Yarn Cakes

When I was growing up we had “balls” of yarn, not cakes.  Mum would come home from the yarn shop with hanks of beautiful yarn.  I would stand with my arms outstretched and she would wind off the yarn into a ball. Yarn cakes were only something you bought in a store.

But nowadays around our house we have lots of yarn cakes. We have a swift (2 actually) and a ball winder (4 actually) and we make our own cakes. Big, small, handspun, commercial – all yarns are great in cakes.

Of course, I have met some knitters who don’t like cakes.  They say they get tangled and so they don’t like to use them. But that is a story for another day.

Today I want to talk about cakes that are wound in your local yarn store.

Buy a hank

I know I am lucky.  It’s just my Mum and I in the house, we don’t have any non-knitters messing up our yarn vibe.  Everyone around our house GETS the whole fiber addiction, and might even (dare I say it?) SUPPORT it!  The corollary of that is that we have lots of fiber toys. We have the toys, and we know how to use them.  Which means when I go into a yarn store and the wool or silk fumes overwhelm me I don’t have to worry about the put up of the yarn. (“Put up” is what they call the way the yarn is packaged: a skein, a ball, a hank, etc.)

No matter how they put up the yarn, I can deal with it.  But that isn’t always the case for everyone who works with yarn.  Some people don’t have ball winders, or swifts, or even adolescent children willing to stand with outstretched arms for ages and ages.

That means that many yarn stores are kind and generous enough to wind hanks of yarn that people have bought into cakes. This is a great value added to their purchase, and frankly the right thing to do.

Get a Cake

Yarn CakesHowever, here is where the cheese gets binding.  Sometimes, those lovely, kind, and generous yarn enablers who work in yarn stores don’t do what they should.  It’s not always their fault, maybe they don’t know, or maybe they are in a rush – they are doing a good thing by helping you – now you need to ask them to do one thing more.

When you buy a hank of yarn in a shop and they wind it into a cake for you, ask them to do it twice.

Now, I know that sounds like you are being a bit obnoxious, but I promise you it’s worth it – both for you and for them.

Wool

Let’s be clear here.  I am not talking about hanks of silk or cotton, or even alpaca or mohair (not as much, anyway). I am talking about WOOL.

Here’s the thing: wool stretches.  We like that about wool.  It’s part of what makes our socks fit so well, and our sweaters so warm and cozy.  We want wool to stretch, but we need to control that stretch.

When you make a cake from yarn on a swift there is tension.  When you turn the handle on the ball winder it pulls the yarn you have attached and the tension of the pull makes the swift go around. It’s a pretty simple mechanism.

However, when you wind that cake onto the ball winder it is being wound under strong tension.  Ball winders need some tension in order to create a cohesive and compact cake.  But when the ball winder has to pull enough to make the swift go around, and it does, then you have a LOT of tension.  And when wool, specifically, is wound under that MUCH tension it stretches.

One of the joys of wool is that when it stretches it will bounce back to it’s original shape.  But that happens when you get it wet – it doesn’t bounce back on it’s own. This can create problems.

Create a Treasure

Yarn CakesSo there you are – you get home with your lovely cake of yarn. You know exactly what you want to do with it, maybe it’s a shawl – no problem. Minor variations in size is relatively unimportant in a shawl.  But let’s say you want to knit socks or a baby jacket.

Your plan was to start that baby jacket RIGHT AWAY! That very day, but then things happened…you know, LIFE.  It sometimes gets in the way of our knitting!

You find yourself 3 months later finally able to cast on for the baby jacket.  That beautiful yarn has been sitting there wound into a tight firm cake for a while now and the 100 % wool yarn has stretched.  Imperceptibly maybe, but it has stretched.  And when you start knitting you are knitting with elongated yarn.

You create your little treasure and then you wash it and block it – and suddenly it’s not the right size! It’s a full inch smaller than you planned for.  You had your gauge right, you used the right needles, and the right stitch count! What went wrong?

