Bring fiber magic to your inbox. Subscribe to the Schacht monthly e-newsletter!
Apr 03

Spinning Barber Pole Yarn

by Benjamin Krudwig

Every third Thursday of the month we have an office spin-in during our office meeting. At our last meeting I started spinning some hand-dyed merino roving, a variegated light green and a variegated ocean blue. I spun about 500 yards of singles in both colorways. Initially, I thought I would ply each color with itself, but this would yield only about 250 yards of each color. By plying the colors together, I maximized my yardage.

A section of yarn showing the change in contrast throughout the skein of barber pole yarn

A section of yarn showing the change in contrast throughout the skein

Barber pole plying takes two contrasting singles and plies them together. Normally I do not resonate with barber pole yarn, as it tends to be too busy and rarely looks good in a large amounts. Since this type of yarns tends to make me shy away I decided to test a 2-yard section as a barber pole ply before committing to a couple of hours of plying. I liked the 2-yard sample so much that I took the plunge to ply the whole amount. I ended with approximately 500 yards of worsted weight yarn.

The results were pleasantly surprising, as the variegation in the singles interacted with each other in wonderful ways. Since I am still a novice spinner and my roving was a bit “sticky” feeling as I was drafting, my singles were not terribly consistent. The variation in size of yarn as well as the saturation of color created subtle changes in color density between the blue and green throughout the yarn.

I learned that the blue and green, although they are contrasting in color are not contrasting in value. Value (roughly speaking) is the brightness or intensity of a color. In this example the blue and green are near the same level of brightness, although there are some areas of higher contrast in value throughout the yarn.

Since I didn’t have a project in mind when I spun the yarn, I now needed to swatch it to see what medium it would look best in.

crocheted swatch of barber pole yarn

crocheted swatch of barber pole yarn

Above, this swatch is hefty and bulky, as is characteristic of crochet. The effects of the barber pole yarn becomes muddled and disorganized due to the mechanics of the stitch, which aligns the yarn in a haphazard way.

knit swatch of barber pole yarn

knit swatch of barber pole yarn

The knitted swatch, above, begins to align the yarn in a more structured manner, since the “legs” of the stitches are nearly vertical. Here, the colors “pool” better than the crocheted swatch. The larger needle allowed the yarn to full more and create a lofty fabric full of drape.

woven swatch of barber pole yarn

woven swatch of barber pole yarn

Finally, I wove a swatch on the Zoom Loom (above). The strong horizontal and vertical structure of plain weave allows for the colors to seem less disorganized, yet the variation in color density can be seen throughout the fabric. When fulled, the yarn snugs together creating a soft and warm fabric that isn’t dense but still has solid structure.

After laying all of the swatches out side by side, I decided that the woven swatch best suited this yarn and will maximize the amount of fabric I get from my precious hand-spun yarn.

I plan on making a woven satchel with Zoom Loom squares. Stay tuned to the blog for the pattern!

close up view of ball of handspun barber pole yarn


  1. Michelle Eppert
    April 3, 2014 at 11:07 pm ·

    Love the woven swatch too! Nice job, Benjamin. Michelle from Rose Tree, Ames, Iowa.

  2. Sarah Hollandsworth
    April 4, 2014 at 5:03 am ·

    I knew it was only a matter of time before you were a full fledged part of the fiber arts world. Looking great Benjamin! Those Zoom Looms are great for swatch testing. I'm not usually a fan of marled yarns either, but the plain weave really does set it off nicely here.
    Sarah of Yarn Geek Fibers, Keokuk,IA

  3. AsKatKnits
    April 4, 2014 at 11:06 am ·

    Lovely! I never thought of using a zoom loom for swatching! Thank you, I think I may have to try this!

  4. AllyB
    April 8, 2014 at 12:59 pm ·

    Thank you so much for this illustration. It's truly helpful and encourages me to swatch with my handspun before starting a project.