Durham Chevrons Cowl: Designing Color


Damson to Gold gradient from Fiber Optic Yarns.

I designed the Durham Chevrons Cowl as (yet another) woolly love letter to the United Kingdom. The project appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Spin-Off, but I think the UK needs some extra love this summer.

The inspiration for this tubular cowl comes from the chevron-incised columns of Durham Cathedral in the north of England, but there are many ways that this motif makes me think of my time in England. The pattern is reminiscent of footie scarves (which tend to be knitted in a tube construction, like so); long journeys over waves and water; reverberations and repeated experiences.

Kate as a student in Lancaster, England. Fall 2000.
A quick notebook sketch.

My newest Durham Chevrons project is for my sister, Deirdre. As a medieval art historian, she obviously needs this cowl! I’m looking for a gradient effect and thought that a Polwarth/Silk 4oz braid of Fiber Optic Yarns Damson to Gold would be just the thing. As I describe in the pattern, I want to spin a gradient single and use chain plying (Navajo plying) to create a gradient 3-ply yarn.

If I want to use a gradient braid to create a circular cowl where the final piece itself has a gradient effect, I can’t just spin my combed top from Damson Blue to Gold, right?

Durham gradient illo

If I start knitting with my chain-plied yarn from Damson Blue as in the cowl illustration on the left, knit until my cowl is the right size, and graft the ends, there is an abrupt color transition at the point of the graft. I want smooth color transitions all the way around.

So, I can do what some fiber folks call a double-gradient. I can split my gradient combed top along its full length. I am choosing to spin both halves into separate skeins.1

Carefully splitting combed top.

The pattern also calls for a contrasting color to alternate in stripes with the gradient. I am choosing to use Yak/Merino (50/50) spun into a 2-ply yarn. It is finer gauge than the chain-ply, giving the cowl more drape and movement. More on this in the next post.

So, here’s the plan: I am going to knit half the total length and see where the color gradient is at that point. I speculate based on previous experience that I will not need all of the 4oz braid, perhaps from Damson to Red Violet to Rust, but not Gold.2 I’ll find the same spot in the gradient on the other skein and knit it in the reverse color order. (See cowl illustration on right above.)

More on prep, spinning, plying, and finishing techniques in the next post. If you have specific questions you would like me to address, just leave a comment below. More soon!



knitting video cover
Learn more from Kate about spinning. (60 min DVD, Interweave, 2016)

1 This allows me to spin both halves from the same end. Many people find that combed top has a grain, drafting more easily from one end. 


2 I could determine the outcome of the cowl with samples. If I spun and finished samples of both yarns used in this project, I could very closely determine how many yards of each color will result in X number of knitted inches using a yarn balance and knitted swatch. It’s a fun process. For this small summer project, I would rather organize the project in a way that doesn’t involve a calculator. 



2 thoughts on “Durham Chevrons Cowl: Designing Color

  1. Can you talk more about how you prepared the two batches of split top before you started spinning? Did yo pre-draft or not and how did you decide? Even though you chain-plyed them (rather than trying to match up 2 singles and plying together) you still wanted to have the color areas close to the same length in the two finished skeins, right? Thanks.

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