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!

If you've enjoyed this blog post, please consider pinning this image to Pinterest.  It really helps me a lot 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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