Thursday, May 25, 2023

The 2 Most Popular Methods Used By Spinners To Avoid ‘Spinning Mud’ - Spinning into Focus with John Arbon’s ‘Slack ma Girdle’ - The Wildcards

Last month, I shared the sixth, seventh, and eighth fibre preparation methods in my Spinning into Focus technique which paradoxically uses a blending board to spin a less blended yarn. My idea is that by the end of this blog series, I will have a sweater quantity of different yarns, all spun from the same multi-coloured, commercially available blended top - Slack Ma Girdle from John Arbon Textiles.  


The yarns will all have varying levels of colour blending so that I can eventually knit a garment that has the colours appearing to come into focus as they work their way down, up, or across the garment.

Any blog series devoted to the various ways of maintaining the colours in a multicoloured blended top would be incomplete if I didn’t mention the two most popular methods deployed by spinners to avoid all of the colours mixing together.

If you ask any group of experienced spinners the best way of maintaining the colours in a multicoloured top, you will almost always be told to either spin from the fold or split the top vertically.  Both of these methods mean that you are spinning from a reduced number of colours but result in very different yarns.  I thought it would be really useful to show both of these popular techniques side-by-side.

Breaking the Top into a Fibonacci Sequence and then Splitting it Vertically 

A video demonstration of this technique can be found here - 

When I first tried splitting the top vertically in my original experiments with spinning a multi-coloured blend, it occurred to me that this technique felt a lot more designed than most of the other methods.  You aren't just letting the colours fall where they may; you have control over how they are divided, where they are placed, and how long each colour section is.

I'll be splitting it into just 5 vertical sections this time.  I could painstakingly pick out all of the separate colours for even less muddiness, or arrange the sections into a gradient for a striking colour-changing yarn.  However, I want my 'Spinning into Focus' technique to be enjoyable - especially for a sweater quantity of yarn.  I also want all of my yarns to follow smoothly, from one to the other, and hopefully, I've come up with a method that will do just that.

If I'd taken the remaining 80g of fibre and just split it up into 5 different vertical strips it would have resulted in quite a distractingly different yarn compared to any of the others.  The colour sections would be far too long, and the transitions would be much too sudden and contrast too strongly next to the other yarns.

This technique is about the colours coming into focus, and a lot of the time that means each yarn having longer colour sections than the previous one.  This concept was my inspiration for breaking the combed top lengths up into a Fibonacci sequence.  

This pattern of each number being the sum of the previous two numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.) is often found in nature and is frequently considered by artists to be naturally pleasing to the eye.  I've seen textile artists (both knitters and weavers) use this technique to achieve a gradient or ombre effect while transitioning from one colour to another.  I've never seen it used spun into the actual yarn itself so, out of pure curiosity, I decided to give it a go.

The Fibonacci Spiral - Wikipedia

My idea was to start by breaking off a relatively short length of top, and then I would multiply this length by progressively larger Fibonacci sequence numbers until I ran out of fibre.

I began by breaking a section of the top off that was about the length of my blending board.  (I chose this length as it should follow on nicely from Technique number 8.)

I then went on to break the top up into lengths that were 2 times, 3 times, and 5 times the length of my blending board until I reached the end of the fibre.

Then, starting with the shortest length, I divided each section up into 5 strips, trying to vary the colour distribution so that I had 5 quite different groupings of fibre.  I was also trying to be a little mindful of avoiding colour combinations that would optically blend together into brown.

Here are the x 5 lengths spread out across my table.  You can see that I wasn't overly concerned with keeping the strips the same width.

Then, I just spun all of my lengths of fibre from the end - from the very shortest, all the way through to the very longest, taking care to rotate the nests so that I was spinning from a different colour combination every time.

Out of curiosity, I took a photo of my bobbin after I'd finished spinning each group of fibres.

When I was splitting the blended top I wasn't overly careful to ensure that the colours didn't stray from one strip to the next.  This meant that I achieved some pretty colour shifts and gradients within some of the strips - which was really quite noticeable, and very pleasing in the longer sections.

Here’s the final chain-plied yarn.  I must confess to being slightly surprised by how muddy a lot of the colours are.  Those singles held so much promise but, from a distance, the yarn is a lot browner than I hoped it would be.  

I think in trying to make the spin more enjoyable by only breaking the yarn up into 5 sections, I’d increased the chances of the colours coming together to make brown.  If I’d broken it up into sections made up mostly of just 2 colours, I would have spun a much brighter and more colourful yarn.  But then I would barely be drafting it, and how enjoyable would that be?

