What a difference a ply makes!

I’m not sure I will ever get over the thrill of seeing fluffy fibre turn into actual, knit-able yarn. Or the fact that I seem to be able to achieve this magic trick myself now.

This afternoon I balled up the yarn I finished spinning last week, using my ball winder and swift (wonderful time- and wrist-saving inventions!). This was not because I intend to use it imminently, but because I wanted to get a better idea of the colour changes, especially in the larger skein. That’s the fractal spun one.

Two skeins of handspun yarn lie on a wooden desk. The one in the upper part of the image is much larger than the other. They are spun from the same fibre and are a mix of yellow, green, maroon and purple/blue. The upper skein is 2-ply and mostly has different colours in each strand. The lower skein is 3-ply and mostly has the same colour in all strands.

How does fractal spinning work? Well, you take a braid of fibre and split it lengthways, keeping the two pieces as equal as possible. One of those lengths will be spun as it is, with no further splitting. But then you take the other piece and split that in half, and then take one of those pieces and split that in half as well! All these splits take place lengthways down the fibre, so each division gives you a narrower piece of fibre, but they are all the same length and hopefully all have all of the colour changes. This gives you one piece that is 1/2 the width, one that is 1/4 and two that are 1/8.

On one bobbin you spin the widest piece, the half. One the other bobbin you spin the other pieces; I did both smallest pieces first followed by the 1/4 width one. After spinning these as singles they are ready to be plied together. Because there is less fibre of each colour at a time (thinner, remember?) on the 1/4 and 1/8 width bobbin the colours here will change more rapidly. This means that when you ply them together you get the colour changes happening on both strands of yarn, but at different rates, giving a very dramatic result! Shown below is the bobbin with rapid colour changes which I spun first, with the remaining fibre draped around the flyer. The Southdown fibre (that’s the sheep breed) was hand-dyed by Katie Weston of Hilltop Cloud and was a delight to work with.

A bobbin with singles on it shown horizontally and still on the wheel surrounded by the remaining unspun fibre. The yarn and fibre is in blocks of maroon, yellow, purple, rust and mossy green.

Of course, my initial split of my fibre wasn’t exact and I ended up with quite a bit of the single ply yarn with the longer colour changes left over. I decided to try chain plying this to create a 3-ply yarn (thicker than the 2-ply fractal) that changed colour very gradually. To chain ply you make a big loop and pull a strand of yarn through it, creating a new loop through which you pull a strand of yarn – it’s a bit like a giant crochet chain, which is being twisted as it goes onto the spinning wheel. Because it’s all coming off the same bobbin there are some places where one strand of the three is a slightly different colour (that would be the strand pulled through the loop) and it gives a fabulous graduated effect. Also, a really nice plump yarn! Next time I do some chain plying I will make a little video as I think that would make my explanation clearer.

I didn’t initially sit down to write a whole post about spinning today, but it seems I have. There has also been lots of knitting on one of my ‘secret’ projects this week, which of course I can’t show you or tell you much about, other than that I have started the final piece of it and completed the numbers for the pattern. I promise to have also knitted something else by next week that I *can* show you!

The yarn arrived for my other commission piece (aka secret project 2) last week as well. It’s been spun in the grease and smells wonderfully sheepy! I’m really looking forward to getting started with that, but again it will something that I can’t share with you until next June and that feels like a very long way away at the moment!

Audrey2 is behaving well and I got a beautiful loaf on Friday – I’m hoping for a repeat performance later on today.

A malted sourdough boule sits on greaseproof paper. In the background is an earthenware salt pot.

And I even spent an hour in the garden this morning, clearing the vegetable patch of weeds and spent plants!

That’s all from me for today. Stay safe and I hope you are able to do some things that make you happy this week. K x

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