Tips for choosing yarn colour

Most knitters will have heard a story like this:

A customer in a local yarn shop has looked through piles of patterns but can’t find what she wants. The LYS owner asks what she is looking for. “I want a red sweater, “ says the customer, “but none of these are red.”

And all though we might laugh, we all know that sometimes choosing a different colour for a pattern can be difficult.

There are lots of reasons why a pattern will be pictured in a particular colour. It could be the designer’s favourite shade, because it fits with the theme of a collection or magazine, or because it is a colour for the yarn that season, for example.

However it may not be a colour that you like or want to work in. So how do you decide what shade to use instead?

First of all, will the colour you choose go with your or someone else’s colour scheme, whether that be in terms of clothes or home depending on what you plan to make?

Remember that colours can complement each other, you don’t need to match exact shades necessarily.

Once you have some shades or colours in mind look to see what is on offer in the yarn but think about which of your options have the same tone as the original pattern colour. This is because using a lighter or darker tone could affect how your stitches and pattern detail show up.

yarn colour

Different colours or tones can make the stitch pattern look different

And don’t forget to make sure all your yarn of one colour is from the same dyelot – it is very frustrating when you discover that one section of your beautifully made jumper is a different shade.


Whether making something using Fair Isle, stripes or any other colour technique choosing your yarn shades can seem complicated.

yarn colour

You want colours to work together but be different enough for the pattern to show. A colour wheel can be helpful here.


Using colours that are near each other on the wheel (analogous colours) will give you a more tonal effect, whereas colours from opposite side (complementary) will result in more popping contrasts. Looking at a colour wheel may help you narrow down what yarn shades might work together for your project.

Then if you are shopping in a local yarn shop, hold your shortlisted colours together to help you imagine how the colours will look in your finished piece.

If you are shopping online, copy pictures of the yarn in the different shades you are considering. Then you can use some photo-editing software or a free collage maker like to look at the colours side by side.

The more you play with colour and experiment the more confident your will become putting colours together or spotting which shades will best show off a stitch pattern.

Know your yarn: Cotton

When you look back through old knitting books, you can see that for a long time they were written for yarn made from wool because it was readily available and cheap to knit. This is why for some people “knitting yarn” and “wool” mean the same thing. As you look back through patterns of the last 60 years you see more and more different fibres being introduced whether natural(with different levels of processing) or manmade, until today when a read of yarn labels shows a wide range of fibres and yarn sources. Can you imagine yarn made from crab shell? Well it is now a possibility.

With this in mind we thought it would be useful to take a regular look at different yarn fibres to help you navigate your yarn choices – starting with that summer staple, cotton.

Where does the yarn come from?

Cotton fibre grows as a protective layer for the seed of the cotton plant forming fluffy “bolls” which are picked and spun into thread. The fibre is cellulose and although most bolls are off-white, plants that produce brown or red fibres also exist.

gossypium cotton

You can see the cotton “bolls” in this picture of Erika Knight Gossypium Cotton

 Cotton has been spun into yarn and woven into fabric for at least 8,000 years so it is one of our most traditional fibres. These days it is a mainly industrial process where bales of the picked fibre are carded and then drawn into fine threads which are spun together to create yarns.

Mercerised cotton

This cotton has more lustre or sheen than ordinary cotton yarn. This is achieved by the yarn undergoing a chemical process while held a high tension, this causes the fibres to swell and straighten which in turn means that reflect more light and therefore have more lustre. You can read a technical description here.


  • A cool, breathable fabric
  • A machine washable fabric
  • Durable
  • Takes dye well giving range of colours
  • Your cotton knits will soften with wear increasing drape
  • Cotton’s firm, inelastic yarn gives you clear stitch definition making it very suitable for working with knit and purl texture patterns.
  • This is an inelastic yarn that doesn’t spring back in the same way as wool which gives you a flatter fabric with more drape. This also means that a cotton piece stretch on blocking like wool.
  • Crochets into a firm fabric that is great for bags, toys and homewares


cotton yarn

Cotton is a fibre that can be spun and combined in a wide variety of ways, clockwise from left: James C Brett Craft Cotton; Lolli a cotton chainette yarn from C&B; Sirdar Beachcomber; Rico Essentials Crochet Cotton; Stylecraft Malabar DK a cotton silk blend.

Combination with other fibres

Cotton and wool yarn – cooler and more drape than wool on its own but the wool has more spring so a rib in cotton/wool would have more give and be less flat than in cotton only

Cotton and silk – silk add more sheen and helps create an even more draped fabric. Silk also adds strength to the fabric.

