fill in our Refined range. It's a lush 3-ply Merino and Silk blend. I feel like I struck yarn gold. This new yarn is plump and soft like no other, buttery through my fingers, but with a loft and warmth to it. It is the embodiment of hygge. I don't often develop new yarns, but knitting this lovely yarn is a reminder of how important it is to consider the whole. I want your experience with my yarn to be more than about color, though of course that is a big part of it, the feel of the yarn through one's fingers and in one's hands is like the spirit of the yarn. That spirit needs to be warm, welcoming and make you want to spend time with it. It must bring joy.
Now that the seasons are hinting at changing it's time to think about heavier yarns and perhaps freshening up that winter hat stash. You can find our Plush Super Bulky at select yarn stores - we don't currently sell it directly. Some stores that stock it are Atelier in San Francisco and Marin, Twisted Yarn Shop in Portland and Fibrespace in Alexandria VA. If they don't have the color you need they can always order it for you. Try it, you won't regret it! It's a little slice of heaven pretty much guaranteed to make your day better.
Here are a couple of short videos showing two methods to create two-color cast-ons. Both are modifications of the long-tail cast on you may already know.
The first is a simple way to end up with two working yarns after you've cast on your needed stitches. This makes it easy to begin colorwork and takes the use of multiple colors all the way to the start of your project, unifying the look. This cast-on has the same amount of give as a standard long-tail cast-on.
The method in this second video is similar to the first, but this time you will end up with the stitches alternating in color. This cast on gives you a great starting point for working a two-color brioche. Because of the twist added during the cast-on you will have a bit more give than a regular long-tail cast-on, but it's not stretchy, it will only expand as loosely as your cast-on.
I hope you've found this informative and maybe learned a trick or have been inspired to try this out! Happy Knitting!
That's all well and good with a scarf or shawl, but what do you do with a sweater? Here are some tips:
A pieced cardigan
For this you would have (generally) two fronts, two sleeves and a back piece. Each of the fronts is probably close in stitch count to the sleeves so those are easy enough to come pretty close. But your back piece is twice as wide as each front - the simple trick here is to work two balls at a time, alternating one row from each ball. By doing this you are extending the length of the gradient so matching it proportionately with the narrower pieces.
A top-down sweater
This one is also not too hard to solve. If you were being very particular the best bet would be to alternate two balls from the very beginning of the neck cast-on. As you work the yoke and the sweater gets wider, you might want to even bring in a 3rd ball, alternating each ball every round. When separating the body from the sleeves it might be an idea to work one of the sleeves first (using just one ball) to get a sense of how fast the gradient shifts. You will probably need to dig around in a fresh ball to match up the colors to the yoke. Once the sleeve is done, when you work the body you can judge based on your stitch count and any patterning if you would need 4 or 3 balls for the body if you'd like them to come close to the color shift on the sleeves. Lastly repeat what you did for the first sleeve on the 2nd one.
Project Tech Specs:
Yarn: Freia Merino Silk Worsted in Canyon and Ecru. This yarn is a little hard to find (your LYS might be able to order it for you), but you can easily sub in our regular wool Ombré Worsted (which is more widely available)
I hope you've found this useful - ask any questions you might have in the comments below and I'll do my best to answer.
OK, so my blog plans fell a bit flat since my last post and I was beating myself up about it but then I remembered that it's 2020, and basically everything is pear-shaped with no end in sight. This whole post is in fact a bit pear-shaped which I suppose is quite apropos.
In January I got about as sick as I ever thought possible with some heinous flu, (or so I thought) which in all likelihood was covid. I'd just been in NY for a trade show with thousands of people. The thought of being around that many people right now just gives me the heebie jeebies. I didn't leave my bed for 2 days, then lay on my sofa for another 7 days, only leaving my house after 10 days, and even after that I think in the following 5 days I only left my house twice to go to work, and each time, within a few short hours, realizing that I still felt terrible and should just stay home, which I did. In the months that followed, as more was being learned I realized that all the symptoms I'd had were a match, to the extent that it's only in the last month or so that my lungs feel close to normal. I'm honestly glad that covid was not a thing yet as I would have been freaking out I'm sure. I'm also glad that I banished all well-wishers, didn't go outside, and with little exception kept my distance from everyone for close to two weeks.
With great gratitude to the universe, Freia Yarns has been ticking along, albeit at a gentler pace as we keep our distances, work staggered shifts and figure out the new normal. My staff have been doing an excellent job of keeping everything rolling under particularly challenging circumstances, I'm so grateful to them for their trust, their flexibility and their fortitude over the last few months.
Which leads me to my favorite design (of mine) of the last few years.. Passeggiata is a design that is born out of lockdown that I published in early March of this year. It calls for the Freia Minikins which become Missoni-like with the gradient color changes in the zigzag striping in the body of the shawl. It's all bordered by a stabilizing easy to work entrelac border, giving the piece a nice polished look. And it's big, very big, but it's also lightweight, so you can drape it lightly for a splash of color, or wrap it multiple times as needed for soft, toasty warmth.
