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 Visual Tour of TNNA 2015, in Columbus, OH

I’m at TNNA this weekend (I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon), and having a ball.  It’s a lot of networking (which can sometimes be a little hard), but it’s also just so wonderful to spend time with people who are passionate about the same things.

However, after using my words all day. I’m fairly worded out.  So today’s a brief visual tour to TNNA, with captions.


Bags full of knitted and crochet goodies, for the fashion show!

Getting Ready to the TNNA Fashion Show, backstage.

Painted Canvas Trolley with Ashland, VA on the side

Ashland, VA represented! I was shocked.


Knitted and Crochet Teepee with Addi's booth.

Knitted and Crochet Teepee in Addi’s booth.

My mittens at the Willow Designer Breakfast at TNNA.

My mittens at the Willow Designer Breakfast at TNNA.

Making net out of Sprang.

Learning how to work Sprang with Carol James – she’s a really great teacher!


There were so many other things I want to share with you, and I will, once I get home.  I have yarns I’m excited about, patterns and opportunities.  But for now, I really should get ready for tomorrow… and figure out how I’m going to get all my yarn home.

Dyeing with Food Coloring – A Great (And Safe!) Alternative to Commercial Dyes

I’ve had a couple of people ask how I did the food coloring dyeing with the children in my camp.  This post is how I went about it, which is by no means an exact recipe.

First, I filled buckets with tap water and vinegar.  As a note, vinegar worked but many of the campers complained of the smell.  Next year I plan to try citric acid.  I used, per quarter gallon, about one or two slugs.  The roving (you could also use yarn, as long as it’s 100% wool) was then soaked in the solution for about 15 minutes.

The roving was then removed and squeezed dry.

I used paper and then saran wrap over it to cover the tables, which prevented dye from getting everywhere.

Using the leftover vinegar water, I poured small amounts into plastic cups, and then added the food coloring.  I used super-concentrated gel food coloring, which worked really well.  The children used sponges to apply the food coloring – one sponge to a color.

Results came out best when the children didn’t get their roving overly wet – just damp enough that the color adhered to the places they were applying.  They used the sponges like stamps, soaking up color and then “stamping” it onto the roving.
 When the children were done applying color, we wrapped the roving in a long piece of saran wrap, which then went into a freezer-safe bag.  Freezer safe bags are much sturdier, so they held up better to the next step.

 When I got home, I took the roving, still in the plastic bag, and microwaved the roving for 2 minutes, allowed it to cool, then microwaved it for another 2 minutes.

 After the roving had cooled, the piece was removed from the plastic bag and the seran wrap.  The roving was gently rinsed in cool water, gently squeezed dry (to prevent felting) and then was hung to dry.

 There was no running of dye, and the colors were very bright.

Takeaway:  Sometimes colors do not show true until after microwaving.  This was a source of concern for campers; try to explain that the colors will “settle” once they are fixed to the fibers.
Some people recommend using sugarless cool-aide (as it already has the dye AND the citric acid in the powder).  I preferred doing it this way: the food coloring provided a larger range of colors and the ability to control more variables.

Safely into the New Home

Our new (rental) house, from the front.

As you might have been aware, the last three weeks have been a gradual transition, moving from busy Silver Spring, MD to the slower pace of Ashland, VA.  I’m just getting settled into the new home, my desk set up (roughly) in the new space.  I sit from the spareness of my makeshift desk, Watson in my lap, as I try to figure out what I need to get done.  I went to find a pen to make a list and it took 15 minutes.  Finding the paper to write on took 10 more.  It’s going to be a couple of pretty rough weeks for the business.

It seems the answer to every question is, “It’s packed, somewhere.”

But I can see, out of the shape of chaos, how things will be when they are done.  Just like knowing that tangled yarn will, eventually, become an orderly ball, I know that somewhere, there are the threads of a routine and habit.  I know that the boxes will vanish.  We’ll get more shelving, so I can see my yarn.  There will be a real desk instead of a temporary setup.  It will come.

Right now, I’m enjoying the bright light shining into my workspace, and a list of things that will get done and checked off.  I like that I’m no longer living in a bare-bones apartment.  I’m comforted by the familiarity of my things and my furniture, my cats and my tea.  It will be all right.

Attack of the Yan Snatchers!

Yesterday a Michael was getting ready for work he told me that he had a dream about the cats getting into the yarn.  After he was finished telling me about the dream, I commented how long it had been since the cats had gotten into the yarn – I’d gotten good about making sure to put things away at the end of the evening.  He laughed and headed out of the bedroom as I began dragging myself out of bed, when suddenly I heard, “Sweetheart…” and the note in his voice made me very nervous.

“The cats got into your yarn.”
Michael must have heard the cats running around in his sleep and realized what it meant.  The cats had really gotten into my yarn this time.  500 plus yards of yarn were spread throughout the main room of our apartment, threading themselves through chairs and tables, around the couch and the rest of the room.
The cats had a really good time.  Somehow Peake (and I know it was Peake, as he looked entirely too smug) managed to push open the zipper of my backpack and get into my knitting bag from there.
The last two nights have been spent untangling their mess, but I’m happy to report that no yarn was lost to their play.
It’s a good thing these guys are so cute.  I’m nearly over being mad at them.

