Thick and Thin Handspun Yarn

Posted on: 03/09/2011

thick and thin yarn, handspun yarn, slub yarn, art yarn, hand painted yarn, wool yarn, baby hats, knitting, crochet, weaving

Setting the Twist and Yarnie Thoughts

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.

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 thick and thin yarn that I create.

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.

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 with good joins,  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! :)

********I felt I needed to add this clarification in response to another popular blog that may be trying to throw some scare tactics at you regarding your yarn falling apart if the twist isn’t set.  Don’t believe that you HAVE to set the twist for your small projects.  You don’t.  Check out the photos of all the fantastically, puffy and soft  creations people have made from my yarn without setting the twist  here –

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 example much loved doll hair, then setting the twist is purely optional and not required.  I have many doll makers that buy my yarn for doll hair, I mainly wrote this for their sake.  When this yarn is used for doll hair and there are no knit or crochet stitches to secure the fibers?  Then please consider setting the twist of the yarn so it all doesn’t untwist and fall apart.  This is directly related to when a doll maker secures the yarn to the head of the doll and then cuts the ends of the yarn to hang free.  Both knit and crochet stitches are sufficient to hold the joins and fiber together in thick and thin yarn and even underspun yarn.  That is part of the charm of the yarn and  your finished piece.  BIG SOFT PUFFS ~ yes! :)

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!

Handspun Thick and Thin Yarn (with too much twist  or not enough 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


2 Responses to "Thick and Thin Handspun Yarn"

I know you wrote this article several years ago but it was just what I needed today.. After using my spindle to make a lot of thick 2 thin yarn I was not sure about finishing the yarn or not. As I intend to use it for a felted purse I was pretty sure that finishing the yarn would be one step that was unneeded and, thanks to you sharing your expertise, I was able to hang my skeins and walk away knowing they’re ready to knit with at any time. As a fiber artist with MS any steps I can swiftly move past means I have a better chance of seeing a project through.
Thanks again for sharing and I hope you’re still active and making more beautiful yarns.

Thank you so much for sharing! I wish you success on your project and am happy to know someone found this helpful! Would love to hear more about your project any time too! 🙂

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