Can I pull from the center/work from the outside of a cake? Yes to both! We use top-of-the-line ballwinders to wind all cakes, which results in extremely neat and easy-to-use cakes. They work equally well either way. You may find it easier to work from the outside of cakes when using a large cake, or a yarn with no elasticity (e.g. Silk Lace, Silklin).
How do the Gradients work, exactly? Gradients are dyed using a special technique that allows them to change color extremely gradually. Instead of stripes or blotches of color, Gradients consist of solid colors that very smoothly blend into each other as the skein progresses. When working with a Gradient you'll enjoy seeing these same slow color changes gradually unfold in your project.
What projects work best for Gradients? The key to getting a gorgeous project with Gradient yarn is to choose a pattern that's well suited for it. In general shawls, scarves, cowls, skirts, and hats are great Gradient-friendly projects while sweaters, tops, mittens, and gloves are more challenging; even within those categories, though, there are going to be patterns that are perfect and some that just won't work. So what to look for? Seamless and one-piece, with no sections that require putting stitches on waste yarn or picking up stitches, are the hallmarks of a good match (many shawl patterns and most scarf patterns, for example, simply start on one end and work to the other with no breaks in the yarn). Top-down tops and sweaters may fit these criteria, or may be workable by slightly fudging the pattern (Sugar Maple is a good example of a sweater pattern for Gradients, and I've knitted a Pull Me Over short-sleeve sweater in a Gradient as well). Top-down sleeved sweaters may be achieved by using one larger gradient skein for the sweater body and two Mini's for the sleeves.
Another important tip: you'll get the most out of a Gradient by matching the yardage of the project as closely as possible to the yardage of your skein. This allows you to get the full effect of the color transition without losing the final segment of color. For this reason patterns written especially for ATK yarns, as well as patterns that are easily adjusted to use extra yardage, are highly recommended.
So two rules of thumb - look for patterns where you never break the yarn until you're finished, and with yardage requirements that closely match your skein size. For crocheters, similar rules apply - projects worked entirely in the round or back and forth in rows are a good fit, while motifs and other projects worked in pieces are not as conducive to Gradients. Some patterns would look fabulous in a Gradient but don't fit these criteria - often using two skeins (for example, 2 standard-size skeins instead of 1 XL skein) will give you enough flexibility to make these patterns workable.
What detergent is the yarn rinsed with? We use only hypoallergenic, fragrance and dye free detergents to rinse our yarn.
Will the yarn bleed? This is a more complicated question than you might think. All yarns are rinsed until they run completely clear in the studio, so no they will not truly "bleed" (meaning they won't release large amounts of color into the water under normal conditions). Everyone's water and washing methods are different, though, so it's impossible to say with certainty that no yarn will release enough dye to tint the water. Dark, saturated, and very bright colors (especially reds and yellows) are most likely to release a little bit of dye in water. Since even a little tint can effect an multicolored project we strongly recommend washing your swatch just as you intend to wash the finished piece (and following the care instructions for your particular yarn), and soaking for the shortest amount of time possible. When in doubt (and especially when using very saturated and very light yarns in a project together) consider using a Color Catcher sheet or two in the wash (these are laundry sheets designed to soak up excess color in water before they can redeposit onto fabric, and are usually available with other laundry supplies).
What does OOAK mean? It stands for one-of-a-kind, meaning that skein (or the lot from which it came) is completely unique and cannot ever be repeated.
I want to make a particular pattern, but I need an XL Gradient skein and my local yarn store only carries standard 4 oz cakes! Two cakes of the same yarn and color can be combined to make one larger Gradient, if desired. Alternate rows between cakes to create one long Gradient, or work through one cake and then the second cake in reverse order (this is a great way to do a Gradient scarf, for example).
I have ethical/environmental concerns about the sources of yarn (or I'm just curious). How can I find out more about the sources of ATK's yarn, or the environmental impact of ATK? Great questions! The short version is that we work primarily with a small, family-owned-and-operated business in New York to acquire most of our yarns (Silklin Light Fingering and Groovy Fingering come from a Canadian company). The wool/yarns are imported from a variety of places - I think ATK features about the best of what the world's fiber has to offer.
For those who are wondering, it is likely that some of our merino comes from Australia, which means that some of it may indeed come from mulesed sheep. One of the best parts of running my own business is that I can let my conscience guide my work, and I have thought long and hard about this issue (along with carrying silk, which results in the death of the worm inside the cocoon). Being an animal owner and lover myself, and a vegetarian, I am sensitive to these issues; living in a rural area and keeping hens, I'm also pragmatic about the blind indifference of nature to my personal preferences. Merino sheep in Australia have a good chance of dying in a horrific manner if flystrike isn't prevented, and mulesing is the most effective prevention until selective breeding eliminates the skin folds that make them susceptible . I personally lost a hen to flystrike in a matter of a few hours, and I wouldn't wish it on the worst person in the world. I also believe that sheep farmers in Australia do care about their animals, and are smart enough to know that happy healthy sheep grow better-grade wool (they do, and it's worth more money - so it's a no-brainer for a farmer). As a practical matter, removing merinos from Australia would not only be a severe economic problem, it would result in slaughtering all those wonderful sheep.
Similarly, I'm comfortable with silk because insects' reproductive strategy is based around the fact that nearly all offspring will die before producing offspring themselves; if they didn't, the entire population would shortly starve to death. And without silk, the bombyx species of moth (which produces mulberry silk) would immediately become extinct as it cannot exist in the wild. I would never attempt to convince anyone else to share these opinions, but these are the reasons why I am comfortable carrying these fibers.
ATK's environmental impact is constantly being examined for ways to reduce it, but of course there is an impact nonetheless. My water comes from a well behind my house and waste goes into a septic system in front of my house, so I have a very personal interest in maintaining a happy balance on both ends. Dyeing yarn uses a large amount of water (probably the single greatest impact of any dyeing operation), so I take a number of steps to reuse water whenever possible: soak water and rinse water are reused until no longer clean, and I dye multiple batches of a colorway at a time to reuse that dye water. Harsh cleaners are never used anywhere in my house - certainly not in the dye studio - and yarn is rinsed with biodegradable and hypoallergenic unscented detergent (the same thing I wash all my own handknits with). Almost all the dyes I use are GOTS 5.0 (Global Organic Textile Standards) and OEKO-TEX standard 100 compliant. The acidic wastewater that dyeing produces is neutralized with baking soda before going down the drain. The main sources of waste in the studio are plastic wrap to wrap up yarn for steam-setting and latex gloves to protect my hands from dye. Several yarns are dyed at a time to maximize the yarn dyed from each yard of plastic wrap. Electricity powers the stove that heat-sets the yarn, the skein winder, and ballwinder; energy used on the first two is conserved by heating/winding at maximum capacity. While a full run-down of all possible issues is beyond the scope of this FAQ, I hope I've provided at least a general sense of how ATK operates. I also always welcome questions about any aspect of my business - feel free to use the Contact Us form and ask away!