Now with extra vanilla

This is what you do when you’re too lazy or pressed for time.

I’m knitting up a cardigan in “green” (not certified organic) wool yarn, and was recently reminded of a harsh fact of woolen life: each individual sheep is inherently a different dye lot.

The yarn came from Dunnose Head Farm on West Falkland, back when this farm used to retail tops and spun yarn directly (I recall that they used to ship the fleece out to Yorkshire for spinning — yet, the price was still pretty good). They provided natural black and white yarn for stranded colour knitting, and natural white (can’t remember if they supplied black) aran weight yarn. The softness was “average,” meaning best used for outerwear, but not terribly scratchy.

I bought rather a lot of aran-weight yarn at the time, at least two kilograms, intending to knit two or three aran sweaters with it. I never did. I wound up using a lot of the yarn for swatching and experiments instead; not because the yarn was unsuitable for the original planned projects, but rather because it was aran weight, showed cables very well, a solid colour, and plentiful. I even knit prototype collars and part of a prototype Rogue body in it, and I used it to try out Celtic cables.

The one thing I didn’t do until recently — now years after I bought the yarn — was knit a single piece that required more than one skein of the yarn. I think I assumed that all the yarn I purchased came from a single lot, and that a number of fleeces had been carded together so any difference in natural white colouring would have been eliminated.

Well, no.



Is that a cable crossing error I see? Nah.

Can you see the half-dozen rows to the left that are a bit more yellow? Perhaps not; it may depend on your monitor. Strangely, I didn’t notice this colour change while knitting in natural light. I had to see my work on the subway before I noticed the difference. Now I can see it all the time.

So I’ve obviously got different lots of yarn in my stash. Of the skeins I have wound for this project, I’ve got two that appear to be the lighter, whiter shade (one of which was already used for the collar and the beginning of the yoke), and five that are the darker ivory shade. I’ve got more skeins in storage, but I am extremely disinclined to go digging for more skeins that might match the lighter yarn (this is the laziness kicking in).

The solution, then, is to keep knitting and to decide at the end what to do about it. “What to do” will involve feigning blissful ignorance, or some kind of dyeing procedure; I may just try the latter, because I never feel quite comfortable in a solid ivory shade of natural wool. There’s usually something too yellow about it. If it has tweedy flecks or appears slightly heathered, I’m fine; it’s just the stark, solid colour of natural white that bugs me.

It bugs me like President’s Choice vanilla ice cream, which is yellower than Breyer’s All Natural. However, PC is cheaper than Breyers and it gets the job done, which are good enough reasons to suck it up and deal with it.

Hmm. Vanilla, eh?

Here’s a test-dye with Taylor’s of Harrogate vanilla tea. I was never going to drink it, anyway, because it simply tasted like black tea with an afterthought of vanilla perfume.

The test involved about half a liter of water and one tea bag (removed before the swatch was added), steeped for about 20 minutes. The swatch was soaked for about half an hour and squeezed gently to ensure that all fibers were subjected to the dye. As a lazy attempt at a mordant, a little bit of white vinegar was poured in at the end when the swatch was rinsed. The result, as you can see, is a brownish tinge (fortunately not an orange tinge, this wasn’t some type of orange pekoe). It’s probably a shade I’d call closer to “oatmeal” now, and the dye penetration wasn’t absolutely even, so individual stitches can look a little bit mottled. If I decide to do this with the completed garment, it’ll be interesting to see if the dye will penetrate less around the edges of the cables and somehow create a highlighting effect.

Edit: Now that I’ve started another skein, oh, yes, I’m hoping that a good wash will turn it all the same colour. I didn’t mention earlier, but every so often there’s also a fiber or two that’s coloured blue or red — just the sort of shade of blue or red that would get sprayed on a sheep to, er, “mark” her (or whatever the terminology is).

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9 Responses to Now with extra vanilla

  1. Shannon says:

    Something to try, if you have a very sunny spot to put the finished item in… wash it, block it and leave it in the sun for a day. I swear to you I’ve seen some raw fleeces change color this way (it’s worth a go!)

  2. j. says:

    If I decide I want to do it to the finished garment, I would likely knit up a swatch with both shades. But I haven’t yet washed the skeins–we’ll see if there’s a colour change when I wash the cardigan for blocking.

    This is a corner piece–but not the collar. Shots of a partial collar I screwed up next week. June has 30 days!

  3. wendy, the fearless pedestrian says:

    did your swatch contain yarn from both skeins? if not, do another swatch/tea experiment. the two skeins may take up dye differently. have you tried washing the skeins? maybe there’s more residual oil or something in one of them. good luck.

  4. Monica says:

    Next week it is June. Is this the collar nr1?

  5. j. says:

    I didn’t feel like ripping back and alternating (the lazy issue)–the part that has the colour change is a series of short rows worked from stitches gradually taken from picked-up stitches from the collar, so it was slightly more involved than simply ripping back a bunch of even rows.

    The test swatch *does* smell like vanilla!

  6. Martha says:

    One way to hide “sheeplot” differences is to alternate skeins per row. That way the differences are really not perceptible at all.

  7. ~Jo~ says:

    What a bummer to notice the yarn differences. :( The tea test looks pretty good to me, so does your test swatch smell like vanilla too? It’s all about smell to me, dyeing with koolaid or vanilla tea! ;)

  8. claudia says:

    I would be extremely interested to see how tea dyeing a garment would work.

  9. jo in ottawa says:

    Looks good with the tea. I’m with you on the solid cream colours.