Gradient Yarn: How We Do It
In speaking to several guild groups this year, I've found that the question most people have is "how do you do it?". For obvious reasons, the exact details of how we dye yarn is proprietary, but a general overview to help folks understand why our gradient yarns are so special seems like a really good idea.
Back in 2011-2012, we were working on an exclusive project with a local yarn store called 45 Degrees North. Every color we developed for this line has it's own specific formula above and beyond mixing dyestocks from powder and the laying on of dye. When the project was terminated, I couldn't let all those color formulas go to waste. Gradients like Ice, Scotch, Garnet, Tidewater, Pine, Water, Periwinkle, and Smoke are all directly derived from or inspired by those original color formulas. We currently have 59 different color formulas, all unique to their gradient, spanning the entire color spectrum.
From Undyed Skein to Gradient Yarn Kit
The yarns we use to dye gradients are all milled exclusively for us in Peru, and come from the mill in 100g skeins. We frequently get questions about custom yardage or additional yardage in specific shades, and if you take into account that winding 20g off a 100g skein and calculating dyestock just for that 20g is a highly time-consuming task, you might see why we aren't able to honor these types of custom requests.
Each gradient formula is mixed for 10 skeins of yarn total, which will eventually become 6 - 165g gradient yarn kits. We submersion dye, which means that wet yarn goes into a large pan where the yarn is completely submersed in hot water, dye and acid catalyst. Starting at the lightest shade and ending with the darkest, we dye each gradient shade separately two skeins at a time. The gradient dyestock is divided specifically between each of the five shades to create a gradient progression that is noticeable and aesthetically pleasing. This doesn't always mean each skein within a gradient is perfectly solid - some color unevenness is normal inside the framework of our dyeing process.
After the dye is fixed in each 100g skein, the yarn is left to dry completely. Once it has dried, one of my two production assistants is in charge of winding each large skein down into 3 smaller ~33g skeins. We twist up all these little skeins, keeping each shade separate so there's not a question about each gradient yarn kit getting 5 different shades. 10 - 100g skeins becomes 60 - 33g skeins, which we line up, bag and tag.
From the time we mix the dyestock to the point when the yarn is ready to ship takes an average of 9 business days.
A Note on Gradient Colors Versus Shades
According to color theory, what we're dyeing is technically called an Ombre because it is only one color but five different shades. There are a multitude of ways to create a gradated yarn kit or skein, and we've found that our gradients create the most even, repeatable and predictable gradient progression. We've chosen not to name each shade, but rather give the whole gradient a single name because the shades are not available individually. We've experimented with kits that move from one color through several others in the past, and they are oh-so-much-fun to knit with but a total headache to process.
Gradient Yarn Happiness
I've knit with so many of my own gradients over the last few years that I'm a little spoiled. I especially like knitting with and wearing the Lilt Sock Gradients for my own projects. We can and do dye up gradients many of our yarn bases - Prime & Sublime work especially well for Gradient Yarn for larger projects. We're always striving to add additional options for yarn bases, kit sizes and project ideas to our gradient line-up. What you won't see is our gradients in brick and mortar stores. With a very special few occasions, our wonderful retailers have opted away from carrying what we call full-sized gradient kits - 5 - 100g skeins (the form the gradients take just before they're wound down into miniskeins). The motivation behind our choice not to wholesale our gradient miniskein kits is the amount of work that would have to be wrapped into the retail price of each kit. We just don't think you need to pay $60 for 165g of yarn.
Keep coming back to our blog, we're planning a series of Gradient Yarn posts to give you lots of ideas for what to knit with our various kit choices!