Colour blending with handcards

I wish I could think of a better title, something that describes the fun and wonder. You’ll just have to try it for yourselves!

I’m starting to consider the details of the Rampton Spinners 2009 project, which is to blend and spin the coloured merino in the bag at bottom left
into yarn and knit that yarn into a multi-coloured bag. The rest of the bags are there because I’m feeling… inventive. Dangerously inventive. The amorphous black blob at top are bags of black merino and black tussah silk. On far right is a bag of silk noil, and below that, beside the coloured wool is a bag of undyed filament and tussah silk. How will this become yarn and what yarn will it become? Gentle reader, read on…

Here’s one I made earlier. This is my Hellebore swatch, of which I am inordinately, indecently proud. My first real carding triumph, my first colour matching, blending… so many firsts. I wish everyone something that gives them the sense of pride and satisfaction that swatch gives me. AND I did vikkel braid on it. Twice!
The colours in the knitted swatch were chosen from the card (from Sundara’s sock club a couple of years ago) and made by blending the colours of wool fastened to the paper at top left. No custom dyeing. To do this you need to have a basic understanding of colour theory as used by artists and printers and anyone else working with solid media such as paper: mix yellow and blue together to make green, white and blue make pale blue, black added to anything dulls it and makes it darker, and so forth. If all of this is news to you, websites here and here have some basic explanations (the second one includes black). Buy some coloured pencils or crayons and learn from play! As a reminder, here are the names and basic rules. Colours are Cyan (a clear bright blue), Magenta (clear bright pink/red), Yellow, and Black. The colour system based on these is known as CMYK, with black being ‘K’ for ‘key’, because the plate used to print black also contained the key lines needed to align items and other key information.

With wool that matches these colours, plus white to match paper, you can make all the colours you’ve ever seen on a printed page. How? By blending them on handcards. Like this.
Note the digital scale. You can have fun without one, but if you want to be able to make more of the colours you blend, you need to know how much of each primary you used. These scales weigh in 0.1gm increments. When I’m blending for the first time by eye, I weigh each handcard and write that down. I started by writing the weights on the handcards, but they seem to vary according to humidity. So now I write it down each time. Then I consider the colour I’m trying to match. I put some fibre of the first colour I think I want on the card, calculate the weight as [card+fibre]-card, and write it down. I tried relying on the ‘zero’ facility, but my scales lose that if they turn themselves off while I’m thinking or making a cup of hot chocolate. Then I add what looks like the right amount of another colour to the same card, weigh the card with its two fibres and calculate the weight of the second fibre and write it down. And so forth. Later, when I’m duplicating a mix, I can just weigh out all the fibre, then card it. In that photo I’ve used 1gm of C and 1gm of M (in the second photo I’ve curled the fibre up so you can see the scale readout). Then card it and watch the two primaries magically become a secondary colour.
On the left is the fibre after a couple of passes. It’s clear there are two colours on the card (most of the M is still in a layer under the C); if you squint at it, it’s blue with pinkish streaks. On the left is the finished rolag. Look closely and you can see the individual C & M fibres but squint at it, or view it from a distance and… it’s purple. If I’d wanted a darker purple, I’d have added black. Lilac/lavender, I’d add white.
These are the rolags I carded for the Hellebore swatch. There are two of each colour: one was blended by eye, weighing as I did it, and the second was blended by weight alone from my notes. For example: to mix the dark petal-shadow purple, blend 1.0g K; 0.7g C; 0.7g M; and a wisp (well under 0.1g) of Y. That’s the advantage of all that weighing and writing down: I can repeat the colours time and again.

Anybody notice that the yellow in the Rampton ’09 bag is not quite the yellow of CMYK? This doesn’t matter if you’re just mixing pretty colours.
Ignoring the two tiny skeins at far left, here’s an array of colours made from C, M, and that ever-so-slightly orange yellow. That’s what that bag will make (plus white), and it’s still pretty. But what I have in mind will need the true Y, and fortunately I have some in the stash, if not in the photo. The blacks will be needed to make dark greens and browns. The tussah and filament silks will add a sheen to some blends and I might just try using silk content to define shapes. I might dye some of the tussah. I will certainly dye the noil: it can be used to add texture and colour interest to any blend. Here are those two skeins embiggened
on a bed of the noil I used to create them. Each contains the same noil colours, which have completely different effects on the two different wool colour blends. The contrast between ‘cold’ blueish colours and ‘hot’ orange reds make the noils look like burning embers embedded in the cool purple skein, whereas they simply warm the brown even more.

What am I going to do with these treasures? I need to do more planning before I’m sufficiently confident to put it on record. But one thing I do know: I will be making a bag for my head aka a hat.

Other news…
That polwarth I was flicking last post is now a yarn, spun from the end of the locks (butt or tip seemed to make no difference to it) in a sort of point-of-twist longdrawish style. 3-ply. I think it’s my best yarn to date: light and springy and with a little sheen. I need to knit it into a swatch with cables! and textures! to see how it wears. I am a step closer to my goal of spinning and knitting a garment.
Doesn’t the soft grey rest the eyes after all that colour?

Incidentally, the Yarn Harlot has just posted some interesting information about carding. It makes sense for some things on hand cards, too. Experimentation required!


7 thoughts on “Colour blending with handcards

  1. Juno

    Fascinating, first time I really GOT color theory.Re: butt or tip of a lock – the scales on each lock will be smoother if you work from the tip. If you look at a high res photo of fiber you can see it.


  2. Joan

    Whoa– I don’t know what made me click your link today (or what kept me from erasing it last year), but I’m so glad I did (didn’t).Missed you, glad you’re back!



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