Spinster’s Corner : Spinning a Gradient Yarn

by Sarah Sipe

Gradients are everywhere these days – from the long, slow color changes in commercial yarns like Knit Picks Chroma and Freia Fine Handpaints, to indie dyers like North Carolina artists, local to me, Fibro Fiber’s Nightfall (stunning colors fading to black) and Unique Sheep’s Gradiance in a whole rainbow of hues. For spinning? There are some gorgeous pre-made gradients available from Fiber Optic Fibers and plenty of gradient batts from all manner of sellers on Etsy.

Gradients are everywhere. But what if you want to make your own without one of those fabulous ready-made options around?

In my visits to LYSs and fiber festivals, I find myself drawn to the braids with short repeats of fabulous colors. While I love the color, I often find the complicated patterns I like to knit don’t lend themselves well to barber-pole two-ply yarns, or even to shorter-repeat chain plied colorways. I started using this method for creating gradient yarns when working on a small, worsted-weight shawl after seeing a skein of Freia in the LYS where I work.

Here’s a shot of a shawl knit in a gradient I spun a few years ago, Three Waters Farm BFL in Spring Morning 4, using a braid dyed in multicolors. The shawl is my pattern, Bull City Scarf.

Bull City Scarf

Three Waters Farm Polwarth/Silk

Three Waters Farm Polwarth/SilkIn this article, I’m working with a 4oz. braid of Three Waters Farm Polwarth/Silk in Spring Morning 7. Three Waters Farm, local to me in Chapel Hill, NC, uses a dye process that doesn’t lend itself to long gradients, but her amazing depth of color and awesome fiber preparation keep bringing me back to her fiber, time and time again.
spinning a gradient yarnTo make this gradient, I’ll first open up the braid to see all the shades I’m working with: Tan, green, orange, turquoise, pale blue, dark blue, grey. I’d like my yarn to flow in that order: from the tans to the grey. This puts it only a bit out of the order in this particular braid as dyed, but I could easily do something else: tan to orange to grey to blues to green, or whatever order I’d like.

spinning a gradient yarnNext, I separate out my colors, putting them in piles of like color. You can sort of see the gradient forming when you look at the piles, all in a row.

spinning a gradient yarnNow, the spinning begins! I’m aiming for a worsted weight or so chain plied. My Ashford Joy easily takes all 4oz onto one bobbin.

This yarn is 9 to 10 WPI when plied, spun from the fold to keep the Polwarth and silk well blended.

The key to keeping the gradient intact is the chain ply. For more information on this technique see the December 2010 issue of Ennea Collective (http://www.enneacollective.com/?p=660).

Gradients have become one of my favorite things to spin, especially with how popular they have been over the past few seasons. Creating your own isn’t difficult at all, so pull out that crazy color braid and give it a try!


— This is the technique used t o spin the yarn in Sarah’s pattern for the Fitzgerald Bricks Hat. ~ed.  Enjoy!


Sarah Sipe lives and knits in Durham, NC, with her husband, three sons, and menagerie of dogs and cats. The majority of her patterns are inspired by the unique environment and history of Durham. Past publications include “Whorled” in Knitty, Deep Fall 2013, an ebook of hat patterns based on spindle whorl designs, Our Heads are Spinning, with fellow Durham designer Naomi Parkhurst, and several other self-published patterns on Ravelry and the Knit Picks IDP.

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