Tutorial: How to Unwind a Skein

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About a week ago I got a great question from Mary, one of my students and customers.  She wrote, “How do you unravel a twist of yarn? Made a mess and I am sure there is a correct way but I’m not privy it and I have three more to go….Mary.”  When Mary was talking about a twist of yarn, she was talking about a skein.  And this can be quite puzzling if you’ve never dealt with yarn stored this way.

I thought it was a great question, so I’ve put together a tutorial about it.  Since it’s a fairly picture-heavy post, I’ve put the rest of the post behind a cut so the photographs won’t slow down the loading time on the website.

But first, why is yarn stored in skeins, and not pre-wound for customers?  There are a couple of different reasons.  First, it’s generally agreed that keeping your yarn wound into balls for long periods of time can stretch out the yarn, especially if the yarn is wound up tightly. Keeping it in a skein allows the yarn to breathe a bit more.  Second, it’s easier for yarn companies to ship their yarn in skeins: they take up less space, squish better, and lie flatter in boxes.  Yarn that is in balls tends to be hard for LYS’s to store – I used to call a couple of different balled yarns “tribbles,” as they seemed to jump off the shelves whenever my back was turned.  Finally, for hand-dyed yarns, gradients and a few other yarns, skeins allow customers to see all the colors in the skein better, so they’re not surprised by a “mystery color.”

So that’s why you often may get your yarn in skeins from a Local Yarn Store.  Most stores offer balling services if you buy the yarn in the store or if you pay a small fee.  But do expect to wait – often sales clerks have to fit in the winding of yarn around their other duties!

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A Brief Tribute to The Yarn Spot

Today I got a sad letter in my email inbox.  The Yarn Spot, a knitting store in Wheaton, MD, is closing.  It’s been a while since The Yarn SpotI’ve written anything about the store, so I thought I’d take a moment to reflect.

In June 2010 Mr. Turtle had just graduated Davidson College, and I was wrapping up my contract working for the Davidson College Theatre Department.  Michael had just gotten a job working for the Advisory Board Company in DC, and I was rather desperately looking for employment.  After having our apartment in Maryland fall apart, I found a place to sublet with a crocheter on Ravelry, and we moved in just as summer hit full swing.  Still being in the recession, I was finding full-time employment rather difficult to find.  Our landlady pointed me towards The Yarn Spot, and shortly thereafter Victoria, one of the owners, had hired me part-time to teach crochet and work in the store.

The Yarn Spot gave me a place to grow.  My job with the Davidson Theatre Department had been a poor fit, and I was too inexperienced to ask for the support I needed.  It left my confidence shaken.  The Yarn Spot was where I began to get my confidence back.  There, I was able to allow my expertise to shine.  I was allowed to develop my first classes for an adult audience.  I was allowed to peel back the curtain of the Yarn Industry.  I learned about yarns by fondling them, knitting them up, and listening to what other customers had to say.

It’s hard not to talk about The Yarn Spot without talking about the culture of the store.  The Yarn Spot drew on a large base of deeply Jewish people, and it’s there I learned the meaning of so many yiddish words, ideas and concepts.  Preparations for Pesach (Passover) were discussed in the store; it is there I learned what a Sukkot was.  On slow afternoons, Victoria would discuss with me Jewish mourning traditions or recipes.

I moved from DC just as The Yarn Spot was moving into their new space.  We’d drifted apart before then – I’d moved further away from the store, and was unable to work there as an employee anymore.  Still, every time I’d run into Victoria, Marianne and Lee at Trade Shows or when I was able to stop by the store, it was wonderful to catch up with them.  I’m so glad that the store existed, and I hope they all are successful with wherever life takes them next.

If you live in the DC/VA/MD area, The Yarn Spot is having an end-of-business sale.  From February 10-18th, everything will be 50% off.  From February 19-29th, everything will be 75% off.  You should stop by!

How has the Shutdown Affected the Fiberarts in Metro DC?

Michael highlighted in his post the other day the effect the government shutdown of various offices has had on the fiberarts industry. Following that, I became interested in how the shutdown has affected various fiberarts businesses and the community at large. With things being so uncertain, I wondered, would people be shopping and knitting less?  The stories I heard from DC area stores were surprising.

Student at Fibre Space

Fibre Space (in Old Town, Alexandria) has (and still is) offering free beginning knitting lessons to any government employee who comes in between the times of 1-5 pm at the store.  Danielle, the owner, told me that there have been between 50 and 75 beginning students coming through the store each day – so much so that they had to recruit more teachers!

