Portrait of Sierra Roberts
by: Sierra Roberts

Finishing your handspun yarn

Finishing Handspun Yarn

Whether you’re a spinner or not, you can’t deny the appeal of a full bobbin of freshly handspun yarn. Usually by the time I finally let that last bit of fluff twist through my fingertips, I already have a project in mind. Whether it’s a colorful fingering weight single-ply (like this braid of Nube by Malabrigo Fiber I recently finished, shown below) or a thick and thin chunky art yarn, I can barely wait to get it off the bobbin to start using it. Just like with a finished knit or woven piece, most handspun yarn really should be “finished” before putting it to its intended use.

Malabrigo Nube


Nube by Malabrigo Fiber Nube by Malabrigo Fiber

In my earlier spinning days I would simply wind my handspun into a ball right off the bobbin and start knitting. I never understood why the yarn was so dense, why I could never seem to find the right needle size, or why my knitted fabric looked so wobbly, always leaning to one side or the other. Depending on your fiber, a good old fashioned soak can solve all those problems. Finishing your yarn can help it “bloom”, or fluff up. It also helps even out and stabilize the twist. Setting the twist in place makes a more evenly balanced, well draped yarn, and therefore, more well-behaved knitted or woven pieces!

Un-soaked (left) and soaked (right)

I always default to wet finishing my handspun, but sometimes it isn’t necessary. Perhaps you want a kinky yarn for a certain effect, or you just like how your yarn looks fresh off the bobbin. Not too long ago, I spun some chunky art yarn for my mother. This was a blend of many different fibers with the addition of shredded plastic bags, feathers, charms and beads. Not a yarn for soaking!

Even though I now wet finish almost all of my handspun, I don’t always soak it the same way. If the yarn was spun from un-dyed prepared top (fiber that’s been cleaned and carded thoroughly), I soak it in plain lukewarm water. If I used dyed top, I will add a little gentle detergent to that lukewarm water (usually Soak wash if I have it, dish soap if I don’t).  I do a lot of spinning “in the grease”, so a lot of my handspun has an overabundance of lanolin. For that yarn, I will use hot water and dish soap to try and remove or “scour” as much of that grease as possible.

For extra greasy fiber, you can pre-scour the fleece or wash the yarn in Kookaburra Woolscour . If you’re doing large quantities, just be sure not to clog up your drain!


Kookaburra Woolscour   Kookaburra Woolscour

Regardless of what I’m soaking it in, I always let my handspun rest in the water for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. This allows the cuticle of the fibers to open and relax, nesting into each other and evening out as they settle into their new yarn form.

When the time is up, I grab a towel and lay it on the floor. I then remove the skein from its bath, gently squeezing it from top to bottom so it doesn’t drip everywhere on its way to the towel. Then I lay it on the towel, roll it up like a sleeping bag, and stand on it. This is an easy way to remove excess moisture from your yarn without over-agitating or felting the fibers.

At this point, there are a couple of different things folks will do before hanging their yarn up to dry. I usually forget these things, but there’s one that I remember because it’s so effective and gratifying: thwacking! Holding the skein by one end like a whip, I beat it against the side of the bathtub a few times. Then I hold the skein by the other end and repeat. This is great for evening out the twist, but it can make the surface of your yarn a little fuzzy. This is great for something like a mohair blend, but maybe not what you want to do with a delicate merino/silk.

Regardless of how its bath went, if your yarn got wet it needs to dry. Hang your dripping skeins proudly around the house! I find the shower works best, but if you decide to do this elsewhere don’t forget to put a towel below to catch all that water. If it’s nice outside, a clothesline or drying rack is great too.

Lastly, you have the option of adding a weight to the bottom of your skein. This is very similar to when you block a knit garment – the yarn will be tugged straighter, removing any leftover kinks and smoothing the overall surface. This does remove some elasticity from your yarn, depending on how heavy your weight is. I usually dig around under the kitchen sink until I find the heaviest spray bottle we have, which I then hook to the bottom of the skein until it’s dry. Adjust the weight according to how fine the yarn is, and how much bounce you want it to retain.

