Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Gradient Spinning Striped Combed Wool Top

Gradient spinning striped combed wool top. How's that for a boring, technical title? I'm writing this mostly because it's a post I searched for elsewhere while working on this yarn, but couldn't find already online. I'm sure other people have used this technique before, but I couldn't find another explanation. If you aren't a spinner, there are lots of pretty pictures for you to enjoy.

For me, spinning is pure color therapy, and the yarn at the end is the bonus. It's not cheaper and certainly not more practical than buying yarn from the store, but it is so delightful to look at the end result and be able to say, "I made that!"

Back in September we took a fun Labor Day trip down to one of my favorite places, Spring Mill State Park. Spring Mill is a historic pioneer village set around a huge (and still working!) grist mill. They sell cornmeal ground in the mill as souvenirs, and it is hands down the best cornmeal I've ever had.

This particular weekend they were having a small fiber arts festival, and historic reenactors were busy giving weaving and spinning demonstrations. This picture is of the beautiful herb garden, but if you look past the garden and next to the large house you can see a number of antique spinning wheels on display.

Well, I couldn't be around so much spinning without an itch to spin on my own wheel again, so I bought this beautiful Ashland Bay Merino fleece for spinning from the gift shop. The colors (!) and the price ($8!) won me over, although I didn't have any plan for how I would use it in the end.

I mean look at those colors! Purple and white and green and red and yellow, all combed together in beautiful stripes. But the problem, which I knew when I picked it out, is that when you spin fiber that has all the colors combed together like this, with vertical stripes, is that the colors mix when you're spinning the yarn. It's very different than working with handpainted fiber, which is the usual way spinners achieve variations of self-striping and gradient yarn. All the examples I could find of other spinners spinning this same fleece ended up as kind of a muddy purple. When done well, it came off as a nicely heathered mauve yarn. When mixed a little too thoroughly, it just looked brown.

Just like a good pancake batter, I didn't want to over-mix the ingredients. Instead, I took the whole fleece apart. I gently peeled off colors one large stripe at a time, and then laid them out on my kitchen island. In the end I probably separated the top into about 12-15 pencil-thin pieces. Then I sorted them by color, going from red to yellow to green to purple, as you can see in the picture. This step actually only took about 20 minutes, and took care of all the pre-drafting I'd need to do for spinning anyway.

You might ask, as did my husband, "Why would you take all the trouble to separate it by color when the colors were just combed together?" And I will tell you, "Because you still get that nice heathered effect with the other bits of color, but a great overall progression throughout the yarn." I've often seen similar things done with handpainted yarn, taking a fleece with short stripes apart to re-arrange the colors to make an over all gradient. This is just taking a similar idea to a fleece where the colors were combed together to make vertical rather than horizontal stripes.

After arranging the colors, all that's left is to spin it all up fast enough to keep those long strands of fleece out of the hands of curious children. This was the most difficult step, but helped by the fact that I did most of this spinning on a night when my husband was working exceptionally late. We're getting too old for all-nighters, but it is kind of fun to see how much you can accomplish with a little extra time. The bit I didn't spin the first night I finished the next day, so there wasn't much time for little fingers to get into my prepared fleece.

I just barely managed to squeeze all 4 oz of fiber onto one bobbin, and then turned right around and Navajo-plyed the yarn onto another. Do you like my tissue box Lazy Kate? Someday I'll get a real wooden one, but this works in a pinch.

Then I wound the yarn onto my swift, and it was the first time to see the big picture of how the stripes had turned out. Result: success!

Look at those beautiful long stripes twisted up in a yarn skein. After giving it a gentle wash in warm water to finish the yarn, I hung it to dry for a day, and then it was ready to wind into a ball. Back on the swift again, and time to measure the yardage and spin it onto my ball winder.

The same weekend I bought the fleece, my brother gave me this yarn caddy he made for my birthday. Isn't it beautiful? It has a spindle to hold a ball or cone of yarn, and a Lazy Susan with ball bearings inside to allow it to spin freely. I needed it mainly for weaving, to keep the spools of yarn from rolling wildly around on the floor, dragging against the carpet, spinning around chair legs, and collecting dust and hair as I wind hundreds (sometimes thousands) of yards of yarn onto my warping board. But it's also a gorgeous stand for a yarn cake, and I'm looking forward to knitting this pretty yarn off its pretty holder.

And finally, the yarn is all wound up! Look at those stripes! Now to decide what to do with it. I was hoping it would be enough to make the main section of a Baby Surprise Jacket for Eliza, but 230 yards won't be enough on its own. I might need to spend some time with the yarn, letting ideas percolate for a while longer before finding the perfect pattern or coordinating yarn to pair it with.

If you have any ideas of what I should make with the yarn, let me know! I'd love some new ideas. And if you've spun any yarn in a similar way, I'd be very interested to see your pictures too!

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