Books: Spinning & Dyeing Yarn

I picked up Ashley Martineau’s Spinning & Dyeing Yarn: The home spinner’s guide to creating traditional & art yarns at the library when I decided to try and spin my own yarn.

This book is an excellent introduction to spinning your own yarn. It breaks the process down into sections: Fibre identification and preparation, dyeing techniques, spinning techniques and going professional. There is so much information in here that it would be impossible to summarise it all. Some of the key information from each section that I found helpful follows.

Processing Methods (p36)

Roving – been carded and so individual fibres are at random angles to each other. Spins woollen yarns.

Batts – been carded on drum carder. ‘Art batts’ can be mixture of plant, animal and sparkle. Spins woollen yarns and popular for art yarn. Spin batts by stripping apart, tearing off a chunk or pulling into strips of roving.

Top – Combed so all fibres are parallel to each other. Spins aran yarns.

Drafting Aran vs Woollen

Woollen (Forward) – Front hand pulls fibre towards wheel while back hand keeps twist from travelling into fibre.

Aran (Backward) – Back hand pulls fibre away from wheel as front hand keeps the twist from travelling between hands into the drafting zone. Slide front hand back over the drafting zone to allow the twist to travel onto fibre.

When I have been spinning on my drop spindle I have naturally been using the aran method though I did have to think about it to work out which one I was using!

Dyeing Fibre

Animal Fibre (such as wool, mohair and silk)

Animal fibre can be coloured with:

  • acid dye – the water bath can be made acidic using vinegar, citric acid or lemon juice and acid dye added.
  • food colouring

To dye permanently heat must be applied – microwave/hob/solar (this seems very similar to fixing silk paint with the exception of solar setting). Water should be almost clear or milky white when finished if correct dye amount used – be conservative with dye!

Plant Fibre (such as cotton, hemp, bamboo)

Dyed using fibre-reactive dyes (cold-water dyes) which require alkaline environment (soda ash). Colour depends on the fibre as each plant fibre absorbs dye differently. A naturally ivory fibre will end up duller than a bright white fibre when dyed.

Synthetic Fibre (nylon)

Can be acid dyed like wool but as nylon can melt keep dye pot on low simmer.

Immersion Dyeing

Used for acid dyes and gives a different result each time. Essentially a pot of water with acid and then wool added is heated until steaming (not boiling). Sprinkle on dye and let the wool sit in the hot water until the water turns clear. Let the pot cool and remove the wool, rinse and dry.

Gradient Dyeing

Creates light to dark colour effects. Soak the wool in a cool water acid bath for 15 mins before removing and squeezing out excess (use gloves!). Mix up your darkest dye shade and from this create lighter shade by diluting with water. Lay out wool like a snake on clingfilm and colour each section in successively lighter dyes. Roll clingfilm over to protect the wool and stop dye leaking from one coil to the next and seal. Place in microwave on high for 5 mins (add another 3 mins if not set). Let cool and rinse.

Hand painting

Similar to gradient dyeing but the trick is not to overlap dye colours but use water to blend.

Solar Dyeing

Needs several hours of hot direct sunlight for the dye to set (this bank holiday would have been perfect!) and gives solid colours or multiple depending on the method.

Single colour – Fill pot with water and acid and boil. Soak wool in warm water and add dye to jar. Pour boiling acidic water into the jar until it is 3/4 full. Add fibre and push down and top up if necessary. Put on lids and place in direct sunlight outside. Placing on top of black bag (or inside black bag) will increase temperature if necessary.

Multiple colours – Similar to above but place dry fibre in jars before adding the dye on top. Then add boiling water until 3/4 full and top up with acidic water.

If dyes are not setting due to temperature, place the jars (without lids) into microwave.

Spinning Techniques

The key thing with spinning is to remember to spin a single one way and to ply (twist multiple yarns together) by spinning in the opposite direction. I tend to spin my singles anticlockwise and ply clockwise as I find it more comfortable to spin the drop spindle anticlockwise.

Corespinning – spinning a fibre onto or around an existing yarn. The fibre is wrapped around the core at 90 degrees. According to the book (p136) wire can be corespun (jewellery, knit & crochet, weaving, basketmaking, bag handles etc) but as it cannot accumulate twist it must be able to spin freely to release any twist built up.

Plying – To make a more textured ply, hold the yarn at 90 degrees to the plying thread but requires a strong plying thread. Changing the angle creates different yarn effects including the possibility of changing the angle within a yarn for example holding at 70 degrees creates a bubbly effect if a fine single is spun with a chunky or thick-and-thin single. Coils can be spun if you have a very strong plying thread, hold the single at 90 degrees and keep pushing the yarn up the thread (this uses a lot of meterage – coiled yarn is approximately 30% of the meterage of the original single). Navajo plying (chain plying) turns a single into a three-ply yarn. This is done by creating a large slip-knot loop which gives you three strands to ply. Pull a long length of the single through the first loop and spin so that the excess becomes the next loop for plying. When you get to the end, pull the yarn left through the loop and tie a knot.

Mixed Media: Spinning beads into a single – prepare the beads by threading wool through the holes to spin into your yarn but need at least a metre of yarn before you add a bead.

Mixed Media: Plying beads into a single – for smaller beads (or those with smaller holes) thread them onto a strong plying thread and ply with a handmade single.

Mixed Media: Fabric – fabric can be corespun onto a strong cotton thread if ripped into 1/2 inch strips and hold at 45 degrees

Setting the twist

Just about every yarn (except for those for energised knitting) should be finished. It may be helpful to make a Niddy Noddy from PVC pipes as it can be dunked in water without damage. It doesn’t matter how long after spinning this is done and there are three main methods:

  • bathing – as you’d expect toss a figure-of-eight tied skein into hot bath. Once it’s wet and plump, spin in a salad spinner or wrap in a towel, give it a gentle ‘snap’ (more gentle than felting) then hang (weighted or unweighted) to dry.
  • fulling – useful for yarns that aren’t perfectly balanced. Tie in lots of places (for more fulling tie more figure-of-eights). Moving from a hot sink to cold sink a few times gives a bit of fulling. If you want more give it thwack (like felting). Most extreme fulling effects from combining high temperatures, agitation and soap aka putting it in the washing machine! Keep checking as won’t take long.
  • steaming – works well for yarns with too much twist. Hold under tension so it hangs straight and put it into the pathway of steam. Steaming changes the make-up of the yarn by causing individual polypeptide chains to burst, shift, find equilibrium and form new chains in a stable position. Steaming is corrective so good yarns will result in being less elastic/lofty if steamed compared to bathing.

Energised Knitting – also known as knitting with ‘alive’ yarns which means yarns that haven’t been set. According to Martineau ‘the distinctive texture, twist energy within the yarn creates a unique, unpredictable shape that works well for hats, scarves, mittens and winter accessories’ but this may also be interesting from a textile art perspective. It is important to note that the look will be changed if you block or saturate the finished garment so spot clean and air dry.

Drop spun yarns from the gallery starting on p112

Neauveau Fibre Arts – Ashley Martineau

Storybook Fibres – Kristine Haddock

CompassioKnit – Allison Jai O’Dell

Stash Enhancement – Jessie Driscoll

Wool Dancer – Michelle Snowdon – aims to create expressive wearable designs and artwork inspired by her handspun yarn.

DIY Niddy Noddy tutorial from Knit One Chain One (03/10/2015)

[All links accessed on 23/4/19]

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