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Four Tips for Knitting with Handspun Yarn

March 25, 2021
smiling toddler in a striped cowl

I find it difficult to cast on with my handspun yarn because I label it ‘too Precious‘. I feel hesitant to let those wonderful, bouncy skeins out of my grip and onto the needles. I wonder if I’ll have enough yarn to complete the project, or I worry that the pattern won’t ‘do justice’ to a yarn that took so long to make by hand. If you find yourself with similar handspun hesitations, here are some tips to help you get passed the fear and get started.

Cakes of multi-coloured 2ply handspun yarn

1. Start small and simple

Small, simple projects are a great place to start with handspun. Their simplicity will spotlight the beauty of the yarn, and you won’t need to spin too much yardage to complete them.

For example, our Tall Dark and Handsome pattens have simple textures that will let handmade yarn shine. Both the free Barley hat pattern (for worsted/aran weight yarn) and free Barley Light hat pattern (for fingering/sock weight yarn) will highlight a complex handspun, thanks to their simple stockinette and garter stitch panels. And the free World’s Simplest Mittens pattern has three gauge options, so there’s bound to be one that will work for your special handmade yarn.

2. Stripe it up

When you don’t have enough yardage in one colourway to complete a project in a single colour, use stripes and slip-stitch patterns to your advantage.

Undertone Cowl pattern
The Undertone cowl is a great project for striping two handspun colourways. You could also pair handspun with a commercial yarn to make that precious skein stretch further.
Undertone Cowl pattern
You can use up the tiniest of scraps by changing out the contrast-colour yarn!
bumble beanie pattern
The Bumble beanie is a fabulous hat for combining yarns and making use of small amounts of handspun! You can knit it in a single colour, or work in stripes to achieve a subtle, tweedy effect, as I have with this one.

If you’re interested in the Bumble beanie pattern, check out this post that highlights the different effects you can get from working the pattern with one or two colours – and the lovely, distinct textures they elicit on each side of the work.

A kid wearing colourwork hat, striped cowl and striped sweater.
Hunter’s wearing the Prism hat, the Undertone cowl in a vivid rainbow, and the Chromatic sweater – all from our Mad Colour ebook.

Our Mad Colour ebook is full of vibrant patterns designed for mixing and matching yarns, making them perfect for creating colourful stripes with your handspun lovelies.

3. Combine handspun with other yarns

Adding a mill-spun yarn to the mix can stretch the yardage further than if you knit an entire project in handspun alone. What if you worked the colourwork section of a project using your handspun, and then picked a commercial yarn for the remainder?

Striped Flax Hack Blog Post
I used a combination of handspun and commercial yarns to knit this sweet, striped sweater from our free Flax pattern, with only a few adjustments.

I recently made a Flax sweater for Neve using up the remainders of several beautiful handspun skeins, striping them together with coordinating hand-dyed and commercial yarns. Here are a few more ideas, if you’d like to try your hand at some different combinations:

  • Knit the contrast-colour sections of the Fleet hat using small amounts of your lovely handspun.
  • Feature small amounts of one or two handmade yarns in the Twisp hat or Embers hat, while working the body in hand-dyed or mill-dyed yarn.
  • Stripe up the Prism hat with with 50yds or less of handspun (stripes are also an excellent way to make a self-striping colourway really shine!).
  • Use your exquisite handspun colourway as the contrast colour in a yoke sweater like Embers, Dog Star, Icefall, or another pattern from Strange Brew, our book of yoke sweater designs.

For more ideas, browse all of the colourwork patterns on our website.

Tin Can Knits Colourwork Patterns

4. Stop fretting and just cast on already!

Nothing can make the uncertainty go away like the simple act of casting on. Once I have a yarn on the needles, it often whispers to me what it wants to become. And if it doesn’t work? Just rip, rip, rip it out and start again!

A wave-pattern blanket knit in handspun with contrast-colour stripes.
A simple knit I’m working on in my most recent lot of handspun yarn.

I’ve fallen deeply in love with spinning over the past few months (check out my handspun highlights on Instagram). If you’re a handspun enthusiast like me, please comment to share any advice, tips, and inspirations you may have!

~ Em

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Anne permalink
    March 25, 2021 4:53 pm

    My biggest concern is yardage for sweaters. I wanted a colour work sweater so picked Marshland so I can use different colours and make my MC go farther. I have knit the yoke and both sleeves so the length will depend on how much MC I have left. Looking promising so far…fingers crossed!

  2. Helen Schendel permalink
    March 25, 2021 9:16 am

    Love the men’s cabled hat. What pattern did you use? Northwards??

  3. March 25, 2021 6:31 am

    I love your posts and have knit your socks, but I am mostly hand weaver. I have had good luck using 2-ply handspun in both warp and weft. My favorite combination in half handspun (every other end) in the warp and the rest KPPPM Koigu. I get two kinds of variation from the dyed in the wool handspun and space dyed Koigu.

    Thank you for your inspirational posts. I save them all.

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