Controlling colour movement

When Margaret was visiting me In Kuala Lumpur a couple of weeks ago she was talking about some new designs she was working on that use controlling the colour of space or dip dyed yarn as part of the pattern. It seems a good idea to revive her original post as the new projects build on the concept. And once I had tracked down the information it provoked my curiousity enough to try it out.

The legacy post from 2005 (Margaret)

When I was teaching in Canada and the U.S.A in April/May last year (2004) I had several requests for the “secret” of having colours in  scarves knitted from hand dyed yarn  so they were not random. Since I have been home they have multiplied so here it is!
(This doesn’t work with multiple wrap patterns)

  1. Take your  skien  and line it up with the colours where you want them.   The photo shows three options with the top one knitted.
  2. With a crochet thread/contrasting yarn make a chain with more stitches than you will need.
  3. Use your knitting needle to pick up the loops on the reverse of the chain.
  4. Before winding the ball mark the beginning and end of the first colour sequence you have chosen. Knit as many loops as fit in that sequence.  (Ignore any extra crochet stitches).  This is the number of stitches for your scarf.
  5. Adjust edge stitches/pattern repeats to fit your stitch number.  You now have
    your pattern  set for your unique gauge.
  6. Complete scarf leaving sufficient yarn after casting off so that you can unravel the chain placing scarf stitches on the needle and cast off with scarf yarn.

N.B. With hand dyed yarns every so often there will be places where the colour moves off track but that adds to the charm.

If you’d like to experiment in 2018 (Sonja)

How do I know if yarn is space or dip dyed ?

To fully understand this original post it is useful to know that Artisan Lace was one of the first hand dyed yarns on the market. Several of the colour ways were dip dyed to create the effect you can see in Margaret’s  image (if you have Mandli in Knitsch Sock it used the same dye process as Pansy in Artisan Lace) Commercially a similar effect called space dyeing is used where yarn is dyed in short controlled sections.

At this point of time its not particularly common to find New Zealand yarn indie-dyed in this way, and even if it has been it may not be obvious in the skien if a dyer has re-skeined (re-wound) it. The way to tell if a yarn has been dyed like this is to open it out as I have done in the following illustration. You can see the distinct blocks of colour along the skien.

None of these examples are as symmetrical as the example.

I had to go for a fairly deep stash dive to find some examples – and its interesting that most of the examples I found and can think of are from established indie dyers from those earlier days. Wollmeise still use this technique extensively, as does Sweet Georgia, Lorna’s Laces, and Hand Maiden Yarns. They usually knit up as variegated and the yarns most likely to pool.  Don’t be confused between this style and gradient or self striping yarns which use a much longer colour repeat.

So does it work?

While I knew it worked for Artisan Lace and had seen several samples, I was curious if it worked in other weights. Coincidentally I picked up a copy of this month’s (July 2018) The Knitter and there was an article by another knitter who had been playing with this idea.

I have a skein of Wollmeise Daisy which is a classic example of this technique – you can seem the clean blocks of colour and symmetry even in the skien. It was wound up for socks I was knitting but out of curiosity I pulled out the centre and laid it out in its repeat. I thought I would try an inch or so of Trellis Lace, one of Margaret’s simple scarf patterns, as a demonstration. If you are going to choose a project to try this make it simple as the main focus is the colour.

  1. Yarn showing colour sequenceOnce I established the skein repeat I played with it a little bit to get the sequence I liked. This colour way is symmetrical and I went with yellow-white-green-white-pink-white-green-white- yellow.
  2. I did a provisional crochet cast on for about 70 stitches on a  4mm  – if you are trying this go for a longer cast on than I did, maybe 80-85 in 4 ply. You don’t have to use all the stitches but is annoying if you run out. The provisional crochet cast on I used was this one from You Tube.
  3. You need to find the point where if you start knitting you will have a complete colour sequence and you also need to have allowed enough to come back and cast off your starting edge as per Margaret’s instructions. Once you have found that point start knitting about half way along the colour you want at the edge (mine was yellow)
  4. Knit across the colour sequence until you get to half way through the edge colour on the other side. By only using half the edge colour you are allowing for the reverse row.
  5. Turn and knit back – indie dyes are never totally perfect but you should find all the sequences lining up.
After three rows of garter stitch and one of pattern.

