The Journal for Weavers Spinners and Dyers

Designing with Colour for Spinning

Jane Deane, Peter Tavy and Online Guild

There are a huge number of options when it comes to designing a spun yarn and many ways to approach it, with whole books written about the subject! Menz (2005) is one example of many. My preferred method is to dye my fibre before spinning and to use an image, natural object or mood as my colour source. In the example I am going to write about here, my fibre is silk, my inspiration a Giant Atlas Moth, and my dyes are natural.


Hand dyed Tussah silk
Hand dyed Tussah silk

This particular moth is one of my favourites and though the silk fibre used does not come from a Giant Atlas, I love the colours, the camouflage effect and the general magnificence of the animal. The silk is tussah silk and I chose this because the natural honey colour of the fibre adds a richness and depth to the dyes in the same way as dyeing on a grey fleece does. I particularly enjoy the fact that the natural colour of the silk derives from the tannin in the plant material the caterpillar eats, tannin being one of the mordants in my natural dye armoury.



Giant Atlas Moth wing detail
Giant Atlas Moth wing detail

I selected an area of the moth wing to reproduce and in this case I picked the ‘snake head’ at the tip of the wing. The colours that this area contains are gold, orange, black, grey and a dark red brown. I don’t want all of these colours in a single yarn so I chose the orange and gold and used madder and weld as my dyes. I mordanted the silk with alum and cream of tartar, then applied the dyes, in extract form, to the fibre in a random way, pouring the liquid into areas of the fibre and pressing to ensure it spread through the whole top and created a third colour where the two dyes met each other. Though these packages always look delicious when they are ready to be steamed, one doesn’t know exactly how they will be after steaming, cooling, rinsing and drying. At this stage it is possible to remove any areas that don’t blend in with the overall look, to decide that the whole thing is awful and rush to the drum carder to blend it with other fibres, to re-dye it, or to decide it is perfect and start spinning, which is what I did.


Giant Atlas Moth as inspiration
Giant Atlas Moth as inspiration

I work happily with singles yarn, particularly for weaving, but decided that on this occasion I would ply the yarn. Multicoloured top is, in my opinion, most successfully chain plied to avoid solid lumps of colour or barber pole striping. My three-ply yarn now awaits a purpose, other than giving me great pleasure when I see it.



Further reading:

Menz, Deb (2005) Color in Spinning. Interweave Press. (Out of print but still available secondhand)

Photos: Jane Deane

About the author:

Jane spins, weaves and dyes in Devon. She teaches and talks about her work in the UK and overseas, is a member of The Devon Guild of Craftsmen, The Society of Dyers and Colourists, co-author of Creative Spinning (Octopus 2007) with Alison Daykin, and occasional rearer of wild silkworms.


This article appears in edition #268 of the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.

The Journal is published on behalf of the Association of Guilds of Spinners Weavers and Dyers. It covers a wide range of textile subjects, including articles on historic textile techniques and cutting edge modern design.

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