Thursday, May 31, 2007

Blocking Handspun Yarn

An in-depth, step-by-step description of one way to do it

So you’ve got a spindle or a bobbin full of your newly spun and plied yarn. You’re aching to knit or crochet or weave or sell or do whatever with it, but it’s not quite finished—there’s the final step of blocking it (or setting the twist, to put it another way).

Blocking is wicked easy, trust me. It requires about an hour of your time to prep it and then about one night to dry, and that’s a generous estimate.


Niddy-noddy or something to wind the yarn into a hank

Several lengths of undyed cotton dishcloth yarn

Shower curtain rod & hooks (I use book rings, those hinged metal rings that snap shut, or old shower curtain hooks work too)

Soap suitable for handwashing delicate clothes (if desired)

Clean, dry towel (I have two I only use on yarn, lest dyes run, etc.)

Your Yarn, duh


1. Wind the yarn into a hank.

This is accomplished using a niddy-noddy, skein winder, swift, back of chair, someone’s hands, arm of couch…you get the picture. You want it to be between one and two yards AROUND, measuring the distance from one end of the loop to the other. Any less and your skein will be too small to twist neatly and it will tangle; any more and it will be hard to manage when you eventually wind it into a ball for use. You can buy niddy-noddies for $10 to $30 on average for a decent one; I made one using a ¾ inch dowel and a 1 ½ inch round. Directions are available if you want ‘em.

NB: When you wind the yarn, try not to pull it too tightly. Keep some tension on it so the yarn doesn’t curl back on itself, but don’t go nuts with yanking on it. Stretching the fibers too much will weaken the yarn and can lead to breakage, among other things. More on this later.

2. Tie the hank in several places.

Do this BEFORE you take it off whatever you wound it on. If you have a lot of yarn, my preferred method is to take a piece of undyed cotton dischloth yarn, make a figure-eight through the skein, and then loosely wrap it once around the entire section. This is mostly if I’m not planning to use the yarn immediately, because it keeps the strands secure and organized. If you plan to wind the yarn into a ball right away, then just tie a loop around the section with a half-bow. Make 2 to 4 ties like this.

I usually take the ends of the yarn and use them as ties as well. This makes it easy to find them when I’m ready to start winding the yarn later. Be sure the ties are NOT too tight—you want them just tight enough that they don’t slide all along the yarn, but also loose enough that they don’t pull the yarn into a clump.

3. Carefully remove the now-tied hank from whatever you wound it on.

It will likely want to curl up on itself like ramen—this is ok. I try to keep a little tension on it but it’s not a real issue normally. That curl will go away soon. :)

4. Fill the sink about halfway with lukewarm water.

Add the soap if you desire; it’s not necessary unless your fiber is dirty or you want a scent added. Plain water works just fine.

5. Holding one of the ties, dunk the hank of yarn into the water several times.

You want to be sure the yarn gets completely wet at this point. Don’t agitate the fibers too much, since you don’t want to felt them! You’ll notice that most of the ramen curl goes away once it’s full of water. Let it drain a bit, then gently but firmly squeeze the water out as much as you can.

Once you’ve done that, neatly lay the hank on the towel and roll it up very tightly. I like to lean on it to squeeze as much water out as humanly possible—you will be surprised how wet the towel is when you unroll it! Wool especially can hold up to three times its weight in water before it feels wet, so the towel step is very important. It keeps your bathroom floor from getting flooded!

6. Thwack it.

This is a great step for getting out some frustrations. Take the hank by each end and gently but firmly (sense a pattern yet?) tug on it to align the strands. Gather both ends in one hand and then thwack the folded end against the side of the tub a few times. Make it a good solid thump—this wakes up the fibers and causes the yarn to ‘bloom’. If you think the yarn needs it, do this from the folded section as well. Find one of your ties and then realign the strands by putting your hands into the center of the hank and pulling outward a few times.

7. Hang it up to dry.

I put book rings through one of the ties and then around the shower curtain rod, though I have also used shower curtain hooks, plastic hangers, and lingerie hangers to do this as well. Make sure the hank has a lot of space around it for air circulation and if you want, put the towel you used under it on the floor to catch any drips. Realign the strands one last time if you need to, and then let it dry overnight. When I have the A/C on in my apartment, a skein of 300 yards of sock weight will dry completely within 8 – 10 hours. Usually I’ll get these hung up around 8pm, then slightly rotate the skein on the hook just before bed. This also helps prevent a hanging divot from appearing in the yarn.

NB: Do NOT weight the skein! As noted before, this can cause the fibers to weaken if you’re working with a fine yarn, meaning it can break the strands eventually. Not good! Also, if you weight a skein when it’s wet, it will dry that way…but beware, because the first time you wash an item knitted with that yarn, the yarn will want to revert to its natural bounciness, and you will have puckering where the yarn contracted. Some books talk about weighting yarn, but it’s not necessary. At most, if you’re having issues with it still curling up on itself, loosely roll a washcloth up and set it into the bottom of the hank while it dries. That will keep the strands from curling too much and won’t affect the shape of the yarn.

