Three Tips for Spinning Chunky Yarn

Spinning isn’t an instant-gratification pursuit. You’ll find satisfaction in buying special fiber, huffing a lovely fleece, and feeling fibers slip through your hands, but you don’t usually sit down with fiber in the afternoon and produce finished yarn by dinnertime. You may hear that after the beginning stages of spinning, it’s almost impossible to recreate the chunky yarn you made when starting out. (Beth Smith tackles this very legend in Spin Off Summer 2015, so be on the lookout for that!) But even if you could un-teach your hands to make fine, even yarns, those yarns from your beginning spinning class may not have been that great anyway. What you’re looking at with nostalgia might be uneven, overtwisted, and generally less than lovely.

So if you can’t (and wouldn’t really want to) go backward, what’s next? Chunky handspun yarns are still a great goal; they’re the perfect way to use up fiber fast, they’re the material for quick knits and crocheted projects, and done properly, they are plump and delicious-looking.

spinning chunky yarn

Maggie Casey sits by a drumcarder, one tool for spinning lofty and chunky yarn.

Maggie Casey sees a lot of bulky beginner yarns, but she also loves to teach intermediate spinners how to spin big, lofty, chunky yarns. She has some advice for the would-be bulky spinner:

1. Draft fast. Treadle slow.

Bulky yarn requires less twist per inch than fine yarn. But when you speed up your hands, you tend to speed up your feet. The challenge is to give the freshly spun yarn to the wheel quickly without also adding a whole lot of extra twist.

2. Strip and shove it up the orifice.

This is my favorite advice. It’s actually kind of a variation on the advice above: by splitting the fiber source, you are essentially predrafting and allowing the yarn to be fed onto the bobbin sooner.

3. Crank up the tension.

Never use more tension than you need, but in this case what you need is more take-up than usual. When the wheel pulls on the yarn faster, you have less time to draft it out and it make it thin.

Bulky, lofty yarns are a spinner’s type of instant gratification. With the right pattern, you can spin and knit a hat or cowl in less than a weekend and wear it on Monday. Maggie has other tricks in her video Big and Lofty Yarns.

Go on. Fatten up.

Featured Image: The Winter 2004 issue of Spin-Off featured chunky yarns in the Your Yarns column. Left to right: yarns by Ellen Hall, Betty Clarkson, Irene Rautanen, Karyn Deming, and Kris Peters. Photo by Joe Coca

Posted January 27, 2015. Updated August 20, 2017.

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