Refractive Socks : spin the yarn

by Kristy Howell

I love progression dyed fiber. There’s something magical about splitting a combed top in half and combining it back together to get something almost, but not quite, what you had before in terms of color.  I love the way the colors transition gradually when the plies don’t quite meet up in the same places, like fraternal twins rather than identical ones.

As soon as I saw this colorway of Superwash Corriedale from Spunky Eclectic, I knew that I wanted socks. This presented something of a dilemma for me.  I prefer to spin progression dyed fiber into a 2 ply yarn in order to preserve the color progression, but I prefer 3 ply for socks. The obvious  solution would be a chain (or Navajo) ply.

I didn’t really want to do this for several reasons:

  1. Navajo plying eliminates the gradual transitions that I love and results in a more definite stripey effect.
  2. My spinning is not as consistent as I would like it to be. Navajo plying tends to concentrate the thick (or thin) spots together rather than distribute them as in a true plied yarn.
  3. I don’t enjoy Navajo plying. It makes me feel clumsy and uncoordinated. I know I just need to practice the technique, but I haven’t taken the time to do so.
  4. According to the collective wisdom, chain-plyed yarn is weaker than a traditionally plied yarn, and therefore, not as desirable for socks.

The only advantage to Navajo plying in this situation is that 3 plies are stronger than 2, especially for socks or other items where durability is important. However, reasons 2 and 4 effectively negated that advantage, and to be honest, reasons 1 and 3 were more important to me anyway, so I decided to spin a 2 ply fingering weight yarn.

It is fairly easy to split a combed top in two to make two plies. However, if I wanted both of my socks to include all of the colors, I needed to split it into four parts, 2 plies for each sock. First, I split the top in half lengthwise as evenly as possible and weighed each half: 56 grams each, 1 strip for each sock.  I then separated each strip crosswise at the color change, and then split each color in half lengthwise. I weighed and rearranged a little until I had four bundles of 28 grams. I didn’t worry too much about each color being exactly equal in weight as long as the total weight was equal, since I didn’t really want the individual plies to match up too exactly.

I wanted a relatively strong, smooth semi-worsted yarn with a little more loft than a true worsted, so I used  a short forward draw from the fold.

When spinning from the fold, the fibers are mostly aligned in the same direction but push against each other where they are bent in half, producing more spring and loft. The resulting yarn is not as strong and lustrous as a true worsted, but I was willing to compromise some durability in favor of softness and spring.

I made sure to begin with the same color on each bobbin and spin them in the same order. When I plied the two bobbins, the colors matched up for the most part with some barberpoling at the transitions, exactly the desired effect.

I wound the yarn on my niddy-noddy, added figure eight ties, and soaked it in very warm water. I spun out the excess water in my salad spinner, whacked it thoroughly against my kitchen counter, and hung it to dry.

Photos © Kristy Howell

You may also like...