Yarn: dyes, splittiness, softness and color depth

One thing I've learned from knitting is that dyes are crucial to the overall quality of yarn.

For example, the Capri cotton yarn I've been using all summer is so different in different colors that it's like using a different yarn. From these differences I can make some generalizations. I've included comments on wool yarns, too:


1. red yarn is just a gamble. Before synthetic dyes, red was achieved with cochineal, a dye made from ground-up beetles. It was relatively expensive. Synthetic reds are cheap, but they are harsh and tend to produce either to a dull, flat pink shade or a livelier orange shade. A true red is rare. The harshness of the dye makes the yarn texture either flaky or or gummy. The Capri red I used is on the pinky side, which I don't like at all. Red wool yarn has all the same problems as cotton yarn. I love red, and when I find a good red I am happy, but good reds are hard to find. This is also true in ready-made clothes.

2. black yarn is nearly always flat and lifeless. The dyes commonly used produce a yarn that has no spring and is splitty/one-dimensional. It's very rare to find a good, inexpensive black yarn. I didn't buy the Capri black as it was not nice. It was almost nasty. Black wool yarn tends to be stringy and splitty. Black yarn is best used in small doses, I have found.

3. blue yarn seems to be a better choice, especially at the low end of cost. The blue dyes are not so destructive of the yarn's natural life and bounce-back. The Capri blue-greens that I used in my German boy hat were very smooth (not splitty) and full of depth. I am not very fond of true blues, so I don't tend to buy them, but they're usually fairly dependable overall, in wool or cotton. I like cadet and colonial blue--the tendency toward grey or green is attractive to me.

4. greens are iffy--the yellowy greens tend to be gaudy and overbright, in a day-glo way, while the forest greens are deadly dull. The green Capri cotton yarn I used on Marie's hat was a good green, not too bright but not dull, either. It was a bit splitty, but I doubled the yarn and used large needles (10.5) which helped. Overall the Capri green was pretty good--maybe 8 on a scale 1-10. It looks pretty with Marie's dark hair and hazel eyes.

5. the tan/light brown/khaki yarns are usually a good bet. The dyes are not so invasive of the yarn's strength, and the colors tend to be softer and less strident than, let's say, red or black. btw, this is also true of wool yarn--even the cheapest wool yarns in this colorway are usually pretty. Capri khaki and cream are quite nice--the cream is plumper, and more fun to use, but the khaki is acceptable. There are quite a few Capri yarns in this colorway.

6. Charcoals and other greys can be nice. I prefer a charcoal over a black, for some dark contrast. Some gray yarns, especially wool, have interesting depth and richness. The greys in Capri are limited.

7. Oranges/rusts/golds can be gorgeous. I love these colors anyway, so I am drawn to them--problem is they don't go well with most people's skin tones. My daughter looks ravishing in pumpkin and mustard, but most people--not so much. I haven't bought any Capri in these earth tones.

8. let's talk purple. I love almost any purply-red/blue: currant, lavender, cherry, burgundy, violet, and so on. The Capri purple is on the brown side and has limited brilliance, but it has depth and body. It's not splitty or flat. Doubled, it knits quite well. Joanna's hat is doubled purple and it looks great on her blonde hair.

so--any discussion of yarn needs to bear in mind that the dyes used to produce the colors chosen have as much influence on the yarn as the fibre, the ply, the weight, the gauge produced, and the conditions of spinning.

Short summary: buy the best red and black yarn you can afford. Go for neutrals and earth tones in cheaper yarns. Blues are usually good; greys are dependable; greens and purples are variable. I didn't mention yellow, as yellow yarn is, well, nearly always ugly. Sorry, but it's true. And white? Aside from natural/unbleached shades, I avoid white's starkness and splittiness.

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