What happened is that your lovely yarn got in your nice hot (or lukewarm, or cold) water bath and it relaxed.  Ahhhhhh…  No longer under the tension of the tightly wound cake, it relaxed and your 16 inch hem suddenly became a 15.

Or those amazing socks you knit with a really intricate pattern that you can’t wait to wear? They won’t go on over your heel.

Preventative Medicine

Yarn CakesOK, so I might have dramatized a bit.  (who? ME?) It might not be a full inch. And honestly, sometimes you don’t even notice it.

Maybe you think “Oh I am just a tight knitter.”  But stretched yarn DOES bounce back when you block it, and yarn in a tightly wound cake WILL stretch your yarn.

Yarn cakes MUST have some tension in order for the ball winder to work, but the tension created by the pull on a skein winder is TOO MUCH tension.

This is what I do with all my yarns. I wind them twice. And the GOOD yarn stores will do it for you, too!

I put the hank on the swift, and I wind the cake onto the ball winder.  Then I take the cake off the ball winder, put it on the floor and let it run through my hand (tension, but not too much tension) into the ball winder again.

Benefits

This actually does a few things.

First I feel all those knots or tangles and can deal with them before they get embedded in the cake.

Second I can feel if there are joins in the yarn.

Can I just say that almost nothing annoys me more about commercial yarn than getting a skein that has 2 or more joins in it?

I know, things happen.  I can always sew the ends in, it won’t kill me.  But more than two “things happening” in  a single skein of yarn seems just plain incompetent to me. I am a lot more understanding in handspun. Although if I have ANY joins in my handspun you get a discount or I don’t put it up for sale at all!)

My feeling is that if you have chosen to do this commercially and your yarn sells all over the world (Malabrigo, Noro, Skacel: I am talking to you!) you should have the skill and the common decency to create a proper yarn.  OK. Got that off my chest. Thanks.

If I feel a join, I can break the yarn right then, rather than find it later as a surprise.  That way if there is a part of the project that only needs a smaller amount of yarn I can use one of the partial cakes. Then I don’t have to make a break where I don’t need to in a larger cake.

And finally, winding the cake again, with a steady, but not hard tension will create a beautiful cake that is NOT under so much tension that the yarn with stretch.  I recently wound two hanks of this beautiful Cascade Heritage Paints to knit a shawl with.  You can see in the pictures that one is bigger than the other.  The smaller cake was wound once, the larger was rewound.

With a correctly tensioned cake it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get to work on it – the yarn is happy.  We all want happy yarn!

Just Ask

The next time you are in a yarn store and they kindly wind the yarn for you, stop and think.

Are you SURE you are going to start immediately?  The yarn won’t have time to stretch if you start immediately.  Well, as long as you pull from the middle of the cake it won’t.  Pulling from the middle not only means your cake or ball sits still, but it also makes your yarn happy!  As you pull the middle of the cake out you leave room for the  rest of the yarn to relax. Relaxed yarn is happy yarn.

Is there a line in the shop? If there are lots of other people waiting to have their yarn caked, then maybe asking them to do it twice (if they are doing it out of kindness) might be inconsiderate.  I have heard (although I am not sure I actually believe it) that there are yarn stores that actually CHARGE people for this service. If that is the case then you DEFINITELY want them to wind it twice, and it should not cost extra because it’s part of winding the yarn correctly.  Honestly, the really GOOD yarn stores will already do this for you automatically, but if they don’t and there isn’t a line, then just ask.

If you have a ball winder at home you can always take it home and do it, so you don’t need to ask.  But don’t forget to rewind it!

If you don’t have a ball winder, you might want to consider making a hand wound ball.  You paid a lot for that bundle of woolly goodness, wouldn’t you want to make it happy yarn?

 

It’s that time of year!

It’s been quite a while since I had to gear up and get ready for school to start in the fall.  It used to be that without that reminder the Fall season kind of snuck up on me some years.  But not any more!  For the past four years my fall starts in a very different way.

