Can you relate to one or both of these?
you have come into possession of the most beautiful yarn, but need to choose just the right pattern to go with it
you fall head over heels in love with a pattern but can’t make it until you find the perfect yarn to do it justice
Whether you’re looking for the perfect yarn to go with the perfect pattern or for the perfect pattern to go with the perfect yarn, here are a few guidelines I follow when I try to create yarn and pattern combinations that play well together:
Self-Striping & Self-Patterning Yarn
As a general rule of thumb, if a yarn is self-striping or self-patterning, I let the yarn do the work. I’m lazy, and happy to let the yarn be the focus of the finished thing, so I’ll almost always choose a plain stockinette or garter stitch design without any fancy stitch-work to compete with the pattern that’s being created by the yarn.
My favourite comfort knit is a plain vanilla sock with self-striping yarn (I always have one in my purse), or a pattern with minimal stitch work, like Hippie Chic, where the stitch detail is so simple, repetitive, and constant that instead of competing with the stripes or pattern, it complements it. No cables, no lace, no bobbles, and minimal texture with self-patterning yarns.
On the occasion that I do decide to use a pattern, I choose a pattern that uses construction instead of stitch patterns to create visual interest. Changing the construction allows the yarn to remain the focus without the eye being drawn to competing textures, or trying to distinguish a stitch pattern that might be hidden in a heavily patterned yarn. If you have to squint to make out the details of a stitch pattern, it might be competing with the yarn instead of working in harmony with it. An example of this would be Quaquaversal, which uses unique construction to change the direction of the stripes in the yarn. The stripes are still the first thing your eye is drawn to, and the added level of visual interest comes from the unexpected directions of the stripes, instead of the stitches themselves.
Variegated yarn is similar to self-striping yarn, except the colour changes happen at shorter intervals. Variegated yarns are by far the most visually interesting yarns, and the ones I’m always drawn to a fibre festivals and yarn stores. If you have the patience for planned pooling, that’s probably my favourite way to emphasize the short colour repeats. I don’t have the patience for planned pooling, but luckily, there is a Ravelry group full of knitters who post their planned pooling projects, and you can find plenty of inspiration there.
Planned pooling aside, when I’m knitting with variegated yarn, I choose patterns that are either plain stockinette, or have slipped stitches. Slipped stitches play beautifully with variegated yarn because after you slip a stitch in one round, your yarn has likely already moved onto the next colour by the time you encounter that stitch again on the next round, allowing that stitch to be ever so slightly ahead or behind the colour changes. It’s a beautiful effect. Meandering and Flectere are both good examples of patterns that use slipped stitches to emphasize the short colour changes in variegated yarns.
Solid & Semi-Solid Yarn
Solid & semi-solid yarns (as well as tonals) are the yarns to choose when you want the stitch pattern to be the standout feature of the finished project. These are the yarns that help lace, cables, and combinations of multiple stitch patterns stand out. They are the blank canvas for the artwork you are creating with your stitches. The exceptions would be if a semi-solid or tonal yarn has a wide enough range of tones that the yarn appears variegated (in which case I would treat it like a variegated yarn) or if the fibre has a strong halo. A halo is that fuzzy haze that occurs naturally with certain fibres (mohair, angora, and alpaca for example). In addition to being soft and luxurious, a halo can detract from certain, intricate stitch pattern like a complex lace design. That being said, I love a good halo, and I think that a nice fuzzy halo and chunky cable make a beautiful combination. Twisted is a good example of a solid yarn with a halo and a chunky cable playing nicely together. Throw Kindness Around Like It’s Confetti is also an example of a solid yarn acting as a canvas for multiple stitch patterns (in this case, cables, lace, and ribbing).
A quick disclaimer: these are my opinions and guidelines that I generally follow. You might agree or disagree, and that’s cool! There are lots of exceptions, and I’ve seen some beautifully complicated stitch patterns on heavily variegated yarn - knitting is an art, not a science and you should use whatever combination of yarn and pattern makes your heart sing and ensures that you love knitting every stitch of your project. If you’re unsure about a certain combination of yarn and pattern, let your gauge swatch be your guide.
This blog post was at the request of some knitters in my Facebook group. I’m always happy to get suggestions for topics that are relevant to you and that you want to read about. If you have any suggestions, let me know.
Do you have any tips or tricks for matching yarns with patterns? We’d love to hear them!