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!


Stitchlily said...

I'm just washing my first ever handspuns, and looking for info on what to do, when I came across your blog. I've never heard of Thwacking it. It seems to go against all the delicate, gently, dont agitate advice given by every one else. But I think I'll have a go anyway, I like the sound of it!!

Anonymous said...

thanks for share.