Knitty: little purls of wisdom

Gradient Fractal Spinning

It’s no secret that I love playing with color in variegated top. I could spend all of my spinning time shortening, lengthening and rearranging color in my spinning. For a while I’ve been curious about manipulating a gradient dyed fiber.

Gradient (called progressive by some) is the type of colorway that is one color at time, not repeating, like this Spunky Eclectic gradient, Fading Memory on Falkland.


When it’s spun, it gives long single-color stripes. Most spinners leave it as singles or ply to match the colors. It’s gorgeous knit into lace and shawls.

But what happens if I mix it up somehow when I’m spinning? I know it will marl or barberpole if I just split the fiber and spin singles from opposite ends then ply, but can I manipulate the marling somehow getting more colors to barberpole together?

What if I spun a gradient fractally? A fractal pattern is a pattern that repeats itself at a progressively smaller scale — same pattern getting smaller and smaller. In spinning, to spin a fractal is to divide a piece of top or roving that is dyed in a repeating pattern into different widths. For example, splitting top vertically in half, spinning one half end to end on one bobbin, splitting the second half into fourths and spinning each strip end to end in the same color order on a second bobbin. Ply the two singles together and a fractal yarn is born. One ply repeats the color pattern long and slowly and the second ply has a quicker repeat of the same color pattern; plied together they make a knit fabric that has stripes within stripes. It’s quite lovely.

Gradient fiber has a single color repeat, so when I divide it for 2 plies, one ply will have super long colors, no repeats, and the second ply will repeat the color pattern. What I expect to see is a lot of marling and only few spots when the colors in the two ply match to make solid yarn. When knit, there will be narrow stripes of three solid colors divided by wide stripes of marled colors and the second ply rotating through the color pattern over and over.

Here’s the yarn:

and a knitted swatch

I didn’t knit all of the yarn I spun, but I can see only two spots in my swatch where the colors match up exactly — at the bottom and top — and the rest of the swatch is varying degrees of barber pole yarn. I like the visual texture the marling gives when the pink and orange marl. I’m not so much a fan of the middle section with the high-contrast color marling.

I like this as a change from spinning a gradient as a single or in plies that match the colors. I’m always looking for something different to do with color and always tinkering.

I sat thinking staring at my samples and thought, “what about a 3-ply fractally spun yarn? What would that do?” It’s always fun times at my house.

For the 3-ply experiment, I split my fiber into thirds. The first third I spun from end to end on one bobbin. On a second bobbin, I spun a single from the second third of fiber, divided into thirds and spun end to end in the same color pattern. For the third ply, I divided the last third of fiber into sixths (they were tiny strips) and spun those end to end in the same color repeat.

The third ply’s color repeat was really short, the second ply had medium color repeats and the first ply had long color repeats. I was so excited to see what happened in the yarn and knitting that I kept working long after my bedtime to finish the yarn and then got up extra early to knit it. I know I’m not the only one that’s done this out of yarn excitement.

Here’s the 3-ply yarn:

The marling of this yarn is much more interesting than the 2-ply. There are almost no spots where all three plies match in color.

And the knitting has more barber pole and softer stripes.

I love the look of it, especially close up:

I definitely would go with the 3 ply over the 2 ply, if I was looking to change, soften or blend a gradient fiber. My spinning brain is ready to do more experimenting with a different set of colors. My knitting brain is going crazy designing something that combines stretches of a gradient colorway kept as a gradient, interspersing those bits with chunks of fractally spun gradient yarn.


Jillian Moreno is the editor of Knittyspin. She's on the Editorial Advisory board for PLY Magazine. She lives in a house packed with fiber and books.

Be warned, she's a morning person and is disgustingly chipper before 9 am.