Fibre Space isn’t the only store that has been offering support to furloughed government workers. The Yarn Spot in Wheaton, MD, offered afternoon tea on Friday the 4th, and has its doors open to people affected by the shutdown.  Last week, Knit & Stitch =Bliss ran a 20% off for people who are on furlough from the Federal Government; Looped Yarn Works offered 10% off to those with a government ID.

Many other stores are acting as knitting and crochet “sanctuaries” where stitchers can seek refuge from the political stress.  Dianna, from the Knitting Boutique in Glen Burnie, MD, has many federal employees who frequent her store.  She’s been listening carefully to her clientele to figure out what is the best way to help and support them in the shutdown.  “They are happy to have a place and time to knit and crochet,” Dianna accounts, “we’ve been seeing a lot more completed projects.”  This week, based on conversations with her customers, Dianna is running “Free Furlough Fridays,” where customers are invited to come in and enjoy lunch and great company.

More completed projects seem to be the case for many furloughed employees.  While they might not be pleased with the inability to go to work, they are taking advantage of the time to work on their projects.  There’s a thread on the DC/MD/VA Fiber Arts group on Ravelry called Furlough Along.  Various people have been posting their stories and sharing their knitting/crochet progress.  As a government worker related, she isn’t sure if it would be better to be working for no pay or have the time off.  Another explains that she’s back to work without pay, but the anxiety in her workplace is rampant.

This is probably why so much knitting and crochet is getting done, and why Fibre Space’s free knitting lessons are so popular.  Danielle, when asked why she is offering the free lessons said, “[I] wanted to give my craft and main stress reliever back to the community… especially those who need it most – those that are furloughed!”  Victoria, one of the owners of The Yarn Spot, echos this sentiment, “people are just sick of it [the shutdown]; they are coming here [to the store] for therapy.”

Perhaps this attitude – of serving the customers – is why many of the Local Yarn Stores haven’t noticed a downward trend in people shopping.  Perhaps it’s also because the holiday season is upon us.  Either way, I love how the fiberarts community has come together to support those people who have been hurt by the shutdown by looking to see how they can contribute.  It’s one of the things I love about the fiberarts community.

How have you been affected by the shutdown? Have you had a great expeirence at one of your Local Yarn Stores during the shutdown? I’d love to hear; comment, tweet or facebook me!

Have you seen the New Yarn Spot?

Yesterday I had a couple of errands to run that were taking me up the Wheaton way, and as I hadn’t been over to the new Yarn Spot lately, I decided to take a look.

It’s located around the corner from the old location, in the former Brazilian Market.  For now, they have a sign in the window.  I’m sure the Yarn Spot sign will be over the awning soon.
It’s a larger space than the previous storefront, with a desk located in the center and yarns to either side.
To the right, pictured above, are books, some hand-dyed, and what I believe were the bulky yarns, but don’t quote me on that. 
Directly to the side of that is a sitting area, where people can congregate, socialize, knit or crochet.
To the left is the bulk of the yarn, hand-dyed yarns hanging up, and lots and lots of shelves full of yarn.  What strikes me about the new space is the sense of room – and the realization that The Yarn Spot had been very cleverly managing to cram more yarn into a smaller space without shoppers being aware.  Here, the yarn seems to have more room to breathe, and with things placed a bit more apart, mobility challenged people will have an easier time moving around.
Instead of having needles behind the counter, needles are now kept next to the counter.  This means it’s easier to look through the needles.  With well-labeled boxes, I think it was easier to look through and find the needle I wanted.  Still, they had the needles separated out into different brands. Perhaps it’s just my approach to organization, but I probably would have organized completely by size, and allowed brands to intermingle.  But with many people being loyal to a particular brand of needle, it probably makes sense to have them separated out.
One of the things that really struck me was the wealth of natural light that is in the new store. It’s a hard thing to manage for yarn stores – on one hand, natural light conveys a welcoming space, and lets colors shine. However, sunlight can be very harmful to certain acid dyes, and cause noticeable fading. I don’t envy the store trying to balance the two elements, but it made the space particularly welcoming, especially at the table area for classes.
Another great element to the new store is a help desk, right next to the register.  Isn’t it lovely?
Perhaps my favorite feature of the store is these shelves against the windows.  I think, if you added pillows or cushions, these would make the most perfect window seats.  This is perhaps influenced by my burning desire all my life to have a room with a window seat.

