Working with Handdyed Fiber Part 5: Fractal Spinning
A number of common questions from both new and experienced spinners involves the use of those pretty, colorful braids of fiber that indie dyers sell. What do we do with them? How do we prevent them from turning to mud? How can I make it look the way it looks in my head?
Over the next few weeks I’m going to work on answering some of those questions. Taken together, they should add up to a handy little workshop on working with a particular fiber.
Precise definitions vary, but the primary technique in fractal spinning involves spinning a multi-ply yarn where one or more plies have shorter color repeats than one or more of the other. For example, in a two-ply yarn, the first ply is spun from the full thickness of the fiber, and the second is spun from the fiber split into quarters. Within every “stripe” formed by the first ply, there will be four “stripes” formed by the second.
The overall effect tends to mute the original fiber, but still maintains a more cohesive and unified look than spinning completely at random. It gives may colorways a somewhat “shimmery” look, as every color combination within the fiber ends up happening somewhere in the final yarn. Personally, I also find the preparation more straightforward than the stricter requirements for getting the component singles to line up perfectly. When I just feel like spinning without a lot of forethought, this is the technique I most often turn to. Break the fiber into two or three equal pieces, split one or more of those pieces into two or more strips, spin each piece separately, and ply.
Downsides: This technique maximizes the chances of all colors interacting with each other; if there is a combination guaranteed to turn to mud, you will probably see it somewhere in the yarn. If there’s a mix you absolutely HATE, this is probably not the technique for that fiber. Personally I’m not much of a fan of making a fractal yarn from a saturated non-tonal yarn. I think in more washed-out colors, the muting effect works, and I think that in muted or bright tonals, it works, but I wouldn’t use it on a bright rainbow-dyed fiber.
For more information, refer to the Summer 2007 issue of Spin Off, which has an excellent article on this technique, including many examples.
We already looked at this project, but I wanted to point out that it was fractal-spun. One ply was composed of top split into two pieces, the other ply was composed of top split into fairly thin pieces, because I wanted fairly thin stripes, which I got. This particular project was a good way for me to play with the color wheel, and see just what army green and pink look like at a distance when plied together. (Purple-gray! I would not have guessed that.)
The child’s sweater is a 3-ply fractal spun from a vibrant pink-orange yarn. One ply was not split at all, the second ply involved top split into 1/3rds, the third ply used top split into fairly thin pieces. The colors are considerably more subtle than in the tonal fiber. When worn it looks pretty darn pink, the striping can only really be seen up close.