Did you miss anything from October?

Wow, this month has gone by fast!  It seems like only a week ago Michael and I had just gotten back from our honeymoon, and now it’s going to be Halloween tomorrow!

I had 2 patterns release this month!  Interweave Crochet’s Plaited Hat and One Salt Sea.  Check them out.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Good?  Aren’t they great?

darning socks, cats, stitch markers, knitting, crochet, duct tape dress form, finishing, hairpin lace, yarn weights, apple, apple water
A Collection of October’s Pictures

In case you missed it the first time, the most popular posts from this month:
Government Shutdown and The Fiberarts Industry
How Has the Shutdown Affected the Fiberarts in Metro DC?
So You Want to Work For Yourself, Now What?
Intellectual Risk, Davidson College, and Running a Business
Bleeding Socks: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
The Benefits of Doing Something Yourself

Over at Jordana’s:
Yarn Weights: What You Need to Know When Choosing Yarn
Crochet and Fashion Week

Things I pinned.

What were your highlights from October?

Yarn Stores in India

As always on my travels, I keep my eyes out for yarns stores.  Normally, if I’m traveling to the US (or even Europe or Canada), I can look up on the internet the location of Local Yarn Stores, or at least whatever form they take in different countries.  For India, I really didn’t have the capabilities to look up local yarn stores, both because of the language difference, but also because directions can be rather uncertain in India, with none of the streets being labeled in any way that I noticed.

Still, I lucked out one particular time in Shimla, when we were wandering one of the Bazars.  I came across a yarn store.  Well, actually Michael saw the yarn store and pointed it out to me.

Inside was one of the most interesting yarn stores I’ve ever been into.  It was just wide enough that my hips passed between the shelves in places, and contained two rooms: A front room where yarn was on the shelf, and a back room that you entered by passing through a narrow opening crowned by a clock.
There were just bags and bags of yarn lying around.
As for content, the yarn was mostly acrylic and acrylic blends – much more on par with what you’d find in a big box store like Michael’s rather than a Local Yarn Store.  Not bad stuff, just rather lacking in things that weren’t acrylic, nylon and rayon.
Once I got back home I did some digging to see if I could find out more about Vardhman.  They’re an Indian Textile company that does a little bit of everything.  They mostly cater to India, but they do export yarn to Japan and thread to the United States, among other things.  They’ve got a whole listing of their yarns here.
What struck me the most about the store (and the fabric stores I went to)?  Yarn stores have just yarn.  Fabric stores have just fabric.  No tools.  Now, it might be that it was just the stores I went to, but could you imagine going to a yarn store and picking out your yarn, only to have to go to another store to get your needles?

9 Lies and Excuses we Tell Ourselves About Our Yarn Stash

I made these batts before I knew how to use a drum carder.
I finally admitted to myself that I’m never going to use them.
They are now cat toys – I felted them in the laundry.

I’m in the process of getting organized after the wedding.  This is actually stating it rather mildly – I didn’t realize how many things I’d let go in the last few weeks before the wedding, as small planning details took over much of my brain.  One of the things that has become truly noticeable is how my yarn stash has escapes it’s confines, and is now… well, everywhere.  This is even more of a problem because I have to keep track, and keep separate, stash for designing and personal stash.  I’ve had to confront a few lies and excuses I’ve been telling myself about my stash:

  1. It coordinates with XY&Z, so I should keep it. Some of the time, this is a good reason to hold onto the yarn – especially if you have plans for it.  But if it’s in a weight or fiber that you just don’t use… find a new home for it.  Ravelry has both groups and a stash page for trading or selling yarn you won’t use.  Make use of those resources.  Not familiar with Ravelry?  Then you should take my Ravelry 101 class.
  2. I spun it, thus I must use it. I know the pain of this one, I really do.  But some of the yarns I spun when I was first learning?  I’ll NEVER use.  I didn’t know how to spin what I wanted, so I either spun something too thick, or without enough body.  So, ask yourself some questions: can you give this to someone who will love it?  Can you re-purpose it?  Can you make it into something you can use?  If the answer to all of these is no, it’s time to donate that yarn.  It’s taking up space that could be for something you do use.
  3. But it was such a great deal! This is one point I used to have a lot of problems with.  Now, as a designer, I have an entirely different view about yarn.  But I come from a family of deal – hunters, and that type of upbringing is hard to resist.  Just remember – if you haven’t used it in the past two years, do you really think you are going to use it in the next two years?
  4. I’ll use it someday. Maybe you will.  But if you are like me, the appeal of something new and shiny is better than the yarn that is already in my stash.  Make room for new stuff.  Use it, or (deliberately) loose it.
  5. It’s too nice to make ___ with it. This is one I struggle with.  I have lovely, lovely yarn in my stash, and it’s so beautiful, so wonderful, I can’t find a single pattern that is worthy of it.  A lot of it is my hand-spun  which I have created with such care that I can’t possibly imagine a pattern that will highlight it’s beautify adequately  But I have to realize this: if I don’t ever use it, nobody else will ever see the beautiful hand-spun I made. Or the beautiful yarn that I found.
  6. Everyone has to have a little bit of ___, for emergencies.  This is true to a limited extent.  I recommend to everyone who makes socks to keep a couple of yards of the yarn just in case you have to darn something.  But you don’t need to keep half a skein.  You don’t need three balls of worsted weight black, so you can make eyes on your animals.  A little bit is enough. So save what you need and clear out what you don’t.  You’ll be happier for it.
  7. This dyer is out of business/isn’t available, so I have to keep it! Okay, you can’t get more of it, that is true.  But if you aren’t going to use it, it doesn’t matter how rare of a yarn that it is.  You know what I’m going to say already – be honest with yourself.  Get rid of it if you aren’t going to use it.
  8. I have such fond memories of getting this yarn. Great.  Now make something out of it, so you’ll have fond memories of making something out of it too.  Yarn is meant to be used.
  9. I got it as a gift – I don’t want to insult the person by not keeping it. I actually had a skein of yarn that my now-husband, then boyfriend gave me.  It was acrylic, and he didn’t know better, but it meant the world to me that he thought to buy it for me.  But I’d never use it for something for myself – it just wasn’t what I used.  So I made a quick gift for someone else, and kept a small ball of the leftovers.  I still have that small ball, but now someone else is made happy by what I made.
What things do you keep, even though you don’t use them?  Have you tried to bring down your collection?  How?