It's still a very pretty, autumnal yarn, and the long sections of blue and rusty red add subtle colour interest to what is overall quite a subdued, understated, neutral-coloured yarn.

A very big part of me wants to try spinning a sweater quantity of yarn in a Fibonacci sequence using a more analogous blend to see how that would look...  Maybe that's a project for future me!

Spinning From the Fold

A video demonstration of this technique can be found here - 

When you spin from the fold you are effectively drafting from the side of the top.  You are spinning the colours, in much smaller groups, one after the other, rather than combining all of the colours together.

I find the easiest way to maintain control while I’m spinning from the fold is to pull off a minimal amount of fibre.  The length of fibre I use will be determined by the staple length of the fibre.  I grip the fibres firmly with my thumb, pressing down on the point just below the open, splayed ends of the fibre, and pull to break off a little over a staple length of fibre.

I then open up the fibres and try to arrange them so that there aren’t too many colours sitting on top of each other.

With the fibres folded over my forefinger, I pull lightly on the centre of the end fibres to open them up and make them easier to join onto the singles on my bobbin.  I find that keeping the fibres folded over my index finger helps to keep the colours separate as I work my way across the fibre.

When I have just a few fibres remaining, I tend to shift to lightly holding the fibre ends between my thumb and finger to spin the very last colours.

It's worth noting that spinning from the fold is also one of the easiest ways of learning to spin long-draw.  I don't often spin long-draw as my body can't cope with the wide arm movements involved but I frequently find myself accidentally slipping into a short long-draw (if there is such a thing?) when I spin from the fold.  

If you are trying to teach yourself long-draw spinning I would highly recommend beginning with this fibre preparation technique.

Here are the singles spun from the fold…

… and here is the final chain-plied yarn.  As usual, I kept the chains quite short when I was plying to try to preserve the original colours as much as possible.  

This is only the fourth time I’ve spun from the fold and I’m starting to fall in love with this technique.  Of all of the yarns in this series, this is one of the brightest and most colourful, and yet there is more obvious barber-poling than in any of the other yarns.  It’s so complex!

I think this fibre was the perfect candidate for demonstrating the advantages of spinning from the fold as it’s made up of primary colours.  If you look closely at the yarn and the 3 colours within the strands,  you can see that they’re made up of colours that mostly span less than half of the colour wheel.  The fact that when you spin from the fold you are spinning from just one or two colours means, in this case, that the chained plies rarely came together to blend into brown.

The Wildcard Yarns

I’m calling these two yarns wildcards as they don’t quite fit into my Spinning into Focus technique and yet I feel compelled to add them as they are definitely both useful and valuable techniques for preventing all of the colours in a multicoloured blend from optically blending together.

With almost all of my previous yarns in this series, the colour sections became progressively longer and brighter with each technique.  These yarns don’t really fit into that pattern.  The first yarn has very long, but quite muted colour sections.  The second has the shortest colour sections, and yet it’s possibly the brightest of all of the yarns.  They’re both beautiful yarns in their very different ways.

Well, thank you so much for coming along with me on my fibre journey.  I've learned so much! I’ll be showing all 10 of the yarns together, and sampling them for a sweater knit in an upcoming blog post.  I’ve never looked forward to swatching so much in my life!

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Sunday, April 02, 2023

The Blending Board Paradox : Spinning into Focus with John Arbon’s ‘Slack ma Girdle’ - Techniques 6, 7 and 8

Full disclosure - I reached out to John Arbon Textiles and told them about my 'Spinning into Focus' technique.  They very kindly sent me a sweater quantity of Slack Ma Girdle from their Appledore range of blended tops to demonstrate my method with.

Last month, I shared the fourth and fifth fibre preparation methods in my Spinning into Focus technique. My idea is that by the end of this blog series, I will have a sweater quantity of different yarns, all spun from the same multi-coloured, commercially available blended top - Slack Ma Girdle from John Arbon Textiles.  


The yarns will all have varying levels of colour blending so that I can eventually knit a garment that has the colours appearing to come into focus as they work their way down, up, or across the garment.

The following three techniques use the same blended fibre on a blending board to prepare and spin for an increasingly more colourful yarn.  I won't be using the blending board to blend the colours, but paradoxically, as a tool to change the fibres into a format that results in less colour blending.

Technique 6: drafting 3 layers onto a blending board and pulling off 3 rolags

Above is the full video demonstration of the following technique.