As I continued mine didn’t quite work and began to shift slightly out of line. This was because the pattern I chose had a 13 +2 repeat and when I added the extra 3 or 4 stitches I needed to meet that,  it threw the alignment off. Margaret pointed out to me that I could possibly fix this by altering my needle size to change the gauge. Alternatively a shorter repeat lace would have worked.

If you are keen to try this it’s worth a fiddle. It is one of those clever techniques which impresses 🙂


Apart from the original post there were two other resources I consulted.

On of the more useful books I have read about understanding hand dyed yarn and how dying methods knit up, is an older Interweave book Knitting Socks in Handpainted Yarn by Carol Sulcoski.  You should be able to get it from the library or it is also available as an ebook. The first few chapters are quite short but provide a good explanation of how the different dyeing techniques impact on colour flow in patterns.

For a techie version of how colour sequences change based on tension and stitch count this article on the YarnSub about working with multi coloured yarns has a fascinating interactive graphic, where her husband coded how the colour repeat would change based on stitch count and her gauge. Thanks to The Knitters Magazine Issue 126 for the article that sent me off to find this (and the techie side of me wants to see if I can create something similar as well)

From the Unwind Shawl to Fern Foundations

Unwind knitted shawlette
Original design by Margaret Stove

The story of these shawls began at the 2013 Unwind Fibrecraft Retreat in Dunedin.  As Margaret had been largely focused on caring for her ill husband in the previous months it was the first time in some time that she felt she had the mental space to play with design.  Along with the care and affirmation she received from being in a community of  knitters, as anyone who has cared for someone who is ill knows – the freedom of not having to be constantly watchful allowed her to “unwind”

As she had left home she had grabbed some needles and a single skein of heavy lace weight yarn she had bought several months before at Skienz in Napier when she was there for Knit August Nights. She wasn’t sure what she was going to use it for – it was a symptom of how tired she was that she didn’t have anything to knit. Over the course of the weekend she began what in many ways started off as a knitting doodle probably partially inspired by some conversations about the complexity of Filmy Fern for less experienced knitters.

Using just the single skein of yarn she built out a small triangular shawlette pattern which was then knitted as a KAL by knitters who had attended.  As the lace fern pattern is quite modular the shawl size can be increased in several ways and it also works well in different weights of yarn – from an ethereal silk/merino blend lace weight to a soft and smooshy merino/cashmere blend double knit.

The results were shared at Unwind 2014 which sadly Margaret was unable to attend due to her husband’s recent death.

Next steps

White baby shawlLater in 2013 the considerable publicity for Filmy Fern following it’s use for New Zealand’s baby gift to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, led to some reflection about the potential for a simpler shawl pattern that would be a more accessible project for intermediate knitters. Margaret’s daughter, Sonja suggested that maybe the Unwind shawl could be adapted into a square baby shawl by mirroring the pattern mirror and introducing a plainer central panel.

Baby wrapped in shawl

While the first experiment yielded a beautiful shawl it was somewhat larger than expected as even in a commercial 3 ply  it was the size of a double bed. Consequently the pattern was re-knit in a standard 2 ply lace weight (approximately 900m to 100gm).

This shawl was gifted to Margaret’s granddaughter, Kayla for her first baby.

Fern Foundations

Square Lace Shawl
Original design by Margaret Stove

The shawl was  then test knit in a pure wool hand dyed lace weight yarn from Vintage Purls and entered in to a Creative Fibres exhibition as Fern Foundations in 2017.

Finding the pattern

If you would like to knit the original Unwind Shawl the pattern is available from Holland Road Yarn Company or on Ravelry.
The Ravelry project gallery provides a good range of examples of the shawl knitted in different weights.

