Adventures in Dyeing, Part Two: She Winded Me with Science!

Today I’m gonna talk about how I developed my stripe pattern and then turned it into yarn. More specifically, how I turned this:

Into this:

Clearly, I had to first sketch out what I wanted to do. Namely, create stripes of solid colors separated by stripes of speckled color. I chose to use 3 colors so that each two solid stripes would be separated by speckles of the third. I also wanted the stripes to be somewhat thick. To achieve the pattern above, I had to have 6 sections of yarn, each dyed differently. How much yarn needed to be in each section depends on the project.

Next, I had to know my yarn. For experimenting with ideas, I have a small stash of Knit Pick’s “Color Your Own” and “Wool of the Andes”. It’s all wool and cheap enough that I can make prototypes and not feel upset if I ruin something when an idea doesn’t pan out. “Color Your Own” is a fingering weight merino wool. Not superwash, but otherwise perfect for dyeing and trying out sock ideas.

This project was intended to be a 4×4 inch swatch. And to know how much yarn I needed for each color, I needed to know my knitting gauge and also how much yarn each stitch uses. You all know how to make a gauge swatch. Calculating yarn usage takes it one step further.

I grabbed size 1 needles and cast on a pile of stitches and worked several rows on a gauge swatch. Then I slipped it off the needles and grabbed 2 Sharpie markers in contrasting colors. With one, I colored a column of stitches. Then I took a ruler, lined up one end with the outside of the colored column, and used the other marker to color the last column before the 2-inch mark. I counted the stitches between and including the columns and determined that I had 9 sts/inch. I also measured the row gauge and found I had 10 rows/inch (yes, for a larger project, I would make a larger size, more reliable, gauge swatch). Finally, I went over the marks I made with the Sharpies to make sure they were as dark as possible and that they covered several rows of just the one stitch column.

Here’s what it looked like:

Then I ripped it out. And I looked for a pair of the two colors of marks that I made and measured the distance between them. The yellow was harder to see after unravelling, so I went over it with red for this photo:

As you can see, at my gauge, it takes about 7.25 inches to knit 18 stitches (2 inches of one row of knitting). To make my calculations easier, because gauge will vary a bit, and because wool yarn can shrink a little in the dyeing process, I rounded this up to 8 inches, which is easy to set pegs out for on my peg board.

I decided that I wanted to make a 4×4 inch swatch. Knowing that my row gauge was 10 rows to the inch, I had 40 rows to work with. If I aimed for 4 rows per stripe, then 2 pattern repeats would require 48 rows. Just about perfect.

Based on my gauge measurements, I knew that it would take 16 inches of yarn to knit one row. So, it would take 16 x 4 = 64 inches to make 4 rows. You may remember from my last post that I laid out my peg pairs 4 inches apart. Each pair of pegs is used to make a section of yarn to dye one stripe color. So one wrap around a pair of pegs gives me 8 inches. 64 / 8 = 8 wraps needed per color section. I wrote this on my pattern sketch:

In the next post, I’ll show how this sketch became my guide for wrapping yarn on the pegs.

But, before I do that, let me show you something else I could have tried:

This would have given me speckled stripes that were half as wide as the solid stripes. Can you figure out from the explanation above why this is so?

More variations are possible. And I’ll talk about those later on, when I talk about extending this calculation to dyeing a full skein to make striped socks or otherwise. But first, I want to get through the whole process of how I made this swatch.


  1. Maryann:

    wow. Maths. You’re so smart! I went and bought a pegboard last night. I already had some 1/4 inch dowels at home, and they fit! wahoo!

    On the golf tee note, did you consider putting them upside down, so the head of the tee is under the board and the point-end is sticking up? Then you could just temporarily secure the tees on the bottom with masking tape. I don’t know if it would work– just an idea.

    Thanks for showing us all this cool stuff!

  2. amy!:

    I did consider inserting the pegs from the bottom. But I rejected it because I’d have less control over them and it would be hard to move them around if I wanted to. As you’ll see soon, you might want to remove them after you wrap the yarn, and you want to maintain control over the sub-skeins.

  3. DYE-O-RAMA Swap » Do The Math:

    […] The full details can be found here […]

  4. Susie:

    Ouch! My brain!

    …Do you teach math?

    This is a fabulous tutorial and I truly appreciate that you’ve worked the numbers. I’ve seen at least 6 or 7 different ways to create striping yarn but your is the very most logical.

    Can’t wait to see the final outcome for the swap!

  5. Beverly:

    Thanks for the tutorial. I would have fried my brain trying to figure that out.

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