How to Spin Combed Top to Create Self Striping Yarn

Multicolored combed tops can create really beautiful yarns, but it can be a bit tricky to control how the colors present in the yarn. A beautiful multicolored combed top can turn into a disappointing yarn if the colors become muddy during the spinning. So, I wanted to do an experiment to show different methods to control the color in a combed top when spinning.

In this experiment, I’ll show how to create a self-striping yarn with fantastic, long color repeats from a combed top. There are various methods, but my favorite method is to turn the multicolored combed top into rolags to create a self-striping yarn with long color repeats. This is my solution to muddy colors, and it opens up so many colorful spinning possibilities for spinning a combed top!

Watch the full video of this project on YouTube or keep reading below to learn all about the combed top and tips on how to create fantastic long color repeats from a combed top.

Let’s get spinning!

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Three long, rolled up sections of brightly colored wool fiber resting on a blending board and wooden table
Keep reading to see how I created and spun these rolags into a beautiful multi-colored yarn!

The fiber for this project

I used the new beautiful colorway from Paradise Fibers, a multi-color merino wool combed top in Bubblegum Surprise. You can purchase this yourself, but the concepts covered in this post apply to any combed top.

A brightly colored teal, magenta, and purple ball of wool fiber resting on a marble surface
I just love how the bright colors in this combed top really pop!

What is a combed top?

The fibers in a combed top have been combed and aligned so they are all going in the same direction. This is opposed to carding, where they would be all going in different directions. When it is processed at a mill, each color is processed independently and then they are brought together, so the colors run the entire length of the prepared fiber. That’s the key!

A brown-haired woman holding up a brightly colored, striped batt of wool fiber.
Here you can see how the colored fibers in the combed top all run in the same direction along the length of the fiber.

What happens when you blend a combed top?

When you spin wool and it starts to blend, the colors get all mixed together — kind of like paint. To help use visualize this, I got some paint that mimicked the colors in the Bubblegum Surprise and mixed them to predict what the combed top would look like if I spun it as it comes.

The combed top was made of teal, magenta, purple, and a bit of gray or white. I took these colors in paint and mixed them together — to get purple!

A ball of multi-colored wool and a plate of multi-colored paints on a table.
This color experiment with paint helps show how the colors in the wool will blend together visually when spun.

Why is that? As we know from basic color theory, red and blue make purple. Therefore, the similar colors of magenta and teal also make purple. Then, of course, adding more purple to purple still makes purple! Finally, adding the touch of gray or white lightens the color a bit, but not too much because it takes a lot of white to overcome the darker, more saturated colors.

While we might not blend fibers together as thoroughly as we mix paint, the colors will still tend to blend together visually once they’re all worked together. Breaking the colors down like this can help you predict how any combed top will look in a yarn or finished project after it is all spun up and worked into a project.

Spinning From the Fold: How to Avoid Blending the Colors of a Combed Top

So, what if you want to maintain the colors and avoid blending everything together in a combed top? One popular trick is to spin from the fold.

Start by pulling a staple’s length off of the combed top and folding it over your finger — hence the name “spinning from the fold.” As you spin off the tip of your finger, the colors are going to come off of the combed top and into the yarn in the order that they are presented in the combed top. Instead of having all the colors come together into the yarn at once, you are going to have more distance of yarn as it works its way across each stripe of color.

This will give you a bit more of a color repeat across the yarn and will help you maintain some of the appearance of the individual colors. However, the color patterns tend to be a bit random with this technique, and the colors will continue to blend as you ply the yarn.

How to Create Long Color Repeats from a Combed Top: Two Methods

Spinning from the fold helps prevent the colors from getting too muddy, but I wanted to try a better way to create long color repeats and have a bit more control over the colors.

I started pulling the individual colors apart, and then tried two different methods for spinning the colors together. First, I sorted the individual colors into piles and added the colors in one piece at a time. Next, I arranged the colors onto a blending board and created some self-striping rolags.

To pull the colors apart, I opened up the combed top and found the point where it naturally starts to unroll. There’s no real trick here! I just started pulling apart the colors and peeling them off. There’s no rules here! It’s totally up to you how picky you want to be at keeping the colors individual.

Hands pulling apart a batt of multi-colored wool
It isn’t perfect but you can mostly separate the colors of wool but simply pulling the sections apart.

Now, there is one thing to keep in mind: by peeling these apart we might be disrupting the alignment of the fibers. So, if you want to create a worsted type of yarn, you need to keep that in mind. But, if your intention is to play with the colors, create some cool color repeats, and have a lovely lofty yarn, this method is fine! If you’re ever unsure what’s going to happen, do a small sample before you dig into your whole pile of combed top and test it out.

How to create rolags using the blending board

This part was so much fun because I got to decide what color pattern I wanted to create! I took each of the strips of color and placed some on the Ashford Blending Board from The Woolery in my desired pattern and width.

Hands using a dowel rod to roll up multicolored wool off of a blending board that is resting on a wooden table
I used my blending board and dowel rod from The Woolery to create the rolags.

Then, I used the included dowel rods to create the rolags. You can see that these rolags will create lovely, long stripes of color that will repeat throughout the yarn.

Three long, rolled up sections of brightly colored wool fiber resting on a blending board and wooden table
I created three rolags, each with the same color pattern.

Spinning the Combed Top

And now, my favorite part!

I used my beloved Ashford e-Spinner 3 for all of the yarns in this experiment. 

For the first method where I sorted the colors into piles, it created nice long color stripes in the yarn, and I got to choose the color pattern as I went along. This method kept the fibers aligned for the most part, but they did get a little fuzzy pulling it apart. Therefore, this was more of a worsted type of spin if that’s something that is important for you to have in your yarn. This method was also almost like pre-drafting, and I barely had to draft it to get a nice, even, and consistent yarn.

For the second method with the rolags, I used a long draw method on the spinner. The spinning process with the rolags felt a lot more intentional and controlled, and created some long, beautiful color stripes.

Spinning a Combed Top to Create a Self-Striping Yarn: Key Takeaways

Here are the final results!

Four rolled up skeins of multi-colored yarn with labels reading, across the top, from the fold, pulled by color, and rolags.
The colors in each of these yarns are pretty, but I prefer the prominent color striping you get with the rolags over the blended purple effect you get with the other methods.

Now, I did this experiment over multiple days, so I had time to wash and thwack most of the yarns, but not the one that was pulled by color. That’s why it’s curlier than the others! I figured this was OK for the comparison since we are just looking at the colors. (But look what a difference that washing and thwacking makes!) 

In the yarn that was pulled apart by color, you can see some candy striping in certain places. The striping in this yarn is similar to the striping that happens when you spin straight across the top, but there are also longer sections of pure color throughout the yarn.

By comparison, I think the yarn from the blending board is the star of the show! You can see long color repeats that match the color repeats in the rolags, and it’s beautiful. No muddy colors here! I just love how this turned out!

Of course, there is no right or wrong here! Depending on what you’re trying to create with your fibers, different spinning methods might work best for your project. The blending board was my personal favorite, but all these methods were a fun way to play with all the color in combed tops.

Multiple sections of brightly colored wool fiber and skeins of yarn laid out on a blending board and wooden table
This was such a fun experiment and I can’t wait to use the yarn made from the rolags in a future project!

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Happy spinning!