Yarn Story: Surprise!

Night Deer Handspun HanddyedBy Amelia

This is a yarn story I have been wanting to tell you since I started the series! It's a bit of a different kettle of fish, as it's mostly about (a) dyeing and (b) enjoying unexpected results.

The yarn you see here started out as natural white Blue Faced Leicester (BFL) Wool and Alpaca Top -- undyed, as supplied by Ashland Bay Trading (a wholesale supplier to wool shops). It is lovely and yummy, with the nice soft BFL wool and dreamy smooth alpaca fiber.

I took a hank of the undyed top to a dye workshop to play with. I stepped up to this dye workshop with a series of expectations -- I know, that meant it was bound to work out as a surprise from the get-go! We were hand-painting roving using acid dyes -- Cushings and Jacquards.

I didn't want my colors to bleed into each other too closely, and I wanted fairly quick color changes. My colors were black, mahogany, and gold. I wet my roving with synthrapol-laced warm water, but squeezed it out as dry as I could, to more closely control the bleeding of colors into one another.

That worked out okay.

Because I wanted quick color changes, I put two inch bands of color along my roving -- two inches of black, two of gold, two of mahogany. Fairly randomly, but none longer.

We steam set the color into our roving, and I let it cook further on my dashboard on the trip home (this was a summer spinning retreat...though I am writing this during the long, cold winter of '09).

Pure Snow - handspun BFL/Alpaca yarn pileBefore I came to spinning this skein, I spun up some of the undyed BFL/Alpaca top. That was an exercise in long-draw spinning, which was quite exciting. The yarn turned out nicely, not as close to machine-perfect as my default supported-draw spinning, but a fairly regular yarn with a nice amount of twist for knitting, crochet, or weaving. The yarn has a gorgeous shine to it. I call it Pure Snow though it would look lovely dyed, be the color solid, semi-solid, or hand-painted.

Given how well Pure Snow turned out, I developed a supported long draw spinning style to return to my regular consistency while maintaining airiness in the yarn. Night Deer was spun with that in mind, with a moderate twist to show off the sheen of the fibers well.

Night Deer SkeinBut as I spun it ... the black disappeared! And the colors melded into new combinations ... not the clear gold and mahogany at all. Green was showing up -- where did that come from? It was a.total.surprise!

In reviewing what I did, I realized something. I painted two inch lengths of color. But the staple length of this luscious blend was actually 5 to 6 inches. Oooooh! light bulb moment! I succeeded in painting each fiber several different colors -- creating a palette that couldn't help but blend colors into new combinations as I spun.

Being me, I then promptly scoured the online dye forums -- dyehappy on Yahoo, Love to Dye and Colour By Hand on Ravelry to see if anyone considered staple length when dyeing fibers. Zilch. I even posted an inquiry -- there wasn't much interest (no responder said they knew this already, and no-one said "wow! what a revelation!")

I've no idea if this is a really clever observation, or if I was a very foolish dyer originally. It's definitely something to consider -- no matter how you plan your dye lengths, when space-dyeing wool top, you will be putting two colors on at least some of the fibers. So a clean color break isn't entirely possibly, no matter how much control you have over the drafting.

Night Deer Hat Kit
Color is a fascinating topic. You may also be interested in these related posts:
How do you use Cushings dyes?
How can I match up color blocks when spinning space-dyed roving?
Do you ply space-dyed roving?
How can I preserve color in a 2-ply?
How can I preserve color in my space-dyed roving?

I am teaching several yarn dyeing classes this summer at Heels Over Toes, the CSMSA 2009 Conference in June in Tacoma -- you needn't knit on a sock machine to attend!

posted 5 March 2009 at http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/


HLF said...

I've been a bit anxious about the whole dyeing thing, so your results and your revelation are reassuring and wonderful to me! I can't wait to see what I come up with this summer when I start dyeing.

Peg in South Carolina said...

Simply beautiful! I much prefer, at least for weaving, the yarns I get by spinning vari-colored rovings to yarns vari-dyed as yarns. I always liked the subtler kinds of effects, especially when plied on itself. Now I understand why this happens! Thank you.

Alpaca Farmgirl said...

This is a great post! Beautiful yarn and full of excellent information.

Would you please consider linking this post (or another one) to our Fiber Arts Friday Blog Carnival? My readers would love it!


Thanks for sharing. I'm now following!

Janis said...

A friend of mine who does some dyeing and spinning noted that it is good to take a look at the staple length of a fiber with how it is dyed and how that will come across when spun. Something I've been trying to keep in mind when I look at purchasing dyed fiber.

Anonymous said...

I believe I read about how the staple length affects blending of colors in the Twisted Sisters workbook - it's a really good point if you're trying to make a yarn fit your vision!

Bristol said...

Hey there! I was surfing blogs and came across yours--love the dyeing! I am, however, completely transfixed by the BFL/alpaca blend--it's Ashland Bay? I checked their website and didn't see any mention of it. I'm seriously jonesing for some, if you could give me any more information!

Amelia of Ask The Bellwether said...

Hi! thanks everyone for the comments!

Answers to questions follow ...

@anonymous -- thanks for the pointer; I'll check out that book. I'm glad this is something that's been looked at before.

@Bristol -- it's possible the supplier is out of the fiber now, but you may still find it in the shops. Carolina Homespun, Woodland Woolworks, The Woolery, Paradise Fibers are all quite large spinning fiber shops with online presence, and may still have that blend in stock. It seems like new blends are always coming along -- I noticed a new (to me) Louet blend the other day, alpaca, mohair, and silk I think it was. Wow!

Dorothy said...

What an interesting result, I like the colours. I wonder if your black dye was one of those based on very dark blue? I'm not sure I understand about the fibre length and dyeing, after all the fibres in the yarn overlap. I'm a bit puzzled.

I haven't done much dyeing, but I have noticed that some dye colours are stronger than others and dominate in mixes or when the butt up to each other in painted yarn.

Your longdraw handspun looks beautiful.

Artis-Anne said...

Goodness that is amazing and no I had never thought about staple length when dyeing but I guess it follows in a way the theory in the book Colour in Spinning by Deb Menzes ? !!!
Thanks for sharing his info and I am too do some dyeing :)

Elizabeth said...

I have been frustrated by the fact that many dyers have NOT noticed this fact. Of course the colours blend if each fibre has more than one colour. I have found that you have to make your stripes at least twice the staple length to get any clear colour. The colours will always blend at the transition point. Many dyers produce rovings that look lovely, but can't possibly be spun and worked into anything remotely resembling the original dye pattern.
I am just in the process of writing the outline for a class to teach the principles of planning a handpainted roving so that it will spin and work up as you envision.