As I've seen varying versions of the Passeggiata I get so awed by all the possibilities, it may well be that no two will ever be exactly the same. With 64 Minikin colors to choose from, then factor in the sequence of the 9 colors selected by each knitter and the starting end of the ball, I'm not mathematically clever enough to figure it out how many variations can be made, but my mother might be so I've put in a call to her and will let you know the number she comes up with.. or do you know? (ETA she's saying it's 63 to the power of 9x2, which is a number I'm not sure I can even pronounce: 15,633,814,156,853,823 x 2)
This fall a couple of shops will be offering their own color combos which I will share with you once they are released, the samples I've seen are just dreamy.. Check out the versions made so far on Ravelry here.
When I was telling friends and LYS owners that I would be moving from California to the Berkshires in Western Mass, without fail - after the inevitable "Why?" - everyone had mostly the same two comments: "You know the winters are terrible" and "Wow, this will give you all new colors to inspire you!". My first winter, though bitterly cold some days, was ultimately survivable if perhaps a bit long in the tooth come April. As for inspiration, it is endless. My colorful commute changes daily and never ceases to be jaw-dropping every.single.day..
Whether it's mimicry or inspiration I can't say, maybe it's a case of full immersion into my surroundings and unconsciously bringing the color with me in my mind's eye as I go about my day.
Do you find yourself following the seasons in your color choices? Where do you find your inspiration? Are you moved by the colors of fashion or social media, or do you go by the beat of your own drum?
Next on my list was the Ninilchik Swoncho, primarily to use particular gradients in the beautiful, chunky oversized motifs in the fair isle yoke. I loved the way this handful I'd picked played with each other; Canyon, Aurora, Chinook all have an earthy but modern appeal. From there, selecting the color to be the main part of the body wasn't going so easily. I didn't want a super dramatic gradient, but neither did I want a semi-solid.
Since my list of sweaters in my queue was only growing longer I realized that I wanted to take a fresh approach to gradients. Time to create something that straddles the line. Something softer, with changes that stay within a single color but not the predictable dark to light. Shades of deep blues, pale creams, saturated reds. A hint of a change, not a rainbow. Something very wearable, but with a bit of extra interest, and so the Watercolor range was born.
What I love about the Watercolors is they open up a whole new world of possibilities. They coordinate beautifully with the more dramatic gradients, allowing them to play off each other gently without competing. They also work great as stand alone colors, with a bit more dimension than a semi-solid - adding a touch more interest without being overwhelming, making them great for everyday wear and perfect for sweaters and larger garments!
Potato chip knitting... you've heard this expression, right? Like potato chips, can't eat just one - with some knitting projects you can't knit just one row, one motif, or you must knit through to the next gradient, the dishes can wait..
Here are some favorite projects that fall well within Potato Chip Knitting.. Enjoy (or be warned)!
Soldotna Crop - design by Caitlin Hunter/Boyland Knitworks
I've knit two so far.. I have hankerings for two other color combos. Knit in our Sport yarn, it's a remarkably quick project, watching first the fairisle pattern develop, following that with the gradient, this is a tough one to put down..
Fox Paws - design by Xandy Peters
This project had the dubious honor of keeping more than one of my employees and myself up until almost dawn more than a few times knitting away at this. I chose to make mine with Shawl Balls and made it twice as long and twice as wide as called for in the pattern. Perhaps crazy but so worth it!
Electric Boogaloo Cowl - designed by Tina Whitmore
This project is quick, knit up in 2 balls of the Freia Worsted and watching the gradients play off each other makes this impossible to put down. Once you've done one you'll be itching to try out other combos.
Lilnientreu Shawl by Ute Nawratil
I just started on this and I'm sensing the danger already. This is a project I've had in my "must try this" list forever. When I looked at the pattern and calculated that the yarn requirements perfectly suited using a Palette Pack and semi solid that was it. I've opted for a Neutral Zone Palette Pack and Ebony Semi-solid. I'm going on a trip later this week and it seemed like perhaps something I could travel with. TBH, I'm having a hard time putting it down and I've not even left yet..
These are just some of the ones I've made (or I'm making). In another post I'll share with you all the ones I think would be (or are) amazing in our gradients that I've yet to make.
What are some of your favorite Potato Chip Knit Designs? Share in the comments and pass the potato chips!
"A lot to love in a little package"
The beauty of having a yarn company is if I want a specific thing, I make it. I know I'm spoiled. This also means that I can play with yarns and, ultimately, share my fun ideas with you. I figure, if I needed it, other people would find they did too. It was time to re-knit a favorite design as the original yarn suggested had been discontinued, but it would need a shorter gradient than currently available, I didn't want to ask that customers buy a full ball of yarn only to have to break it into segments and discard 1/2 of it. Enter the Minikin.