8. When it’s dry, twist it into a skein.

Unhook the yarn and put your hands into the center of the hank. Pull your hands apart until the skein is taut between them. Twist your right hand away from you and your left hand toward you until you can’t twist them anymore—the skein will be VERY tight. Grab the center of the hank under your chin and then bring your hands together, looping one end over the other. Let the part under your chin go. The hank will want to twist around itself very prettily, so just arrange it so the twist is even and the hank is attractive. The yarn will rest like this until you’re ready to use it. It’s better to store your yarn in hanks rather than balls, since they’re under less tension like this.

…And you’re done!

WHEW, that seemed like a lot, didn’t it? It’s really not that hard, though, just involved a bit. I often wait to do this until I have several skeins that need it. Just about every fiber works with this—wool, silk, cotton, linen, alpaca, etc. If you wonder what this does for your yarn, here’s a short list of benefits:

--makes the yarn drape better

--softens the twist

--sets the twist so it won’t curl up on itself or untwist

--evens out the skein

--makes the fibers lie neatly

--fluffs up fluffy fibers (think of angora and alpaca)

--acts as a double-check for dyes that run, etc.

If you are in a rush and you need this done, you have the option of steaming instead. I have one of those travel steamers, the kind you plug in and use to un-wrinkle suits & stuff. An iron set on ‘steam’ works the same way—just NEVER actually touch the yarn with the iron! You can also turn the shower on VERY hot and close the bathroom door to steam up the room. I found that direct steam gives a much better effect than the hot-shower method, but either works in a pinch.

Remember, this is only one way to do it. I have read many different ways to set the twist, but the fundamentals are the same.

Hope this helps! Enjoy yourself!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Meddling & Lateness: A Cautionary Tale

So today was the Massachusetts Sheep & Wool festival, and Dragonmaille and I were planning to go up, enter our respective skeins into the handspun contest, and hang around. We had also planned to go for both days.

I got to D's house, where she was almost ready to go except her skein entry hadn't been wound long enough to twist back on itself, and was too thick to dry properly from the night before. (Don't worry if you non-yarny folk don't understand this; suffice to say that there was stuff that needed to be done to it before we could enter it in the contest.) I took it upon myself to wind it for her while she hopped in the shower. Big mistake.

Upon untying it and getting it ready, I managed to pull out the wrong end of the yarn, and immediately tangled the entire thing. No, wait--I didn't tangle it--I made it EXPLODE. Cue much frantic scrambling by me and then D and then me AND D to get it into order. A few hundred yards of Romeldale went SPROING and then CLUMP and I think it was then we realized that I had royally screwed it up.

We got a late start, with the nearly-always-Zen D actually showing irritation (well-deserved by me) and trying desperately to restore order to what was essentially a slightly damp ball of sheep that kept reverting to its pre-blocked curly state. I drove for 45 minutes from her place to the fairgrounds, and the entire time she fiddled with knots that appeared and disappeared at some cruel cosmic entity's idea of funny.

Of course, the late start coupled with some rotten slow (FOR NO REASON) traffic on Route 9 meant that we were late getting to the fairgrounds, which meant we were late getting to the building where the judging was being held. Which meant that we staggered up to the doors about five minutes after they had finished judging the skein contest entries. Which meant...yeah. No skein contest for us this time around.

I suppose it was karma, since I had--no matter how unwittingly--made D's entry impossible through my own meddling-in-helping's-clothing. I don't know how she felt inside, but I know I was ready to cry. Actually, we talked about it a lot, and I think she was pretty much at the same point. At least her problem was that someone else made a mistake, not her. *hangs head* It sucks, because I was really happy with all the yarns we both planned to enter, and I think we both had a shot at placing at least.

OK, so the crappy part is over. Now the fun.

After I chucked my bag of skeins into my car, we walked around the booths to see who was there, what was for sale--you know, the REALLY fun stuff. We ran into some vendors we'd met a couple of weeks ago at WEBS's tent sale--it was nice that they remembered us. It's ALWAYS nice when a vendor remembers us. It's harder for them than it is for the customer; they see so many people everywhere they go, so standing out (in a good way) is always a pleasant surprise. They even remembered what we BOUGHT. That was cool. :)

One booth had silk waste, the stuff used for spinning recycled silk. SO cool, and a good price--we each picked up a bag. We also grabbed a knot of silk thrums, though I have no clue what to do with them. I think they're for weaving, but I'm not sure--got to figure it out. Til then, I'll be playing with the knot and admiring the deep turquoise color. :D I also found a trio of dyed mohair locks in cobalt blue, bronze, and gold. I really mean those colors, too--the bronze & gold are almost metallic, they're so deep. Last, I grabbed some casein needles (made of milk protein) and some maple spread & candy. Some people will be receiving maple candy from me in the next week or so...some of you have specifically mentioned missing/wanting some. :)

