Be a Yarn Detective

I’ve been taking a good look at my millspun yarn stash lately and trying to cull the collection. I accumulated most of those yarns before I became a spinner, but every once in a while a few skeins still tempt me. I think it’s the variety—not so much the fine and lacy yarns as the large, fluffy singles-style yarns and the funky novelty yarns, the ones I don’t make. But why not? I bristle at the idea that handspinners can’t make certain yarns, that a machine can do anything that my own hands (with enough training and practice) couldn’t.

Well, as Patsy Zawistoski points out in her new video Make That Yarn, there are actually some yarns that I can’t spin. Eyelash, ladder, and ribbon—yarns that involve a woven component—are yarns that we can’t make with a wheel (though I suppose that with a sewing machine and a tape loom it would be possible). I can live without those. Chainette yarns I would miss a little. But Patsy says most of the other commercial yarns are within our grasp. With some sleuthing, a spinner can unlock the secrets of a particular skein and discover the formula for making it herself.

My favorite element of Patsy’s new video is her “yarn decoder” kit. With some cardstock and a few paper clips, she demonstrates how to peel back the layers of a yarn, unplying the strands and recording the direction and amount of twist. And once she’s taken it all apart, she demonstrates how to put it back together again.

But if you don’t feel the tug of millspun yarns, why should you care? Well, two reasons:

1.   You’ve come across a pattern for a specific yarn but you’d prefer to use handspun.
It’s not enough to match the pattern gauge or even the fiber content to get the desired effect. Grist, number of plies, direction of twist: these make the difference between a drapy sweater and a suit of armor.

2.   You want to break out of a rut with new yarn adventures.
Most of my stash of handspun is two- or three-ply DK-weight worsted-spun yarn. Starting from the end result and a yarn’s recipe shakes up my routine . . . and makes me a better spinner.

Happy spinning!

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