Sunday, January 09, 2022

Blending a Long Gradient on my Hackle - Taking Advantage of Varying Fibre Lengths for an Interesting Colour-Shift Effect

In this post, I’ll be sharing an interesting experimental technique I’ve been thinking about for a while for creating a long gradient yarn by preparing my fibre using a hackle and diz. This technique only works if one or more of your fibre colours has a significantly longer or shorter average fibre length than the others, but it can result in some very interesting results that would otherwise be very time consuming to achieve using alternative blending methods.

A video of my whole process from fibre to yarn is available on YouTube.  Please subscribe to my YouTube channel for more Fibre to Yarn videos.


When I first started trying to teach myself how to use a hackle and diz, I was getting very frustrated because I could not get an even distribution of colour.  

No matter how many times I blended the two different colours on my hackle, when I tried to diz them off, the result was always a subtle blend, following by a sudden colour change.

As a novice, it took me quite a while to realise that I’d actually been sent a faulty batch of blue merino wool, which contained much shorter lengths than usual.  The supplier acknowledged that the fibre was at fault, and replaced all of my order with combed tops of a much more consistent length, but it did teach me one thing:-

As the first fibres you pull from the hackle are always the longer ones, if your coloured fibres are different lengths you can achieve some interesting colour shifts or gradients, purely by carefully loading your hackle, and drafting it off by repeatedly moving from side to side, using the smallest hole on your diz.

I thought it would be an interesting experiment to purposefully try to achieve a long gradient just by taking advantage of naturally occurring varying staple lengths.

8g of blue, 13g of turquoise, 6g of spearmint and 13g of raven

I’ll be blending 3 closely related colours, plus black together.  From past experience with these fibres, I’ve learned that the black merino has a much shorter average staple length, while the others have a much wider range of staple lengths - making them perfect for this project.  Unfortunately, as wool is a natural product, it is very difficult to determine, before ordering, exactly what the average staple length will be, but this is quite an interesting way of using up small amounts of fibre stash that are left over from other projects.

Here, I’ve begun loading fibre onto my homemade hackle.  As you can see, I’m drafting my fibre very thinly onto my hackle.  Drafting it thinly, in lots of different coloured layers makes it significantly easier to draft a good mixture of blended colours off later, in a thinly pulled roving.

Each layer is placed so thinly that you can see a couple of the layers below.

As you can see, the black fibres are quite a bit shorter than most of the other colours, which is key to obtaining a light to dark gradient.

After 47 very thin layers of drafted fibres, and 40g of merino, my hackle is about as loaded as it can comfortably be.  To prevent the bulging fibres from popping off the top, I’ve added my hackle cover.

To draft the fibre off the hackle, I used the smallest 2mm hole on my diz.  This allows me to draft off just the longest fibres from the very tips of the coloured merino.

I like to place a board underneath my hackle to catch the thin roving as it would break under its own weight if I were to let it hang down.

I keep moving from side to side, drafting thin roving off just from the very tips of the fibre.  This way, I’m much more likely to achieve a long gradient as I will pull off far fewer black fibres in the beginning, while the black will begin to dominate later on.

As I get closer to the hackle, I can feel that the fibres are getting shorter.  This is going to be my penultimate pass and so I’m less focused on moving from side to side, and concentrating more on getting an even thickness of fibres remaining along the hackle.

On the final pass, I can see that the last fibres are much darker than they were when I started and I’m becoming quite hopeful that my experiment in hackle blending a gradient worked.  I left the very shortest fibres on the hackle and I will use them later in another spinning project.

Here’s my roving as it’s been drafted off the hackle and hopefully you can actually see the fibres going from light to dark as it’s come off the hackle.

I wound the pulled roving into a loose ball, with the lighter colours on the outside, and the darker shades on the inside.

I spun a fine single on my Electric Eel Wheel Nano.  My goal was to spin all 40g of this roving onto one bobbin and then repeat the whole blending and drafting process twice more to ply it into a 3 ply US sport/UK baby weight yarn.

Here are my three Nano bobbins with spun singles on.  I'd made a note of exactly the weights of each colour  I'd used, which allowed me to repeat the process from start to finish, using exactly the same colour ingredients, and drafting, blending and dizzing techniques.

I then plied all three bobbins together to make one long gradient yarn.

After it’s had a gentle bath, my yarn has bloomed slightly.

It was only when I wound it into a cake that I got a real feel for the long gradient yarn I’d spun.  

Oh my goodness, I absolutely love it!  I’ve spun gradients before, but none have had such a heathered, organic, unplanned feel to them.  I’m seriously considering repeating the whole long process four more times so that I can knit all 5 yarns alternately into a totally unique, long gradient sweater.

Thank you for reading!  If you've found this post interesting or useful, please do pin it to Pinterest.  It makes a big difference to me, and helps other spinners find it too.

At this point, I normally suggest similar related blog posts, however, my list of spinning-related content is becoming a little unmanageable...  If you'd like to read more blog posts about spinning and fibre preparation, please take a look at this page here where you will find links to all of my spinning and fibre articles.  

Thank you for reading, and happy spinning! 


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