Menu Close

Making the Most of Variegated Yarns

Notes on using variegated yarns to their best effect.

Slip stitch kntitted swatch

I’ve often heard people bemoaning the fact that the gorgeous skein of variegated yarn they purchased didn’t look very nice when knit up.

Many times the knitter in question tried nothing more than straight stocking stitch, which only occasionally works well with variegated yarns, especially those with regularly spaced sections of colour.

The following are just some of the ways I like to use variegated yarns. Use these as a stepping stone for your own experimentation!

Changing Directions

Entrelac knitting wiht variegated yarn Entrelac

When knitting entrelac with a variegated yarn with short sections of colour your yarn will form stripes. If your yarn has really long sections of colour you will create different coloured diamonds and colours changing randomly within.

Mitred squares

Mitred squares are a great way to use variegated yarns. Add matching plain colours to break up the variegated yarns, or work each square with different colours that are also in your variegated yarn.

Patchwork Knitting

Patchwork knitting is a creative exploration in itself. Use variegated yarns in single motifs, or in every motif in your garment. Try motifs that change directions within themselves or knit many different motifs and join them together with the rows of knitting running in different directions.

Undulating Stitches

Stripes of variegated yarn and a matching or contrasting sold colour in a zig-zagging chevron stitch can look very interesting.

Try other stitches that have a lot of movement as well, such as feather and fan.

Log Cabin

Create extra textural interest in a log cabin square

Swirl Knitting

The ultimate in “changing directions”. Swirl knitting, made popular by Debbie New in her book Unexpected Knitting .

Bias Knitting

Bias knitting worked in variegated yarns creates added movement and interest.


Changing directions using short rows helps break up colour pooling.

Knit and Felt

Felting knitting made with hand painted yarn Shrinking your knitting in the washing machine will create a watercolour effect when using variegated yarns.

If you knit your project loosely and then shrink it, the watercolour effect will be more evident than if you knit at normal gauge.

The swatch on the left is actually the op of a hat that was knit in the round, then shrunk and felted in my washing machine.


Freeform corchet Choose colours that are in your variegated yarn and go crazy with freeform knitting/crochet! The variegated yarns add visual texture.


Knitted lace Combining lace and variegated yarns can be somewhat difficult.

I like to use monochromatic variegated yarns (ie: a single colour family), that don’t have a great deal of sudden contrast such as the orange silk in the image on the left. Combining a variegated yarn with very subtle colour changes with a simple eyelet stitch is often the best choice. Feather and fan stitch also often looks good.

Colour Pooling

Color stacking with variegate yarn Use steeks or pre-cut lengths of yarn to make colours pool on purpose for a woven ikat effect.

Slip Stitch

Slip stitch or mosaic knitting with variegated yarn Slip Stitch (Mosaic Knitting) can be used in several ways to add interest to knitting done with variegated yarns.

Linen stitch adds textural interest and lessens the problem of colour pooling.

A simple “slip 1, k1” mosaic stitch combined with a plain coloured yarn creates dramatic dotted stripes.

The honeycomb mosaic stitch on the left creates a layered look over variegated yarn and is another technique that can be used to disguise colour pooling. The colours may still pool, but the second colour makes it look more planned, rather than accidental.

Complex mosaic stitches such as the one at the top of this page often look less “vintage” when knit with one variegated and one plain coloured yarn.

Textured Stitches

Textured knitting Textured stitches can be interesting when worked in variegated yarn. Make sure you always knit a swatch first though, because they don’t always look good.


Double stranded knitting with variegated yarn Using two strands of yarn together can often help with colour pooling problems. Use two strands of your variegated yarn, or two different yarns for a variety of effects.

The swatch on the left shows one strand of wool and one strand of mohair in the same colourway used together.

Click here to see examples of the techniques mentioned in this article


Copyright Sarah Bradberry. All rights reserved.