We took our best-selling yarn - the mulesing-free US merino Shawl Ball - and make it small. Our minikins are 107 yards/.9 oz balls that perfectly match our Shawl Balls and Yarn Bombs, but in a miniature version. It's 1/4 size of a Shawl Ball, or 1/8 of a Yarn Bomb, but the base is identical. While dyeing these guys up new design ideas kept popping in my head. I'll share a few ways to play with minikins below.
Another favorite is the Alaska hat.The first one is done in Espresso (2 balls) and Coho for the lovely sunrise and the second in Vertigo (2 balls) and Dahlia for the sky. I'm itching to make another, I think the next will be in Aurora for the sky with Canyon for the trees..
I like the idea of grouping the Minikins in curated palettes, making a pack that is ready to go all within a single color theme. This idea birthed the Palette Packs. There are currently 7 Palette options at the time of this writing, but as we release new colors each season we'll expand even further the offerings. I took the Back to Basics pack and designed the Countdown Shawl (below), this takes the mini-gradients and breaks them into a striped pattern, so each gradient looks randomized into a stripe (I have a thing for stripes...!)
I've been seeing a lot of great designs coming from other designers out there. Check out the NeoViking Hat by DrawFour Designs, and the swoon-worthy Freia Polychroma Scarf by Amy Gunderson.
Having the same gradient in multiple different sized balls opens up a world of options. And as usual I find myself with more ideas than the time to knit them. I've yet to get around to the sweater re-knit that prompted this new yarn, but someday... someday...!
I think many knitters have a secret (or not so secret) fantasy of having their own yarn shop. I'm certainly no exception.
I've been knitting for - wow - 45 years, and have always loved perusing yarn in shops. When I was little it was mainly acrylic, in garish primary colors, in drug stores or five and dimes. In my teens in England I would seek out actual yarn shops, still selling primarily acrylic, though some might at this point be stocking beauties by Rowan with more natural fibers and large color palettes and the accompanying pattern books full of inspiration and gorgeous photography. I was hooked.
I come from a family with a rich history in the 'gentle arts'. My great-grandmother was an accomplished weaver, my grandmothers made lace, needlepointed endless chair seats, knitted, crocheted, embroidered.
My mother made much of her own and my clothing as a child, stylish no less - oh those wide collars of the 70's made for wonderfully embarrassing school photos.. My aunt took me to Liberty's, endless floors of fabrics, fashions, yarns all perfectly presented to make them impossibly appealing. My mother took me to Hédiard in Paris (these days focused on food but back then - novelty wool bouclé in bright, saturated colors made me swoon!).
My aunt, mum and I went deep into a phase of stitching up every Kaffe Fassett needlepoint design as fast as he could publish them. I even had the hutzpah to call him up and ask for a job as a stitcher - he was very impressed that I'd finished his Rose Trellis Rug (which now resides in my craft room) and I ended up doing a freelance stint for Nepenthe, his parents restaurant and gift shop, stitching up a few sample pillows for them.
Moving forward a few decades and I suppose it's no surprise that I'm in the field of slingin' yarn. I chose to be more on the back end of the yarn business as I've learned I'm a process oriented type of person. The Making is the reward for me.
I started designing, making kits, then a few years later shifted into dyeing the yarn and shortly thereafter added having the yarn custom spun to my specs. (Someone please stop me before I get my own sheep!). But all this time there was that nagging of wanting a little yarn shop.
Finally, 20 years "in the biz" and a cross-country move later, I have it. My own little atelier, a place of pretty yarn, on pretty shelves. Display elements from my various trade shows scattered about, including cones of yarn "ice cream" and our internet-famous lady of the ombré dress (she still needs a good name). I have a shop dog, of course - not always so well behaved but we're working on it. I have a large table for knitters to sit a bit, enjoy the view from our large mill windows - and the view of the working studio. Here you will find every yarn that we make, plus a few extra things, and some great secret deals. We have all our samples on display so you can get inspired and gain a deeper understanding of all the possibilities of a gradient yarn - far beyond the shawl! Plus when you visit you get to pick our brains - we know the yarn backwards, inside and out. We can help you pick the perfect yarn and project for that yarn, and we have years and years of experience to share.
On the days we are open we run brief workshops - Freia Fifteens - quick skill building lessons in a set theme for those who want to improve or even learn something entirely new. In addition to sharing the feel good factor of just visiting a pretty yarn shop, or learning something new, every studio open-day we donate 15% of gross sales to a local charitable organization. I want to give something back.
With a lot of hard work, and a good dose of good luck I've landed in a place I love doing what I love. I hope if you find yourself in our little neck of the woods you will come by and enjoy our little atelier as well.
The studio is located at 60 Roberts Drive, Suite 204, North Adams, MA. For monthly opening times please sign up on our mailing list, or keep an eye on our Instagram feed, or check back on this page for hours and days we're open.
ABout Tina Whitmore
Yarn Dyer, Designer, Dog Lover, in no particular order.. Founded Knitwhits in 2003, and Freia Fine Handpaints in 2010, introducing gradient yarn to knitting stores worldwide. Getting Hygge with it - warmth, comfort, color, texture, design, nature.