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Journey Wheel

Getting more mileage from a beautiful roving

I had to draft two sections of roving simultaneously to get these long subtly shifting color bands.

You’ve been there…you buy (or paint) this gorgeous roving. The colors graduate one to the next…so subtle, so magical. Then you up and spin it to get a variegated, stripy, spotty, kinda muddy yarn that ruins the whole effect. So you try to spin the sequence as a single or chained single yarn but the colors repeat too often. The bands just aren’t long enough when you knit them up. Stripes again, basically.

In case you haven’t already figured this one out, here’s how to get the effect you really want. To keep it real, I’ll illustrate the technique within the framework of a project, an original fingerless glove pattern so you can see just how far my fiber will go. Spinning is iffy. We all know that. We wouldn’t do it if we weren’t risk takers, right?

This technique is all about fiber preparation. The more care you put in, the more beauty you get out! And it’s designed for a repeating color sequence, so you if you try to use it with randomly painted roving you’ll only blend the colors further. Of course you could use that to your advantage too, depending on your desired outcome.


my repeat pattern

First I’ll lay out my roving to find the repeat pattern. As you can see, I have a little more than four lengths of the same color sequence in my 3 ounce 50/50 merino/tencel roving. I’ll have to set aside the extra bits of roving that don’t fit into the repeat sequences and that’s going to leave me with about 2.8 oz.  I’m pretty sure I can get a fingerless glove out of 1.4 oz of fiber (remember the tencel is heavier than the wool so it will take more weight of fiber than wool alone), so I’ll separate my roving into four repeat lengths, two for each glove.

two pairs of repeat sequences

To make my fiber go as far as possible I’ll be careful when I divide my lengths of roving. First I’ll fluff the roving sideways to loosen the fibers’ hold on each other (break it up, guys, party’s over) so I can pull the roving apart right where I want.

fluff it

Then I’ll bust the roving into four equal lengths by pulling lengthwise. I’ll position the place where I want the roving to separate midway between my hands and I’ll position my hands just a little farther apart than the average staple length of the roving, which for merino tencel is about six inches. If I separate my hands too far apart, the roving may come apart somewhere other than midway between my hands. If I position my hands too close together, the roving will set its teeth and I’ll wish I was Wonder Woman.
Once my hand placement is correct, I just haul off and pull.

bust it

Sometimes no matter how hard I try, the rovings won’t always divide evenly. So I’ll lay them side by side and pull any extra from the ends to even it all out. If I wanted my gloves to be exactly alike (good goddess, life is too short for me to worry too much over this fine point) this extra step is really important. If you want fraternal twins, don’t bother with this step, as it only wastes fiber.

At this point if I tried to spin the pair of roving sections together I’d be in deep doo doo. To get subtle sequence shifts and clean colors in between it’s necessary to predraft the pair into a quasi pencil roving. Before I can do this I need to fluff, fluff, fluff. As you can see in the photo the roving now appears at least three times its former diameter. Once it’s fluffed to this point, lay one section on top of the other, lining the color sequences up side by side so that they match up, and fluff the entire thing as a unit. This way the fibers will flow more continuously when you start to pre-draft.

fluff again with attitude

(I can’t believe she pre-drafted the whole thing)

Now’s the time I put on some music that sits me back in my seat. It takes a while to pre-draft this amount of fiber (especially when the fiber is a merino/tencel blend…or silk for that matter) so I want to give myself plenty of time. I also need a box or a tray to hold the pre-drafted fiber, something I can transport the fiber from my pre-drafting station to my wheel. (If I tried to pre draft this at the wheel I’d get all antsy and want to spin it. Do I know my process or what?) Once the fiber is in pre-drafted form it is much more delicate and there will (not may, will) be places where the roving wants to come apart. Best to cover my rear ahead of time and pre draft it onto a surface where it can stay all lined up in its holding pattern, ready for the wheel.

When I’m all set up to pre draft, I grab the entire roving (pairs should be almost indistinguishable at this point) and start pulling the fibers from one end. I only grab what I can hold with my thumb and forefinger and I pull them slowly and gently out of the end of the roving. My other hand has a compassionate chokehold on the main mass of fibers, my hands just farther apart than the staple length (like they were when I busted up the roving).  I only want to pull the fibers of one color at a time, so I keep pulling until I’ve drafted all the fibers of one color before segueing on to the next. You’ll have to pull from the center and the sides…so basically, if you want yellow, pull on yellow, until all the yellow is gone.

the art part: pre-drafting

By the time I’m done, my roving will look like this:

See the color sequence?

