Ever wondered what terms like semi-solid, variegated, or OOAK mean?

Hopefully this blog post will help explain and guide you through the myriad of hand dyed yarns that are available now.

Firstly let me tell you a bit about production of hand dyed yarn, which will give you some context. It arrives from the mill in un-dyed skeins, meaning that the wool is not bleached or anything, it’s simply in its natural colour (in this case cream). When they process it they wind it into skeins (also known as hanks), and add a few ties to keep the skeins neat. This is ideal for dyeing as it means that the dye can reach all of the strands easily, and then afterwards the yarn can be dried thoroughly too. You do need to wind yarn that comes in skeins into useable balls of yarn - if you try to knit/crochet from the skein you will get in a horrible tangle. Find out how to do that HERE.

Skein weights, lengths and physical circumference are pre-determined by the mill based on industry standards and machinery sizing, and they usually come in packs of five x 100g skeins, sometimes varying to five x 50g skeins. They are measured by length due to the fact that natural fibres hold moisture, which means that a 400m skein can weigh for example 95-105g but still be 400m.. if you see what I mean! Our batch sizes are normally ten skeins each. This is determined by our dye-pot size, physical capability on my part, and finding a balance between wanting to produce as many colours as possible (for better choice) but also enough skeins that you can make at least one garment out of. 

The next bit is dyeing, which is where terms like ‘semi-solid’ come in. There are many ways to dye yarn, just as there are many ways to paint a picture. 

Semi-solid - this means that the yarn has been dyed all one colour, but because it’s hand dyed and there is always a little variation in the way the dye hits the strands of yarn it means that you always get a little bit of colour variation. In the skein, the yarn will be one colour but you’ll see hints of lighter areas and darker areas. 

Titus DK in Bluebell - one of our classic semi-solid colourways. ^^

Knitted or crochet up this takes on a slightly mottled appearance. This is particularly useful for items where the stitch pattern is more complicated, as it means the stitches will show up well - if the yarn is too colourful it can hide a beautiful stitch pattern and end up looking horribly busy. Semi-solid colours are also useful for colour work (fairisle, intarsia, stripes, etc), for showing off/framing other colours, and for creating a classy, timeless article that will never go out of fashion.  

Aisling by Justyna Lorkowska knitted in Titus 4ply ^^

Speckled - this is a dyeing style that is popular as it involves lots of tiny speckles of colour on a semi-solid or variegated background. It creates interest for the knitter/crocheter during the making of the project, and adds interest to the finished article. It can look mottled, or a bit tweedy almost, or can add a real pop of colour in random places. 

Dappled - this is a term we use a lot here at ECY and it’s relatively unique to us. This term refers to the use of colours gently dappling against the background colour. Often they’ll be quite subtle, and sometimes they’ll be used to add a gentle pop of colour but nothing too jazzy; just a bit of interest against a more plain background. These yarns knit/crochet up with gentle dapples of colour, or mottling throughout the project. They’re randomised but are generally all-over. 

Pollen - one of our dappled colourways ^^

Variegated - this means that the base colour of the yarn is a range of different colours. Or it could be one colour but used at different strengths for example, creating larger swathes of highlights and darker tone. It’s a fairly general, over-arching term, but it just means that the yarn is not all one colour. True variegated yarns can knit/crochet up in quite varied styles depending on just how jazzy the colour blends are. They can look almost like a watercolour painting, with colours blending into each other, or they can look more patchy with areas of colour ‘pooling’. This is a term that refers to areas on a fabric where a particular colour ends up pooled in one place (have a look HERE to see what I mean). 

Rusted Watering Can - one of our variegated colourways ^^

OOAK - simply stands for ‘one of a kind’. 

Cottage Original - this is our term for OOAK batches. It means that that batch may not ever be repeated again. Usually they are colourways that I am experimenting with, tweaking my recipe for, or want to produce but haven’t decided on a name yet. They often morph into long-term repeatable colourways.

The Cottage Unicorn - this started out as a Cottage Original and was developed into a semi-regular colourway with a proper name. ^^

Dyepot Luck - this is one step further than Cottage Originals, as although they’re still dyed in ten-skein batches, we usually find that each skein is a little different. They are truly one-offs, as the colours and techniques used are randomised, and I don’t make notes so they cannot ever be repeated! 

