Gradient Yarn in the Making

I am super excited every time I finish a project. I usually make my husband stop whatever he's doing so I can show him my finished object. His first question is, awesome so it's ready to (insert appropriate verb here) wear, use, snuggle with? Well, not quite. I squeal when I'm finished knitting, when I'm finished sewing in ends, when I'm done assembling. Generally, I say I am finished way ahead of the actual end of the road.... I may on the summit, but there are so many exciting moments very close to the summit!

This time, I am finished making yarn. One day soon, I will start using this yarn to make a blanket. Before that though, I went through a whole heck of a lot of work to get this stuff to be what it is.

I got 1kg of White Gum Wool tops from a fiber swap. It took a lot of self restraint not to cuddle with the wool. It is so darn soft. I had also recently read about Helen's method of spinning gradient yarn from dyed tops with short color transitions. See her post here. Since variegated yarn doesn't tickle my fancy... but playing with tons of colors in the dyeing process does, I decided to give try out her method.

Dyeing Prep

This was my first time working with White Gum Wool as wool and not yarn. Later on I realized that Nan sells it as slivers, so it is a bit thinner than other tops. I wondered if it was much more likely to felt because there was so much surface area to handle.

I began by soaking the slivers in a bucket of warm water for a few hours. The bucket was filled with water and then the wool was added. It was slowly pushed down into the water until all air bubbles had been released. 

Meanwhile, I mixed Greener Shades pigments with boiling water to make my 12 starting colors. I mixed 4 'primaries', a deep blue/grey. a burnt red, a mustard, and a teal green. These were not straight from one pigment, but mixes of a few.  These four jars were then mixed with their neighboring jars to create gradients between them. 

Doesn't this awesome color wheel help you understand my mixing process? Don't worry, it worked at the time.

The wool was in 100g segments. Each segment was laid into a baking tray. The strands were carefully laid next to each other so as not to cover neighboring strands. I was really nervous about the dye missing areas.

As you can see above, I turned on the horizontal (long) edge of the pans. This would give me short color changes in my dyed wool.

After all the wool was laid out in trays, 100g per tray, I started adding the dye. The three colors chosen for each tray included one of my primaries and two secondaries from opposite sides of the color wheel. For example, in the photo below, I used my original yellow, the slightly yellow side of the red and the slightly blue side of the green.

This bit took a long time to do! I carefully laid a spoonful of dye onto the wool and let it soak into the fiber. Each tray might have taken about half an hour to cover in dye. 

It's not quite visible in these photos, but I did have several layers of wool built up. Once I had the wool saturated with dye, I put the trays in the oven at 160 degrees C for a half an hour without agitation. After the half hour passed, I added a touch more water to the pans and about a tablespoon of citric acid to each. I gave them another ten minutes or so for the water to heat back up and the acid to soak in.

When I took the pans out to have a look, shifting the wool around showed that the top layer of wool had soaked up all the dye. It didn't penetrate to the lower layers even though I had tried to let it sink down when adding it.

In order to get the dye throughout all 100g in each tray, I transferred the fiber to another tray, laying the strands down a few at a time, adding dye as I went. This put dye in between each layer of fiber and next to each strand. In hindsight, I should have done this from the beginning. Oh well.

I then put the fiber in the oven for another half hour, adding citric acid towards the end. It's worth noting, nearly all of the color had been absorbed prior to adding the citric acid.

I then rinsed each tray with warm water and wool wash. To do this, I slide all of the fiber out of it's baking pan into a bucket or sink already full of lukewarm water and wool wash. I let that sit for a few minutes to let the fiber cool down. At which point, I slowly pick up the sliver of fiber and begin draping it over my hand meanwhile there is cool water running over the fiber on my hand. The water is turned on here at a very low pressure.

None of my fiber has ever felted on me. I'm not entirely sure why, as I do handle the fiber quite a bite during the dyeing process. Perhaps doing it very slowly is the key...?

After rinsing, the fiber was laid out on a towel, rolled up and I pressed out the excess water. It was then draped over a drying rack. The roving was not touched at all until completely dry.

NEWT_WGW_dyed tops_1.jpg

See my finished braids!! I was so excited about these colors. It was darn hard to keep going with my plan because I wanted to see what these looked like spun up without further processing. I trusted my initial instincts and went forward with the plan though.

** The two lower right colors, yellow and blue, were dyed in the same fashion as the rest. Instead of using three colors from opposite ends of the color wheel, I used adjacent colors.**

Blending with Hand Carders

The next step was to separate the colors. By pulling apart the different colors in each sliver. In doing this, nearby colors were on the edges of each chunk.

 Sorry for the horrible photo. Sometimes, I only have my phone and poor lighting.

Sorry for the horrible photo. Sometimes, I only have my phone and poor lighting.

Now that everything was divided, I grouped like colors to create gradient colorways. For example, I took the brightest yellow, an orange, a red and a brown bunch to create one skein.

I could have stopped here and started spinning. I think doing so would have created a yarn with much more distinct chunks of color throughout, almost a variegated gradient. That's not what I was going for, so I began carding each section of color with my hand carders.

In carding the chunks of color, the extremes were blended in to make a muted tone. See above where the intense red and yellow gets lost into a reddish-orange. Brushing back and forth about 4 times achieved a semi blended color that I was happy with.

Each color pile was blended, creating little rolags (or folags). Afterwards, I laid out the colors that were to become one skeins' gradient. I then grabbed two rolags from each adjacent color and blended these. This way each color change was a bit smoother. I don't have any photos of this step.

I also don't have any photos of the spinning progress. I was way to excited about the process to document. Sorry everyone!

I spun each rolag by opening it up and pulling from the fold. In doing so, I made a semi-woolen single. The singles were then navajo plied. I did this for two reasons. First, I wanted to create a pretty thick yarn. Second, I did not want to worry about splitting up the colors and making two singles exactly the same such that the gradient would flow nicely. By navajo plying, I didn't have to worry about where the color changes happened; they blended in nicely with the other two strands that created the finished yarn.

Well, that's it. I finished with 6 skeins of yarn. They vary slightly in weight and yardage. I was more concerned about getting the color in the right place than evening out the finished weight of each skein. Here they are... all done! At least they are done until I cast on for my blanket. ;-)