Spinster’s Corner – In Monet’s Garden

PART 1  – Part 2

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

by Lisa D. Jacobs

Colorful variegated rovings abound these days.  Some are hand-painted by fiber artists.  Others are produced in a variety of colorways by large yarn and fiber companies.  Whatever the source, the modern spinner has access to a colorful array of fiber choices.  Sometimes it is fun just to spin the roving and ply it on itself to see what happens.  On the other hand, you may have a vision for the finished yarn or even for the finished project made from the yarn.  In that case, a little bit of planning and a few tips about plying singles from variegated rovings help create a beautiful yarn that enhances for your project.

Both the beauty and the challenge of variegated rovings are the ever-changing colors, so the first thing to decide as you plan your yarn is how you want those colors to appear.  Used as singles or as Navajo chain “three-ply” yarn, a variegated colorway creates solid colored stripes.  “Marled” or “barber poled” yarns with variegated colorways offer a softer, more impressionistic appearance.

Marled yarn simply describes a yarn with two or more plies, at least one of which is a different color from the others.  Marled yarns rely on visual blending to create new colors from several different color plies.

What is visual blending?  Imagine a Pointillist or an Impressionist painting, say Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte or Monet’s Water Lilies or Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  If you stand close to any of them, you can see that each is made up of dots or splashes of paint of no particular shape and sometimes of unusual colors.  Step back from the canvas and the colors of each paint spot seem to merge with the colors next to it to create a blended color and a clear image.

Marled yarns blend color in much the same way.  As the different colors of the plies twist together, the eye blends the distinct hues to create a third intermediate yarn color.  When one of the plies is variegated, the changing colors interact with the color or colors of the other plies to create a range of visual effects throughout the yarn and throughout the final product.

The Empty Canvas
Before you begin spinning, look at your variegated roving and think about how you might use the final yarn.  What kind of mood do you want its colors to evoke?  Do you want the final yarn to be vibrantly colored or a bit softer?  Do you want each color to pop out dramatically or blend together?  Do you want to minimize visible stripes or encourage them?

With the answers to these questions in mind, you can begin designing your yarn.  Inspiration for your yarn design can come from almost any place.  Take a careful look at the paint daubs on a painting to see how colors blend, or look outside your window to the flowers in your garden.  Color theory books and articles may provide helpful guidance, or you can experiment by marling your variegated fiber with colors that you have in your stash.

In my own spinning I tend to use one of four approaches: plying variegated singles from the same roving together, lightening or darkening a variegated singles by plying it with black or white, plying the variegated singles with a background color, or plying it with a different variegated colorway.  Each combination can produce lovely yarn for a special project.  It all depends on your vision.

Pure Blending: Plying a Variegated Roving on Itself
At one time or another most spinners have plied two singles from the same variegated roving.  Success can be mixed.  In fibers where the hues in the colorway are similar, the yarn tends to resemble the color of the original roving.  On the other hand, when the colors in the roving differ greatly, the result can sometimes be a pleasingly muddied or subtle color variation.

For example, let’s take a look at two different Northern Lights pencil rovings from Louet.*  Fiber 1 has almost a rainbow effect.  It is dyed with five different colors: violet, pink, blue green, orange, and yellow green.  Some are warm like pink and orange.  Others are cool like blue green and violet.  Together they cover most of the spectrum.

Fiber 2’s colorway consists of four analogous colors: violet, blue, blue green and yellow green, all cool colors from the blue side of the spectrum.

When you ply two singles from Fiber 1 or Fiber 2 with themselves, you can see how differently rainbow and analogous colorways react.

The vibrant rainbow hues of Fiber 1 soften in the two-ply yarn and the swatch.  Where contrasting colors like orange and blue green blend in the singles or ply together in the yarn, visual blending creates a brownish area with flecks of orange or blue green.  Any contrasting colors, i.e. colors located directly across the color wheel from each other, will tend to soften into grays or browns.  As a result, rainbow rovings or rovings that have large areas of contrasting colors may become more muted, or more earth toned, when plied on themselves.

By contrast, all the colors in Fiber 2 are violets, blues, and greens.  When two singles of Fiber 2 are plied together, the colors reinforce the overall blue hue of the yarn and stay bright.  Analogous colors, i.e. colors next to each other on the color wheel, tend to reinforce each other so rovings that have mostly similar colors will tend to stay more vibrant when plied.

In either case, the colors from the roving have an opportunity to blend and create a new pallet of intermediate shades when the roving is plied on itself.

Water Lilies or Starry Night: Marling Yarns with Black or White
Consider the differences between Monet’s Water Lilies and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  Each painter used intense colors to depict the scene in his painting, but Monet used whites and pastels to soften the misty image of the flowers while Van Gogh used black and dark blue to emphasize the swirling clouds and stars in his sky.

Plying a variegated roving with white or black has a similar effect in yarn.  Color theorists say that adding white or black changes the “value,” or lightness or darkness, of a color.  When you look at a marled yarn plied with white from a distance, visual blending makes the colors in the variegated roving look lighter and more pastel.

Brighter, high value colors like the yellow green in Fiber 1 will look much paler when plied with white wool than will darker, low value dark violet in Fiber 2.  Viewed from a distance, high value colors plied with white look almost pastel.  Darker colors plied with white standout against the pale background and are less likely it is to become pastel.

By contrast, light or high value colors tend to stand out more against black wool, as in Van Gogh’s Starry Night or a neon sign shining in the dark.  Darker or low value colors will fade into the black for a rich dark pallet.

If you plan to ply with black or white, you can test the value, the lightness or darkness, of the colors in your roving by taking a digital picture of it and converting the picture to black and white.

Take a look at this black and white photograph of the roving and singles for Fiber 1 and Fiber 2.  As we might have guessed from comparing the samples above, Fiber 1 has a slightly higher value, or is lighter, and has less variation in value than Fiber 2.  That is why Fiber 1 looks more pastel when marled with white and more neon when marled with black.  On the other hand, the dark blues and violets of Fiber 2 tend to contrast with the white and fade into the black.

PART 1  – tune back in for more on the wonders of colour-blending  in our May issue.


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

Photos © Lisa Jacobs.

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1 Response

  1. January 16, 2016

    […] second article is by Lisa D. Jacobs on EnneaCollective and it shares some interesting information on “impressionist color blending using variegated rovings.” The article compares using the colorway shown here vs. a more monochromatic […]