Should I Alternate My Skeins of Hand Dyed Yarn?

Heather Best | 09 July, 2021

            when to alternate skeins of hand dyed yarn

One of the most common questions I'm asked is whether or not skeins should be alternated, and the answer is; it's complicated. 

So many things go into deciding if you'll take the time to alternate your precious hand dyed skeins of yarn. Here are some things to consider and questions to ask when you're making this decision for yourself. 

  • This is a personal choice based on your tolerance for deviation in color distribution. There is no right or wrong answer.
  • How comfortable are you with color changes, differences in saturation, and pooling/striping/flashing?
  • How much extra work do you want to invest in manipulating the "natural" flow of your hand dyed skeins?
  • How large is your project?
  • Are you using more than one skein of yarn?
  • Is the yarn speckled or hand painted?
  • Are there big sections (or long repeats) of color variation?
  • You spent the extra money to purchase hand dyed skeins of yarn, and that means there *will* likely be some deviations. That's what makes hand dyed yarn special, and sets it apart from commercially dyed yarn. 
  • Learning to "read" your skeins is a great way to decide how you want to approach knitting your project.
  • There are many ways to work with the yarn for the best possible results, so you can get creative and find what works for you.

Reading your skeins: 

Open them up, spread them out in good light, and get to know them. They each have a personality, and every batch of yarn is a little different, so taking some time to look at them individually and as a group will tell you a lot. If you're an easy going person who doesn't mind some quirks you probably never need to alternate skeins. If you want more consistency in your project you can take the next steps and decide which method of "alternating" works best for you. 

If there is a lot of deviation in the coloring of your yarn you will probably want to alternate for the best results, but sometimes alternating just creates really weird striping and even worse pooling, so another method of yarn management might work better. 

stack of grey yarn on a marble plate

(Here's a stack of yarn that is gorgeous, and will make a beautiful sweater, but will definitely need to be alternated unless you want some visible color shifts.)

Some popular methods for managing your hand dyed skeins:

  • Alternating Skeins (Two ways shown here) Traditional twisting and Helical knitting From Dank Fiber
  • Helical Knitting with Suzanne Bryan (Link Here
  • Blending a few rows just as you're transitioning between skeins
  • Creative yarn management ideas:
    Using unique skeins for elements such as ribbing, a yoke, or in colorwork, etc.
    Alternating only skeins that really need blending for sleeves or stockinette sections.
  • A beautiful example of alternating skeins, and adding in some contrast color to work with different dye lots. 

I hope this gives you some ideas to get started, but don't forget that trying different things is the best way to see what will work for you. 

Happy Making, friends!
XX, Heather Jane