Friday, August 26, 2011

Handspun Yarn Design - Rainbow Edition

I chatted with a customer friend today about some rainbow-dyed superwash merino (from Western Sky Knits) that she wants spun into a 3-ply. We discussed the many possibilities, and I thought I’d share them with you.

 Here's what we've got in this "Rainbow Brights" braid: Black/pink/orange/yellow/green/blue/

 What the dyer has done is folded the fiber into 4 equal lengths (in half, and then in half again). Then she painted the fiber black/pink/orange/yellow/green/blue/violet/black across the 4 lengths. So when you UNFOLD the fiber and stretch it out to its full length, the rainbow reverses several times, pivoting on the black at the folds.

When I spin rainbow yarns, I try to arrange the rainbow in consecutive order if I can. Sometimes that's not possible, if the dyer has randomly chosen her colors. In this case, it IS possible - what I can do is to separate the fiber into the 4 repeated pieces, and reverse the 2 pieces that are out of order. This would line everything up into "black/pink/orange/yellow/green/blue/violet", repeated 4 times. OR, I can leave it as the dyer painted it, which would give the order of the reversed rainbows.

I will divide the fiber lengthwise into 3 equal lengths. Then depending on how long the desired color repeats are, I'll either spin the fiber "as is", or split it down further into thinner strips to shorten the lengths of solid color in the strands.

For a navajo/chain-ply, I spin all 3 of those lengths in the same order onto ONE single bobbin, then chain-ply the strand on itself to preserve the strongest saturation of color.

 For a traditional 3-ply, I spin all 3 of the lengths in the same order, each on a separate bobbin. Then when I ply them, they'll line up colorwise, mostly - the variance is because of infinitesimal thickness variation and the fact that the dyer doesn't have straight lines in her color demarcation. There will be some areas where the colors overlap in the plied yarn.

 For a "confetti" 3-ply, I spin 2 of the lengths in the same order on separate bobbins, but REVERSE the order of the 3rd length. This mixes things up when I ply, and guarantees that there will be a lot of color overlap and speckles, with a few accidental areas where all 3 strands happen to be the same color at the same time.

 Now, for color-length - if I spin this fiber, which has 6" color sections, just as a traditional 3-ply all lined up, I'll get 7-8 yards of each solid color before the color changes to the next one. If I want the color lengths to be shorter, I can split each one of those original 3 equal lengths into thinner pieces before spinning, which will yield around 3-4 yards of solid color before it changes. With a Navajo/chain-ply, color-length becomes even more important – if the fiber is spun without any splitting, it’s going to give super-long color lengths, which may or may not be desirable.

Our 3-ply choices from this one braid of rainbow fiber:

3-ply "confetti".
3-ply rainbow solids, in rainbow order, short lengths of solid colors.
3-ply rainbow solids, in rainbow order, longer lengths of solid colors.
3-ply rainbow solids, in rainbow/reverse/rainbow/reverse order, short lengths of solid colors.
3-ply rainbow solids, in rainbow/reverse/rainbow/reverse order, longer lengths of solid colors.
Navajo/chain-ply, in all those variations.

So many choices! So much fun! (My customer friend chose "confetti" - which would YOU choose?)


  1. I would go for the navajo - but I'm partial to solid rainbows.
    I love all three yarns though.
    Thanks for explaining this so beautiful with pictures!

  2. I have often thought that I wish I could live next door to you. I would learn so much. You have such a friendly manner on Ravelry, and are always so helpful to other spinners.

    This is a wonderful and well-written explanation, complete with beautiful photography. Many thanks for taking the time to share with us.

  3. Woo hoo! I'm back online after 2 weeks of broken network card and no internet!

    Your yarns are absolutely gorgeous! I'm a color lover so these are real eye candy.

  4. Guess who!? What a nice blog and I even see several familiar examples of your handiwork....LOL! I will check back often. Cass


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