Spinning a Gradient Yarn — Ginny’s Process

Frisson shawl in handspun BFL+Silk

EngoldenedFrisson shawl in handspun BFL+Silk

Ginny describes her method for spinning a gradient or ombré yarn from variegated spinning fibre here. It’s an easy way to manage and maintain a smooth transition between colours and can be used for making either 3-ply (chain-plied) or 2-ply yarns.

Felicia’s charming January 2014 Fibre Club colour, Night Owl on BFL+Silk, was too sweet to resist spinning it up as she suggested into a gradient yarn.

I would categorize myself as an intermediate beginner spinner. I’ve spun on spindles for about five years and on a simple chair frame wheel for three years. Since I started working at SweetGeorgia I’ve been pushing the constraints of my little wheel and my own skill level when working with variegated spinning fibre. I’d spun a few gradient yarns before I got my braid of Night Owl, but I’d never been quite happy with the result.

I decided to try a new technique where I did not card the fibre or separate the individual colours of the fibre from one another before I started spinning. This was because:

  1. I did not wish to card the BFL+Silk as the reorientation of the fibres would lessen the shine of the tussah silk in the blend
  2. I simply didn’t like my results when I had split the braid into individual colours before spinning. In the case of Night Owl, this would have entailed splitting the fibre into sections of yellow, ivory, purple, and indigo, and then yellowish-ivory, ivory-ish yellow, only ivory, etc. Personally I tend to end up with uneven amounts of transition between the colours in the final yarn or not enough transition; both scenarios lack the subtle, even shading that is so appealing in SweetGeorgia’s painted rovings!

Instead, I divided the fibre into individual strips that each showed a full repeat of the colourway — 10 strips in all, each moving from yellow to indigo along their length. I spun it into a two-ply heavy DK weight and was so pleased with the resulting shawl (Frisson by Brittany Wilson) that I thought I’d present my experiment to the SweetGeorgia blog readers.

Ginny’s Method for Spinning a Gradient Yarn

Superwash BFL in Tea Party

Superwash BFL in Tea Party

I picked a braid of Superwash BFL because of its longer staple length. There’s no silk content to worry about flattening with carding, but it drafts nicely and does not need more processing.

Laying out the roving

Laying out the roving

I laid out the complete length of fibre with the colour sections sitting next to each other, creating an accordion with the raw ends of the fibre both on the same side. As seen at the bottom of the above photo, there were a total of five complete bright green ‘bumps’ created.

With the BFL+Silk, I wanted to spin a two-ply yarn, with each ply representing the full gradient from yellow to indigo and lining up with one another when I plied them. With the Superwash BFL, I want to spin two skeins of N-plied yarn for a pair of socks that both shade from the bright green to dark teal.

Creating the subsections

Creating the subsections

Since I am creating two separate skeins, I split the accordion in the middle of the third bright green ‘bump’, resulting in 2.5 ‘bumps’ on either side. I split the BFL+Silk Night Owl in the same way in order to create a two-ply finished yarn.

Taking one of the halves, I split the fibre at each of the ‘bumps’  to create 5 separate lengths of fibre, each representing a full gradient from bright green to dark teal. I will refer to these as subsections. Notice that both the beginning and ending colours of the gradient have had their full colour lengths split in half!

Creating the pulled sections

Creating the pulled sections

This is where the longer staple length of Superwash BFL comes in handy. I take each one of the five subsections, grip the end 1.5 cm or so of the staple, and pull off a section of fibre. The resulting length is about twice as long as the basic staple length of the fibre.

Fibre from all five subsections

Fibre from all five subsections

After repeating this across all five subsections, I have a handful of fibre with a small length from all five subsections. I will call each resulting fistful of fibre a pulled section. There is a slight bit of burgundy at the end of the lengths but that’s okay. The bulk of the first section is the initial bright green of the colour repeat.

Spinning the first pulled section

Spinning the first pulled section

I begin spinning. The pulled section in my hands is, of course, five times wider than the original roving and I try to move across the width as I spin. In the case of the Superwash BFL, spinning from the fold is a useful method to keep the fibre of the pulled section manageable. With BFL+Silk some of the desired shine from the silk would be lost when spinning from the fold.

As I come close to finishing my chunk of fibre, I stop spinning and pull a length from each of the five subsections once again. I make sure to leave enough fibre unspun at the end of each pulled section that I am able to join the next pulled section comfortably.

I repeat this until I have completely spun all five subsections. The second half of the fibre is similarly split into subsections and spun. In the case of the BFL+Silk I then plied the two singles together.

Multiple contrast gradient.jpg

Try spinning just one of your plies as a gradient and spin the other ply with multiple colour repeats.

Opposite directions.jpg

Two gradient singles from the same colourway can be plied together in reverse order so the middle colours line up but the ends don’t.

Three directions.jpg

Or two gradient plies can line up but the third can be reversed!

Two different colourways.jpg

Take two similar colourways and turn them into gradient singles to be plied together.

If you are committed to trying to spin a gradient yarn but lack carding tools or wish to try a different way of splitting your fibre, perhaps these photos will give you some ideas to try. Simply laying out your fibre flat in different configurations and folds can result in new thoughts that wouldn’t have surfaced from just holding the fibre in your lap. Perhaps the colourway isn’t as suited to a gradient spun yarn as you thought, or colours far from each other on the roving look too lovely together to keep apart. Try it out!

— Ginny