Snow Day? And stories about Newport

Today was supposedly a snow day – not that you would know it from where I was standing.  Michael stayed home though, which meant I was super productive – by the end of the day my brain hurt something fierce.  Mostly, my head has been buried as I have several design due-dates, both personal and professional I’m trying to meet before the wedding.  It may very nearly kill me.

On a higher note, yesterday I went to The Yarn Spot for the first time in forever.  I was sick, and planning the wedding and… well, just run down.  It was SO GOOD to see people I hadn’t seen in forever.  I need to get there more.

Much to my surprise I found that Victoria had arranged for the most wonderful gesture for me – I was nearly beside myself.  There, on the table, was my sample (the one I crocheted for Classic Elite).  Victoria had made sure to be the first store in the trunk show when the pattern went out.  There I am, dopey happy grin on my face, copy of the pattern in my hand, and crochet top (which I thought I’d never see again – samples are not typically returned to the designer) in my hands.

I was beyond myself.

Anyway, this is the unofficial way of announcing that my crochet pattern with Classic Elite is now out.  The collection is called Surf’s Up #9213, and it’s available for purchase at your local yarn shop.  The pattern is called Newport.

I’ll talk more about it in the next few days.

For now?  I’ve got a dopey grin pasted on my face.  My LYS loves me.

Moving On and Changing Focus

When I was younger I used to get the most awful growing pains.  Often they would come at night and leave me tossing and turning as I tried to find a position that would work so that I wouldn’t feel the pain.  Luckily, like most children, I grew out of the pain (and my clothes!) and settled into my new skin.  But I still remember those wakeful nights.

Classes at The Yarn Spot

I’ve been kept up with another type of growing pain these last few weeks – as I’ve come to face that the time Tinking Turtle needs to grow, and the time has to come from somewhere, and I have only so many hours in the day.  It is with bittersweet feelings that I’ve come to the conclusion that I can no longer fit working at The Yarn Spot into my weekly routine.  I need to focus my energy on the great things I have planned for my business.  It is not fair to The Yarn Spot that I work for them while my brain is somewhere else.

It would be remiss of me to not mention how much The Yarn Spot has done for me – letting me develop and hone my teaching style, helping me make connections in the industry and teaching me about many of the different things that go on behind the scenes of running a Yarn Retail Business.  Thank you very much to Victoria and Marianne for giving me so many different opportunities – and for being very forgiving when I made mistakes.

The Yarn Spot is most graciously hosting a party in honor of this transition at the store.  It will be occurring on January 31st from 4-6 pm.  I hope you can make it!

*Pokes Head Out*

I don’t know about anyone else, but the holidays are taking their toll.  It seems like a confluence of tasks for planning the wedding, plus general Christmas preparations has left me with very little brain to spare.

Last weekend I had a class at The Yarn Spot teaching students to crochet stuffed animals.  The class used three of Fresh Stitches patterns: the brontosaurus, the cow, the turkey and the owl.  Out of a class of four, two chose the brontosaurus, one the owl and one the cow.  I brought a half-finished cow to the class so everyone could see the different techniques I was teaching.

I tried to get a picture of the half-finshed cow, but I had a day where I couldn’t seem to take a decent picture.  There was always either a thumb or cat in the picture.  The best I could do was this:

I’ve been working hard in the background on some neat developments.  I hope to be able to announce them before the end of the year – but we’ll see.

Anyhoo, the cow has gotten me on a crochet kick, and I’ve got some cute little stuffed animals planned for various people over Christmas.  I also have a deadline four days before Christmas, so we’ll see how that goes.  *Wince*

How are you preparing for the New Year?

