Working with Handdyed Fiber Part 3: Splitting and Breaking

Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on September 2, 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
Part 2: Color
The next few entries are going to talk about fiber management tricks. They’re all going to employ a fair amount of what I’m going to call splitting and breaking. So, time to define some terms.


Splitting refers to tearing off pieces of top “long” direction, the direction of fiber alignment in top. The result is turning one comparatively wide strip of fiber more, thinner, strips. Several good reasons you may want to split your fiber:

1) You want thinner stripes than can be achieved with the fiber at its full width. (Note, you do not need to use thinner pieces for every singles that compose a yarn! See the “fractal yarn” section.)

2) You want multiple plies with colors that will line up closely (see other techniques below for more options on achieving this goal). In this case, you will want to split the fiber as evenly as you can. A scale that can weigh to grams or tenths of a gram is useful for this. When I am doing this, I typically break (see “breaking”) my fiber into 1-ounce pieces. This way, if one piece ends up slightly heavier in the first ounce, I can make up for it by using the lighter piece in the second ounce. Over the course of the yarn, small areas of barberpoling serve to soften the transitions between colors. I like this effect, but if you don’t, you can break the singles and rejoin where the color of the singles is perfectly aligned.

A couple of crummy reasons for splitting your fiber:

1) Someone told you to and you don’t know why. Honey child, just try it.

2) You have a hard time managing more than a skinny piece of fiber at a time. If this describes you, I’d really encourage you to work on the fiber management skills that will allow you to get what you want from any sized piece of fiber. Having the option to do something means that you can choose to do it or not to get a particular effect. It’ll give you a lot more choices.

-Well-prepared top has its fibers perfectly aligned, and this order can be disarrayed by the process of splitting the top. I have seen other spinners report differences in their yarn; I haven’t seen it personally, but I don’t usually work on the extreme worsted end of the spectrum. In any case, it’s worth a mention.

-The preexisting misalignment of fibers makes this a difficult technique to achieve in a carded roving, though true rovings are rarely found in a space dyed form.

-When splitting off pieces that are so thin that no drafting is necessary, a very dense yarn is often the result. Better yardage will usually be achieved with some drafting. If you want very short lengths of color in your yarn, consider dyeing the finished yarn and not the fiber, or prepare yourself for a denser yarn in that section (I have come darn close to this in a few projects for color effect purposes, and just lived with denseness.)


This refers to tearing off pieces of top or roving perpendicular to the “short” direction of the long piece of fiber–against the grain of the fiber, in top. Hold your hands at least one staple length apart and pull until the fiber has come apart. You may want to break the fiber into a shorter piece for ease of handling, or when spinning from the fold.

Downsides: Breaking the fiber to manage the color will be less effective when the blocks of color are shorter than one staple length.

Other things to consider: As a color management technique, you may want to use it to change the order that the colors appear, or to remove a color that does not appeal to you. I have done this with a lively pink-orange colorway with a just a bit of dusty purple that did not appeal to me. I simply removed the purple and set it aside for another project. You can also completely reorder the colorway. In the example below, I wanted to maximize the mixing amongst the colors available. The fiber has light blue, dark blue, green and brown in roughly equal amounts. I broke the top at every color change and put the colors into 4 groups based on color. I’ll spin each color into one ply of a 4-ply yarn. A similar technique could be used to make stripes longer than would be possible from spinning the full width of the fiber.



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  1. […] 1: Deciding on some fiber Part 2: Color Part 3: Splitting and Breaking —————– “Lazy […]

  2. […] 1: Deciding on some fiber Part 2: Color Part 3: Splitting and Breaking Part 4: Lazy Rolags ————————- Fractal […]

  3. […] 1: Deciding on some fiber Part 2: Color Part 3: Splitting and Breaking Part 4: Lazy Rolags Part 5: Fractals ——————— So this is […]

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