Color Play: How to Wind a Warp With Space Dyed Yarn

Oh, those space-dyed yarns — they look so beautiful in their skeins that you can’t resist buying them! But how do you keep those glorious colors lined up on the loom? It is so disappointing to end up with a streaky mess — yes, I know that from experience! Here are a few tips to help you avoid learning the hard way.

weaving with stripes of space-dyed yarn in the warp

Weaving with stripes of space-dyed yarn in the warp

Know your skein

The first crucial step is to examine your skein. Note that when I say “space-dyed,” I am referring to a skein that has been dyed or painted in multiple colors that appear as distinct bands. The actual technique used to obtain the effect is not important here.

Lay out your skein on a table where you can see it clearly. You need to determine whether the color sequence is symmetrical. If it is symmetrical, you will be able to fold the skein such that the two sides match up. If not, then you won’t be able to do this. In the photo below, the lower skein is symmetrical while the upper skein is not.

compare space dyed skeins symmetrySymmetrical skeins

If your skein is symmetrical, you will be able to wind a warp on a board or reel in the usual way as long as you make sure the length of your warp is a multiple of the circumference of your skein.

Measure your skein to estimate its length and multiply up to the number that is closest to the warp length you want. Many skeins are 1 to 1½ yards in circumference, which makes it very easy to achieve a three-yard warp for a scarf, for example.

Use a piece of string cut to the correct length to find a suitable path on your warping board. Be aware, however, that you may have to adjust the path slightly when you start winding your warp, as you will be putting the yarn under tension.

Once you have determined the path you need, start your warp carefully. With the skein folded so that the colors match along the sides, choose one end as your starting point and make a slip knot in the middle of that color band. Then wind your warp as usual.

slip knot in middle of purple section

I’ve tied my slip knot in the middle of one of the purple end sections of my symmetrical skein

Keep an eye on the colors to make sure they are lining up as anticipated. It is unlikely that you will get a perfect color band, as there will almost certainly be some irregularity in the dyeing, so don’t worry about the occasional discrepancy. It is all part of the beauty of the warp! However, if there are a few loose strands in the skein that throw the pattern off, you can simply stop and restart, missing out a short length of yarn to regain the color sequence.

color pooling space dyed skeinAsymmetric skeins

If the colors are not distributed symmetrically, then you cannot wind your warp back and forth in the usual manner. Instead, you will need to wind your warp circularly.

As with the symmetrical skein, you need to measure it and multiply that length to find a warp length that suits your project. However, when you look for a path on your warping board, it needs to begin and end at the same place. The outside path around my warping board is three yards, which is ideal for two repeats of a 54-inch skein. For other lengths, it is necessary to zig-zag around, but it doesn’t matter how unconventional this looks — it’s the result that counts!

Start your warp from any point on the skein beside the cross-making pegs. It doesn’t matter which way you travel around the board; personally, I favor clockwise.

starting point for winding circular warpEach circuit of the board will be one warp end. Make the cross by alternately choosing the upper or the lower path around the first cross peg as indicated by the arrows below

alternating paths in circular warpAgain, keep an eye on the colors to make sure they are pooling as expected.

When you have made your warp, fasten off the end at the starting peg. Tie the cross and make any choke ties as you usually would. Make two additional choke ties at the points indicated by the arrows below.

position choke ties on circular warpYou will cut the warp between these ties to transfer it to the loom. This means that you won’t have a loop at either end of your warp and, therefore, you will have to tie it onto the back apron rod and the front.

Of course, you can also use this method with symmetrical skeins, and it has the advantage that you don’t need to start and stop at the mid-point of the color sequence.

Designing with space-dyed skeins

Although space-dyed skeins are beautiful on their own, you can also mix them with solid yarns in stripes. Breaking up the skein in this way has several practical advantages:

  • You make an expensive yarn go further
  • You can choose to break off a stripe whenever the colors slip too far out of alignment
  • You can offset your space-dyed stripes so that the colors appear in different places along the length of your warp
  • You can mix different fibers for textural as well as color effects
space dyed skeins making wool silk scarf

The wool and silk stripes in this scarf are from two different space-dyed skeins

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