Working With Handdyed Fibers, Part 2: Color

Posted in handspun, spinning by tchemgrrl on August 29, 2013

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.

Previous posts:

Part 1: Deciding on some fiber

Okay. Go pick a theoretical fiber from the stash or from a fiber seller whose stuff you like. We’re going to talk about how to get the colors you want out of the fibers you have.

Let’s start with the color wheel.

color wheel
This terrible, made-in-5-minutes-in-Powerpoint color wheel. Shhh. You know what color wheels look like, this is just a quick reminder.

If your goal is a yarn that closely reflects the colors you see in the fiber, then the technique you choose to spin your fiber will depend on not only the properties of the fiber, but of the colors in it.

In general, colorways that contain colors close to each other on the color wheel (or tints, tones, or shades as in in the image above) are likely to blend with each other in a way that looks much like the original fiber. In other words, a colorway of orange, red-orange, and burgundy such as in the fiber below will likely read as a similar reddish colorway as fiber and as a finished object, regardless of the care taken in lining up or mixing the colors. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time managing fiber, sticking with these “color family” colorways is a good way to do avoid surprises (pleasant or unpleasant).

The fiber, yarn, final project in a tonal yarn where the colors were intentionally mixed are seen below. The overall impression of reddish fiber/yarn/scarf is maintained throughout in spite of the mixing, and this is largely due to the fact that the individual colors are neighbors or near-neighbors on the color wheel.

silk roving
red silk
mango silk scarf

On the other hand, a colorway consisting of green, golden yellow, and pink-purple may look very striking in the large color blocks in dyed top form, but if spun up at random, the colorway may look duller in the final project. Think, for example, of the pixels on a computer screen or dots in newsprint, where the tiny bright dots of yellow, cyan, magenta, and black form every shade from a distance. You may wish for a more subtle effect than the bright colors in the skein, in which case mixing would be desirable. However, if you want those sections of color to remain distinct, you will need to make spinning choices that will lead to minimal color mixing in any strand of the final yarn (I’ll talk more about these in an upcoming post.)

The example below shows a non-tonal colorway in which the colors were spun to minimize mixing. Note that the handspun yarn and the final project contain similar very bright and distinct blocks of color which were preserved from the original fiber.

bright seasilk
surfing safari scarf

Both of the previous examples are pretty much cases of the fiber looking like the final project. Compare that to this yarn:

apple silk 3

Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the original fiber, but you can see from the closeup that it contained pink, apple green, golden yellow, and a bit of grayish-green. The fibers, like the red ones, were spun in a way that allowed for a lot of mixing. The effect, however, is quite different.

Apple Baktus

Up close, the blend of individual green, yellow, and pink plies is visible, but the mixtures often read as gray, purple, or greenish-brown from a distance. I am not usually a super-pink fan so I chose to do this to tone the yarn down a bit. The fiber was predominantly pink; the scarf is much less so, but it’s still pleasantly spring-like in color and has a different impression from up close vs. a distance. (I like to think of that as a little gift to knitters and spinners I may encounter.)

The point I wanted to make in this section is that the effect of contrasting colorways mixed together does not need to be unpleasant and “muddy” (I’ll talk more about how to avoid an overall muddiness in a future entry). Part of the fun of working with dyed fibers lies in finding out what the final result will look like! It’s a useful exercise to take some notes prior to spinning and then actually turn your yarns into projects, so that you can determine which of these effects to use for a particular project.

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  1. […] 1: Deciding on some fiber Part 2: Color ——————- The next few entries are going to talk about fiber […]

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