Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Questionable Blend number 3 - Gourami

This year I’ll be writing a blog series, sharing several different ways of spinning commercially available, multicoloured blended tops. I’ve tried to choose blends that contain colours from more than half of the colour wheel.  The kinds of blends that are a little tricky to guess immediately how they’ll spin up.

I’ll be using the word questionable to describe any blend that would cast doubt in the mind of even the most experienced spinner. A blend that would cause you to pause before ordering it and question how it might turn out.  

Novice spinners are regularly attracted to the bold, multicoloured stripes of a vertically blended top, but are frequently left disappointed when their beautiful combed top turns to mud on the wheel.  In this series, I’ll be sharing several techniques that can help reduce the amount of optical blending during spinning so that some of those original colours still show up in the final yarn.  By the end, the blended tops will almost certainly not be questionable.


Images Reproduced by Kind Permission of World of Wool

The images above of Gourami from the World of Wool Website are a fairly good representation of its true colour, but it looks slightly darker and duller in person.

Images Reproduced by Kind Permission of World of Wool

Here are the colours within Gourami. I love the contrast of the complementary orange and dark turquoise hues.  I really hope I manage to keep these colours at least a little bit separated.  It will be interesting to see how that pale green interacts with them too.

I spun 8g of Gourami to see how it would look if I allowed the colours to optically blend together.  I just drafted it out and then spun it from the tips.  I then chain-plied it at the wheel to achieve a 3-ply yarn.

The resulting optically blended colour was a dark brown/grey with flecks of green and orange.  It's a lovely, understated neutral yarn that I would happily wear, but bears very little resemblance to the blended top I began with.

I arranged all of the yarns from the blends I’ll be spinning in this series into a kind of muted gradient, and I’ll be spinning them in this order.  They have all been spun with no attention paid to colour management, they’ve simply been pre-drafted, spun, and then chain-plied.

Gourami fibre that has just been drafted and spun from the tips.
 The singles have then been chain-plied

As I progress through them, I’ll be knitting all of the yarns into a mitred square blanket.  That’s the plan anyway!

 All of the yarns in this series will be spun on my Electric Eel Wheel 6 - This is an affiliate link and if you click through and make a purchase I may receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no additional cost to you. Any income from my blog goes a small way towards funding future blog projects.

Spinning Gourami 4 Different Ways

Spinning 100% Bamboo

As a preface to sharing the following techniques, I should mention that I’m quite new to spinning 100% bamboo.  I’ve spun many blends that combine merino and bamboo, and the two fibres mix together well for a pleasant spin, resulting in a soft handle yarn with a lovely sheen.  Bamboo on its own is quite a different spinning experience.  This was quite a steep learning curve for me.  

Bamboo fibre is semi-synthetic as it's chemically manufactured in the same way as any other rayon fibre.  It comes from a natural, relatively sustainable, fast-growing source, but it's basically regenerated cellulose fibre.  It’s manufactured by chemically extracting just the bamboo cellulose from the plant, and then extruding this viscous cellulose solution through tiny, smooth holes in a spinneret.  For this reason, the fibres are very fine, shiny and slippery.  Rayon fibres are often labelled as artificial silk and it’s easy to see why this fibre is becoming increasingly popular amongst vegans - it has a beautiful drape and sheen to it.

I found the bamboo fibres to be quite uniform and moderate in length; combine this with their slippery properties, and they required a lot more twist than usual to hold them together.  I’ve been unable to ascertain whether all bamboo fibres available are the same length, or whether it can vary, but I can tell you that the bamboo fibres that I spun all had a consistent fibre length of about 9cm (3.5 inches).  It’s not a short staple fibre, but I would class it as an intermediate fibre, rather than something a novice spinner might be recommended to learn with.  I’ll be sharing how I managed this slightly trickier fibre as I work through the 4 different methods I chose to prepare Gourami

My first attempt at spinning 100% bamboo (above) was when I simply drafted it and spun it from the tips.  I would not recommend pre-drafting 100% bamboo.  The fibres are so smooth and slippery that drafting them out just a little opened up the fibres to the point that they didn’t want to hold together in a continuous length.  The fibres were falling apart between my hand and my lap!  Spinning that first 8g of drafted top was quite a frustrating experience.  Silk fibres are slippery, but they still tend to want to stick together - this was quite the opposite.

Knitting with 100% Bamboo yarn

After knitting a couple of mitred squares I realised that my tension was off compared to the other squares I'd knitted previously.  The knitted fabric was looser, bigger, and more open than the ones knitted from mostly merino wool.  Bamboo yarn doesn't have the same elasticity as wool so I needed to go down a needle size to achieve the same gauge and a neater-looking fabric.  My handspun bamboo yarn was still enjoyable to knit with; it was like knitting with super-silky cotton.

Spinning from the fold 

I've made simple videos of the 4 techniques I tried - 

When I was first Googling the best ways of spinning bamboo, I read a lot of people saying that bamboo is best spun from the fold.  Well, I tried several different methods of spinning bamboo, and of the 4 yarns below, this was my least favourite to spin.

To spin from the fold I always pull off just a little over a staple length of fibre so that I don’t end up with a bunch of short fibres at the end.