Here are the finished swatches for comparison. I bet you can guess which one was wet-finished! Each swatch was knit exactly the same, from the same handspun yarn, but the wet-finished one (on the right) knit up to a much fuller, more even fabric. The bias, or leaning appearance of the left swatch is a direct result of having not set the twist before knitting. Singles are more prone to this than plied yarns, but you can see here what a big difference it will make for your finished pieces to take that extra step before you knit or weave with handspun!

If you’re looking to beef up your handspun finishing supplies, click here for a list of products you may find helpful!


Related items of interest: • Our fibersMulti-Craft Equipment

20 thoughts on “Finishing your handspun yarn”

  1. Terry says:

    I spun some BFL on many bobbins, then I triple plied them on many bobbins and then I tied the ends together to make a skein I then soaked and thwacked and hung them. One skein is pretty curly one is not. Can I resoak the curly one and do you tie the ends together or just make skeins from each bobbin? Thank you in advance. I am totally new at this!

  2. J T says:

    Do you wet finish yarn before weaving? I know the woven fabric needs wet finishing

    1. Gretchen says:

      Thanks for asking! Yes, we generally recommend wet-finishing or at least steam setting your handspun yarns prior to using them in your weaving or knitting projects. We do then recommend wet finishing the project itself after it is completed. Your handspun yarns will be easier to work with if you wet finish them first and will give a more consistent sett/gauge and look to the piece if you’ve taken this extra step. If they are not finished prior to working with them they are more likely to “caterpillar” back on themselves (particularly singles) and some sections may be stretchier or less stretchy then others thereby making it harder to get even tension as you work. They may also full differently than you are expecting. So by wet finishing first you’ll have less guesswork and more consistency to the materials as you work on the piece. Hope that helps, and please feel free to reach out with any other questions!

  3. Jane says:

    I have some lovely dyed Romney . However it is full of Lanolin I suspect sticky and tough to draft.

    Should I treat it similar to an unwasheded fleece?

    Should I do a vinegar soak then let it warm up and dry then soak and rinse in hard water?

    Thank you

    1. Gretchen says:

      Sounds like fun to work with! I’m surprised that even after being dyed it would still have enough lanolin to be that “sticky” so that could also be residue from the dye process. Vinegar is great for removing excess dye and it will also “soften” and add shine to protein fibers so it’s a great wool rinse at any stage. In place of, or before rinsing with vinegar, you might also try a wool scour wash like the Kookaburra however since it is already dyed I’d test-wash a small piece first to make sure that won’t effect the color. That should remove any heavy lanolin or other residue and soften the wool to make it ideal for spinning. Warm water will certainly help with that as well, just be careful it isn’t too warm and that you handle it very gently so that you avoid felting it.
      Feel free to reach out if we can help further – I hope it turns out beautifully!

  4. Sylvia says:

    After finishing the spun wool is it still prefelted? I am new to spinning and want to felt my spun yarn into my designs. Do you think if I leave out the thwacking it would felt? Thankyou

    1. Gretchen says:

      Thanks for asking! Your yarn will not be felted after finishing it with these steps. Prefelting the yarn prior to knitting or weaving with it is a little trickier because it is challenging to prefelt the strands without them felting to each other. It is more common to knit or weave the piece first at a looser gauge/sett and then felt the finished piece.
      If you’d like to tell us more about what you are trying to make or what your goal is in prefelting the yarn itself I may be able to give you a little better direction. Generally speaking felting occurs by wetting and agitating the fibers, the more the agitation the more felted it will become, so these original instructions are intended to help set the twist in your yarn while avoiding any felting. Hope this helps, and again please let us know what you’re hoping to make if you’d like us to give a little more assistance, happy to help if we can!

