Saturday, January 15, 2022

Linear Blending a Wool Gradient

Recently, I’ve been experimenting a lot with blending coloured wool gradients; finding various methods for creating a smooth transition from one colour to another, with a minimum amount of striping.

In this blog post I’m going to be demonstrating a simple method, that I may or may not have invented, for creating an ombré or gradient effect by plotting the varying colour ratios on a graph.  I’m going to call it linear blending as it assumes that the colour transition moves evenly from one colour to another, rather than one colour dominating the other for most of the process (as it does when you blend any colour with black).  

There’s also a YouTube version of this blog post, in which I demonstrate how I blend the fibres on my mini wool combs, and spin my yarn.

If you’d like to see more ‘Fibre to Yarn’ videos please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel.

I’m spinning pastel shades for a mitred square quilt that I’ve been knitting for a while now.  It’s definitely lacking some yellow and orange shades, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone by also trying out my linear blending technique by blending a light yellow to pastel pink gradient.

I’m using white and yellow merino from John Arbon, and magenta merino from World of Wool.

From previous experience with blending saturated colours with white, I know that I want the pastel to be 1 part colour to 8 parts white.

After a combing session, this is what 8:1 white:magenta, and white:yellow look like.  

Looking at the picture above, it never ceases to amaze me just how little coloured wool you need to add to white to still achieve a candy floss-like pastel!

I’ve decided to see how smooth a transition I get with 15 varying colour blends, which, if I blend them by hand on my mini wool combs, should give me a nice amount of yarn to play with.

To speed things up, and significantly reduce the amount of maths that I need to do, I’ve developed a method of graphing out the process. 

On the y axis, I’ve evenly distributed the numbers of blends that I want to do, and on the x axis I’ve written the percentage range of one of the two colours I’ll be blending. The percentage of white will remain the same throughout, so that isn’t taken into account on the graph. As I work through each blend number, all I need to do is look at the corresponding number on the y axis, and then follow the line along and then down when I meet the diagonal line to see the percentage of colour I need to add for that blend.

The Maths Bit

In the example above, if I’m on blend number 13, I follow the y axis line along until it meets the diagonal line on the graph, I then just follow the line down until I read that the percentage of yellow to pink is 87% yellow (to 13% pink).

All of my blends are 8 parts white to one part colour -

8/9 = 0.89 therefore all of my blends are 89% white to 11% colour

I can get 6g of wool on my mini wool combs
89% of 6g = 5.34g of white wool in every blend 
6g - 5.34g = 0.66g of coloured wool in every blend 

In blend number 13, I already know that I need 5.34g of white, so I just need to find out what 87% of 0.66g is -

87% x 0.66g = 0.57g

So for blend number 13, I would weigh out 0.57g of yellow, and then carefully add finely drafted pink fibres until it weighs 0.66g. Then I need to add on the 5.34g of white wool that is in every blend.

Obviously, working with my mini combs, I’m using very tiny 6g quantities and so I need to use digital scales that are accurate to two decimal places and be really quite precise with my weighing.  I realise that not everyone has the patience to be weighing wool by the 100th of a gram, but this technique would scale up really well for calculating sweater quantities, using different tools to blend the fibres - and you wouldn’t need to be nearly as precise with your weighing.

My hackle, for example, easily holds 40g of fibre, I can squeeze 30g on my blending board, I don’t own a drum carder, but I believe one of those could hold 50g or more.           

If I wanted to work a gradient over a much greater length of yarn, I would decide on the amount of fibre I want to prepare at a time, and divide that into the total weight of fibre I need for my project.  The greater number of blends you have on the Y axis, the less noticeable, the colour changes will be.  

I would of course have to allow a little extra for waste - my combs, for example, produce a lot more short fibre waste than my blending board.

Here’s how all 16 blends look lined up next to each other.  Seeing them all together,  I actually think that I could have reduced it down to just 10 different blends and I still would have got a non-striping gradient, but it would almost always be better to do too many than too few.

After a couple of days’ spinning, I spun through all of my gradient fibre, all ready for turning it into a chain plied ball.

If you’d like to see how I pre-chain-ply my singles I’ve got a video tutorial here

Here’s my yarn after the twist has been added and it’s been steamed to set the twist and plump up the yarn.

It’s only when I wind my yarn into a cake, that the true gradient appears.  I love the subtlety of it, but I’m definitely looking forward to trying this technique with some bolder colours next time.


If you want to have a go at plotting your own linear gradients, I’ve provided a blank one for you to print out.

You should be able to download this graph here.

You just need to divide the y axis up into the number of blends you want to do and then evenly distribute the individual numbers ascending up the y axis.  

Of course, your gradient doesn’t need to go from 0 to 100%.  For example, you might just want a subtle blue/green gradient that goes from 50% blue (and 50% yellow or green) up to 90% blue (and 10% yellow or green);  you would follow the vertical graph line up from the 50% mark until you met the diagonal line, and begin to distribute your blend numbers on the y axis upwards from this horizontal line, ending where the diagonal line goes through the 90% mark on the corresponding x axis.

Linear blending would also work really well if you had two custom blends and you wanted to combine them into one unique sweater.  You could blend greater quantities for the body of the sweater and then two identical yarns with smaller quantities for the sleeves so that the colour changes matched… maybe that’s a blog post for another day…

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