Spinning Hand Dyed Yarn

Handspun Yarns

Handspun Yarns in Superwash Merino, BFL, and Wensleydale

There is a magic about handspun yarn from hand-dyed fibre. The way each colour morphs and blends into the next in a single, and how the colours are scattered and recombined through plying. It’s for spinners who love and appreciate the fine, nuanced way that colours transform in the spinning process. But the beauty of a hand-dyed fiber can be intimidating to spinners. How do you approach a gorgeous and special hand-dyed fibre without the risk of “screwing it up”? I’d like to suggest some ideas of how you can play with that beautiful braid of hand-dyed fibre… something beyond simply spinning it from end to end. Perhaps one of your SpinZilla challenges can be spinning a hand-dyed fibre in a way you had never imagined before. Here are just a few popular methods of spinning hand-dyed and space-dyed fibre:


Two-ply Superwash BFL in Stormchaser

Two-ply Superwash BFL in Stormchaser

One of the simplest ways to spin a hand-dyed top is to break it into two equal portions, spin each one to a bobbin and then ply them together to make a two-ply. You can make the colours as jumbled and random as you like, or you can try to maintain the handpainted colour sections.

To try to preserve the colour sections, take your hand-dyed top and split it entirely in half, vertically. Wind each half into a ball and spin each half onto a bobbin, making sure that you start with the same end of the top for each. Then ply the two together onto a third bobbin. If you have split the fibre quite evenly and spun quite consistently, there is a good chance those colour sections will align and keep your colour blocks as they were in your hand-dyed top.

To mix up your colours as much as possible, break your top up into random sections cross-wise and then split them randomly into vertical strips. Spin these strips in succession, picking randomly from different sections of your fibre. This will allow those colour sections in your top to be divided and recombined in a random fashion, distributing little bits of those colours throughout the final yarn.

Combination Drafting

Combination Drafting

Combination Drafting

Picking up where we left off with the two-ply yarns above, you might try combination drafting to further blend and randomize colours in your yarn. Take two or more different colourways and prepare thin vertical strips of each. Then, select two or three of these strips from different colourways and hold them together as you draft. Those different colourways will combine and blend together as you spin and beautifully unexpected colourways can come out of this method!

Plus, it’s a great way to extend a colourway that you only have a little bit of. For example, if you have only 3 oz of fibre but you need at least 4 to 6 oz for that handspun pair of socks you’re wanting to make, you can add another chunk of fibre (in either a complementary or contrasting colourway) and cut it in with your 3 oz of fibre to get more yardage.

Fractal Spinning

Fractal spun BFL+Silk (Storm Sanctuary, club colourway)

Fractal spun BFL+Silk (Storm Sanctuary, club colourway)

This popular technique for hand-dyed top makes a beautifully subtle striping yarn. To make a 2-ply fractal spun yarn, split your top in half vertically. Using one half of the top, spin straight from end-to-end to one bobbin. With the other half, strip this into thin vertical strips (say 8 to 16 strips) and then spin each strip in succession (colours oriented the same way) to a second bobbin. Ply these two bobbins together to make your 2-ply yarn. You’ll see the “major” colour changes in you yarn are dictated by the first bobbin, and then the smaller, faster cycles through the colours are provided by the second bobbin. Overall, it creates a yarn with long colour changes that are toned down by the constantly changing colours in the second ply.

You can even use this technique for 3- or more plies. For example, if you’re making a 3-ply fractal spun yarn, split your top in thirds vertically. Then spin one third straight. The second third can be split into 4 or 8 strips. And the final third can be split into 16 strips. This will result in an even more subtle distribution of colours.

Navajo Plying

Navajo-plied yarns

Navajo-plied yarns

Navajo-plying is the very best way of preserving clean colour changes in your yarn! You can use this method to get very long colour sections that are ideal for self-striping yarn, or you can make very short, clean bits of colour. It all depends on how long your colour sections are before you spin them.

So, to get long colour sections in your Navajo-plied yarn, don’t split your top too much. In fact, to maximize the colour sections, spin your top from end-to-end without splitting it at all. And the opposite is true to get those small hits of colour — split it as many times as you like to make those colour sections small. The wide range of results that you can get from just this simple technique is astonishing.

Ombre Yarn

Finally, this is one stunning application of Navajo-plying. You can spin a yarn that will knit up into a gorgeous ombré effect… something that could be wonderfully employed in a shawl or a hat… or actually anything. I love ombré.

You take your hand-dyed top and break it up into piles of similar colours. Then decide which order you want the colours to appear in your yarn. Spin all the colours in succession to your bobbin (e.g. all the blue, then all the brown, then all the cream), then Navajo-ply them to make your final yarn. That’s it!

All this spinning fibre, waiting to be spun!

All this spinning fibre, waiting to be spun!

All these colour techniques are actually very easy and use basic spinning skills, but the results can be incredibly different and exciting. If you want to watch me work through all these techniques, you can check out my Craftsy class on “Spinning Dyed Fibers”. Hopefully this just gives you a few new ideas as you approach your spinning plan for Spinzilla! What are you planning to spin for Spinzilla?

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About Felicia Lo

founder + creative director of SweetGeorgia // designer + dreamer // wife + mama // dyer, knitter, spinner, weaver, youtuber + author // been writing this blog about colour and craft since 2004 // see what I am making @lomeetsloom and @sweetgeorgia.

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2 thoughts on “Spinning Hand Dyed Yarn

  1. Benni says:

    HI i want stripes, so how do I make sure when I ply it that it lines up? My brain is aching with all this, all I ever did so far is predraft and spin, the end result is varigated and I cant get both ply’s to line up… how on earth do we do it? All this planning and thinking is too stressful… lol But once I master it, then the fun returns right?

    1. SweetGeorgia says:

      That’s a really tricky thing to try to make the colours in multiple plies line up! It requires you to very precisely divide the fibre lengthwise into exactly equally weighted sections and then to spin each one to the same thickness! It’s really hard to do! It might start off great, but then little differences will add up and in the end, the colour sections will likely not match up. So, that’s why I do recommend Navajo-plying if you really want the colour sections to be distinct. I hope that helps relieve some stress! :)

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