“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.
*Fractal spinning first appeared in the
spinning world with the article "The
Fractal Stripe" by Janel Laidman in
the Summer 2007 issue of Spin Off magazine.
Start with some handpainted roving or
top that has long, distinct color segments.
I’ve experimented with this technique
with shorter, more mottled color sections,
and frankly, the fractal-ing won’t
much matter there. You want the kind
that’s in a long strip, and is
often sold in a braid. Before you start,
lay out your roving and take note of
the order of the colors. Most likely,
you’ll notice one of several patterns:
Mirror: The colors
go A-B-C-B-A-B-C, or "A and C
alternate, with B in between each time."
Repeating: The colors go A-B-C-A-B-C, simply repeating the sequence over and over.
Non-repeating: The colors go in any ole random order, with no discernible
If you’ve got mirror-dyed fiber,
you don’t really need to worry
about the direction you’ll be spinning
in, because the striping is going to
come out approximately the same way no
matter what. If you’ve got repeating
or non-repeating fiber, you’ll
want to make a note right now of the
colors at the ends. If by some misfortune,
the ends are the same color, look at
the colors next to the end colors. For
example’s sake, let’s say
one end is red and the other is blue.
Now, the fractal part. Split your fiber
in half lengthwise, and set one half
aside. Split the other half lengthwise
several more times, until you have a
bunch of strips. You can make these as
wide or narrow as you want, just make
sure they’re not narrower than
the yarn you want to spin. I used 4 strips
for this yarn.
See how each part is a “reduced-sized
copy of the whole”? Neat, eh? Math!
Next, spin up the unsplit half, making
a note of which end you start at (let’s
say we started with red). Spin to whatever
weight you want, keeping in mind that
it will be a two-ply yarn when finished.
You can predraft this half, but don’t
tear it or split it, spin it as a big
See how it has nice big chunks of color?
Now you have a few decisions to make.
Decision One: Do you want to use multiple
bobbins, or ply from a center-pull ball?
Both work, but plying from a center-pull
is a bit less precise (since one half
might be slightly bigger than the other
and end up plying with itself close to
the fold), and you’ll need to keep
in mind that the second half of the yarn
will end up going in the opposite direction
from the way you spun it- so if you want
it to stripe red-to-blue, you’ll
have to spin it blue-to-red. (We’ll
get to that next.) On the other hand,
it doesn’t waste yarn, and I’m
too lazy to find my other bobbins. If
you want to ply from a center pull ball
spin all of your fiber onto one bobbin,
first the big chunk then the strips,
wind the singles into a center pull ball
and ply with each end of the ball.
Decision Two: If you’re working
with mirror-repeat fiber, you can skip
this part. If you’ve got one of
the other types, you can choose to spin
up the strips of fiber in a few ways,
each of which will look a little different
when plyed up and in the finished fabric:
go the same way as the first half,
so if you started with red before,
start with red each time you start
spinning a new strip.
Go the opposite of the way you went
before, so if you started with red,
start all the strips with blue
Alternate starting with blue or red
ends, which gives you an effect sort
of like the mirror-dyed fiber will
The differences are subtle, but each
will knit up with a different stripe
From right to left: second half going
the same way as the first half,
second half going the opposite
way, “mirror” effect.
Note that your final result will probably
vary from these pictures, depending on
the lengths of your particular color
blocks- you’re really only controlling
the order of the colors, they’ll
still tend to fall where they want. (I
had to really shorten the length of each
color to fit in a little picture, too.)
Whichever way you choose, when you spin
up this half, you’ll notice that
the color sections are much smaller.
Remember that if you’re plying
from a center-pull, you’ll want
to do the opposite. Ply that baby up,
block it, and see what happens!
The yarn won’t look particularly
stripey, but the magic happens when you
start knitting it! (The roving shown
here was mirror-dyed.) Note that the
stripes will be more prominent the smaller
the number of stitches- a thin scarf
will have nice wide stripes, but a large
hat or cowl will have narrower ones.