Tips for working with cotton yarn

Because cotton softens over time and can be heavier than wool it is a good idea to choose patterns with firm tension to avoid sagging – some people go down a needle size when working in cotton.

Swatch and then wash your swatch to get a good idea about how a particular cotton yarn behaves

Cotton yarn can split, you may find wooden or bamboo needles a better choice than very point metal ones

What is your favourite pattern for cotton yarn – please tell us in the comments below.

Wrangling needles and notions, hooks and gauges

I love this time of year for a particular reason – apart from the occasional sunny day.

It is the season of the “back to school” stationery sale which is a blessing for anyone trying to organise what we might call “an extensive knitting and crochet related collection”. By this I don’t mean a lovingly built yarn stash but all the other items an avid knitter and crocheter accumulates.

knitting storage

I’m always accumulating new kit that needs storing

Speaking as someone who has 25 or so crochet hooks, at least two sets of double pointed needles in any size I deem “useful” and uncounted numbers of circular and straight knitting needles, this is a great time of year to organise my kit.

A browse through a stationery sale will turn up:

  • Desk tidies – great for needles and hooks

    knitting storage

    The crochet hooks are easily accessible and look pretty in a pencil pot

  • Pencil cases – small ones for tapes measures, stitch markers, darning needles and lots of other notions, big ones as project bags for sock and similar
  • Tins and boxes – perfect for storing notions, buttons and beads
  • Organiser wallets – these are a good way of managing your circular needles, especially the transparent ones that allow you to see the needles sizes without pulling everything out. DVD wallets can be another option here.

And having wandered into a stationery shop this week, I am now contemplating one of those three drawer mini-filing cabinets. A quick hack to create some cardboard drawer dividers could make it a great needle storage unit.

Then there are all those patterns we accumulate. I don’t keep whole magazines but do cut out patterns that catch my eye – so those display books with plastic pockets are essential for these and the pdf print outs from downloaded patterns.

So August has become the time to organise my kit and I’m always looking for new ideas for storing and managing my knitting and crochet equipment, so please share your ideas in the comments.

Missoni high fashion and the humble variegated yarn

One of the big draws for knitters who get to London this summer is the Missoni exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum where you can see a selection of the beautiful, colourful knitwear the company is famous for and learn a bit about the ideas behind the designs.

missoni knits

A few lucky people, including this blogger, have been able to get tickets for talks from members of the Missoni family and the design team where they have explained the work that goes into creating the knitted fabrics. Although the form of knitting done on Missoni’s machines is very different to what we produce on our knitting, how the team thinks about the weight and drape of the yarns they use and the colour combinations is very familiar. The company has a “knit lab” where the design team experiments with yarns, fabrics and colours – hands up if you’d love to visit.

One of the colour looks Missoni is famous for is the “space dye”as in this dress.

missoni space dye

The space-dyed look is achieved through what you and I would know as variegated yarn and so there are plenty of options for you to create your own high fashion looks.

So we have picked out a few of our favourite variegated yarns for you and collected  some tips on using them for you.

  • As the Missoni team pointed out, how the colours distribute in a piece of knitting will depend on how long each piece of colour on your yarn is and how long your row is. This means the colours may distribute in a different way on the body of a jumper and on the sleeves. But as they also suggested, don’t worry about this and enjoy seeing what the colours do.
  • Think carefully about stitch patterns and swatch before you embark on a large project. Variegated yarns can fight with some textured stitches which means neither the lovely colours nor your beautiful knitting are shown off at their best. On the other hand these yarns can work well with lacy patterns feature lots of eyelets.
  • One very effective use of variegated yarn is with a complementary plain yarn in colourwork, which means your fair isle or intarsia pattern changes over time. Pairing a neutral variegated yarn with a bright one can also work here.


The fun of yarn shopping on holiday

It is that time of year when many of us stare at suitcases agonising over how many knitting or crochet projects we will need for our holiday.

Will one or two projects be enough for a week? Should I take an extra emergency ball of sock wool and some dpns? What if there are five days straight of thunderstorms and you are stuck inside – what would you do if you ran out of yarn? Should I take out some yarn to make room for a change of shoes?

holiday knitting

Try to make a plan for your knitting packing in advance – that way you may have both the right needles and a change of shoes

When we’ve talked about holiday knitting in the past, we’ve recommended planning your holiday projects in advanced and having an organised bundle to take away. But for some of us there is another issue that has an impact on our holiday packing – will we come across a local yarn shop on the trip?

