Why Dye Lot Matters


When I first started knitting, the internet wasn’t really around the way it is now. I had to rely on books, magazines, and other knitters to get most of my information. Unless I was at the local JoAnn’s, I wasn’t often around other knitters considering I was 12 when I picked up my first pair of sticks. I can confidently say the majority of kids my age in the 90’s and early 00’s were not interested in knitting. Being a bit of an anomaly meant that I had to figure out a lot of things on my own, and there were a lot of things that still remained a mystery to me. Hopefully I can pass along some of these hard learned lessons and you can avoid these mistakes all together. One of these hard-learned lessons centered around dye lot. It was until I knit a sweater and noticed that there were blocks of knitting where the color looked visibly different that I started to understand what a dye lot is, and more importantly, why it mattered.

Dye Lot Matters

There is a lot of information listed on a yarn band and all of it is important in different ways. Today I want to focus on the dye lot because the reason it’s important is a little more subtle and can often be missed by newer knitters.

What is a Dye Lot?

A dye lot is a number that is created during the yarn dying process to identify yarn that was dyed in the same vat (or lot), at the same time. Each yarn manufacturer will have their own dye lot sequence.

Why Should You Pay Attention?

No two yarn lots are exactly the same. Even lots that are done right after the other will have slight differences in the resulting color. Miniscule differences in fiber base, temperature, dyeing time, and a slew of other factors, can result in different shades of the same color between dye lots. Think back to your experiences baking. Even though you can use the same lemon pound cake recipe every time, and have the exact same ingredients and measurements, it always tastes just a little different. If you used a newer batch of flower, riper lemons, or baked it just a minute or two longer you’ll impact the end result.

Yarn is much the same way. If the yarn base is different (from a different sheep, processed a touch differently) you’ll get different color results even within the same dye process. The picture at the top of this post is of Quince & Co Osprey in un-dyed Audoin. You can see how different the natural fiber can be sheep to sheep. Imagine dye color overlaid on these differences and you’ll start to understand why dye lot is important.

Why Does This Matter?

Since different dye lots can create subtle differences in the overall color of the yarn, using yarn from different dye lots can seriously impact the look of your finished garment. This is especially true for large blocks of knitting, i.e. sweaters with large expanses of stockinette stitch. I’ve knit a few sweaters in my lifetime where the initial amount of yarn purchased wasn’t enough. I’d quickly order some additional skeins and then be disappointed when the color didn’t match. This leads into another discussion about ensuring you have enough yarn before you start your project that I’ll get to another day.

Quince & Co Osprey, Audoin

So What if You Can’t Avoid It?

We’ve all been there and it can be quite a humbling moment. Sometimes it’s unavoidable.

Certain yarn brands only dye a certain number of skeins in each batch. For example, Anzula dyes their Worsted yarn in batches of 10 skeins. So if you’re knitting something that requires more than 10 skeins you will definitely be knitting with more than one dye lot.

Option 1 - Alternate Skeins

if you know ahead of time that you will be working with multiple dye lots, you can take a piece of advice from knitting with variegated yarns. Knit your project, but alternate rows and skeins. Essentially, knit a RS and WS row with the skein from dye lot 1 then knit the next RS and WS rows with the skein from dye lot 2.

Does this create more work? Yes. Is it harder to transport your project? Yes. Will you love the result? YES. By combining the two dye lots, you’ll create an effect that is harder to distinguish as you’ll have extremely subtle stripes instead of large blocks of color differences.

Option 2 - Dye Lots for Sections

If your dye lots are different, but fairly close in color you can try reserving skeins of each dye lot for specific sections. Use one dye lot for the front of a sweater, and the other for the back. Or reserve the different dye lot for hems, button bands, and other finishing work.

Last Words of Wisdom

Buy more yarn than you think you need. Most stores will accept returns, exchanges, or store credit for unwound yarn. It’s better to have more than you need than to run out and have to incorporate a new dye lot. Depending on the manufacturer, some differences in dye lot can be less perceptible but it’s always safest to buy as much yarn within the same dye lot as possible.