Combining fibre with a hackle

Three yarns samples spun from roving made with a hackle

Kit Fisher recently gave a workshop, at Guelph Handweavers and Spinners Guild, on combining fibre with a hackle. Creating yarn this way has always appealed to me. In fact, thinking back, it was one of the reasons I wanted to learn to spin in the first place.

Danny's blending hackle

There are various ways of combining different types and colours of fibre before they are spun together. A hackle is a large, deadly-looking comb that you load with fibre. You then draw it off, typically using a device called a diz, which is like a small concave seashell with a hole in it. Once the fibre is lined up this way it can be spun into yarn. A hackle has a couple of advantages. For one, it is less expensive than another popular tool, the drum carder.

Another thing I like about a hackle is it allows more fine control over how the fibre combines. You can create cool colour progression or introduce flecks and highlight of different fibres and colours.

My partner owns a hackle but I have never used it. Now that Kit has demonstrated what it can do, I am addicted. I brought home three samples of fibre from the meeting this week and quickly spun them up (top photo). Then I set up Danny’s hackle (above) and started a new project.

Kit specializes in natural dyes. The idea appeals to me but the problem with natural dyeing is the process does not allow you to create painted yarns and fibres as you can with artificial dyes. You usually get solid colours like the ones below. Here is some yarn Danny and I dyed one weekend at the cottage in 2006. The greenish golds on the left were made with goldenrod, the sandy yellows on the right with beech leaves. Lovely colours, boring yarn.

Yarn dyed with goldenrod and beech leaves

As Kit explained, you can dye fibre before it is spun and then combine different colours on the hackle. In this way you can create more complex colours and progressions. Think of how much more richer the yellow would be with all these shades blended in one yarn. I can hardly wait to start playing with natural dyes again.

4 thoughts on “Combining fibre with a hackle

  1. Van, I thought of you when I tripped (in all senses of the word) over a catalog from this place: North House Folk School. I had never heard of this, yet it’s been going on for years in my own state. They have a course in natural plant dyes. I know of an artist, now deceased, who researched natural dyes for the type of egg decoration I’ve been doing. After all, that’s what people used to use before aniline dyes and other chemicals came along. As with yarn, the colors are subtle, earthy and alluring.

    1. That school looks really cool, Joe. Danny and I cooked up some more colours together a few years ago. They are pretty awesome. Of course I am particularly interested in getting dyes from native/local sources. Native reds are rare and blues are practically nonexistent. But I could have a lot of fun even just combining some of the rich greens, yellows and browns that are readily available. I’m curious to know about the differences in dyes used for egg decoration.

      1. Here’s a site where you can get a little info on plant dyes.

        The artist I referred to previously, Taras Horodetsky, is gone now (he died much too young) but he left a wealth of info which has been collected by Vira Manko. If you scroll down, you can see the natural plant dyes he used. The use of a mordant is much the same as with yarn. Something has to make the dye “stick” to the surface being dyed. Nowadays the use of aniline dyes results in brilliant colors. Here’s another portion of the same site, specifically about dyes:

        A vendor I know and patronize has a small line of edible dyes to go with the inedible aniline dyes, because sometimes red eggs are dyed for the Easter table, where they are eaten hard-boiled.

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