Reading Hand-Painted Roving and Top

Linear swatch by Janel Laidman. Photos by Joe Coca.

Linear swatch by Janel Laidman. Photos by Joe Coca.

Do you remember your first issue of Spin Off? Although I grew up around Interweave magazines, my mother is a tapestry weaver; I didn’t purchase my first issue until the summer of 2007. Nine years ago this month, my friends and I gathered in our friend Eileen’s living room. Sitting me in front of a single-treadle spinning wheel, they handed me some wool. I learned to spin that day from roving, top, rolags, and even from the fold. Eileen generously let me borrow that wheel for a month. I spent the next several weeks practicing. I practiced treadling. I practiced drafting. I devoured the pages of the Spin Off Summer 2007 issue.

When I look back at that issue, the article that has stayed with me through the years is Janel Laidman’s “The Fractal Stripe: One Method for Controlling the Striping of Painted Roving.” As a new spinner, I was captivated by all of the scrumptious color combinations available in handpainted roving and tops. Janel’s guidance helped me visualize the yarns I could create from the different dyeing methods. Janel explains, “If you take the time to analyze how to prepare and spin the fiber, you can control the resulting yarn.”

Janel advises spinners to consider three things to help predict what the painted fibers will do when spun:

1.    Scale
How long or short are the stretches of color? Are the colors even, or does one dominate? Is one color more intense than another?

2.    Direction
Do the colors of the painted roving or top have a linear sequence, where the colors repeat and start again from the beginning, or a palindrome sequence, where the colors repeat in a mirrored inversion? Or are the colors random?

Palindrome swatches by Janel Laidman.

Palindrome swatches by Janel Laidman.

3.    Color
How many colors are there? More colors produce more complex striping patterns, while fewer colors clearly show the dyeing sequence. Are the colors analogous or complementary? How much do they vary in value and brightness?

Over the years, Janel’s questions have guided me, helping me see the potential in all of the gorgeous braids and bumps that beckon from the booths at fiber festivals. Considering these questions helped me create clear, beautiful yarns from handpainted fiber, the reason I was drawn to it in the first place, instead of muddy mixtures that lose the initial braid’s appeal.

What do you remember from your first issue of Spin Off?

Happy spinning!

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