We know that chain plying works a kind of magic when you’re spinning hand-dyed braids. But let’s not overlook the joy of making 3-ply yarn in the traditional way. It’s easy, produces a beautifully round yarn, and offers even more scope for color play.
- Easy and fun: put 3 bobbins of singles on your kate, string the singles between your fingers, and reverse the direction of your drive wheel.
- Gorgeous yarn: round, tightly plied 3-ply yarns produce incredible stitch definition in knitting—perfect for textures and cables. Such yarns are also quite sturdy; they can even be strong enough for warping a floor loom.
- Color play: combine singles with even more color techniques!
For my last braids of Colorful Colorado Spring, in MSB and BFL bases, I made 3-ply yarns from fractal and as-it-comes singles. In the skein and in cakes, they looked eerily similar. But knitted into swatches, they produced dramatically different effects.
Fractal Spinning 3-ply
You can break up colors and optically mix them with this cool technique—see my first blog post for the technical explanation. Prepping simply requires stripping the braid lengthwise. Here, I made three strips and spun the first one as it came (bobbin 1). The second strip got divided lengthwise into 2 narrower strips, also spun as they came (bobbin 2). The third strip got divided into 4 narrower strips, spun as they came (bobbin 3).
Why so much stripping? Every time you strip a braid lengthwise, each block of color gets smaller. In fractal spinning, these blocks get smaller in a mathematical progression: 1-2-4. It’s possible to keep going to 8 and 16, but you’d be working with really skinny strips. Remember, you can always spin yarn that is skinnier than your fiber supply, but you cannot spin yarn fatter. Plus you may not be able to divide the fiber so narrowly—I had trouble going down to 4. Breaking up ain’t hard to do, until it suddenly is.
I set up my wheel in double-drive mode, on the larger whorl of the fast pulley for spinning and plying. I used a short backward draft, spinning to the right, and left in slubs of silk and bamboo. Then I plied going to the left. As the singles came off their bobbins and formed a 3-ply, the colors recombined. There were places where colors matches on all singles, but they didn’t stay the same for very long. It was like watching the same dance done at three different speeds.
When one bobbin ran out, I made 2-ply yarn until I’d used up all the singles.
Spinning a braid as-it-comes couldn’t get any simpler. To make my life easier, and to get color runs of similar lengths, I stripped the fiber lengthwise into 3 strips and spun each strip onto a separate bobbin. My wheel set-up was the same as for the fractal yarn, except that I used the large whorl of the medium pulley. Again, I used a short backward draft.
As it turns out, either the strips weren’t equal in weight or I didn’t spin consistently across bobbins, because the colors didn’t line up evenly when I plied. (Next time I want to make yarn like this, I’ll weigh out the strips.) Two bobbins generally matched each other and the third broke out on its own. Yet the oddball color added unexpected depths to the finished yarn.
Again, when one bobbin ran out, I made 2-ply yarn until I’d used up all the singles. This yarn created a lovely gradient.
The Proof is in the Knitting
I loved my 3-ply but the yarns seemed so similar! In the skein, it seemed like 3 different colors were showing up in each ply, which certainly wasn’t what I’d planned for the BFL fiber. Even the cakes looked quite similar.
But swatching revealed quite different yarns. Though we can see the original hand-painted patterning in both, that’s really the only similarity.
- In the MSB fractal, colors blend and ripple into each other; stripes of the 5 different colors blur so much, they hardly seem like stripes. Green and cream hues recede into the background as the bright yellow, bright blue, and muted blue take over. This swatch looks even more like one of Monet’s water lily paintings than my first combination swatch.
- With the as-it-comes BFL, more distinct stripes emerge. But the stripes have soft, blurred edges—that’s my oddball bobbin coming into play. If the colors had lined up more evenly, or I’d made an as-it-comes singles, the stripes would have hard edges. Here the bright blue and the bright yellow dominate. Yet they aren’t solid blue or yellow: that oddball bobbin created a lovely variegation.
What did I learn from this experiment? You can’t always judge a yarn in the skein, or even in the cake—only a swatch will reveal colors and color interactions. And traditionally plied 3-ply yarn can do some amazing things with color.