Managing colour in hand dyed fibre

Dyeing fibre Tutorial

Not only do I love to hand-dye fibre but I also love buying, accumulating and stashing hand-dyed fibre – I can succumb to the eye candy of a pretty 100g braid as much as the next person!

I’m often asked, and not always by new spinners, the best way to spin these pretty braids and so I thought I would do a series of blog posts looking at hand-dyed fibres and share few techniques, hints and tips that I’ve picked up along the way.

The first thing I guess is to examine your fibre to determine what you have and how it was dyed. Is it predominately one colour? Are the colours harmonious or is there a lot of contrast? Are there areas of blocks of one colour or are they subtle toned and blended into each other? Hand-dyed fibre is usually a 100g length of commercially combed top and has either been hand-painted or kettle dyed although there are other fibre preps and dyeing methods. Hand painted braids will generally have broad strips or chunks of colour repeated in the same sequence along the length of the braid whereas kettle dyed fibre will tend to have more random splodges of colour. Understanding how the colour will present itself as you spin will help you to anticipate the effect you’ll achieve and by actively managing the colours as they are presented you can influence and determine the result of your finished yarn.

The easiest, and the most often used method is to spin one half of the braid onto one bobbin, half onto another and ply them together. You have little control over the placement of the colours - sometimes the two plies that meet will be similar colours and create a solid or semi-solid length of yarn and sometimes they will be different and create a stripey, barber pole effect. When it works, it can be wonderful but when it doesn’t it can be disappointing.

Fractal Method

This is similar to the” half on one bobbin, half on another” scenario above but rather than just split the fibre into two lengthwise, we split the second half into another two or more thinner lengths. This has the advantage of ensuring that the solid colour and barber pole runs are shorter and that the chances of any two colours or shades of colours meeting when plied are maximised. It also helps to mix lighter or darker lengths throughout the yarn and minimise long stripes when knitted.

First I split the 100g length into two lengthways. The fibre I used was Whitefaced Woodland that had been kettled dyed in shades of green with a few random spots of pale yellow and a smokey brown. I spun this half onto one bobbin. There were long runs of each shade of green with shorter runs where the paler colours were spun. You can see all the different shades on the bobbin.

The second half of the original braid was then split into four thinner lengths. I put a small loose knot in the end of each of these so that I know which end to start spinning from and I spin these in turn onto a second bobbin.

The second bobbin has the same colour changes but they are more frequent and shorter in length. The two bobbins are plied together – if you split the braid into two equal portions at the start you should use up all, or almost all of the singles on both bobbins. The overall effect is a semi-solid, almost variegated green yarn with highlights and lowlights and it should produce an overall heathery effect when knitted up without any obvious striping.

If you want to have a go yourself, take a look at our hand-dyed fibre page – stock is changing all the time or you can ask us to dye a surprise colourway just for you!

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