Applying What I Learned at Black Sheep: Fractal Spun Alpaca

After taking a class on spinning with color from Janel Laidman at Blacksheep Gathering I have a new fascination with space dyed fibers.  In class we played with a technique she developed called fractal spinning. Knitty refers to this technique as:

“Fractal Spinning*” is nothing more than a fancy name for a particular way to divide up your fiber for spinning, in order to show off the colors in a certain sequence in the finished knitted or crocheted project. The name comes from a mathematics term, defined as “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole.” Which is pretty much what you’re doing to your fiber.  This method allows you some degree of control over the subtle striping that your yarn will do later, and can give you lovely, well-balanced colors in the finished piece. Plus, it’s curiously fun.

Curiously fun is right.

I started with a 4-oz braid of alpaca roving. Space dyed in mirrored repeats.

Indian Summer, from Bohoknitterchic. As seen on Bohoknitterchic’s Etsy page.

I split the roving down the middle into two 2-oz portions. I took one long piece and I tore it apart, reordering the colors so that they were no longer mirrored, but instead ran in consistent repeats.  Then I spun that half straight.

I took the other half of the roving, tore it apart as outlined above, but then I tore each thick strip into skinny strips (approximately eighths).  Then I spun those skinny strips on a separate bobbin.

Singles from the long thick strip of roving on the left. Singles from the skinny strips on the right.
Singles from the long thick strip of roving on the left. Singles from the skinny strips on the right.

Next I plied the singles. Just a simple two ply.

alpaca plyed
The colors mix in such glorious ways.

Then i wound them onto a niddy-noddy, washed them, whacked them and dried them.

Alpaca yarn

When knitted up, we should see some gorgeous striping patterns. More subtle than what I would get if I had spun the whole strip of roving straight.


    • I don’t know what I want to do with fingering/ sport weight alpaca. If you have any ideas let me know.

      • Hats, cowls and scarfs come to mind. I know I am a bit of an oddity – being someone who knits a copious amount of scarfs – but I could imagine being snuggled in that yarn~

  1. That looks gorgeous. I haven’t yet gotten too fancy with my spinning, but I can’t wait to see how this knits up! Maybe I’ll get the courage to try it eventually.

  2. This inspires me to wonder about using the same technique with natural colored fleece? Thanks for the great pictures too. I’ve seen lots of nice colourwork designs done with the variegated material used as an accent with a darker solid as a background/frame to make it stand out even more.

    • I suppose that would work. You just would be quirking with small chunks of fiber drafted together instead if fiber dyed in a certain order. You’ve given me an idea for maying with some one oz samples in my stash.

    • I appreciated your thoughts on teaching beginners. It’s like in tacking dance. Do you teach steps or technique?

      • Thank you! Even though I teach dance photography (and the basics of course) it’s surprising how few students have much experience of dance. That’s why we start off learning rhythms. Steps might be a bit much for those new to dance, but if they’re taught how to listen to music for a rhythm they should find shooting to the beat an adequate alternative for being able to anticipate what’s going on 🙂

      • That was supposed to be “on teaching dance” not “tacking.”

        I’m glad you’re training up a group of dance literate photographers. You need to train your senses to anticipate the moments you want to capture.

      • here’s hoping they keep on! I’m starting an international dance photography competition too – watch this space. OK not this space, but you know what I mean xx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s