Dyeing, Knitting, Spinning, Weaving

An Experiment in Color: How Colors Soften with Each Step

One of the things I have noticed over many years of working with fiber and yarn is that colors tend to soften with each step. In other words, if I make an art batt or dye a braid of top and then spin it into yarn, the yarn has softer colors than the art batt. Also, when I knit or weave with any yarn (handspun or not), the colors look softer in the finished object than they do in the yarn.

Today I thought I would do an experiment to show how this works and see if my informal observations were really true. I chose my very brightest colorway, which is Scandinavia. Here are two of my Scandinavia art batts:


As you can see, it is very bright. I love this colorway for a counterpoint to the doldrums of winter, and I think it’s great for little boy things especially.

Here are two different versions of yarn I made using these art batts. The first is a singles yarn, and the second is a two-ply yarn.

Scandinavia Singles Yarn


Scandinavia 2-Ply Worsted-Weight Yarn

It is my impression that the singles yarn is actually a little softer in color than the 2-ply, which surprises me frankly. I suppose it is because in the 2-ply, the contrasting colors play off each other more distinctly whereas they blend a little more in the singles.

Let’s take it to the next step. I spun up a half batt of Scandinavia for this experiment. I spun it quite thick and thin because I wanted to play with the texture too. I recently heard someone quote Judith Mackenzie’s term, “conspicuous handspun.” I love that term, and that’s what I usually go for. I don’t really see the point in making handspun yarn that looks like millspun yarn, do you?

Anyway, I digress. I washed the yarn, dried it, and got ready to knit it. I had to decide what size needle to use. I used Rita Buchanan’s easy-peasy method to decide. I doubled over the yarn and put it through a few different holes on my handy metal needle-sizer thingy. I wanted it to be tight enough to feel like it fit but loose enough to move back and forth easily.

In the end, I chose US size 9 needles. I could have gone with a 10 or 10-1/2, but I wanted a fairly dense fabric similar to what would work well for a hat.

I knit it up, washed it, and blocked it last night and photographed it this morning. Here’s what I got:

Scandinavia Singles Knit Sample

There are a lot of colors in this one, and it was a lot of fun to see how the colors and textures changed as I knit it. Here’s a closeup of the purl side. I just knit it in stockinette.


Scandinavia Knit Sample Closeup

Now, the sample is still very bright, but I think the colors are at least a little bit softer than in the yarn and quite a bit softer than they were in the art batt. Do you agree?

Here it is again altogether so you can compare:

Scandinavia Art Batts
Scandinavia Singles Yarn
Scandinavia Singles Knit Sample

Now, what does this mean? Mostly, I think it means we don’t have to be afraid of bright colors, and it’s actually a good idea to choose a color that is slightly brighter than we want the finished object to be to account for the softening that occurs with each step.

What do you think? Have you ever chosen a yarn and ended up with something that was softer or brighter than you expected?


Let me know what you think.