Interview with Lee Wittenstein and Walk the Dog

Today we’ve got an interview for you in two
parts to celebrate Lee Wittenstein’s release of a new pattern – Walk the Dog.  One part is here, the other part is at TheYarn Spot’s blog.  I can claim both on
behalf of myself and The Yarn Spot that we’re so proud of Lee, and are looking
forward to seeing more of her patterns published by herself and others in the
A little bit about Lee:  I first met Lee at The Yarn Spot, where I was
working my normal shift.  I had heard
about the talented Lee, but had never met her as our shifts and schedules
rarely overlapped.  She came into the
store that day to pick up some yarn, and I remember her big smile, her cheerful
personality and her incredible knowledge about knitting.  I told her as she was leaving we would have
to get together more often, as it was already clear that I wanted to get to
know her more.  Lee is really a member of
the “fiber tribe” having been taught knitting by her grandmother and being
raised in a “fiber friendly” household. 
Her mother co-runs the popular Yarns International, and Lee has been
working at or with yarn stores since 1987.
Lee, tell me a little bit about the Inspiration you had for “Walk the Dog?”
Lee: My friend the dog walker wanted a hat
for her “big head.” She is outside all winter long and needed to be
warm.  She also wanted it to match her coat and be machine washable. 
One of my go-to-yarns for machine-washable is Spud and Chloe Sweater
There was a great match for her coat and so the first version was born. 
Once that was knit I gave it to her, of course, and then set out to make a
second one for my pattern.
was the Yarn you used for the second one?
For the second one I wanted something more
luxurious.  Cascade’s Venezia Worsted fit that bill and is available at my
LYS, The Yarn Spot.
is your design process like?  Do you
sketch or swatch?
I don’t sketch because I can’t draw.  In
fact, for a long time I thought that I couldn’t be a creative, artistic type if
I couldn’t draw.  Now I know that is so not true but I still can’t
draw.  I always swatch.  To get a feel for the yarn, to decide what
needle size will give the effect I want, to check gauge. That said, I don’t always
fully block the swatch. (Bad designer) I design on the needles so I use my
finished piece to determine final gauge.
kind of questions or problems do you try to solve as a designer?
I like that question.  I think my
best designs have come out of trying to fill a need for someone
specific.  Like Walk the Dog.  And a secret design
that will be revealed in a few months. (Did I pique your interest?)
Other design inspirations are visual – a pattern I see on a blanket and want to
try to make work on a hat.  Or a mosaic tile pattern that would
look great on a cowl.  One of the things I love about being a
designer is that everywhere I go there is fodder for my

know I have designers in the industry I look up to – either because of their
business model or because they’re doing something really cool that I wish I had
thought of.  Who are your favorite
designers right now – the people you would like to emulate?
There are a lot of people doing really
interesting things. It is hard to mention only a few.  But I
will.  I admire people who think outside the box–Norah Gaughan springs to
mind.  Ann Weaver‘s use of color and her sources of inspiration are
amazing.  Kate Davies is an inspiring designer who has a modern take on
traditional knitting. 
do you envision your business in the next five years?
I hope I am still here, still doing designs
that I love and that lots of other people love too.  I don’t have a formal
five-year plan or anything like that.  The designing business has come out
of my real love for knitting, yarn and the knitting world.  I hope to
still be a productive, creative part of it all in five years (or more!)
are some of the projects we can look forward to from you in the future?
I have three projects that are just a wee bit
away from being ready to publish.  One is a cowl with easy lace and fun
colors.  Another is a mitered squares cowl which would be a good first
pattern for this technique.  I’m working up a class with that one. 
Finally, a scarf-ette in lace and garter stitch which would be a great holiday
gift.  Other things I am playing with are a cabled hat, traveling stitches
mitts and a child’s cardigan.
Lee, thank you very much
for taking the time to answer my questions. 
Check out the rest of the interview over at The Yarn Spot, Lee’s website
at, and her pattern

Stash Sunday – Three Irish Girls Kells Sport Merino Irish Sea

This yarn is being used right now in a design I’m working on.  It’s a prototype, and rough around the edges, but I think I’m onto something.  As with all my new techniques I try, the sample is being worked on a pair of socks, and I think it’s coming out lovely.

Irish Sea is a really subtle colorway, with great blue variations.  I like that it doesn’t have a tendency to pool when I’m working socks.  A little bit more color punch than a semi-solid, but it isn’t a high contrast yarn.

The Deets:

Yarn weight
Sport / 5 ply (12 wpi)
Amount stashed
1 skein = 320.0 yards (292.6 m)
Dye lot
Irish Sea

Stash Sunday – Three Irish Girls Kells Sport Merino Mojito

Mojito is meant to go with the Pansy Green, and a third green I’ll talk about later.  For one of my super secret projets.

It’s a paler and yellower green than Pansy Green, but a lovely addition to the collection.

Not much else to write about it… I don’t have very much of a story to go with this one.

The Deets:

Yarn weight
Sport / 5 ply (12 wpi)
Amount stashed
1 skein = 320.0 yards (292.6 m)
Dye lot