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Pink Needles
Simply Sock Yarns

or Mitered squares as a solution for managing the colors in
handpainted yarn

I love yarn, and I love colour. Handpainted yarns combine those two loves in a wonderful way. I have a collection of handpainted yarn that I fondle and want to put into a picture frame on the wall.

However, handpainted yarns are notoriously difficult to work with. They can pool and flash unpredictably, making unwanted patterns up your work. Or, as you’re knitting up your project, the colours can blend unexpectedly, either lessening the impact of the colours we love, or creating what can fondly be called "clown vomit".

Almost every knitter has this problematic skein of yarn in the stash: it has all of the colours you love, but when you try to knit it up, it turns into a garish mess.

This article’s genesis was in a gift from my husband—a skein of Socks that Rock in the Husky colourway, which is yellow, white and purple. It’s a difficult, high-contrast colourway, and I knew that it would knit up into striping, pooling, and flashing socks—a look I didn’t want.


So I wound up the ball and started swatching. I cast on a few stitches and tried a mitered square, and it turned into a perfectly framed miter, with the purple on the long side, and the yellow and white on the inside.


This turned into a wee-hours project, as I did “just one more square” until I’d finished an entire sock cuff in less than two days. (This is now the Mitered Windowpane Socks, a pattern that’s written up for free on my blog.)


I loved the way the yarn pooled and made the colours so much more intense and vivid. By figuring out the average length of one colour repeat in your skein of yarn, you can build these mitered square “building blocks” into all sorts of knitted items — sock, mitten or sweater cuffs, hat brims, or sweater edgings.

Making a mitered square
To make your first mitered square, cast on an odd number of stitches. I’ll use the number 15 for now, as that’s a fairly common number for sock yarn and size US 0-1 needles.

Your numbers will change depending on your gauge and the weight of hand-dyed yarn you’re using, so make sure to swatch. Fortunately, a swatch for this project is just one mitered square and a few minutes of knitting, though you may have to try a few different cast-on numbers to get the right one for your yarn and needles.

Using the loop or “e” cast-on, cast on 15 stitches. I like to cast on from the darkest colour as it will form the long end of your mitered square, and give your square a defined edge. I prefer the loop cast-on for mitered squares because it’s a single-colour cast-on, it’s very stretchy, and it’s easy to pick up stitches from this cast-on.

Knit one row. Purl back one row. On the third row, slip the first stitch*, knit 5 stitches, then do a double decrease: slip two together, knit 1 and pass the two slipped stitches over the stitch you’ve just knit. The centre stitch will form the lovely mitered line across your square. Then knit the final 6 stitches.
*Note: After the first row, I always slip the first stitch of every row to make the stitches easier to pick up for the following squares. (Row 0 is the cast-on row, and you have to knit the first stitch of Row 1 in order to tighten up that loose loop.)

Here’s a chart for how to proceed on each row of a 15-stitch mitered square. If you cast on more or fewer stitches, adjust accordingly.


(Above: Socks that Rock, 15 stitch mitered square, on US 1 needles)

Cheating in your mitered square
Because handpainted yarns are unique, they will all have a little bit of unevenness in the dyeing, and you will probably have to cheat a little to get the colours aligning into perfect order.

Here’s a chart for cheating the decreases if you get into the second repeat of yarn a little too early. It’s easier if you can teach yourself to knit backwards in order to do the decrease row from the front.


And sometimes you’ve miscalculated and you need to adjust your square by a lot of stitches. This sample cheat saves you 18 stitches worth of yarn. 


And if you find yourself in the reverse situation, with a little too much yarn for the next square, here’s another cheat chart for using up the yarn to get you aligned for the next square.


There are many handpainted yarns in the marketplace, and they won’t all turn into “windowpanes.” I’ve swatched up a few samples for this article, and taken photographs of the skein and the resulting squares to help you figure out how to work with the yarn and the colours that you love.

I find that yarn with strong colour contrasts makes the most interesting mitered squares. And sometimes, as you’ll see below, you don’t have to find the “magic number” for your yarn to get a very interesting set of colours and textures.


Lorna’s Laces Worsted, size 5 needles, 15 stitch squares


Malabrigo Silky Merino in Vigo colourway, size 5 needles, 15 stitch squares


Malabrigo Sock in Caribeno, size 0 needles, 17 stitch square on top, 15 stitch square on bottom. Sometimes you don’t need to get the skein repeats to align to get a really interesting look.


Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock Multi, in the rainbow colourway. 15 stitch miter on a size 0 needle. Again, the repeats didn’t align here, but the rainbow colours pop so much more vividly on this sock cuff than in the rest of the foot.


Wollmeise Sockenwolle 100% superwash, in Krauterbeet. 13 stitch miter on a size 0 needle.


designernameBlank Gladys We is the knitting eccentric in her family. She lives in a suburb of Vancouver, BC, and knits during her commute, while chasing her two boys around, and pretty much anytime she’s awake.

She’s grateful that her boys lend her their Tinkertoys when she needs a swift, and she blogs when she can.