A batch of dyepot luck - the colours are fairly randomised ^^

Alternating skeins - you will see many yarn labels telling you to alternate skeins in your project if it’s going to use more than one. What this means is that you should work a couple of rows from one skein, then a couple of rows from a second one. Why? Because it mixes the colours better and helps to prevent pooling, which I mentioned earlier. It means you’re more likely to get a more blended, mottled effect rather than patches of colour. 

Repeatable colourways - this varies from dyer to dyer, but for us we have a huge range of repeatable colourways covering all of my dyeing styles and techniques. Because we have a wide variety of yarn bases (ie types) and my time is finite it means that we physically cannot produce all the colours on all of the yarns all of the time. We have to choose how many batches we’re going to produce each week, and then choose the colours to dye them in.

Updates - again this varies from dyer to dyer, but we have hand dyed yarn updates generally twice per month. An update refers to a shop update, which is when all the new yarn dyed goes up on the website and become available to buy. It’s always at a set time on a set day, which we announce in advance. I’ve written a blog post all about why we work in this way, which you can read HERE, so I won’t repeat it all in this blog post. 

Pendle 4ply in Waltzing Verbena - from one of our recent updates ^^

Why is hand dyed yarn more expensive?

This is simply because of the amount of work and artistry that has gone into it. Each skein has to be dyed, rinsed, dried, twisted into a solid skein like you see in the photos on the website, labelled, and then each batch photographed. It takes three of us working on this to do all that plus pick and pack orders. 

Why bother then?

Hand dyed yarn is just SUCH a pleasure to work with and wear. Every single skein is unique, and you are using something that someone has put time and effort into crafting for you. The fibres are usually great or the best quality (they certainly are in our case), which also makes a difference to the amount of pleasure and wear you’ll get out of each project.

What can I do with hand dyed yarn?

You can knit, crochet, and weave with most hand dyed yarns. The project suitability depends more on the way that the yarn is prepared and spun more than anything - that’s another blog post in itself!

How do I care for hand dyed yarns?

Firstly, store your hand dyed yarns (all yarns!) in a moth-free zone, somewhere neither overly cold or hot - you don’t want them to sweat and get damp. Have a look at the label for specific care instructions, but most yarns will take a gentle hand wash if not a gentle machine wash. You can get wool washes such as Soak and Eucalan which are great although not crucial. They generally soften the fibres and let them bloom without adding a horrible soapy finish/feel. For more information about blocking projects, have a look at THIS blog post. Once your project is dry, you can store it either folded or hung up. Generally it’s recommended to store folded up because if you hang a garment for example you get ‘shoulders’ where the hanger ends have been sat. It stored folded up you can get fold lines of course, but they smooth out once you put the item on. 

Turbine from our Drift Collection, knitted in Milburn DK in Wicker ^^

Why do you have mill-dyed as well?

Our Milburn 4ply and DK ranges are mill-dyed yarns. The fibre is sourced especially, and then spun into our own bespoke yarn, then sent to a small dyeing mill here in Yorkshire. They have my specific orders as to which colours to dye and they do that in vats of 15-25kg of yarn at a time. This is still a relatively small batch size, but it means that I don’t have to sweat it out in my dye shed (it’s been hitting 40 degrees celcius in there on summer afternoons) to produce this yarn. That’s incredibly useful as it means that although I’m physically limited by how much I can dye, I can still just about satisfy demand by having yarn that I don’t personally have to dye. It also means I can supply it at wholesale, because as a customer you can actually go into your local shop to see my colours, and feel my yarn before you commit. There are other benefits to using mill-dyed yarn as a customer too though - you don’t have to worry so much about not having enough to complete your project because our batch sizes are bigger; the colours are accurately repeatable so if you love them you know you will be able to order more in future; you don’t need to alternate between balls of yarn for your project because the colours are very consistent; and the yarn comes in balls so you don’t have to wind it up before you can cast on. Our Milburn yarns work perfectly well alongside our hand dyed yarns as well, so they’re great for blending multiple yarns and colours within a project, plus being solid colours they are particularly good for colourwork. 

You can find Milburn 4ply HERE and Milburn DK HERE.

One of our Skimming Stones (crochet shawl pattern) sets in Milburn 4ply ^^

Separate Ways jumper by Joji Locatelli knitted in Milburn 4ply in colourways Steel, Autumn Fields, Catmint, and Natural ^^


  • This article was so informative. Would semi-solids have been available in 1930-1940 time period?

    Audra Daughtry on

  • Wonderful blog! I learned so much from your article. Thank you!

    Eileen Hanner on

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