Now I know it’s fall when I start prepping for my classes at SVFF.  The Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival has got to be one of my all time favorite festivals, and here’s is why.

Classes

Shenandoah Valley Fiber FestivalI love to teach knitting and spinning and the Shenandoah festival allows me to do both! This year I am teaching TONS of spinning classes, as well as sock and shawl knitting! What joy I get out of watching students begin their love affair with fiber!  Last year I taught a beginning knitting class and I have such good memories of laughter and that sudden joyful look when the fingers catch up with the brain and they hoot “I got it!”  The beginning spinning class is one of my favorites – I love to be an enabler and watching the origin moment of a new fiberholic is such a high for me!  Again, that moment when a spinner’s hands, feet, and brain all connect in the right synergy and that big grin that spreads across their face! It’s almost always an amazed grin, too, because ten minutes before that you could see how totally convinced they were that they would NEVER get it!!

Friends

One of my personal bonuses for this festival is that I get to stay with a great friend!  She started out as my boss, then later she was a client, and through it all she has been a great friend, mentor, or cheerleader!  Berryville is almost 4 hours away from Spinfoolish Central and so I rarely get to see Ellen in person, or her husband and lovely children! Getting to spend time with them is always such a treat and I look forward to it immensely!  I can’t think of much that would take me AWAY from a fiber festival, but getting to hang out with Ellen makes it TOTALLY worth it!

Spindles

ShenandoahIf you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you must know that I am totally addicted to Spanish Peacock spindles. They don’t go to any other shows now, so the only time I get to see them (Other than FB or Instagram) is at this festival!  The first year I bought one.  The second year I bought 2.  I think last year I bought five – although to be fair a few of them were for friends or students that couldn’t make it to the fair and wanted met to vet the spindles for them. HA! Like they need vetting!  Mike’s spindles are beautiful, they spin like a dream, they are beautiful, the craftsmanship is astounding – especially for the price, and have I mentioned they are beautiful?  I have my eye on three this year, and a few extra for friends or students!  I can’t WAIT! Let the shopping begin!

Shopping

Speaking of shopping – it’s not just spindles!  Here are my favorites, in no particular order: Spirit Trail Fiberworks, Hipstrings, Strauch Fiber EquipmentAnna Branner, Dragonfly Fibers, Hearts of the Meadow, Misty MountainRajkovich Designs, Tatting by Wendy, Taylored Fibers,  and Wild Hare Studio.  Phew!  Serious money will be spent, people!  I often find unique fibers here for my annual Tour de Fleece Fiber Pack.  I also find fiber every year at Hipstings that I just simply can’t leave without!  It wouldn’t be a fiber festival without a hug from Debbie at Hearts of the Meadow! Fiber people are just the BEST!!

In addition to all that, it’s in a great location. There are trees for shade, sheep and dog trails, animals to admire, food to guzzle, and so many friendly faces! If you are in the area, please consider stopping by!  If you aren’t in the area, and you want a great spindle call me quick! I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to go shopping for you!!!

 

 

Spinning Terms: Woolen Versus Worsted

This is part of a sometime series of posts that defines some terms and ideas related to spinning.

The first thing you have to understand is that “woolen” and “worsted” in the context of spinning does not mean what it does in the context of knitting, so just toss all your preconceptions out the window.  Worsted yarn and the worsted style of spinning are not the same thing.  “Worsted weight” yarn does not refer to the style of spinning but to the size/width/weight of the yarn. Yes, I know that it’s awfully confusing that they chose to use the same word, I’m sorry!! Don’t think about this as “worsted yarn” think of it as a style of spinning that happens to have the same name.

Worsted Spinning

Worsted spinning uses fiber prepared very particularly, so all the fiber is the same length, all the cut ends are facing the same direction and all the fibers are totally parallel.  Usually this is done by hand with combs or flicks, to spread out the fibers in the locks, but still keep them VERY, VERY organized.  Worsted is spun using the short draw or the “inchworm” method of spinning. In my strange little head I think of this as the “military” version of spinning.  Meaning that everyone is in their place, standing straight and tall, no questions asked, no deviations allowed.  Worsted spinning is tight, usually fine, smooth and not very soft.  The goal in worsted style spinning is to allow very little air between the fibers so it has a smooth dense appearance.  It will be strong but have a much harder “hand” than woolen spun yarns.  These types of yarns are not going to felt as much, or pill as much, but you really don’t want it next to your skin. This type of yarn works well in weaving.

