Q&A: What do you mean by highly variable dye lots?


malabrigo yarn

We absolutely LOVE hand-dyed yarn. Full stop. But like all of us, it does have a quirk: consistency between dye lots. Perhaps the best of example of this is Malabrigo. Walk with us...

What is a dye lot?

Tag on a skein of Berroco yarn

A dye lot is the term for a batch of yarn - regardless of the size - that was all dyed at the same time.

For yarns dyed by machines, like those from Berroco, a dye lot is likely to be a huge number of balls or skeins. Because of the commercial scale, the dye lots tend to be very consistent from one to the next, often essentially indistinguishable.

For yarns dyed by hand, though, dye lots can be much more variable. This includes small indie dyers who hand paint yarn, as well as larger companies like Malabrigo, which uses a kettle dyeing process. Dye can be effected by the humidity, the pH of water on any given day, variations in the chemistry of the yarn and the dye itself, and, of course, the human element. All these factors add up to differences in the same colorway of a yarn, both within a dye lot and especially between lots.

malabrigo yarnWhy does it matter? 

Have you ever run out of yarn? And even when you get what you think is the *exact* *same* *thing*, you realize that you can see the line in your project from one skein to the next? Yes - we all have!

Having yarn all from the same dye lot isn't a cure all (more on that below), but it is the best place to start. There are tricks if you get caught without enough and we talk about them in this post on how much yarn you need for a project.

How is Malabrigo different?

malabrigo tags

This brings us to our beloved Malabrigo, which is a good case study of variable lots in all kinds of hand dyed yarns. Malabrigo kettle dye their yarn in a way that allows for loads of variation even within the same batch of yarn. Certain colors are notorious for this and even after many years we are amazed at the differences in skeins of yarn that all come in the same bag. 90% of the time, Malabrigo yarn specifically says "No Dye Lot" on the tag, and the other 10% it's a toss up if the dye lot indicated has any practical use.  

Almost all of the pictures we have on our website for Malabrigo come from the company itself. As much as we would love to take pictures of every skein that comes in, it just isn't feasible.

So, we show what Malabrigo publicizes as a representative picture of each colorways. We also keep an eye on what comes in and try to take extra photos of lots that are extremely outside the norm. And we keep an eagle eye on the dye lot preference that customers select at checkout, as well as your notes, and are happy to send snapshots of skeins before we ship to make sure you're happy with what you get!

Any tips for using Malabrigo?

dye lot preference at checkout

Oh, you know it. First, again, be sure to select your dye lot preference at checkout and leave us notes if you'd like a photo before we wind or ship.

For a larger project, un-twist all the skeins and lay them out on a table or bed. Take stock of how they look - knowledge is power. If there is a natural gradient, you can lean into that or purposefully obscure it. If there is one skein that doesn't match as well, you can use it in an area that won't draw attention like ribbed cuffs and hems.

Last but very much not least, because hand dyes Malabrigo can vary so much both between skeins and especially between lots, we always recommend alternating skeins as you knit with it! This will even out the variation for a more uniform garment.

Bottom Line?

Love Malabrigo for what it is - extremely gorgeous and highly variable!

  • If you have a project where the precise color is vital, you can stick to one of their more solid colors, find a different brand, ask for a snapshot of what we currently have in stock, or schedule a personal shopping Zoom call to see them.
  • Make use of our dye lot preference selection at checkout: all yarn that you buy in multiple skeins prompts you to select how we should handle a split dye lot. Especially with Malabrigo, feel free to use the Email Me option or leave a note to ask about a single skein and we will send a picture of the stock on hand.
  • It's always a smart idea to alternate skeins when knitting with hand dyes!
  • And, by all means, LEAN IN to the color variations when you can because the results are usually well worth it!