Thursday, February 09, 2023

Spinning into Focus with John Arbon’s, ‘Slack ma Girdle’ - Techniques 1, 2 and 3

Earlier last year, I had fun playing with a multicoloured blended top. I wanted to experiment with lots of different ways of preparing and spinning a commercial, mill-processed, blended top to avoid all of the colours just blending together into mud.

In writing my blog post on how to avoid spinning mud it occurred to me that if I arranged all of the yarns I spun in order of how blended they are, I could knit a garment that appeared to have all of the colours in it gradually coming into focus as they worked their way down, up, or even across the garment.  

Personally, I have a hard time staying motivated to spin a sweater quantity of fibre, so breaking it down into 8 or 9 different techniques is also much more likely to keep me focused.

My original experiments were spun using 'Midsommar' from John Arbon's Secret Mill Members' Pages.  I thought it would be much more helpful to readers of my blog if I were to show the different techniques, and resulting yarns, using a commercially available dyed and blended top.

I reached out to John Arbon Textiles and told them about my 'Spinning into Focus' technique, and they very kindly sent me a sweater quantity of Slack Ma Girdle from their Appledore range of dyed and blended tops.  

This is the first of several blog posts showing the yarns I’ll be spinning with the ’Slack Ma Girdle’ tops - the yarns becoming less and less blended with every entry.

Here’s Slack Ma Girdle in top form - It's absolutely glorious! 

In its unspun state, it's incredibly difficult for me to gauge what the final yarns will look like.  I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how the less blended yarns turn out, but at first glance, I really can't make a guess at what kind of optical blend all of those primary colours will make.

Slack Ma Girdle contains quite a bit of red, yellow, and blue, so if I were to spin it using a technique that didn't somehow attempt to keep large sections of the individual colours together, I would inevitably end up with a slightly muddy colour.

I like to use a digital drawing app to get an idea of what kind of optical blend the colours in a blended top will make.  The central rectangle selection in this image has just been blurred in Procreate, and it shows that I'm highly likely to get a warm, pinky brown if I blend the colours as much as possible.  This is very exciting!  If my idea works, I'll have a range of yarns that go from a reserved, heathered, autumnal pink, to a glorious array of colours - but at the same time, all of my yarns should be completely complementary as they will all have the same colours at their base.  I can't wait to get started!


Technique 1: Drum Carding for a Homogeneous Blend.

The video summary of this technique can be found below - 

I don’t actually own a drum carder, but I’m very fortunate that a kind friend at my local Maker Space has left one there for other spinners to use.

I took 50g of Slack Ma Girdle along, and my non-spinning friend, Woody, offered to take a few close-up photos for me to use on my blog.  Amusingly, he was captivated by the stripy, candy-caned top, and he was pretty appalled that I was planning on mixing up the colours as much as possible on the drum carder to probably achieve a brownish colour.  I can't say that I blamed him - it did feel slightly criminal!

I opened up the top until it was almost the width of the drum carder and fed it in.

(This was only my second time using a drum carder, so I may have been a little over-cautious, but I learned that if I try to feed too much into the drum carder at once, the fibres will wrap themselves around the small licker-in drum.)

To speed up the blending process, I drafted the batt into thin roving, and fed it through the drum carder several times.

Here's my batt of Slack ma Girdle after it's been through the drum carder 4 times.

I love how, from a distance, you see a warm, pinky brown, but when you take a closer look, you see a complex blend of many heathered colours.

Chain-plied yarn from drum-carded fibre

I'll be chain-plying all of the singles to reduce optical blending in the less-blended yarns.  If there are long, individual colour sections in there, the chain-plying will help them stand out rather than optically blend with the other colours.

Technique 2: Using Mini Wool Combs

The video summary of this technique can be found below - 

One of my favourite methods for blending small amounts of fibre is with my homemade mini wool combs.  They only hold about 6g of fibre at once, but they're a quick way of blending several different colours together to see how they work.

After 5 passes through the mini wool combs, I had lots of these little dusky pink nests.

The interesting thing is that each of the nests had this subtle gradient, going from a light brown at the beginning, to a darker, heathered pink towards the end.  

As wool is a natural product, it's quite likely that not all of the different coloured fibres will have exactly the same average staple length.  This subtle gradient tells me that, on average, the red fibres in this blend are slightly shorter than the other colours, as more were pulled off the comb later in the drafting process.  The subtle fluctuations of colour should hopefully add more colour variation than the more homogeneous drum-carded yarn.

Here's a Nano bobbin full of singles spun from combed fibres. 

Chain-plied yarn from combed fibre

If you look very closely, you can just about make out a stripe of lighter-coloured yarn just right of centre.  As I said, it's very subtle!

Technique 3: Drafting the Top and Spinning from the End.

The video summary of this technique can be found below - 

It was my experience using this method with a blended top several years ago that inspired my Spinning into Focus journey -

I blindly drafted this Over the Rainbow top from World of Wool…

… and spun up this 2-ply, dirty green colour yarn.  I was quite disappointed by this result, but I learned that simply drafting out the fibres of a multicoloured combed top, and then spinning from the end is a fairly good way of getting all of the colours to optically blend together.

I just drafted the Slack Ma Girdle top by hand, working all the way down the 60g I'd weighed off.  Top often becomes compacted when it's stored so this just opens up the fibres, making it easier to draft from during spinning.  You can also see that as I'm making the colour sections thinner, it will inevitably result in quite a bit of colour blending.

Here are my singles on the bobbin.  You can see that the colours are just starting to come through...

... and here's the final chain-plied yarn.  I was actually quite surprised that the colours came through as well as they did at this stage.  Maybe it's because it takes all of the colours in Slack Ma Girdle to blend together to make brown, so I get these little pops of colour when I'm spinning from just one or two colours in the blend. I love its subtle complexity!

Here are all three of my yarns side-by-side.  

It's funny, I'm finding that I'm racing through these more blended, muddy yarns because I'm really looking forward to spinning the more colourful yarns.  They're going to be a real treat!

Well thank you so much for reading, and hopefully, you'll catch up with my blog when I post the next installment of Spinning into Focus with Slack Ma Girdle.  If you’ve found any of this interesting or useful, please pin it to Pinterest.  It makes a big difference to me and helps other crafters find it too.

I'll be uploading a video version of each technique to YouTube.  If you'd like to be informed whenever I publish a new spinning video, please subscribe to my channel here.

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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