Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A few words about blocking yarn

Blocking yarn is one of the final, and possibly the most important step in handspinning.  It is also one of the most neglected steps.  It can transform a mediocre yarn into a fantastic one.

These are the main tools you need, a swift and something to block it on like a niddy noddy or a yarn blocker.

Umbrella swift
and an over sized yarn blocker that fold up for easy yarn removal
This is some Polwarth Wool from New Zealand that I spun up.  This is as it came off the spindle/bobbin but before it is blocked.  

Spinners call this Singles, knitters call it One Ply.  Blocking is especially important for singles.  Can you see how it's sort of twisty and, well, almost alive?  Working with this yarn as is would be somewhere between annoying and difficult.  But if we block the yarn, we can make it easier to work with and actually distribute the twist more evenly, improving the integrity of the yarn overall.

There's the same fibre, spun the same way after blocking.  Isn't that gorgeous?  This is going to be way easier to work with.

The two side by side so that you can really see the difference.

This also makes a huge difference with plied yarn.  A lot of people think, 'oh, it's plied, so it doesn't need anything else'.  But just try it and you can see the difference.

Another thing about plied yarns is that most people create a balanced yarn on the wheel.  That means that they ply the yarn so that it has no excess twisty-ness as it goes onto the bobbin.  This is great when you are just starting out, or if you are going to use the yarn right away.  Because over time, the yarn relaxes, it's can be beneficial to put a little extra twist into your yarn when plying, that way over time, the yarn becomes balanced.  Also depending if you are knitting or crochet, and what hand you carry the yarn in...depending on these things, your yarn will gain more twist or less.  So if you can know the finished end to the yarn, you can ply it with too much or too little twist so that the yarn is 'balanced' in it's final incarnation.  (sorry, I'm writing this pre-coffee, so I may need to edit for clarity later).

So here's how you block the yarn.

First give the yarn a good soak so it's wet through and through.  Wuz it (either on the spin cycle of a top loading washing machine, or by going outside, gripping the skein of yarn firmly in one hand and spinning it over your head).  Then put it on your swift and wind it onto your yarn blocker or niddy noddy.  Leave it there till completely dry and tie it at least twice before removing.

You can just wet the skein while it's on your nid, and leave it to dry there. This is good if you are in a hurry and/or don't have a swift.  However, it does risk tangles later when you unwind the skein.

The further apart the swift and the yarn blocking gadget is, the more the twist will distribute and create a more consistent product.  (yep, I really shouldn't try to write pre-coffee, but the meaning is there somewhere).

Left to right: alpaca, jacob and polwarth

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