Spinning Tuesday: Making your fiber go farther by marling on purpose

I’m still thinking about marling, but now I’m marling for a purpose.

More often than not I buy my fiber in 4oz increments, especially when I don’t know what I’ll make with it. Then comes the time when I pull it out to spin a 2-ply with it, and I want more yardage than 4 oz can get me.

What’s a spinner to do? This spinner stretches fiber by marling on purpose.

When I have fiber that has  colors I love, I marl with a natural color, it makes a variation on the colorway.

When I have I fiber whose color combo no longer makes me sing, I marl with a second color or colorway to create a new visually complex colorway. I love playing with both of these techniques, they are full of surprises.

Today I’m playing with making a two ply yarn using a natural color fiber as one ply to make a variegated top or roving go farther yardage-wise.

I pulled a variety fibers I have that: I like the colorway, I wish I had more, and I want to make a two ply yarn out of.

Remember that plying with another color, even a natural will make a variation on the original colorway. If you are in big love with a colorway and don’t want to change it one little bit – this is not the playtime experiment for that fiber.

Why didn't I buy more?

There’s some Briar Rose, Spunky Eclectic, Abstract Fiber and Fiber Story, all I think are gorgeous.

I also pulled undyed fiber in a variety of colors


Pretty, pretty fiber flower


I’m going to start with the Briar Rose fiber. How do I choose which natural would work with it?


Compare and contrast

I compare them visually. What do I think would blend best with the colors in the Briar Rose? I keep in mind that the bigger the contrast between the Briar Rose and the natural I choose makes the type of candy cane marled yarn that I don’t like. I like my marl more blended.

If I’m having trouble choosing, or am just too giddy with possibilities I take a picture and look at the choices in black and white.


This is what Michigan looks like in the winter

For me it’s easier to see what is closer to matching my dyed fiber when I take the color away. For me it’s the middle brown on the right (about 3:00, if the wheel of fiber was a clock), and an oatmeal brown (about 11:00). I’m curious about the striped roving (1:00) but not enough to sample.


Two browns to sample

There is no right or wrong choice, it all about what you like. The possibilities are endless and limited only by how much you are willing to sample.


Mid-brown and oatmeal, can you tell which one I didn't like?

Here are the yarns that came from the middle brown and the oatmeal plied with the Briar Rose. I didn’t like the look of the oatmeal when I was plying, my brain started yelling, ‘barber pole, barber pole”, so I stopped.

But when I knit the lighter sample


yummy oatmeal

I liked it quite a bit.

Here’s the darker which I like too.


This is the yarn equivalent of drinking stout

But when I put them together, there was a clear winner for me.


Which wins for you?

I love the darker version, but I like the lighter swatch so much more than I liked the yarn.

I love how the original colorway is in there, close but not exactly, more like kissing cousins.

This makes me want to try more combinations, especially ones that I’m not quite sure of. I’ll be working with the other brighter colors next, seeing what happens when they are plied with natural colors.

If you’re going to try this at home remember to go with your instinct, try at least two naturals with your variegated fiber, and maybe a third that you are sure won’t work. Just see what happens, you’ll be surprised, I always am and that’s exactly what keeps me playing with fiber.

(542 Posts)

Jillian is the​ author of the best-selling spinning book Yarnitecture. She is the editor​ of Knittyspin and Developmental Editor for PLY and PLY Books. She kinda loves this spinning thing and wants everyone who spins to love it too, so she teaches and writes a lot. She knits, weaves, and stitches and tries to do as much of it as she can with handspun yarn. She's always cooking up all kinds of exciting and creative things combining fiber arts. She likes her mysteries British, her walks woodsy, and to spend as much time as she can laughing. Spy on her on her website jillianmoreno.com

24 thoughts on “Spinning Tuesday: Making your fiber go farther by marling on purpose

  1. Seanna Lea

    Your darker yarn is lovely, but I’m enough of a anti-fan of barber poling that I immediately rejected the first one before seeing the swatch. Bad me, because it does knit up nicer than I expected though I still prefer the darker one.

  2. Charlotte

    Love these examples of marls. I’ve never liked a marled yarn in a hank or skein, but I received a sample with a purchase and swatched it. It completely changed my mind about marls!
    I actually like the lighter one better, because I can see more of the color in the yarn. The darker one is very handsome, but more muted.
    I also love the hint about taking a picture in black and white. I’m not a spinner, but I might do this when I’m stuck about color work.

