This month, I'm giving a short program at my Guild's spinning group on spinning fractal yarn. Fractal spinning is a way to control the color of handpainted top or roving in a way that creates subtle self-striping yarn. The short video linked above goes through all the basic steps, but I'll elaborate a little more here.
This isn't the first time I've done fractal spinning, but it is the first time I've really delved into the details of it. Apparently I haven't blogged about it before, but Instagram tells me I was playing with fractal spinning in May of last year, and with very similar colors to boot.
Fractals are found in nature, mathematics, and art. They are never ending patterns that repeat themselves at different scales or sizes. Fractals look complicated, but they are created by repeating simple processes.
Fractals reappear over and over again in nature as branching and spiral patterns. The branching of a tree, or the shape of a river network, the shape of our lungs, the shape of a hurricane, and even the shape of our galaxy are all formed according to fractal patterns.
So what exactly is fractal spinning?
Fractal spinning takes the idea of repeating patterns at different scales and applies it to yarn. Once it is spun up, the finished yarn will have two (or more) different scales of the color repeats found in the dyed fiber. Usually we accomplish this with two plies: one ply is at a large scale, and the second ply is at a smaller scale. This results in a subtle self-striping yarn that has smaller color repeats within larger ones. And it looks fabulous in the skein!
Here's how to do it:
Start with dyed fiber. Braids with clear color repeats instead of random splotchy colors the best. If there's some splotchyness in the color within a single section, that's fine - it will create a heathered appearance within your color repeat. (I happen to really like that effect, and used it here.)
Divide your fiber lengthwise into two equal strips. This is usually pretty easy to do, since most combed top has "slivers" that want to split apart from each other naturally.
Set one half aside. With the other half, split the fiber lengthwise again, as many times as you'd like. In the video I split the second half into four sections, but you could do more or less. Each lengthwise division shortens the color run (take a look at the two bobbins below for a comparison).
The only limiting factor besides your imagination is how thick you want your yarn to be. The thinner your sections, the thinner your yarn is likely to be. I tend to spin pretty thin yarns, so this isn't an issue for me, but if you're going for a thicker yarn, it's a good idea to start with 2-4 sections instead of 6-10.
Be sure that you're keeping the fiber aligned so the color repeats are all going in the same direction. Jillian Moreno recommends tying a loose overhand knot on the end you intend to spin from. For these, I wrapped the fiber into loose balls with the end I wanted to spin from on the outside. Just do whatever works for you.
Now comes the fun part - spinning!
Spin the half that you first created onto one bobbin, and the other half that you split into small sections one after the other onto the second bobbin. (In the picture above, the long repeat is on the right, and the short repeat is on the left.)
Ply the two bobbins together, and you have fractal spun magic! The short color repeats flow through the longer color repeats. Sometimes they match up, and sometimes they combine in unexpected ways to create totally new colors! You'll still get a self-striping effect, but it's a gentler and more harmonious than the hard self-striping effect we associate with chain ply.
Of course, you'll want to set the twist just like you do any time you spin yarn. This one I set with a soak and some light snapping.
That's not all, though. I still have to explore the differences between knitting with fractal spun yarn and weaving with it. Stay tuned...
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