Spinster’s Corner

continued from Part 1 :  In Monet’s Garden: Impressionist Color Blending with Marled Yarns

In Monet’s Garden: Impressionist Color Blending with Marled Yarns : Part 2

by Lisa D. Jacobs

Blue Periods and Rose Periods: Marled Yarns with a Unifying Color
Plying your variegated roving with black, white, or itself may give you the yarn you want for your project. On the other hand, you may want to intensify the emotional response to the yarn by emphasizing a single color or color family in the colorway.

Imagine Picasso’s Blue Period and Rose Period paintings. During his Blue Period, Picasso’s paintings featured a blue or blue green cast that created a cool, sometimes somber tone to his works. During his Rose Period, his paintings used warmer oranges and pinks giving his paintings a brighter, more cheerful feel. In each case, although Picasso used colors from the entire spectrum in his paintings, the dominance of blues or pinks held his work together and gave it emotional impact.

You can achieve similar effects by marling your variegated single with a solid color. Choosing the appropriate color can be a challenge. One relatively safe way to choose the color is to use a color already found in your roving. For example, to take a page from Picasso’s book, both Fiber 1 and Fiber 2 have some blue green in their colorways. What happens when we ply each of them with a solid blue green singles spun from Peacock colored Harrisville Dyed Carded Wool?

In our Blue Period yarn, both the colors in Fiber 1 and Fiber 2 are cooled and softened by the addition of blue green. Fiber 2 already has a lot of blue and blue green in it, so the blue green ply blends into the background of the yarn and smoothes out some of the color variation that was visible when we plied Fiber 2 with itself. The new colorway seems restful with interesting, subtle variations in color.

Fiber 1 plus the blue green single create a cool, but lively yarn with a bit of sparkle. Fiber 1 has a small amount of blue green, which disappears into the background. The yellow green blends with the blue green to create a slightly brighter turquoise. The contrasting oranges and pinks stand out in small bright flecks against the blue background.

Another more adventurous approach to selecting a plying color is to choose a complimentary color to one of the hues in the variegated roving. For example, blue green’s complimentary color is red orange. Fiber 1 contains some red orange as well as some blue green so we might guess that red orange Louet Corriedale Top will blend with the roving. Fiber 2, however, has no red orange so it will be a study in contrasts.

If the blue green sample could be called our Blue Period, the red orange samples are definitely our “orange” Rose Period. The warm red orange wakes up both Fiber 1 and Fiber 2, creating a much livelier pallet of colors in both fibers.

Because Fiber 1 contains some orange and pink, the color scheme blends together when it is marled with red orange. The red orange settles into the background while the contrasting blue greens and purples become more visible. Together the two yarns suggest the warmth of fire on the hearth.

Fiber 2 also becomes warmer when marled with red orange, but because the variegated blue greens directly contrast with red orange, they do not blend. Instead, color theory tells us that two contrasting colors placed side by side will intensify each other’s colors. Viewed close up, the yarn and swatch look like a field of Pointillist dots, each color very distinct from its neighbor. Viewed from across a room, the colors blend not so much into one color but into a study of brightness and shadow.

Watercolor with Marled Yarns
Solid colors marled with variegated singles can lighten or darken the colorway or can soften or intensify its effects. If the variegated roving is dyed in a regular color pattern and the singles spun straight from the roving, the colors in the marled yarn will also appear in a predictable order and will react with the solid color in a relatively predictable way, rather like oil paints layered on a canvas.

Watercolor paints, on the other hand, flow and blend together on the paper as the work progresses. Colors blend subtly with their neighbors to create a depth and variety of intermediate colors not necessarily mixed on the pallet before hand. You can create similar effects with your yarn by marling two or more variegated rovings of different colorways. For instance, if we combine Fiber 1 and Fiber 2, we get a third, more visually complex colorway.

The blue greens and violets in both Fiber 1 and Fiber 2 bring the two colorways together into an essentially blue background color. The pinks and oranges of Fiber 1 and the yellow greens of both Fiber 1 and Fiber 2 sparkle though the yarn combining with the dominant blues and violets. Unlike plying each fiber with itself, differing colorways of the two fibers mean two strands of the same color almost never ply together in the yarn. Each stitch in the swatch, therefore, contains at least two distinct colors that visually blend into a third.

Aside from beauty, plying several variegated yarns together has several other advantages. First, it tends to break up the striped quality inherent in variegated yarns. Although each singles has its own color repeat, the color changes in each take place at a different point. When marled, the difference in color and in the length of the color repeats usually means that the points at which the same colors blend together are fairly far apart and often less noticeable than in the singles.

