Experimental Spinning 2

In the first Experimental Spinning post I used shades of purple to demonstrate the effects of multiple plies and multiple colors on the final knitted fabric. In this post I will continue with the theme of using plying to play with color, this time working with opposite colors on the color wheel. Again, I am using a somewhat scientific structure to organize my method from start to finish: Subject, Hypothesis, Methods, Testing, Results, Conclusion

Subject – Plying Opposite Colors

Hypothesis – Plying so called “complimentary colors” from a color wheel will result in muddy brown color in a knitted swatch.

Everyone knows that mixing blue and yellow will give you green. blue + red = purple. yellow + red = orange. I have heard and read and found in dying wool, that mixing complimentary colors will often end in mud. If you’ve done any painting or fabric dying or fiber dying, you may also have had this experience. But does this always hold true? Will it hold true with simply plying them together?

First of all, what is the definition of “complimentary” color? Using the most common generally accepted color wheel, complimentary colors are those found directly opposite on the wheel. The compliment of blue is orange. For red it is green. For yellow it is purple.

Methods – I began by spinning singles in each of the 6 colors needed: red, blue, yellow, orange, purple, green. Your basic rainbow.

I used European Merino (27 micron) that is inexpensive and readily available from a local shop. It is commercial dyed. I didn’t need a lot so only spun 20 grams of each color. I spun everything for this experiment on an Electric Eel Wheel 6.0.

I then plied HALF of the amount on the bobbins with their compliments.

red + green
blue + orange
yellow + purple

Then I knit swatches with the yarn.

red + green
blue + orange
yellow + purple

I then decided to ply the rest of the singles together into 6-ply yarn to see what that would look like. My additional hypothesis was that all 6 colors together would look muddy. I had never made 6-ply yarn before and was a little nervous about handling all those singles, but it was actually pretty easy.

bobbin layout
6-ply yarn
6-ply yarn, primary and secondary colors
6 color yarn swatch

Testing – Testing the hypothesis is a very subjective process. Do these colors look muddy to YOU? Do they look muddy to ME? With this method, only the green/red combination looks muddy at first glance. I think this is because the value of the colors are very similar. Meaning, they are equally dark. Mixing yellow and purple in a 2-ply yarn only looks like a marled yarn because the value of the colors is so different. The yellow is so bright compared to the purple. To test this further I took a black and white photo of the yarns together. Here you can see what I mean.

from L to R: yellow/purple, blue/orange, red/green

It’s clear from the photo above that the red and green colors are very similar in value and thus more easily fool your eye into thinking they are blended together.

What if you would see the effect of the color mixing more obviously if the pieces of color were tiny pixels instead of large chunks of yellow and purple? I decided to look at the photos of the swatches in Photoshop and see what I could do there to blur the image and see what color would result.

I used the Blur filter on the photos and came up with these results. The algorithm finds the average color from what it sees in the image.

red/green blur
blue/orange blur
yellow/purple blur
6 color blur

Results – Mixing complementary colors via plying does not create a stark or obvious mud color to MY eyes. Possibly the result would be more mud colored if I had spun very fine singles and knit a swatch with 2mm needles the stitches would be small enough to make more of a muddy impact.

However, if you visually mix the colors fine enough it is clear that a muddy color results. So, if you are painting, or mixing dyes, the Photoshopped blur colors are likely what you will get as a result.

Summary – I consider my hypothesis proved right, even though my swatches were too large in their pieces of color to see the effect at first glance. Blurring the images shows the true mix of the colors when the size of each “pixel” is inconsequential. But this leads me to sub-hypothesis, and the next episode of Experimental Spinning…. what happens if you blend these same combinations on a drum carder? How many passes on the carder are needed before you see the complete blending of colors, matching more or less the blurred images above? Do we still end up with mud? Does blending on a drum carder mimic blending dyes in a dye pot? I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks.

Side note – I have fallen in love with the 6 ply multi-colored yarn. I was surprised how easy it was to ply so many singles together and I’m very happy with the result. It’s not ropey. Not terribly bouncy, but not hard either. I’m very tempted to spin up some more singles and ply enough to make a hat. I think it would make me smile every time I put it on. My advice to spinners – go for lots of plies and see what happens! It’s only wool after all. You are the boss of your spinning.

Experimental Spinning – 1

Corriedale fiber

For the past couple of years I’ve been thinking about writing a book. About spinning. Because I have so many questions and I want to take readers on a trip with me to find the answers. Writing a book feels very daunting so I’ve decided to take it in pieces, starting with blog posts, and starting with this one today, which is why it is titled with the number “1”. There will be many more of these spinning experiment posts, put into a separate category on the blog called “Experimental Spinning” so as not to confuse it with just every day normal spinning. 🙂

I’ve already got many topics outlined and summarized like chapters in a book and I hope that they will fit nicely into blog posts. Otherwise I’ll chop them up to fit.

The format for each topic will be the same: Subject, Hypothesis, Methods, Testing, Results, Conclusion. For anyone who has taken science classes in school this should look familiar. It’s a way to structure this work and make it easy for someone else to follow the steps and see if they get the same results, or to modify the experiments to test a similar hypothesis. I hope this will make sense as we go down this road together, my readers and I.

