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  • Writer's pictureLisa

Tell Me About the Yarn

Pile of Hand-painted yarn skeins.
Pile of Hand-Painted Yarn Skeins

At almost every show a question is asked over and over about a certain item. Often it's concerning something that seems obvious to me, but wouldn't be to the general public. At a recent show, I was asked, “Is this your yarn? Tell me about it.”

First of all, I was a little surprised because I have been selling yarn for a few years, but in smaller quantities. Maybe they never noticed it before. It happens. The yarn was well received, and I sold several skeins.

Now, back to the question. What they wanted to know is: Do I spin my yarn? Where does it come from? Do I buy it dyed or do that myself? How is that done? How does it end up in a skein? Fortunately, I had pictures on my phone, and could easily explain the process. I hope the following will answer any questions you might have.

Winding a small skein from a larger one.
Winding a Small Skein From a Larger One

No, I don't spin my yarn. I buy it from wholesalers in large skeins or cones that can be hundreds to thousands of yards long. I buy white or natural (unbleached) yarn. Sometimes, if the price is good, I buy discontinued individual skeins. But only if I can get at least a few hundred skeins. I only buy luxury (natural fiber) yarns that have novel, interesting textures.

Hanging skeins ready for painting.
Skeins Ready for Painting

All those big skeins have to be wound into smaller skeins before they can be painted. I wind the yarn into 50 gram skeins because it is the most manageable size for me to paint. The big skein goes on one yarn swift, and the smaller skein is wound on to another swift. I tie the skein loosely together in four places so it won't get tangled during processing. The first year I wound all the skeins manually. It was annoyingly slow, and hard on my wrists and elbows. There had to be a better way.

Electric/electronic yarn swift.
Electric/Electronic Yarn Swift

Enter my heavy-duty electric/electronic yarn swift! It was hard to find, and expensive, but worth every penny. It's so fast, it completes 15 minutes of manual work in under 2 minutes. I enter the yardage I want to wind on it's little computer. It winds the yarn and stops automatically. Such a beautiful thing!

Painting Wool Yarn Blue and Turquoise
Painting Galet Yarn in the Colorway Ocean

There are tons of dyeing and painting techniques. I only use a few because they create the results I want. Before painting, the yarn has to be soaked in a bath to help the dye penetrate the fibers. The baths and dyes are different depending on the fiber, but I'm not going to bore you with all the details. I lay the damp yarn on plastic wrap, makes clean-up easy, and paint sections in different colors with foam brushes. I leave a little space between colors so they can mingle together without getting muddy. Just like fabric, all yarns are different. Some are easy and fast to paint, some, not so much. After painting, the dye is set with steam so it's colorfast. The steaming process is different depending on the fibers. Then the yarn gets a nice bath.

Wool yarn is wrapped in plastic wrap before steaming.
Wool Yarn is Steamed in Plastic Wrap

Washing the steamed yarn.
Washing the Steamed Yarn

After all is dry, it's back to the two swifts to rewind the newly painted skein into a prettier version. Why? Every heard of “bedhead”? My hair doesn't look great first thing in the morning. It's the same with yarn. After all the painting and washing the yarn just needs a little fluffing to look it's best. The last winding does that. Don't we all want to look fetching when we're on display?

Finished yarn skeins in the blues and purples.
Finished Ocean and Opalgene Galet Yarn Skeins

So, the next time you look at hand-painted or dyed yarn you'll have an idea of how it is made. And...maybe that pretty yarn will entice you to take a few skeins home. Hope so!

Happy knitting and crocheting,


September 1, 2021

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