Setting the Twist for Handspun Yarn and How to Find it’s Gauge

Posted on: 01/05/2011

handspun thick and thin yarn, wool yarn, hand dyed yarn, hand painted yarn

New to Handspun Yarn?

Are you new to handspun thick and thin yarn? Or are you a new to knitting or crochet and are curious about handspun thick and thin yarns? The best way to help yourself out is to start with a small skein and work up a small project.  That should help you decide if you like thick and thin handspun yarn.  Some people don’t like it and that’s ok too!  It would be best not to load up on it, if you don’t really know if you’ll like working with it.

Thick and thin handspun is considered an art yarn, meaning there are no set rules on the amount of twist, or thick and thin spots or how long each thick or thin spot is in a skein.  This is where a spinner takes creative license and spins in their own style.  My handspun thick and thin yarn may not be like another spinner’s thick and thin yarn.

Handspun thick and thin yarn with too much twist –  If you think your skein of handspun  has too much twist this is what you do.  If it already isn’t in a skein, wrap it into a skein.  Most skeins are typically wound in loops of about 2 yards.  This will only work for a skein of yarn that has not had the twist set.  This is for what is called a “live” single.  It is part of the joy of a live single.  You as the creator of your project can manipulate the yarn to your liking.   Anchor the end of the yarn, by securing it (don’t let any twist out yet) to a skeiner, or a basket or chair, then wind it off the ball, without letting out any twist.  Don’t let go of the end and be careful. Then re-tie it to itself.  Tie the second end onto the skein as well.  Lay it down and then take two or maybe three scrap yarn ties and tie it around your skein..loosely around the skein.  You want it held together with enough room for the yarns to be able to move.  If you tie them too tight, the twist can’t move.  After it is secured with your added ties…very carefully..untie one end of the skein.  Let some twist come out of the end of about a yard’s length.  If you think you’ve let out too much, just finger twist back in what you want.  Repeat on the other end.  Then lift the skein, one end in each hand, and apply pressure to the strands by pushing outward, then let it relax.  Repeat this a couple of times and the twist will move and even out in your skein.  You can repeat this process if you feel it still has too much twist in it. Or untie it and finger roll some twist back in if you’ve taken too much out.   Remember this only works on “live” singles.  You are the master!  (I try to spin my thick and thin skeins with a titch extra twist because usually when it is received it is wound into a ball.  I try to include enough twist for this activity to happen (because probably…some twist will be lost while doing this)..leaving enough for easy work.  Have I ever put too much twist in a single?  Well,  have you ever burnt toast?  Yes, it happens.  But as long as it is a “live” single you can take it out.  I hope this helps! 🙂 Ny.

WPI – What is it and how to find it?

WPI stand for wraps per inch.  It is determined by how many times a strand of yarn can wrap around a ruler in the space of one inch.  Thinner yarns..more…thicker yarns..not so many.  You can use some of your commercial yarn to see it’s  wpi to better understand the gauge of your handspun yarn.

Setting the Twist

I have decided to finally write something I can refer folks to regarding setting the twist for my yarn.  NOTICE the “my” please.  There are as many ideas about “setting the twist” as there are home remedies for eczema.  These are my thoughts and ideas about “setting the twist” for MY yarn that I produce, work up and sell, …mostly.

My general idea is this:  setting the twist “straightens” the yarn.  After spinning the skein, it  is then wetted or soaked in plain water and then after pressing out the excess water it is hung to air dry.  All of my yarn is washed, dyed and washed again before it is spun – it is always very clean and you can read my feedback on Etsy here: Blocking the skein means..adding a weight to the bottom of that skein as it dries.  If I wet the skein and block it, when it dries the fibers are more aligned and often times it will even out or make less noticeable any bumpy spots.  This is important for a straight yarn needed for a  finer knit/crochet project where the goal is an evenness in the fabric produced.


