Become the Boss of Your Yarn

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 everyone….you 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 once…so far.

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