OK, now that I’ve set the scene…

Experiment 1 – Effects of multiple numbers of plies on color and texture

Hypothesis – 3-ply yarn is the best for knitting/crochet. It is round and bouncy. Colors play well together in 3’s. 2-ply is less round, 4-ply is ropey and 5-ply even worse. More than 3-plies in multiple colors is just not pleasing to the eye. Therefore, 3-ply is the best yarn to make when planning to make garments from spun yarn.

Methods – As you can see from the photo above, I have 5 similar colors of fiber. This is Corriedale that I bought from World of Wool (WoW) in the UK. The colors range from dark to light, blue-ish to red-ish and a basic purple. All of the colors are listed in the “purple” category by WoW.

Create 4 yarns, from 5-ply to 2-ply.
1. Create 5-ply yarn: Spin 5 x 10g bobbins, 1 of each color, as lace weight, and ply them together. Wash and set the yarn. Look at the yarn created and choose the 1 color that stands out and remove it from the next round of spinning.
2. Create 4-ply yarn: Spin 4 x 10g bobbins of the 4 remaining colors and ply them together. (I chose to remove the lightest color from this round, using purple, red-ish, blue-ish and darkest colors.) Repeat the washing, setting, reviewing and deciding which stand out color to remove for the next round.
3. Create 3-ply yarn: Repeat step 2 for the 3-ply spin. Spin a little thicker single to try to keep the total grist the same. (I chose to remove the blue-ish color from this round, using purple, red-ish and darkest colors.)
4. Create 2-ply yarn: Repeat step 3 for the 2-ply spin. (I chose to remove the darkest color from this round, leaving the purple and red-ish colors.)
At the end of these steps there should be 4 skeins of yarn, a 5-ply, 4-ply, 3-ply, 2-ply, all different combinations of colors, as close to the same grist as possible.

Testing – The best way to test the results of the method is to knit swatches of each yarn. The photo below shows the swatches from 2-ply on above, to 5-ply at the bottom of the photo. I used size US4/3.5mm needles for all the swatches. Each one measures about 6″ x 5.5″ (15 x 14cm). They were all knit: CO 32 sts; knit 4 rows; (seed st 4 sts, stockinette for 24 sts, seed st 4 sts) for 4″/10cm; knit 4 rows; bind off. Weave in ends and steam block.

You can see that from the 5-ply I removed the lightest color. From the 4-ply I removed the blue-ish color. From the 3-ply I removed the darkest color. What remained in the 2-ply was the purple and red-ish colors.

While I knit the swatches I developed a ranking/testing method that will hopefully show the “winner” of this test and whether or not the winner is the 3-ply that I hypothesized it would be. There are 8 categories and each one will be ranked from 1-5, 5 being best.

Test5-ply4-ply3-ply2-ply
ease of spinning2345
enjoyment of spinning2355
efficiency of spinning1245
pleasing color result3454
enjoyment of knitting3453
ease of knitting3554
hand of fabric3553
visually pleasing fabric2554
TOTAL19313833

Below are close up photos of the swatches, from 5-ply to 2-ply.

5 ply – All 5 colors used
4 ply – Darkest, blue-ish, red-ish, purple colors used
3 ply – Darkest, red-ish, purple used
2 ply – Red-ish and purple used

Conclusion – Obviously this is not empirical testing and the results are subjective. These are my opinions about my own spinning and knitting and color choices. According to the ratings, the hypothesis holds and 3-ply is the best yarn for knitted fabric and mixed colors (of similar hue).

What surprised me? I was surprised by how nice the 4-ply yarn is. I think that apart from the extra time to spin an extra bobbin (as compared to 3-ply), it would have rated right up there with 3-ply yarn. It is NOT ropey, but still soft and bouncy and the chosen colors look nice together. It is not too busy in my opinion.

An observation about the 5-ply yarn – I found that it felt ropey in my hands and the yarn was kind of splitty, meaning that it was easy to split it with your needle while trying to knit. If you have ever knit with Wolmeise sock yarn, you know what I mean. That yarn is 6 plies of wool, however it is so ropey that it feels almost like cotton. Based on that yarn knitting experience, and this spinning experiment, I am coming to the conclusion that anything more than 4 plies is probably not going to be bouncy and lofty.

An observation about 2-ply yarn – The 2-ply yarn is rated so highly in the testing mainly because it is very efficient and easy to make. If I were to give a weighting factor to the table, I would weight the resulting fabric higher than efficiency (I’m spinning for myself after all, not for money) and maybe the 4-ply would have come out with a higher ranking than the 2-ply. The 2-ply fabric is nice, but not as bouncy and kind of boring in the depth of color. I also made a 2-ply using the darkest and lightest colors together to see what that would look like (bonus testing) and it’s really your typical marled effect.

marled 2-ply (darkest and lightest colors used)

In summary, if you are looking for fabric with nice depth of color and nice round crisp stitches, go for 3-ply. If you are just a little more adventurous, try a 4-ply.

Want to play along with my spinning experiments? Please do! I hope to share an experiment per month or two. I’m starting with the most simple and moving on to more and more complex. Next up – Experimental Spinning 2 – Plying the Color Wheel.

Here are some more photos of Experiment 1 results. Enjoy and til next time!

5 ply
4 ply
3 ply
2 ply – similar colors
2 ply light & dark colors