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Tweeds, Heathers, and Marls—What’s the Difference and What to Knit

Classic yarns, complex colors

Spin Off Editors Mar 21, 2024 - 6 min read

Tweeds, Heathers, and Marls—What’s the Difference and What to Knit  Primary Image

An abundance of wooly color. Photos by Kate Larson unless otherwise noted

Just the mention of tweed or heathered yarns can turn many a knitter’s head. These classic woolly skeins often appear as complex solid colors from afar and brilliantly multicolored when inspected up close. Heathers, tweeds, and marls, too, are traditionally “dyed in the wool.” This means that the dyeing steps happen before the yarn is spun into its final form.

All three of these yarn styles traditionally incorporate this approach—dyeing the ingredients before the final yarn is spun—but in different ways that create special color and (sometimes) texture effects. Heathers, tweeds, and marls are all related, and like most textile terms, meanings can shift over time. You may encounter modern yarns that don’t fall neatly into these categories or might be described by the makers using different terms. Think of this as a framework of traditional terms as we dissect some currently produced, wonderfully polychrome yarns.

Lucky Tweed from Kelbourne Woolens (Ocean colorway) works up beautifully in the garter-rib brim of the Leaf Cap (see below).

Choosing a pattern for yarns that incorporate many colors and some occasional texture can be a knitter's challenge. Strong stitch motifs and cables with a three-dimentional relief can help make your careful stitching pop. We've curated three pattern suggestions from our library that would work with the worsted-weight yarns featured here. Subscribers will find links to each pattern in the library below.


The gentle varieation of heathered yarns happens in the blending step. Different colors of dyed or undyed fibers are mixed together before spinning. The more thoroughly blended, the more solid the color will appear. Describing a color as “heathered” is a fairly ubiquitous term, so where did it come from? According to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles, “the term originally suggested the purplish color of Scottish heather, yet many heather mixtures today do not simulate this hue.”

Harrisville Designs Highland worsted in Tundra (left) and Silver Mist (right)

The Tundra colorway is a heathered blend of sunny yellow and what appears to be a gray that leans to tan. This creates a complex yet consistent color that won’t compete with cables or complicated stitch patterns. The same blending approach using white and black fiber yields the soft gray, granite-like effect shown here.

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