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.
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!
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!
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!