For my thick and thin yarns  when using it in baby hats or small knit/crochet items, setting the twist  is counter-productive. (As does winding it into balls and storing it  – this smashes out all the air – don’t wind into balls until you are ready to work it up).  Preserve the puffs…they are expensive.     A major goal in making thick and thin yarn is to create texture and bumps and puffs producing a finished product with such characteristics. For other projects, for instance when using this yarn for doll hair or dreads,  setting the twist is done to begin the locking in of fibers, or felting and to also “set” my joins.  Handspun yarn can have as many joins as the spinner wants to add.  Some more, some less, there is no right or wrong amount of joins.  If the finished project is not worked up with stitches to better hold the fiber (and joins) together and your finished project is that it will be getting some use, (for say much loved doll hair)..then setting the twist begins the locking together of fibers which would need to happen so it just doesn’t all untwist and fall apart.

I have never had one customer tell me that when working with my yarn it fell apart  from not having the twist set or it being underspun. (Don’t forget..plain, unspun fiber can be knit or crocheted with everyday!)   If the yarn is spun well, setting the twist is not going to make it better.  My yarn  is wound off my bobbin onto my skeiner and pulled on and then pulled on some more to form it into a skein.  Out of all of the thousands of skeins of wool that I have spun, I can honestly say I have never sold one thick and thin skein that had a knot from a break.   I have had a couple of breaks in a skein or two of complicated art yarn, but I always disclose that fact in my listings (under 5 out of thousands of skeins) and it has never hindered it’s marketability.  I find people generally appreciate full disclosure, I know I do! 🙂

Blocking a  yarn can be overdone – if too much weight is hung on the bottom when drying,  after your item is worked and laundered might bunch all up in areas that you don’t want it too and then need to be blocked (using a mat made from towels and by using pins, pin the garment into the desired shape of the item when dry).  Sometimes blocking the finished item with pins will not bring it back into shape..depending on how much the yarn stretched out from heavy blocking. There is a lot of info on the internet about blocking yarn and finished can get you there.

All of this can be done to different degrees…hard blocking, light blocking, light felting, very much felted..hence all of the different ideas.

For thick and thin yarn baby hats I don’t set the twist until after my item is finished, if at all!  For photography props that don’t get continued regular use especially.  Delivering an item that is all puffy and bumpy is what they want!  For practical purposes, I would wash and air dry the hat gently and over time yes, it will lose some of it’s big yarn puffiness..but for the most part will always have thick and thin texture and be great for everyday use.

It’s all subjective and open to lots of interpretation.  Choosing to use a  yarn with the twist set or unset depends on  your finished project.  For purposes of my sales, when in doubt I leave it out so you can decide what you need.  Because once it’s done..for the most part it can’t be undone.

One exclusion here worth mentioning is art yarn.  The very nature of making an “art” yarn is the rules about twist and how much or how little are out the window.  It is an open field for creativity and fun with fiber! Setting the twist on art yarns will yield unpredictable results.  As it should, or I wouldn’t make any!

I hope this helps!  I will probably come back and add to this post in the future..let me know if you have some useful info for me to add here and also let me know if you have more questions!

Your friend in fiber,  Ny.



3 Responses to "Setting the Twist for Handspun Yarn and How to Find it’s Gauge"

Thank you so much for clearing that up for me! I had searched once before about what that term meant and whether I had messed up my project by not doing it. Looks like I’m doing just fine. Thank you!

I have a doll that has hair made of thick/thin art yarn. if the yarn is pulled slightly, the strand lengthens (so that the wool stretches and pulls away from the “core” of the yarn, looks to be a white string). Is there any way to make the doll’s hair less fragile? Thanks!

Hi! If the wool is feltable – make sure it is not superwash – google wet felting and have a go at it. Try it on a sample first..then you can gauge how much water/soap/rubbing/throwing to apply to have it felt to a softness you would like. Too much felting and it can get kinda stiff. Hope that helps!

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