  3. Kimberly

    I really like the way the colors turned out. Thanks for this post, it was a good lesson (holy cow, could this sound any more like the spam I get on my blog? I have to stop reading it and just hit delete) on how to look at color choices.

  4. Melanie

    Thank you for sharing your experiments. I’m not a spinner (yet!), but I love to see the process and how the colors and textures develop from raw fiber to knit fabric. I suspect there’s a spindle somewhere in my future.

  5. Rachel

    I loved your photo-doc of each step. I too rejected the barber pole at first, but loved the lighter knitted swatch at the end. How fun! This motivates me to do some more color work– not a strength of mine— I love the B/W photo trick.

  6. Brandi

    Basically you seem to like colors with similar values. I do use these ideas when I’m choosing a coloway for blending fiber. I like more contrast myself. However I also the like darker swatch. I would do both probably lol

  7. Sandi Rosner

    Thanks so much for posting your samples and swatches. As a relatively new spinner (who also tends to buy seductive handpainted fiber in 4oz batches), I appreciate being able to learn from your experiments. This is just great.

  8. Katie K

    Someday I hope to learn how to spin, but I’m already a color person and I like the second one better. Of course it will really show their different effects knit large.

  9. alison

    I like the darker yarn and swatch, but I do agree that the paler one looks nicer knitted up than in the skein.

  10. Lisa-joy

    I love your idea. I did a similar look by using all the funky cool colors I had left over, and plyed them with black. POP WOW…making a shell with matching full lenght arm warmers….But of course I am! I love the muted effect just as much…warm and fuzzy funky…

  11. Alice in the Heartland

    This is neat! Haven’t advanced this far in my own spinning. My color eye would have liked to see the chocolate brown fiber at 5 o’clock. I suspect it would over power the colors of the Briar Rose roving.

    Agree with others on the photo steps and the use of B&W to help you decide.

  12. Elizabeth M.

    I confess I didn’t even know what marl meant. Learned a lot! Thanks for the great post.

  13. Heather

    I am loving this spinning Tuesday. I spin with a drop spindle and only buy 3-4 oz at a time. This marling lesson was perfect for me I wondered about doing this just recently. I love the oatmeal mix as well and that was totally not one I would have chosen. Thanks for the photos and the instructions.

  14. Maureen J

    I can see that I need a selection of natural colors, or else I’ll have to dye up some neutral shades.

  15. CambriaW

    This is a wonderful tutorial! I am also guilty of buying 4oz at a time, mostly because I only have a hand spindle, but I know that I’m going to get a yarn I love and not have enough to do anything substantial with it. Now I don’t have that problem 🙂

  16. yarnstruck

    Wonderful post. I’d never thought of using neutrals to fill out all those hand-dyed braids I can’t help buying at festivals. 🙂 Really enjoyed seeing the color selection process and counter-intuitive result, too!

  17. Decoysaunt

    Holy Crap! What a great tip! I’ve been spinning for less than a year and and only recently reached a point where I have a better idea of how much yarn I can spin from a given braid weight. I’m guilty of having bought large amounts of undyed fibers in addition to those gorgeous hand dyed 4 oz braids before I really knew what to do with them. Your marled yarn tip will let me make use of both and make more room in the stash for more fiber! (Hello, I’m Decoysaunt and I’m a fiberholic.).


  18. Beth Grim

    I loved reading your article and seeing the photos. I recently went through just that process with an 8oz. bump of handpainted BFL from Crown Mountain. I wanted to stretch it to get enough fiber to knit a largish shawl. I 2-plied it with four different colors of fiber I’d dyed with natural dyes, hoping to achieve some subtle striping in the finished shawl. It’s so interesting knitting with the yarn…(I love it!) and, yes, the knitted fabric looks different than I would have thought from looking at that marled yarn.

  19. Sasha

    Great post, Jillian! I have so many lone 4 ounce bumps (although I’ve promised myself that I’m going to stop buying less than 8 oz. of anything)–I can’t wait to root around in my stash and start playing. And stripping the color of the photo out so you can just see the relative values? Brilliant!

  20. Kym Amaral

    thanks for all the great tips ! My daughter loves to knit, and I keep sharing your info with her.

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