Monday, November 14, 2011

Evaluating yarn color online

Lynda from Oregon writes:
Julie -- The brown yarn for your Gnarly Oak is gorgeous . . . but I have a question / comment / complaint. I assume from your blog that you ordered this yarn rather than buying it "face to face" (eyeball to skein!). I've been so consistently disappointed in the color variance between photo and reality that I've almost stopped buying yarn via internet or catalogue.
Most recently, I wanted to make a chemo blanket for my son, and it needed to be a quick, washable project, so I chose Jiffy. In both their paper catalogue *and* website, the colors I chose looked like paprika (for the solid) and Indian corn -- yellow, orange, red, brown (for the variegate). What I got was burgundy and and a muted mishmosh that can best be described as autumn leaves on the ground after a rainstorm. Actually, they worked pretty well together and made a nice masculine afghan (see my Ravelry page if you're interested), but they *weren't* the happy cheerful colors I wanted.
Any tips about how to come closer on color when ordering from catalogues or websites?
Excellent question, Lynda. Most companies unfortunately aren't particularly particular about color when it comes to photographing their products. The only way you'll know for sure if you'll like a yarn color is to see it in person, but most local yarn stores can't carry every yarn brand and hue because of the sheer overhead. So here is what I do when I order yarn online:
  • I look at the color cards on the yarn company's website. For example, let's assume I want to buy blue Berroco Ultra Alpaca for a sweater. I start by looking at Berroco's webpage for that specific yarn. Let's assume I choose Periwinkle Mix 62175.

  • Next, I go to Webs and see if they have Berroco Ultra Alpaca in Periwinkle 62175 in stock. Fortunately, they do.
  • Then I compare the swatches. Hmmm... they look different. Not only is the Berroco swatch a little darker, it is also photographed closer up than the Webs swatch.
  • Next, I go to Ravelry. I click on the Yarn tab and search for Berroco Ultra Alpaca.
  • I click through to the Ultra Alpaca (as compared to the other weight variants), click on Projects, and then search for the word periwinkle. Ravelry displays projects made with this yarn. Not only can I see how this yarn knits up in this color, but I often also find pictures people have taken of the yarn in the skein. (Note that you can also try searching by the color number - 62175 in this case.)
  • Now I evaluate all the swatches and project photos to get a true sense of what this yarn looks like in person. I like it! As Betty and Wilma used to say, "CHARGE IT!" Actually, I pay with my debit card, but you get the drift.
Caveats knitters (and Internet users): color displays differently on the web depending on your monitor, its settings, ambient light, sunlight, etc.  All web designers can do is design for an approximate color; we don't have any control on what you actually see. Another thing to keep in mind is that blue is the hardest color to print accurately. So keep this in mind when you order. The method I described has failed me only once and it was with a blue yarn. I ended up keeping the yarn and selling it in a stash sale later because I never really liked it.

I almost always order yarn online because I knit sweaters; LYSs don't carry 2500 yards in a single dye lot of every color, so it's easier for me to buy the larger quantities online and get the quantity discount from Webs, too. Another good deal: Jimmy Beans Wool offers rewards based on previous purchases; I've gotten free shipping and additional discounts on yarn from Jimmy Beans in the past.

Happy shopping! I hope this helps, Lynda. And best wishes to your son, too.


  1. Thanks, Julie! Great ideas overall, and I'll certainly keep them in mind. I knew monitor images are "iffy" where color is concerned, but I foolishly assumed that companies would be more careful about accuracy with their printed catalogues. Silly me.

    --Lynda in Oregon

  2. Lynda from Oregon is not alone!
    I initially shopped for my Braids yarn online and Googled photos to find a true so so different from the yarn when it came into the store! But, I still like it.
    When I buy yarn the LYS never has enough for an ample sweater, so I have to wait(she takes a long time) for more, or send a few strands to Webs who are good enough to find perfect matches!

    I prefer going to the store, but ...she NEVER has enough ...unless it is Plymouth. SHe has many Cascade colors , but never more than 5 skeins of each color.(then they wonder why people buy online)
    I am an online yarn shopper in the end.t_a

  3. I do similar color sleuthing when buying yarn online, too! FWIW, I've discovered that yarn colors as seen on WEBS' site are pretty much ALWAYS lighter than in real life, so I just keep that in mind when ordering.

    (Your pink vest looks very pretty on you!)

  4. I've also started to notice that certain sites are consistently off in certain ways- for instance, loopy ewe's pictures are almost always darker on my monitor than the skeins are in real life. Knowing that helps me get a sense-by-consensus of the color.

    Thanks for all your informative posts!

  5. Excellent advice, always...

    --Dottie in MD

  6. oh, and i love, love , love the blueberry mix in that Ultra Alpaca and it is a very deep color in person...

    -- Dottie in MD

  7. I guess I'm in the minority then, because I tend to purchase the swatch cards that many yarn companies offer and keep them in a notebook. They're handy and more accurate.

    If you tend to deal with one or two suppliers order a swatch card of a different line every time you place a yarn order. They're usually only a couple of bucks and so worth it to have on hand. :-)

  8. Hi Julie, I'm a little late here, catching up on your great meet-up and posts since then.

    Just wanted to say -- this is the most incredibly helpful post! I've searched Rav for a particular color when I had a skein or two and wanted ideas, or for example right now I'm knitting a shawl from a variegated sock yarn which is always a dicey proposition...but I digress.

    What a practical and methodical way to max the chances of getting the color we want, when we order online. Your web designer perspective adds value to this post, too; who knew blue was a problem child on the color wheel?

    I'm not really a sweater knitter nowadays, but am planning a project for after the holidays. Your blog is so inspiring and encouraging; I last knit myself a sweater around 1990, and a fashionable fit is MUCH more demanding nowadays!