Yarn Bowl and Ripping

This MLK weekend Michael and I went home to his parents.  The trip was threefold: we wanted to exchange Christmas gifts with his family, Michael needed to do some work for his father’s company, and I needed to meet with the wedding photographer for wedding photos.  It was going to be a really packed weekend.

There were some great highlights to the weekend: I had a lot of fun with Michael’s mother and Michael’s family friend and neighbor (Sue).  We met with the photographer to do studio shots, and then went to the church that Michael’s parents help build for some “location” shots.  It was great.  We also worked on a surprise that I can’t talk about much more, because Michael might see.  We also did some great wedding planning with Michael’s parents, Sue and her husband Larry.  It was lovely.

There were also some real lows to the weekend.  I had a lot of nervousness about making sure my dress was ready and getting ready for the photos.  Doing hair and makeup is not my strong suit, and in previous occasions I’ve always had the luxury of having a room-mate, my mother or my sister available to help me.  (Or basically do it for me.)  I can style my hair, but nothing fancy.  I really spent a lot of time stressing about all those details before the photo-shoot  and it culminated in a bit of an emotional meltdown the morning of taking photos.  I ended up crying, which only distressed me more (because my eyes are getting red and face blotchy).  Michael managed to talk me down, and I was able to turn it around, but it was quite a bit of a low point.

Also, on the train ride home I managed to realize that my math was REALLY off for the sock design I’m working on right now.  It involves slipped stitch cables, which really draws the fabric in tight.  After getting a few inches into the ankle, I gave the sock a REALLY hard look, and decided I had to put the stitches for the afterthought heel on a holder so I could try on the sock.  The sock didn’t even get over my heel.

So… Rip rip rip went the entire weekend’s work.

Not a great feeling.

I came home really sulking about the need to rip.  Michael and I began unpacking, and that’s when my mood began to lift.  One of the things to come out of our suitcase was two Christmas gifts.  One, the yarn bowl that  you see at the beginning of the post.   Sue gave it to me, and it was a lovely gift.  A yarn bowl is something I’ve been wanting (we’ve had them at The Yarn Spot), but couldn’t justify buying for myself.  The one Sue gave me is lovely – SO my colors.

The second gift?  It involves a story.  Michael’s family is big on doing slideshows when they get together to share what has been happening in each others lives.  I love the tradition, both because I get to show off my photography, and because I like sharing our adventures.  When Michael and I went to Assanteague I took a picture as we watched the sunrise.  When we showed it to Michael’s parents it apparently left an impression. For Christmas they had it printed and framed for me.  It meant a lot – that they would treat my photography as something worthy of being framed and shown off.

So I guess you gotta take the highs with the lows – and hold the highs in your mind and let the lows go.  Meanwhile, I’ll be knitting.

In Conversation with Michael

Me: *wanders into the bathroom to brush teeth and see that Peake is playing with the drops coming out of the shower*  “Michael, Peake’s still playing with the yarn droplets, and he’s all wet.”

Michael: Yarn Droplets?

Me (confused): Yarn droplets coming out of the shower.

Michael: Yarn Droplets?

Me: Yarn droplets.

Michael: Don’t you mean water droplets?

Me: *Blinks* Oh, yeah.

My brain just completely switched the word for water for yarn.  To be fair, I’m working on a design that has to do with water right now, and is in a waterish color, and I’d spent the last hour knitting and meditating on the intersection of water and land – yarn and water were kinda already twined in my mind.

But I’m kinda glad that it’s Michael who shares my space.  He has 5 years figuring this stuff out.