We decided not to go back again tomorrow, since we didn't have stuff to pick up from the contest, and we had pretty much spent our budgets, and we'd seen everyone and everything we'd wanted to see. I actually uttered the words "I'm tired of looking at yarn." I thought D would pass out in shock. ;)

It really was nice to walk around, and though we didn't do any of the contests/spinning/workshops, we still had a good time. I think next year it will be easier to participate in stuff, and the staff was really nice about us being late and they were very apologetic. We'll just have to make sure next time, our stuff is ready way ahead of time--and next time I will NOT interfere with D's yarn, no matter how well-meaning I am. Because meddling cost us both the chance to show off our badass yarn, and that sucks.

And now, if you don't mind, I'm off to spin some of the fun stuff I bought today. :)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Jenny-colored Part 2

I couldn't keep my hands off it. :)

Jenny-colored yarn:

This is half of the fiber; I tore the long piece in half, then split it down the middle, spun 2 almost-exactly-equal-length singles and then plied them together, ending up with a nice shaded striping yarn. I'll do the same thing with the other half, and I should have a pair of mostly-evenly-striped socks when I'm done. :D This skein: 2oz Superwash wool (merino?), 145yd. Let's see if I can do the same thing with the other half!!

(the other sock batts will follow once I've finished the rest of this one :D)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Knitting Skills Meme--because I was tagged :P

The Knitting Skills Meme

Bold is for things you have done
Italic is for things you want to do some day
Leave anything else plain

Garter stitch
Knitting with metal wire
Stockinette stitch
Socks: top-down
Socks: toe-up
Knitting with camel yarn
Mittens: Cuff-up
Mittens: Tip-down
Knitting with silk
Moebius band knitting
Participating in a KAL
Drop stitch patterns
Knitting with recycled/secondhand yarn
Slip stitch patterns
Knitting with banana fiber yarn
Domino knitting (=modular knitting)
Twisted stitch patterns
Knitting with bamboo yarn
Two end knitting
Charity knitting
Knitting with soy yarn
Toy/doll clothing
Knitting with circular needles
Baby items
Knitting with your own hand-spun yarn--OH YEAH baby <3 Slippers
Graffiti knitting
Continental knitting
Designing knitted garments
Cable stitch patterns (incl. Aran)
Lace patterns
Publishing a knitting book--Sort of--have a pattern in a calendar. Does that count? :D
Participate in an exchange
Teaching a child to knit - I keep trying with my girls!
American/English knitting (as opposed to continental)
Knitting to make money
Knitting with alpaca
Fair Isle knitting
Norwegian knitting
Dyeing with plant colors
Knitting items for a wedding
Household items (dishcloths, washcloths, tea cosies…)
Knitting socks (or other small tubular items) on one or two circulars
Knitting with someone else’s hand-spun yarn
Knitting with dpns
Holiday related knitting
Teaching a male how to knit
Knitting for a living
Knitting with cotton
Knitting smocking
Dyeing yarn
Knitting art
Knitting two socks on two circulars simultaneously--not this, but I've done it on 1 set of DPNs though
Knitting with wool
Textured knitting
Kitchener stitch
Knitted flowers
Knitting with beads
Long Tail CO
Knitting and purling backwards
Machine knitting
Knitting with self patterning/self striping/variegated yarn
Stuffed toys
Baby items
Knitting with cashmere
Knitting with synthetic yarn
Writing a pattern
Knitting with linen
Knitting for preemies
Tubular CO
Free-form knitting
Short rows
Cuffs/fingerless mits/arm-warmers
Knitting a pattern from an on-line knitting magazine
Knitting on a loom
Thrummed knitting
Knitting a gift
Knitting for pets
Knitting with dog/cat hair--Does it count that everything I knit ends up containing a bit of cat hair? ;)
Hair accessories
Knitting in public

And a question: What have you learned to do that has marked a definite change in your knitting life?

I learned to break things down to their base forms--patterns & charts are reduced to individual stitches, rather than looking at a complicated design as a whole. By doing that, I found that there is NOTHING that is 'too difficult'. It's all just knits and purls, ones and zeroes. :) Complex patterns are much less scary when I remember that they're formed one stitch at a time.

I don't usually participate in stuff like this, but I REALLY liked the list and anyway, Lucy tagged me. :D How could I not?


Abby sent me a box of sock batts and a surprise--special "Jenny-colored" superwash roving. I had asked once if she could do colors like the ones I love, so she came up with this:

And here's the "Jenny-colored" fiber. Aptly named, ne?

My only question is--which do I play with first? :D

Monday, May 21, 2007

Yarn, redux

To wit:

Merino/silk/firestar from Abby's Yarns. 314yards, 2.3oz, 30wpi

Wool/mohair from the same source. 150yards, 2oz. One ply is mostly solid green, the other ply varies from aqua to lime to green to blue.