The full size baby shawl is likely to be published in a future collection of patterns.

Margaret Stove QSM

It was incredibly exciting this morning to wake to the news that Margaret had been awarded the QSM (Queen’s Service Medal) for services to hand knitted lace design in the New Year Honours list.

For those of us who know her well, there are many, many reasons why this is  a deserved recognition and in this post I’d like to add a bit of context to what makes her work and contribution to craft as art in New Zealand so special.

Services to hand knitted lace design

In the knitting renaissance of the last five to ten years many skilled knitters have turned their  hand to creating and publishing their own designs.  There are two aspects of Margaret’s designs that set her apart.

  • Margaret regularly designs the actual lace motif itself within her knitting. Starting with sketches she will experiment with stitch combinations until the motif represents her initial concept. In contrast the vast majority of lace knitting patterns available today are based on combinations of pre-existing designs (including the analysis and re-charting of heritage garments.)
  • The inspiration for traditional knitted lace patterns that have been passed down through the generations in Europe was the local environment whether it be shells, flowers, or the flowing of the tides.  In utilising her design skills to expand that foundation to include lace patterns unique to New Zealand she has contributed to our craft maturity as a country, integrating our heritage with who we are as a Pacific people.

Both these skills are  evident in the Bush Bouquet and Filmy Fern shawl designs which have been used for royal baby gifts, and are also found in the examples of her work found in Te Papa Tongarewa. They set Margaret’s work apart from the  skilled hobby knitter and make it impossible for her designs to be created by machine.

The bigger story

In keeping with many QSM recipients, Margaret’s contribution to the New Zealand and international knitting community goes well beyond the  stated field of service.

Margaret could as easily received an award for the contribution she has made to the Merino wool industry in New Zealand. She was actively involved in the campaigns in the 80′s and 90′s to promote New Zealand merino, particularly when she was teaching and demonstrating fine merino spinning or lace knitting overseas. Whenever a knitter asks me “Is it merino?” as a measure of yarn quality I think of all the countless hours Margaret spent describing the qualities that make New Zealand merino so special.

Over the years she has developed an incredible level of expertise in the history of  hand knitted lace textiles in New Zealand and internationally. A number of her articles have focused on re-creating or restoring heritage patterns. She also has a well-deserved reputation as a patient and generous teacher in sharing her skills.

Last but not least, and perhaps not such a popular topic, for going on fifty years Margaret has advocated for the right of craft artists to be paid fairly. The craft that is shared within families and friends is a labour of love – but it is still skilled labour and commercially a labourer is worthy of their hire.  The spinning, design and knitting of a lace wedding ring shawl by a master knitter takes somewhere up to 400 hours – now multiply that by the hourly rate you might pay a builder, a mechanic, an architect, an interior designer.  An heirloom knitted shawl can last for generations if cared for properly and is a work of art. Her insisting on the importance of pieceworkers being paid at least a minimum hourly rate and focusing on markets that can afford a premium product to sustain that, are as much a part of who she is as a craft artist as her design and teaching skills.

Filmy Fern and the new Prince of Cambridge

So we were caught by surprise this morning – the royal baby shawl was such a secret that Margaret couldn’t tell any of us. While we catch up … Tash has blogged the basics over at Holland Road Yarn.

The pattern for Filmy Fern was published in Wrapped in Lace which is available from Interweave Press in both an electronic or print format.
Margaret describes Filmy Fern as the pattern that completes her journey in  designing lace shawls. If you look closely you can see the centre and the edging are actually similar to the centre and edging of Bush Bouquet, her first full design. While this looks like a classic elegant pattern, its simplicity is deceptive – it is definitely the province of a master knitter.

Knit in 5 – 6 skeins of Gossamer merino.
Wrapped in Lace
Pattern used with permission for NZ’s official gift to William & Kate on birth of Prince George. (gift spun and knit by Cynthia Read).