In this blending board technique, I first open up the blended top so that it's quite flat and open, rather than round and compressed. I draft the fibres onto the blending board, holding the fibres down with the blending brush.  I'm laying the fibres on relatively thickly in 3 layers.  I'm actually trying to get the layers of colours the same, but the imprecise nature of this technique means that a little muddiness is inevitable.

Once my blending board is full, I draft off 3 thin rolags.

Well, I'm always learning as a spinner, and since I wrote about this technique last year I've learned that if I draft out the blending board rolags before I spin them, it doesn't just reduce the amount of colour blending in the final yarn, but it also makes for a much more enjoyable, relaxing spin as I'm not tugging at all at the fibres while I draft them.

Here's my fluffy mound of stretched-out blending board rolags, ready to be spun.

The singles are definitely showing a lot more of the original colours now...

... but when it's plied, those colours still optically blend together into a yarn that is predominantly a complex brown with some pleasing pops of colour.

Technique 7: placing a single layer onto the blending board and pulling off 3 rolags

Here's a video demonstration of the following technique - 

I came up with this technique last year while I was trying to think of ways of avoiding spinning mud and it's still one of my favourite methods - mostly because it's so simple!

Firstly, I break off 3 lengths of blended top that are about the length of my blending board.

Then, one at a time, I open the lengths up until they are about a third of the width of my blending board.  I'm trying to get the different colours to sit next to each other rather than on top of each other.

When all 3 strips are spread out across the width of my blending board, I brush them down. Starting from the bottom and working from side-to-side, I zig-zag my way up the blending board, holding the fibres in place above the brush to prevent them from moving about.

I then draft off 3 rolags from the blending board.

Through experimentation, I've learned that thinner rolags like these are much easier to draft from than densely layered rolags.  They also result in a lot less colour blending, which is what I'm aiming for here.

The optical blending going on in this image makes me very happy.  It's difficult to believe that this blended top is made up of just red, yellow, cyan, and white!

Here are the singles on the bobbin.  You can see that the colour sections are brighter and appear to be getting longer, which should result in less muddiness when it's chain-plied.

… and here’s my final chain-plied yarn.  Yep, I still love this technique!  The final yarn is complex and colourful with a very pleasing amount of marling that’s just muddy enough to tone the colours down.

Technique 8: placing a single layer on the blending board and then rolling off a single rolag

Here's a video demonstration of the following technique - 

This method is my second attempt at the only yarn that I classed as a failure when I wrote my first post on attempting to avoid 'spinning mud'.

Instead of adding several drafted layers to the blending board, this time I did the opposite. I placed just 2 strips of blended top on the blending board, opening them up as much as possible so that together they filled the width of the board, and the colours were sitting side-by-side.

I then removed all of the fibre from the blending board in one thick rolag, only drafting slightly to card and align the fibres a little.

When I last tried to spin a rolag made up of the full height of the blending board it didn't go well.  I found that the fibres took quite a bit of pulling to draft them out during spinning, and the colours had a tendency to all come out at once; which was not the look that I was hoping for.  This time, however, I learned from my mistake and I drafted the blending board rolag out quite a bit before I attempted to spin from it.

Here is the drafted blending board rolag.  You can see that the fibres are not particularly well aligned, but the colours are reduced down enough for it to have a serious impact on how blended the colours in the final yarn are.  This is also going to draft much more easily while I spin; not as easily as technique 7, but it will be a significantly more enjoyable spin than the last time I tried to spin a rolag made from a blending board full of fibre.  That was not fun…

There’s still a complexity to the different colours within the singles but the colour sections are getting longer.

The singles in the last two yarns are starting to resemble the blended top that they’re spun from, which is very pleasing.

… and here’s the final chain-plied yarn.  I must admit to spinning less of this yarn than most of the others as I was concerned that it might end like my first attempt at this technique.  I needn’t have worried. The colour sections are significantly longer than any of the other yarns that I’ve spun so far.  The colours are much more solid and slightly brighter, but still relatively muted.

Here are all 3 yarns, prepared on a blending board, side-by-side.

The colour progression between these three yarns is probably the most noticeable of all of my yarns so far and it’s very pleasing.  From left to right, the colours are literally coming into focus.  

Part of me would like to stop now, but I have one more blog post in this series to come.  In my final entry I’ll be sharing the two most popular methods deployed by spinners to avoid ‘spinning mud’.

If you’ve found any of this interesting or useful, please pin this image to Pinterest.  It makes a big difference to me and helps other spinners find it too.

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