If you want to make identical gloves, predraft the other pair now into a separate box or tray (or table where you can move it onto a tray later). Why? By now you’ve developed a rhythm and you’ll draft your second pair the same way. Also, more importantly, you won’t have to interrupt the rhythm of your spinning to pre-draft again, thereby guaranteeing your singles to be of similar thickness for both gloves. No matter how careful you are, this makes a difference in your spinning (of course if you are careful, you probably know this).. For the sake of illustration I spun my pairs at different times so I could make that nifty photo at the beginning of the article. So the second time around my yarn was a whiff thicker and it made a huge difference in the thickness of my finished yarn and also in the length of my colorbands.

Time to breathe! The hard part is over. Time to spin.

And time to make a choice. Mine was to spin a chained single (aka Navajo plied) yarn, mainly because I tend to spin merino/tencel very fine and it is more durable as a plied yarn, at least for me. You can spin your roving as a single if you want to. It’s up to you. For this pattern the finished yarn should be in the neighborhood of 13-14 wpi.

Spin one of your pairs on one bobbin, the other pair on another bobbin. This way you can keep your color sequences separate when you go to ply and also to knit, especially if you want them identical. Spin one right after the other if you can. If you’re going to ply, you can do that later. Ply them and skein them one at a time.

Here’s my single on the bobbin. Cool huh?

my color sequence on the bobbin

If you are dead set on a two ply yarn (you run the risk of colors not lining up exactly with this method), don’t pre-draft the pairs as one unit as above, but pre-draft each repeat section separately, taking a lot of care to pre draft them to the same length. You can do this by drafting a little of each at a time on side by side trays so you can keep track. Spin each length on a separate bobbin in the same color sequence, that is ABC ABC., then ply the two singles together. Although your colors may not line up flawlessly, for the most part like will ply with like and the segues between colors will look like they were supposed to be there, especially if your color changes are subtle.

Twist and balance…always a consideration. To balance your singles or chained singles yarn, wash your skein as usual, blot out excess water, then hold the skein under tension and rotate the skein hand over hand (kind of like you were pedaling a bicycle with your hands) until you’ve gone the whole way around the skein. Then back-pedal the whole thing in the other direction. This will remove most or all errant energy of twist. Lay the skein flat on a towel to dry. Unless you started with overspun yarn, you should have a nice tame skein.

When you wind your skeins for knitting. Remember to wind starting with the same end of the skein if you want your gloves identical. If for some reason your skein is the same color at both ends but the sequence in between isn’t an exact mirror, mark your skeins when you tie them for finishing by putting two knots in one end of each skein, one knot in the other. Wind both skeins into balls from the same knot number.

A SMALL POINT: the thumb
If you want your thumb to fall into sequence with the rest of the glove there are a couple things you can try.

After you predraft the roving completely, Take some of the color/s you think will end up at the thumb of the glove and hold them aside. You only need about 6 yds of yarn for the thumb…that’s not much.

If your color sequences are nice and long, you can wait till you knit to the thumb and hold out 6 yds of yarn. Knit a few rows into the hand before you take out your six yards, making sure that at the end of the six yards you’ll have more of the same color to match the hand. Either way is risky. You may have to figure this out as you go, but it could be worth it to you in the end. It’s totally up to you.

If you want to make something on a larger scale, like a sweater or shawl, you can get the same effect by adding more repeat lengths of roving.  If you want the color to go three times as far you’ll need three times as much roving. Like 6 repeat sequences. Don’t try to predraft this entire amount like we did for the glove…that would be insane. First, predraft each repeat so that all the colors are about the same length. Then lay them out on a big table and line all 6 up side by side. You’ll probably have to snake them back and forth a little. Once you get the colors to match up with all 6 sections, THEN predraft them as a unit.

There are other ways to do this…but for that you’ll have to take my class.

Of course if you are a dyer (or know one who will do custom work) you can dye longer color bands onto your roving in the first place.

TRANSLATION: other fibers
I used merino/tencel. So what about other fibers? Since wool is considerably lighter than tencel, you can probably get a pair of gloves from approx 2 oz of wool. Remember that my shortie and longie gloves weight the same…the only diff is in the spinning.

Both gloves weigh the same and were spun from the same length of roving. The thicker single plied into a thicker yarn with proportionately less yardage.

Schacht Matchless Double Treadle
Whorl: Tiny for single, Extra large for plying
Niddy Noddy: My arm
Needles: Bryspun 3s and ancient aluminum 2s I got from yard sales (these are my pet lace needles…nice strong long-tapered tiny points).
Stitch markers: Clover locking stitch markers
Look for Lynne's handpainted fiber line at Three Waters Farm. You can find her patterns and yarn at her Etsy store. Find out where she's teaching this year on her blog.

The recent release, Twisted Sisters Knit Sweaters, is her second book.