  5. Esther says:

    I don’t have a niddy noddy. Does the yarn have to be in a skein to set it? I could leave it on a plastic tube (toilet roll
    Inner size) or if I take it off the spindle loose will it unravel? I’m just starting out (can’t you tell!) and have only done 2 short pieces a couple of yards long but I really like them so don’t want to ruin them!

    1. Gretchen says:

      Great to hear that you are happy with your early attempts – congratulations! No, you do not absolutely need a niddy noddy to get started, especially if the amount is just a few yards. Like most gadgets it is helpful, especially as you get into larger production amounts, but there are lots of hacks using things you already have on hand. The trick is just that you want to keep the the yarn from getting tangled (that’s why the shorter amount is easier), and you want it to dry under some tension so that it doesn’t twist back on itself. just wrapping it around the back of a chair and then hanging it from a hook with a small weight at the end will achieve this. If it is on a plastic spool it may take longer to dry and it may also take up a bit of the “curl” if the spool is smaller (thin of it like setting hair on curlers). That said, it won’t damage it and if it doesn’t turn out the way you want you can always re-wet it and try again, just be careful not to agitate it went to prevent felting.
      Hope this helps – and enjoy your newfound spinning skills!!

      1. Esther says:

        That’s super helpful!!! Thankyou so much :)

        1. Gretchen says:

          My pleasure – keep us posted if we can help. Happy spinning!

  6. Margreet Jenness says:

    I am a fairly new spinner. I bought a Gotland fleece. I washed, carded it by hand and then spun it and plyed it on my Ashford wheel. I knitted a swatch to find the gauge and then knitted a hat. It came out way bigger than planned so I decided to felt it. But it will not felt. Any suggestions?

    1. Gretchen says:

      Thanks for getting in touch! Sorry to hear your project did not turn out as hoped… In our experience Gotland will felt, however it tends to take longer than other breeds since the fibers are smoother and more lustrous (less crimpy) so they have less “grip” against one another. If there is still any lanolin in the fiber that too can help protect against the felting as it smooth the barbs on the fiber. To “open” the barbs on the fiber and help them interlock you’ll want to use hot water and detergent as well as plenty of physical agitation/friction. Since you’re felting a hat you want to be sure to agitate or rub the fabric very evenly so that it maintains its shape. It sounds like it will be beautiful and worth the extra steps – just a little extra patience and work. It doesn’t hurt to repeat the felting process as many times as you need to in order to achieve the desired size. I hope this helps – good luck on the project!

  7. Suzanne says:

    This is so helpful! Thank you so much

    1. Gretchen says:

      Cheers! Thanks for letting us know, and glad to help! Stay tuned for more tutorials in 2020…

  8. Jane says:

    After you set the spin in singles (soaking) dry them and then proceed to double ply do you soak the yarn again you knit it up?

    1. Gretchen says:

      Good question! Yes, we do recommend giving it another soak after plying. We do it again after the piece is knitted or woven as well. You’re not really washing it in these steps so you can be very gentle to avoid felting. The soak just “relaxes” the fibers at each stage so that they full and settle. It makes the overall finished texture of the yarn or piece more even and it sets its shape when it dries. Good luck with your yarns!

  9. Ellen says:

    What about wet finishing 2-ply of different colors? The contrasting colors look great until the warm water bath. How to keep the colors from bleeding and blending together?

    1. Hi Ellen!
      Have you tried setting your color with a vinegar bath first? If not, here’s what you do:
      Fill a basin with cold water, enough to submerge your yarn. Once your yarn is fully submerged in the cold water, add a cup of white vinegar to the basin. Gently swirl everything around to mix, and let your yarn hang out in there for at least half an hour. Then you’ll take the yarn out of this bath as usual, gently rolling it in a towel to remove excess drip. Rinse with cool water until the vinegar smell disappears. If you’re planning to give it a warm finishing bath after this process, just make sure you give the yarn time to warm up to room temperature before sticking it in the warmer water so you don’t get any unexpected felting!

      1. Ellen says:

        Thank you! I wasn’t sure if I could do a cold vinegar bath before setting the yarn with warm water. I will try this with my next batch.

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