Sheepspot

Color theory 101: knitting naturally

dyer's notebook, what we doAlicia de los ReyesComment

For the last post in this color theory series, I'd like to introduce you to Beth Smith, an accomplished spinning teacher. She's written for Spin-off and Knittyspin and is on the editorial board of Ply. Her book, The Spinner's Book of Fleece, is a detailed guide to finding, prepping and spinning different breeds of wool. Today, she's sharing why she prefers to spins undyed fiber.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Beth Smith loves to spin white wool. 

I am Beth Smith and I have a white wool problem. Well, not a problem, exactly—but I love to spin it, weave it and knit it. (And if I was better at crochet I would probably crochet lovely white dresser scarves with white thread.)

My friends know this about me and tease me to no end. Most of my friends dye their wool, and the ones who don’t buy it dyed. When I signed up for the Sheepspot Fiber Club, I asked if I could please have the undyed fiber.

When I teach classes, most of the fiber is undyed. Not necessarily all white—but no added color.

I have my reasons.

Let’s start with the basics. Personally, I like the look of white. I do wear plenty of color, but I like how I can see the twist and the texture a bit easier through the white and shadows of the fiber. 

In addition to making the texture more obvious, working with natural fiber opens your eyes to the different shades of natural white from different breeds of sheep. Very few breeds are pure, snowy white; they range from eggshell to creamy yellow. I have long had a weaving project in mind where I make something to wear that takes advantage of these very subtle shifts in color and value.

I never get bored spinning white. I just finished a project where I spun and plied the yarn for two white skirts. I needed a total of 11,000 yards of two ply yarn. That’s 22,000 yards of singles. And I never got tired of it.

I have, however gotten tired of spinning some dyed fiber.

I also like to teach with undyed fiber. The breeds we study must be undyed to completely show the texture and crimp of freshly scoured fleece.

But I also use plenty of undyed wool for my skills classes, for two main reasons.

First, my students can easily see differences in twist in white wool. I often talk about how the amount of twist affects the finished project, and it is important for students to be able to easily see the differences in the yarns they are spinning. 

The second reason is that there are slight changes in the texture of the wool when it is dyed. I can’t say exactly what the changes are, but you can feel a difference. Regardless of the breed (even Merino!), undyed fibers slide past each other a bit more easily. There is also much less possibility of compacting or fulling, which sometimes happens with dyed fibers. So it's for the students' own good!

I understand that not everyone is going to have the same loving feelings toward white wool that I have—but I do hope that those people who take my classes will be understanding of me and my color-free leanings. I love working with undyed fiber. If you don’t think I’m serious, check out my book full of undyed yarns!

All photos © Beth Smith.

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