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Become the Boss of Your Yarn

Jun 15, 2009

You love yarn. C'mon, admit it: If someone left you locked in a yarn shop overnight, you wouldn't call anyone to come let you out, you'd just stay there and play with all those pretty yarns all night long, till someone found you the next morning with a big dopey grin on your face.

But our beloved yarns often frustrate us--the yarn called for in the pattern does not come in the right shade of blue; or the yarn we imagine for the bewitching little sweater pattern does not seem to exist anywhere but in our minds.

Yarn is fickle; it knows we adore it, but it refuses to bend to our every whim. We are its slave, not the other way around.

But what if....what if you had a chance of getting a bit more of the upper hand in this relationship? What if you had a way of making the exact yarn in your imagination, all by yourself?

That, my friends, is why thousands of knitters learn to spin--to make the yarn we yearn to knit.

I took up spinning again about a year and a half ago, and for the first few months, I just spun whatever my hands and the wheel and the fiber would agree to produce. I didn't have much say as to what type of yarn I made; I was too busy learning to keep the yarn from breaking or tangling or otherwise sticking its tongue out at me.

But once I'd managed to spin a consistent yarn, I felt like I wanted a bit more control over the process. In short, I wanted to spin the yarn in my head; I wanted to be the boss of my yarn as well as the boss of my knitting! I see all those lovely handpainted rovings in the stores, and I wonder: How does what you do to the fiber before you spin it influence how the colors appear in the finished yarn?

If you want to know how to handle handpainted fiber, ask a dyer who specializes in luscious handpainted rovings: Amy King, author of Interweave's new book Spin Control. In addition to a ton of other great spinning information, her book has instructions on how to prepare those gorgeous painted fibers to get the yarn you want. So...I decided to do a little hands-on experimenting, using Amy's book and some of her wonderful Spunky Eclectic fibers. I had two handpainted fibers--one a combed wool top in shades of red/orange/pink called "Lobster" and the other a hank of pure mohair dyed in bright yellows and oranges called "Walking on the Sun". I divided the Lobster into three parts, and, working from instructions in Amy's book, tried a different fiber preparation method on each part.

For one yarn, the color was less "blended" overall, with some distinct striping. The second yarn had a very even blending of all the colors, producing a sort of "heathery" effect. The third yarn was somewhere between the two--some distinct striping, but a softer, more heathery effect overall.

As for the mohair, I've learned from long experience that I can only handle that particular fiber in small amounts and for short periods of time, or my eyes swell up like water balloons. But it was so pretty, and I didn't want it to feel left out of the science party. So, using my handcards, I blended small amounts of it with silk, merino, silk noils, copper glitter, and romney and spun that up into a really unusual and beautifully colored yarn.

I never really thought about experimenting with my fibers in quite this way; I think I was focusing so heavily on Just Making Yarn that it didn't occur to me that I might be able to have enough control over the process that I could make the sort of yarn I WANTED to make instead of just settling for whatever wound up on my bobbins!

Spinning isn't all that hard; it's tons of fun and with a bit of practice and help from resources like Spin Control, you really can become the boss of your very own yarn.

Look for Spin Control at your local yarn shop, or purchase it here.


Be sure to join us on Wednesday, when we have a BIG suprise cooked up for won't want to miss it!


Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? Last night at Knit Night, I cast on for the starry baby blanket, Star Light, Star Bright, part of our new free Baby Knits ebook! I've worked the first seven rows and only had to rip back far.

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IvernaM wrote
on Jun 19, 2009 1:33 PM

I told my 17 year old son that I like this title. He looked "become the boss of your yarn? (contemptuous snort) Not while Buzz is in the house you won't!" Buzz is a 5 yr old 3/4 Siamese who will never be convinced that any sort of yarn is not hers to pick up, carry around, call non-existent kittens to come play with, kick with her hind feet - well, you get the picture. If my yarn's missing, the first thing out of my mouth is "Buzz!" If she had fur long enough to spin, there might be some sort of payback.....

ChristineT wrote
on Jun 15, 2009 2:51 PM
Another question related to this discussion. Interweave has just published 2 books on similar subjects. This one by Amy King and "intentional Spinning" by Judith MacKenzie McCuin. it would be great to see a comparison of the two. Which is best for which purposes? if you can only buy one, of course.
ChristineT wrote
on Jun 15, 2009 2:43 PM
Great article but I have some questions. Which fiber prep produced which kind of yarn? Can you give us some more details about the fiber preps? Did you use the drum carder to produce the bat - or the mohair blend? I've been spinning for a year now and am doing more experimenting. I am confused by the control vs. creativity conflict. It always seems to me that you need some control and understanding to be creative. You need to do some playing and have some skills.
Jo-AnneK wrote
on Jun 15, 2009 12:11 PM
Interweave Knits has advertised AK Traditions from Austrailia I have tried to reach them via e-mail several times but have had no success. I would love to purchase one of there kits. Does anyone know how to contact them.
PamD wrote
on Jun 15, 2009 12:06 PM
Sandi, two weeks ago there was a free pattern for a baby blanket and I just bought the yarn (3 skeins Homespun) for it. NOW the pattern is not included; Star Light, Star Bright is NOT it. HELP! Mary D
on Jun 15, 2009 10:37 AM
I really appreciate tips like this. I was wondering if you could show us what to do when we come to a break in the yarn or a knot from the manufacturer. I have used square knots, I have tried to weave the threads but this latest knot is in the heal turn of a sock made with thin stretch yarn. I hate to have to rip it back. Thank you, I would like to Become the Boss of MY Yarn! JeannetteD
LenaB wrote
on Jun 15, 2009 10:08 AM
It is far better to be partners with your yarn and let it inspire your creativity then to become "boss" and limit your self to what you know.
SharonV wrote
on Jun 15, 2009 9:44 AM
I'm still waiting for my copy of Spin Control (not yet released), but while I'm waiting I got a change to watch Maggie Casey's new video with Eunny Jang as student, Start Spinning. Although I only had time to see Disk 1 (there's 2), I can tell it's going to be worn out by me in no time. I love the way Maggie Casey teaches, so calm so peaceful. And I got a chuckle out of Eunny referring to her first yarn as 'novelty'. I think the book Spin Control, along with the video would make a perfect pair.
on Jun 15, 2009 9:07 AM
How true! I took up spinning about 15 years ago, then had kids. Now that they are somewhat capable of playing by themselves and know NOT to touch the spinning wheel I have taken it up again. And, Oh! how I missed it. I was really a slave to the store bought yarns and was always imagining something perfect for my next project but could never really quite find the perfect match in reality. With my spinning I get to create from scratch. Plus, there is nothing more satisfying than having that handspun/handknit sweater to show off. A truly one of a kind creation!
AngelaB wrote
on Jun 15, 2009 8:51 AM
Thank you for a spinning article :) I've been spinning for a year, and sometimes all I make are sample skeins, trying to decide how I want the colors in the yarn to appear. So many choices!