Second, like the watercolorist, you can create your own unique color pallet by working with several different yarns each spun from two or more variegated rovings plied together. For instance if you wanted to use both Fiber 1 and Fiber 2 in the same project, adding a third yarn containing singles from both colorways creates a visual bridge between them and helps coordinate them within the pattern.

Take it a step further and imagine a knitted Fair Isle sweater or woven color gamp shawl in ever-shifting browns and greens. These seven yarns were spun by combining four hand-painted rovings from Clover Leaf Farms. They shade across a spectrum from golden green to dark red brown. Each is a distinct colorway but all could work beautifully together in a single project.

Filling the Blank Canvas: An Ideal Sock Yarn

Like the painter mixing his or her colors, when we spin our yarn, we choose our color combinations to suit the final project we plan to make. Do we need a unifying background color, or do we want to have many shimmering colorways that all work together? Do we wish the colors to be vibrant to show off colorwork or subtle to enhance our surface texture? As we hold a variegated roving in our hands, we imagine what it could become.

All these questions swam through my mind as I began to design the ideal sock yarn for a leaf lace pattern I had in mind. I loved the greens, browns, and grays of a hand-painted merino / tencel roving that I had gotten from Spunky Eclectic, but I knew that if I simply plied the roving with itself, the colors would form bold stripes around my socks. The socks I envisioned would have lacy leaves around the cuff. If the yarn had bold stripes, the lace pattern would disappear completely. Clearly, I needed to find away to break up the stripes and to soften the color variation.

I decided to make a three-ply yarn that combined two of the marling techniques above to eliminate both problems.

First I spun two singles from the hand-painted roving, starting each at the beginning of a different color in the long stripes of the colorway. In the finished three-ply yarn, this softened the bold color changes by minimizing the number of places where the same color singles were plied together. Second, I spun a solid color singles from a soft blue green alpaca / silk bat that coordinated beautifully with the hand-painted roving. The blue green became the unifying background color for the yarn and helped even out the color changes of the singles.

In the final sock, the Impressionistic visual blending of the blue green background gives a cool, soothing undertone to the whole sock, while the two plies of the hand painted colorway mix like watercolors into subtle stripes. This subtlety enhances the simple pattern of the cuff and makes this marled yarn a wonderful sock yarn, an echo of the colors in Monet’s garden.

The Challenge of Being Avant-Garde: My Yarn Doesn’t Look Like I Expected
Early Impressionists like Monet struggled to sell their paintings to an art market that expected paintings to be as realistic as possible. The wild splashes of color that merged together only at a distance were too avant-garde, too different, too unexpected to be immediately appreciated. Sometimes creativity is not initially palatable.

Spinning yarn from variegated rovings has some of the elements of avant-garde art. Sometimes the finished yarn will surprise you. Serendipity makes our craft exciting, but if you are looking for more control, spin a few samples of your yarn before you spin the entire roving. While you are sampling, here are a few factors to keep in mind.

First of all, the thinner you spin your singles and the more tightly you ply your yarn, more your colors will blend. Each twist in the yarn shows the color of the fiber. Finer yarn with tighter twist shows smaller areas of color close together. As we have seen from our Impressionist friends, the smaller and closer together colors are the more they blend. If the colors in your sample yarns blend too, much spin thicker yarn. If they blend too little for your taste, spin thinner.

Second, changing the number and color of plies in your finished yarn will change the color balance as well. Not only does the twist of more plies create dots of color along each individual singles, but also the changes in proportion of solid and variegated yarns can affect the overall color scheme of the yarn. In particular, adding more solid color plies will lessen the impact of the variegated strand in the yarn.

Finally, marling together singles of different fibers or surface texture will influence the final look of the yarn. In the case of the sock yarn above, the shiny merino / tencel singles stand out from the matte alpaca / silk. Smoother, shinier singles will look slightly lighter and be more noticeable than plies of a matte yarn.

In the end though, spinning is about creating beauty. Experiment, sample, and enjoy your fiber, but occasionally be prepared to embrace the surprises of an avant-garde yarn. You might just have discovered a new and wonderful world of color.

*Note: Louet has discontinued the two Northern Lights colorways used in this article. The current color card has similar colorways available.

Photos ©Lisa Jacobs.

Lisa Jacobs spins, knits and plays with color in Coralville, IA. She produceds her own line of nature-inspired patterns as Fiber Tree Designs.