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Journey Wheel

Spinning Slubby Bulky Yarn

Many people start off big spinning slubby bulky yarn, myself included. Once we tune our drafting skills and gain more control, we start to make evenly spun finer yarns.

Occasionally we run into problems trying to return to that bulky slubby stuff. This can be a big pain, especially when you have a project that calls for bulky yarn, or when you want a bit of texture in your work. [Just a note: with every new wheel or flyer I've gotten, I've had to reteach myself to spin bulky, as every wheel/flyer has its own unique ebb and flow.]

Spinning bulky yarn requires a different type of control and rhythm. I'm convinced spinning is mostly rhythm. It's all about syncing the body (hands and feet) with senses (sight and touch), when all of these personal elements are in tune, good spinning happens.

Fiber selection

When I spin bulky yarn, I go for a combed top. I prefer it for singles as the shorter and weaker fibers are often eliminated in preparation.

"Top" means the fibers are prepared for spinning by combing; which aligns the fibers side by side. This arrangement is preferred in worsted spinning. Although I am spinning this 'semi-worsted style' (which simply means that I'm spinning a traditionally worsted prep in more of woolen style and in less "true worsted style") I find this method useful for adding a good amount of loft to the yarn while retaining smoothness.

Top is often found sold displayed in 'wheels' or 'braids', from suppliers like Spunky Eclectic & Hello Yarn. Here, I chose to use my own dyed fiber.

Pre drafting is your friend.

The more you predraft, the less you will need to draft while spinning, giving you more of an opportunity to concentrate on your twist angle and TPI (twists per inch).

Starting off with a section of top that is about 2.5" across, I split it several times, until I get strips that are about the size of a pencil(roughly, a quarter of an inch).

But, I don't stop there. I take those quarter inch strips and gently give them a pull, lengthwise, to draft the fibers apart, working down the length of the strip.

Slow and steady wins this race.

Treadaling painfully slowly is key in making bulky weight yarns. If you are like me (lead footed), try practice treadling without spinning any fiber.

Once you have your slow groove on, grab your pre-drafted fiber & go for it.

I start off spinning the first two yards in about a worsted weight, I find this helpful in keeping my new yarn attached to my leader yarn.

Once a good base is established, I like to get into my "slubby rhythm".

This goes something like...

draft, draft, treadle [see left]

draft draft, treadle SLUB [see right] (no drafting)!

Once you establish your own rhythm, you will notice that your slubs become evenly distributed, based on the natural size of your drafting.

Holding it together with TPI

Bulky wool yarn takes shockingly little twist to stay together (general rule of thumb, the thinner your yarn the more twist you need). Bulky wool yarn needs about one twist per inch (TPI).

This example has slightly less, maybe .75 TPI., and has a twist angle of 27, for the bulky parts.

My thinner bits range from 2-3 TPI with and a twist angle of 17

Measuring twist angle is easier that it sounds.
All you need is:
- a protractor
- a pen
= a sheet of paper.

Drawing a straight line to serve as your anchor.
Line your protractor up with your straight line, and mark angles off in 5 degree increments.
Once you have your angles marked, you can draw lines to denote angle segments.
Place your yarn on your straight line, and look for the angle of your twist.
It’s easier to read the twist angle if you visually extend the line from your twist.
I placed some knitting needles over my yarn following the the line that the twist makes.
Read your twist angle by where your needle crosses or touches an angle line.
The bottom (tighter) twist is 20
The top (looser) twist is more like 40 (you have to imagine the yarn scooted down to catch the correct line)
The thicker the yarn, the more obtuse the angle, as the yarn thins out the angle becomes more acute, or the thicker your yarn, the less twist it needs to achieve balance.

Finish to avoid pilling

Singles are notorious for developing pills. While I've found no way to avoid them all together, there are a few things you can do to lessen the occurrence. First, pick out any neeps & noils you find.

These little lumps and bumps eventually work themselves out of the twist and become little warty pills. Another factor would be project selection. A garment that is going to be worn alot and exposed to alot of friction, like socks, wouldn't be a good candidate for use of singles. Felting projects on the other hand, are ideal. As well as hats, scarves, and trims and accents in other projects. See Shannon Okey's new book "Spin to Knit" for more project ideas.

The way you finish your yarn has a big impact on its longevity.

I finish mine by shocking and whacking. I submerge my finished hanks is water as hot as I can take it, then plunge them into cold water. Then I proceed to unleash aggression by giving them a good whack on the side of the bathtub. This helps devlop the fibers 'bloom', encourage any twist settlements you may have in your thinner bits, to inch back up into the slubs, and prevents your yarn from sticking together. (If done properly, your yarn will not felt. The key ingredience for felting are warm/hot water, soap and agitation. As long as you aren't adigtating, it will turn out fine.)
After finishing, your twist is "set". Simply place your yarn in the shower or on a drying rack. Blocking is an unnecessary step.

Don't block knitting yarn

Blocking, especially under tension or weight, degrades wool. Also, blocking is a reversible process, so it would be counter productive if you were making a knitting yarn. Think of what happens when you wash lace. Inevitably, you need to re block. The same thing will happen when you wash a garment created with a blocked yarn, it will revert back to it's preblocked state -- sproing!

Now you are done! All you need to do is wait patiently for it to dry. (In these winter months, aiming fans at your yarn helps hurry up the drying process.)

Have an issue or question you would like to see resolved here? Send email to Symeon.


Symeon Noth lives with her family in the wilds of Vermont. By day she runs her online yarn shop, whist performing jobs such as short order cook, story teller, nurse, judge and jury, teacher, juggler and all round corraller of children. By night she has been known to drink beverages of fermented grapes and lift elephants over her head.

You can visit her blog where she documents it all.