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Mar 23

Combination Drafting

From our Spring Quarantine Spin Along 2020. Read the rest of the posts in our blog!

by Deb Gerish

Mission: spin yarn from hand-dyed fiber by Greenwood Fiberworks, in an exclusive colorway designed just for Schacht Spindle Company, on two different bases. Challenge accepted! Our marketing maven Carrie gave me braids of Colorful Colorado Spring, a luscious mixture of deep blue, bright yellow, white/natural, and muted green shading into muted blue. Each braid looked like a garden of daffodils and grape hyacinths in my hands. However, each base has its own character: colors look brighter in the matte BFL braid, while the blend of 50% merino, 25% silk, and 25% bamboo give the MSB braid more muted, almost pastel, colors with a lot of luster. Time for some color experiments! Would combination drafting tone down the brights of the BFL braid?

I’ve recently become obsessed with combination drafting, which produces multiple colors in a single ply of handspun yarn. Most of us have spun barberpole or marled yarn, a multi-ply with different colors in each ply. But combination drafting works its magic in ONE SINGLE PLY! That’s part of the fun. Once you start combination drafting a braid, it’s hard to stop. You want to see what happens with each color combo. I spun the entire 4 ounces in a single spinning session.

How I Did it

  1. Photographed the braid intact (reference photos are useful!), then unbraided it and studied the dye sequence (another photo). Dyers at Greenwood Fiberworks probably laid the fiber in a pan and applied colors in sections: bright blue (A), muted blue (B), muted green (C), bright yellow (D), undyed (natural, E). (Or they made the green sections by letting the blue and yellow dyes mix together.)
  2. Stripped the braid lengthwise into 3 long sections. Knots mark the starting end.


  3. Stripped each long section into 2 thinner strips (total of 6). It’s easier to manage the fiber with strips about the size of a Magic Marker.
  4. Lined up 2 strips on the floor to play with color pairings. I found a repeating pattern in Step 1: A-B-C-D-E / A-B-C-D-E. But once I unfolded the strip, I noticed a mirrored pattern within the repeat: A-B-C-D-E-D-C-B / A-B-C-D-E-D-C-B. This was useful information! When I try other color techniques, I can play more with the mirrored part or the repeating section.
  5. Chose my color pairings. In combination drafting, you start spinning each narrow strip at different points in the color sequence. I decided to spin 2 strips starting at A in one and B in the other. In my head, these choices would place a saturated color—bright blue, bright yellow, or natural—next to the muted green or muted blue, the desaturated colors. (That didn’t quite work out, but I still love the finished yarn.)
  6. Planned the yarn and set up my wheel. A short forward draft, otherwise known as the inchworm, would create a smooth, springy, dense yarn. I wanted a relatively low-twist singles of about 8 dpi. To reduce my habitual overtwistiness, I put my Schacht Matchless in Scotch tension with plenty of take-up and placed the drive band in the larger groove of the medium pulley.
  7. Arranged my fiber and made yarn. Each of the 6 strips was rolled in a ball with the knotted end on the outside. On the first strip, I undid the knot, ripped out the A section and laid it aside. On the second strip, I just undid the knot. Then I laid both strips next to each other in my fiber hand and spun my singles.

    As each strip ran out, I undid the knot on a new one and started spinning. My laid-aside A section was the last to be spun, keeping the color sequence consistent.

  8. Finished up. I set the twist in cool water with a few drops of no-rinse wool wash. Then I spun the skein in the air, lasso-style, to further calm the twist so obvious in the unwashed skein.

Why I Did it: Yarn Structure

Combination drafting, also called drafting together, breaks up color into smaller chunks within the finished yarn. It’s a distant cousin of fractal spinning, which creates stripes within stripes according to Jillian Moreno. Colors get optically mixed in both techniques: the human eye and brain sees two colors next to each other and interprets them as a completely new hue. In other words, you actually see a speck of yellow next to a speck of blue, but your brain reads them as green. Painters in the Impressionist and pointillist styles used optical mixing, instead of blending paint on a palette, to produce their art.

Yet optical mixing happens differently in fractal spinning and combination drafting.

Fractal-spun yarn requires two or more plies, allowing colors to change at different rates in each ply. These changes within and between plies create small dots of color and then mix them, over and over again, throughout the skein. Several spinning mavens recommend fractal spinning only on fiber with long runs of clearly defined, high-contrast colors—short runs or mottled colors won’t produce the fractal effect.

In combination drafting, however, you paint with a bigger brush. Combination drafting “works” with any type of dyeing pattern (short runs, long runs, mottled colors, separate colors, high-contrast, low-contrast) because the dots of color are relatively larger. As new colors enter the drafting triangle, they form wide spirals around each other. That’s what you want in combination drafting—though if there’s a stretch of singles where one color slipped out of your hand, or colors in the two strips line up, it’s no big deal. The bold, vivid spirals of color shown here form stripes along the ply. You can absolutely ply combination-drafted singles, but you don’t have to.

Why I Did it: Color Theory

Greenwood Fibers created a fascinating mixture of hues, values, temperatures, and saturation (chroma) in the Colorful Colorado Spring braids. Let’s look at its 5 colors again:

  • Bright blue (A) is warm for a blue. It’s medium dark in value. It’s very saturated.
  • Muted blue (B) has the same attributes except for value and chroma—it’s medium in value and much less saturated than A.
  • Muted green (C), like B, is warm, medium in value, and low in chroma.
  • Bright yellow (D) is warm, light in value, and high in chroma.
  • Natural (E) is warm, light in value, and high in chroma.

I identified the hues as a variation on split complementary, though real color artists might have a different opinion. We’d see yellow, purple, and green in a true split complementary. Here the bright blue is a blue-violet, right next to purple on the color wheel. The fiber’s undyed spots add off-white, an achromatic neutral, into the mix. The braid as a whole is warm in temp, ranging from light to medium to medium dark in value, and pairing high and low chroma.

When I designed this yarn, I wondered how combination drafting would affect chroma. If I combined high-saturation section of fiber with a low-saturation section, would chroma end up somewhere in the middle? Not really, as it turned out. Brights gonna bright, no matter what. Mutes gonna mute.

Nonetheless, I consider this yarn a success. The yarn’s spiraling stripes break up the colors into dots. Knitting creates both speckles and pools of each color. The swatch reminds me of Monet’s water lily paintings.

When I plan a knitting project from this yarn, I can break up the color further or let it form pools. Stay tuned for a project—including instructions—specially designed for Colorful Colorado Spring!