The moderate staple length meant that I could only just manage to wrap the fibres over my finger and hold them at the same time.  Combine this with how slippery and rebellious bamboo is and it took quite a bit of concentration to hold onto the fibres, (whilst trying to keep the colours spread out) and not get into a hot mess.

I did manage it with practice though, and you can see how the shorter staple length results in short bursts of colour along the singles.

When I chain plied it I achieved a very heathered yarn that was peppered with colour.

Splitting the top vertically 

All of the blends I've spun so far in this series have been very well blended, to the point that it's quite tricky to separate out the individual colours, and Gourami is no exception.

I had to break the blended top up into very thin sections in an attempt to spin lengths of fibre that would vary in colour arrangement.  Fortunately, I was aiming for a chain-plied sportweight yarn so I still needed to draft this a little to spin it.  

While I was breaking it up, I was very aware of how fragile the top is.  I had to tear it in short stages for fear of breaking the length I was pulling on.

I arranged my little nests of fibre together so that I could see the combined optical blends at a glance, and ensure that I didn't spin two similar lengths in succession.

The colour changes along the singles are very subtle and there is quite a bit of marling which will add to the complexity when I chain-ply it.

This one had slightly more distinct colour changes but it was still quite subtle.

Blending Board Pencil Roving 

I tried several methods of preparing blending board rolags until I reached a method that worked for me.  I usually find that spinning from thin blending board rolags is much more pleasurable and results in less colour blending than spinning from thick rolags.

However, when I tried to spin from a thin, 100% bamboo rolag I found that it was falling apart in my hand.  The fibres are so smooth and slippery that the rolag just didn't want to stay together.  It was possible if I ensured that the rolag didn't hang down at all, but trying to wrangle the fibres that were determined to fall apart was not a pleasurable experience.

To spin from a bamboo blending board rolag successfully, I broke off 3 lengths that were the length of my blending board, opened them up, and then brushed them down.

I then drafted off 2 quite thick blending board rolags...

... which I went on to draft out into thin roving.  Normally I would roll my pencil roving into a ball to spin it, but the bamboo fibre was far too delicate for that.  Instead, I drafted it out onto a fleece-covered tray and then kept that tray on my lap while I spun it.  As I'd pulled it from the end of a thick, drafted blending board rolag, a little twist had naturally been added which helped to hold it loosely together while I spun it.

You can still see gentle colour transitions in the singles but they are even more subtle than in the one spun from vertical strips.

Spinning bamboo like this was very pleasant.  It's so smooth, it drafts like butter.  With other fibres I will occasionally notice my thumbs getting a little sore with pulling at the fibres to draft them.  There was none of that with bamboo.  Once I'd found a preparation that worked for me, it was very relaxing.

Again, the colour transitions are very subtle and understated.  Gourami is definitely a fibre for spinners that prefer a pretty neutral.

Separating the blended top into a Gradient on a Blending Board

Well, after spinning 4 yarns that, from a distance, still look fairly grey I was determined to spin a yarn that showed off that orange and turquoise contrast that I love so much.  

I took the time and effort to split Gourami into a gradient on my blending board.  I broke off 3 lengths of top to fit on my blending board and set about breaking it up into tiny, vertical strips.

As Gourami is very well blended it would have been too laborious to completely separate out all 3 different colours so I split it out into thin groups of colour.  I had virtually all turquoise fibres at one end and virtually all orange fibres at the other.  The central section was mostly light green and the rest of the colours were placed depending on which colour was most dominant in that particular thin strip.

Once I'd placed all of one length of top on my blending board I brushed it down and started again, placing thin strips of colour down in a gradient until I’d placed 3 layers down.

I then drafted out two rolags from my blending board.  You can see that the rolag still contains all 3 colours along the whole length of the rolag, it's just the proportions that change.  I love the complexity of it!

Like earlier, I drafted each rolag out onto a fleece-covered tray that sat on my lap while I spun.  When I finished on a turquoise end I began the next rolag on the turquoise end so there wasn't an abrupt colour change between rolags.

It was such a joy seeing that gradient appear on the bobbin.  It made the 80 minutes it took to separate out the colours totally worth it!

It’s such a distinctive yarn and it really stands out next to the other 3.  I would still class them as pretty, heathered neutrals, but this last one definitely isn’t.  It has the look of yarn spun from hand-painted top but at a fraction of the price.

When I’d completed all 4 yarns I had just 5g of Gourami left that I didn’t want to go to waste so I placed it along the bottom half of my blending board and repeated the process of dividing it up into a gradient.

Serendipitously, I found that this thinner blending board rolag was just the right combination of thickness and drafting rotations for it to hold together well while still drafting smoothly in rolag form.

It does of course mean that the gradient in this yarn will be significantly shorter than the one spun from the drafted rolag but this was just about turning unused fibre into usable yarn.

I love seeing the short gradient appearing on my sample-sized niddy noddy!

There’s something about this colour combination that I love!  It’s inspired me to buy more of the individual colours that make up Gourami and try blending my own three-colour long gradient on a much larger scale…

Here’s a sneak peek of my mitred square blanket so far.  I’m using the Electric Eel Wheel yarn counter (ad) to measure the length of yarn required to knit each mitred square.  My blanket is going to be big, but just how big, I’m not sure yet!

If you've found any of this post interesting or useful, please pin this image 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!

Other blog posts in this series


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