The search for the perfect navy

Yelena Navy main

In order to get some different perspectives on hand-dyed yarn, I will periodically run posts by other knitters. Yelena Malcolm Dasher, AKA ymalcolm on Ravelry, is incredibly talented and lightning fast, and she can probably finish more sweaters in a year than I could hope to complete in my lifetime. She’s also one of the coolest people I know. I guarantee you will become a fan of her writing as well as her knitting. —Lisa

Navy. It seems like such a simple thing, really. Pea coats, pencil skirts, blazers — they all come in navy. So why is it so hard to find that perfect navy in a hand-dyed yarn? As someone who has never tried her hand at dyeing, I can only conjecture based on the almost-navies I’ve encountered. The number one problem seems to be a tendency toward purple. I once saw a gorgeous version of Madelinetosh‘s Clematis colorway which was, I thought, the navy I had been searching for. Several purchases across different bases led me to conclude that either that one photograph didn’t represent the color well on my monitor or that single skein was an aberration. Clematis clearly leans purple. I tried other Tosh colors including Ink and Thunderstorm without getting the navy my mind envisioned. So the hunt began.

I was looking for deepest, darkest navy. The navy that looks nearly black in your closet until you hold it next to actual black. This is, apparently, a tall order. Quince & Co.‘s Pea Coat colorway, while not hand dyed, was the closest I could find for a while (and it became a zip-up cardigan for my dad) until I stayed up far too late on a Thursday night and managed to snag some Wollmeise DK in Admiral. When the package arrived, I was elated. This was a good, true, dark navy. Could it be a little darker? Yes. But compared with my other attempts, this was the closest. I started to knit it into a Breton-style striped sweater (which was subsequently frogged because it didn’t fit right and I’m still waiting to try again — perhaps as soon as I finish writing this).

Enter Ridgely of Astral Bath Yarns. She had heard my calls in the wild, my supplications to the hand-dye gods for Ultimate Navy. I like to think that she got out her alchemist’s robe and double-double-toiled-and-troubled over her pot just for me, but that’s likely just my narcissism talking. Whatever her motivation, when I saw the first photos of Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash, I did the knitter’s happy dance. When I snagged four skeins of Spectra and they arrived, the dance became more frenzied. Not a hint of purple, these. Just perfect, black-blue navy. In a bizarre twist of fate, however, I traded those skeins for four skeins in the heavier Spectra DK so I could make Mary Annarella’s Girl on Fire sweater. This lapse in my hoarding skills (why on earth wouldn’t I have kept both lots?) turned out to be more of a karmic offering: my sweater turned out perfectly, exactly as I wanted, and I was able to share the wealth that is RS&L with a fellow knitter.

Meanwhile, because one navy sweater is never enough, a new-to-me dyer popped up on my radar via the lovely folks at Happy Knits. Melanie, of Black Trillium Fibre Studio, seemed to have also decoded the perfect navy. I impulse bought six skeins of her Pebble Worsted in Moon Shadow and I’m glad I did. When they arrived, I discovered that perfect navy can happen in more than one way. These skeins were ever so slightly more tonal than the Astral Bath skeins, but they still achieved the look I wanted. Finding the perfect project for them, however, took a little more doing. Conventional wisdom says that dark colors don’t show off cables well. Yet I wanted a navy cabled sweater. When the Interweave Knits Winter 2014 issue came out, I decided I had found it in Amy Herzog’s Telluride Aran. Throwing caution to the wind, I cast on. And something amazing happened. Melanie’s base was so cable friendly that it didn’t matter that the color was the darkest non-black she dyes. The cables just sang in the yarn. With each passing row I became more smitten with the yarn and the color.

Yelena Navy 2

So now I have two perfect navy sweaters and, I hope, one eventually perfect Breton-style sweater, each using a different dyer’s navy. You would think a girl could be sated by this. But no, I’m constantly on the hunt for the next Ultimate Navy. After all, I still don’t have a cardigan!

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