Woolen Spinning

Woolen spun yarn uses fiber that is carded, either by machine or by hand, and the fibers are pretty much going every direction.  They are basically parallel, but not fanatically.  This feels to me like the “occupy wall street” version of spinning.  Everyone is there for the same reason, but still doing their own thing, not regimented in any way.  Woolen fiber is spun using the long draw method, and produces a “loftier” (or puffier) yarn that is softer and will keep you warmer because of all the trapped air.  This is like that yarn you snuggle up to in your LYS and go “ahhhhh” because it feels so good and is light and fluffy and wonderful. But it will pill like crazy, and won’t take a lot of wear and tear.

My Spinning

I like to think of these two styles of spinning as the two extremes.  99.9% of the time, 99.9% of spinners, are spinning neither woolen nor worsted.

What? 

Spinning is something most of us do for fun, enjoyment, and relaxation.  Our lives don’t depend on it, and we aren’t being watched by the “Yarn Police.”   As a result we do not prepare our fiber fanatically, and when we spin we use both the long and short draw.  Some people spin “more-wooleny” others spin “more-worstedly.”  Where your spinning falls along the continuum shouldn’t be important to anyone other than you.  If you are spinning something out of a long coarse fiber to use on a loom, you will probably spin closer to a worsted style.  If you are spinning something out of an alpaca, wool, silk mix to knit a pretty hat for a favorite friend you will more than likely spin more woolenly.  The bottom line question to help you decide how to spin is:  What do I want the yarn to end up looking like?  That will determine how the fiber is prepared, and how you spin it.

Another question you might ask yourself, if you don’t have an end result for the yarn you produce, is: How does the fiber feel like it should be spun?  After you have a bit of experience most fiber will tell YOU how it wants to be spun, you just have to play along.

Woolen Versus Worsted

I recently spun some lovely Coopworth.  This yarn was used to knit a sweater for my younger brother.  He lives in Maine and spends a great deal of his time outside in the winter.  He appreciates a good wool sweater, and will wear it a lot.  He doesn’t care how I spin it.  What he cares about is that it is warm, doesn’t pill too much  or get stretched out of shape, and that it lasts a good long time. Trust me I won’t be spinning him another sweater anytime soon.  Still trying to figure out how I talked myself into this one!!    I am spinning it more-worstedly because loft isn’t really all that important.  It will be woolenly enough to be warm, but worstedly enough to keep it’s shape and last a long time.

I recently spun some multi-purple fiber into a thick and thin yarn to use as an accent yarn in a project.  This was spun more woolenly because the use I had for the yarn was to look pretty, feel soft, and it won’t get much wear.  It’s only a small accent so the fit of the garment is not depending on the construction of the yarn.  I was going for a look and a feel, and so woolenly made more sense.

Sometimes when I sit down to spin I don’t have a particular project in mind.  I am just spinning.  Even when I do that I make a choice about which way my spinning will lean. I don’t really think “woolen versus worsted” per say but I ask myself: Will this be a good yarn for a shawl, or socks?  Will it be soft and pretty or a “work horse” yarn?  I think about this, almost unconsciously at this point, and my decisions works hand in hand with what the fiber is whispering in my ear, to inform my hands to do what they need to do to get the result we are looking for.

If you are a new spinner the best and worst advice you can get is “practice more!”  It’s the worst advice because you don’t want to have to practice more, you want your spinning to be effortlessly perfect, NOW.  It’s the best advice because it means you have a build in excuse to spin MORE! But really, the best and only way to consistently spin better and better is to practice.

HOORAY!!! I think I will go spin now.