If you aren’t into buying traditional souvenirs, a little holiday stash enhancement is can be a fun option as well as inspiring new knitting projects.

You might see new yarns that you haven’t come across before or different colourways and uses for yarns you do know – I once had a great chat about UK yarns I recognised in a Canadian yarn shop with the owner.

Plus this is an activity that works whether holidaying at home or abroad. There are lots of interesting yarn shops around the UK, many listed on our Find a Yarn Shop map. Where you might find something new to squish. For those of us who don’t live particularly close to a local yarn shop a trip to a big city or a seaside town with an LYS can be a great treat.

Some people may think this is an unusual holiday habit, but it is increasingly common among knitters if the growing number of Tripadvisor reviews of yarn shops is anything to judge by.

So this holiday leave a little corner in your suitcase and treat yourself to a squishable souvenir.


Summer knitting projects for kids

As the schools break up for the summer, many people’s thoughts are turning to how to keep their kids occupied for the summer.

One way is to teach them to knit or crochet – see our tips here – but what if they have already mastered the basics? How do you keep them interested when the everlasting scarf for teddy no longer cuts any ice?

Projects that are relevant to them and aren’t too overwhelming are a good idea. With this in mind we’ve put together a few project suggestions.


A simple garter stitch teddy, or even a dinosaur (like the ones pictured below), can be a good project introducing a little shaping and new techniques without being a mammoth project.

Some children may think they are too old for a toy but they can be encouraged to make a present for a new baby you may know or a younger sibling. Not only do they get the satisfaction of completing a project but also some appreciation for their work.

Gadget cases

Basic rectangular knitting or crochet is great for making gadget and pencil cases. They are a way for encouraging children to practice but they also offer opportunities for them to add their own style through stripes and embellishments.


Older children might want to put their own stamp on their bedroom. One way would be to encourage them to make their own cushion covers (chunky yarn is a good option here) or starting a granny square blanket (if they run out of steam, the square might become a cushion cover instead).

Yarn choice

Involving kids in the choice of the yarn for their projects will also help engage them. Think about interesting yarns such as self-striping, tape and chainette yarns and different materials such as raffia or making their own T-shirt yarn or “plarn”. Unusual colour combinations and vivid neons might also prove popular and keep interest in a simple scarf.

Garter stitch dinosaurs from Sirdar would be a good first toy project : If the kids don’t want to knit for themselves how about for a pet as with this dog coast from Stylecraft : These cookie and cupcake cushions from James C Brett might be popular with developing knitters: These Wendy cushions could be adapted to many colour schemes like this Lolli chainette from Conway+Bliss might keep kids interested in their projects: Crochet gadget cases from King Cole will lend themselves easily to embellishments such as buttons and badges

Garter stitch dinosaurs from Sirdar would be a good first toy project: If the kids don’t want to knit for themselves how about for a pet as with this dog coat from Stylecraft: Cookie and cupcake cushions from James C Brett might be popular with developing knitters: These Wendy cushions could be adapted to many colour schemes: Yarns like this Lolli chainette from Conway+Bliss might keep kids interested in their projects: Crochet gadget cases from King Cole will lend themselves easily to embellishments such as buttons and badges

Behind the scenes: What makes a good sample knitter?

At UK Hand Knitting we are often asked about sample knitting for designers ad yarn companies. So in our latest look behind the scenes we talked to David MacLeod, Design Manager at Rowan about working with sample knitters and what the job entails.

How important are good quality sample knitters?

It’s very important to have good quality knitters because their work represents us in our brochures and pictures, also it costs time and money if garments are not knitted correctly as we may have to have them reknitted.

sample knits

It is essential that sample garments are well knitted or crocheted for photography as well as to test that the patterns work. Patterns: Felbrigg, Mie and Hiyama from Rowan Knitting and Crochet Magazine 59

What skills are important in a sample knitter  – being able to knit to tension, following instructions precisely, etc?

The skills are exactly as you’ve said – being precise and working to tension – and also it’s nice to have someone who  takes pride in what they’re knitting.

We do have a regular group of knitters and some ladies who like to knit more than others. It’s very hard to find good knitters who are experienced enough to knit our garments and knitters that are prepared to do any project.

One of the most important skills is feedback which may include feedback on the yarn itself or on the pattern or design, so our knitters need to be good communicators.

How do you find your sample knitters? Do you work with a regular group of them?

We sometimes get emails from people asking if they can knit for us, or we send out an email to ask for applicants. All knitters have to pass a knitting skills test.

We do have bank of sample knitters that we use on a regular basis.