I’ll begin by saying I was awful at math as a child and avoid it like the plague to this day. Thank God for calculators.
That being said; I have become fascinated by the idea of creating fractal patterns in yarn.
A fractal, in the math and science world, is a never-ending pattern or a repeating pattern with the potential to repeat on and on in ever- decreasing size. I won’t take it quite that far, but the same basic definition applies when creating a fractal-spun yarn.
A fractal is created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. By taking the same pattern and making it smaller, you can repeat that same pattern multiple times in the same amount of space.
If you think about it, you’ll find fractal patterns to be pretty familiar, since nature is full of fractals. A fern leaf is an easy to visualize fractal pattern.
Fractal spinning takes this idea of repeating patterns at different scales and applies it to yarn, starting with a length of hand-dyed fiber (I’m using wool). The repeat pattern will be in the colors used. Once it is spun up, the finished yarn will have two or more (sometimes many more) different scales of the color repeats found in the dyed fiber.
Are you still with me?
I’m starting my project with three large, 4 oz. skeins of yarn, using hand-dyed Cheviot wool roving in three different colorways.
Each colorway graduates from light to dark, which will play an important role in the planning process for the finished yarn. I’ll be creating not only a fractal yarn, but a color-gradient fractal yarn.
Let me walk you through the process I used. By the way, there are a myriad of ways to creat a fractal spun yarn. This is simply the direction I chose for my yarn.
I’ll use the orange (fall foliage) gradient as my example, but will follow the exact same prepping process for each of the three color groups. By the way, it took me about three weeks to complete this project, working on it as time allowed.
Taking first the 4 oz length of yellow/orange/brown roving; I split it lengthwise, pulling it into three equal-size strips, each 1 1/3 oz in weight. A digital kitchen scale comes in real handy here, although eye-balling the size is fine, too.
I set one 1.3 oz strip aside. The other two strips were then divided lengthwise into three more strips each.
Three of the six medium-size strips were set aside as is. I then took the last three medium-size strips and split each in half lengthwise, ending up with six much smaller full-length strips.
Each strip of wool roving, although now separated into three different diameters, are identical in the gradient color change from pale yellow at one end, through orange shades and ending in brown at the far end. They are all the same length.
Size matters! The plan is to use three bobbins; first spinning the largest roving – beginning the spin at the pale yellow end and, finishing one color before moving to the next, gradually moving along from one color to the next, ending by spinning the brown. I took this finished bobbin, with just the single, straight-through color repeat, off my wheel, replacing it with a fresh bobbin.
Here is where the fun starts. On the second bobbin, I spin all three medium-size strips, always starting with pale yellow and ending on brown – one after the other – a repeat of the same exact pattern three times. Since they are narrower strips of fiber, I can move from color to color more quickly than on the first bobbin, which keeps me interested. I removed this bobbin from my wheel and set it with the first bobbin.
Placing another fresh bobbin on the wheel (are you beginning to understand why I had to clear off all those bobbins last week now? 😉), I’m ready to tackle my last series of pattern repeats.
This time I am spinning all six smaller, pencil-thin strips of fiber, one after the other, starting as always with pale yellow and ending with brown. Having less fiber to work with, this moves quickly from color to color and gives me six repeats of the exact same gradient color pattern on this bobbin as are on the other two bobbins.
In case you lost track; I now had one bobbin with a single, fat run of the color gradient from yellow to orange to brown, one bobbin with three repeats of the same color gradient, and one bobbin with six repeats of the same color run. Each bobbin holds approximately 1.3 oz of Cheviot wool.
It might seem strange to some, but I found the decision making challenge of creating this yarn both mentally and artistically satisfying. Figuring out how many repeats would be enough (too many will tend to muddy up the final yarn, losing clarity) comes through trial and error.
Now the magic happens (and talk about delayed gratification – that was a lot of spinning). I placed all three bobbins on my tensioned Lazy Kate, switched out my regular-size flyer and bobbin for my larger Jumbo Plying flyer and over-size bobbin on my spinning wheel … and plied the three separate bobbins together into a single, 400 yd 3-ply yarn.
Each bobbin held a single part of the final three-ply yarn. To ply, you spin the three singles together but spinning the wheel the opposite direction that you spun the original singles. It takes some practice and finger coordination to keep the three singles properly tensioned and twisting evenly into the ply.
In the final yarn, you will see sections where colors aligned in bright spots of solid orange, yellow or brown and many others where two and even three colors plied together in seemingly wild abandon. However, the finished skein of yarn has an overall pleasant sense of balance and symmetry achieved by the multiple repeats of the original colors.
You can see how I followed the same steps with the dark blue/medium blue/aqua/gray gradient fiber and then the purple/violet/pink fiber.
The final plying of the 3 bobbins of shades of blue into a single, 4 oz 3-ply yarn.
And lastly, using the same process for the pink/violet/purple 4 oz 3-ply yarn.
This, my first attempts at creating fractal yarn, was satisfying at many levels. It was also my first time spinning Cheviot wool and I couldn’t be more pleased with the bouncy, sport/DK weight yarn it produced.
Settling on 1, 3 & 6 repeats was a choice I was glad I’d made. Had I gone with 1, 4, & 8 repeats, I believe it would have given the browns and grays to many opportunities to muddy up and overpower the softer shades.
Here is the final yarn. You be the judge.