Question for Spinners

I posted yesterday about the handspun wool I purchased yesterday and which I began to knit upon arriving at home. I bought 2 colours, white and acquamarine, each spun by a different person. The white is soft but the other is a bit course (but such a beautiful shade of blue!). Both look identical to my eye. But, when I knit with the blue, the strand of wool from the knitting to the ball continuously keeps turning in on itself (twisting) and driving me mad. I sometimes have to hold the ball and drop the knitting to let it twist itself right. A elderly friend who was a life-time spinner and knitter said that the wool was incorrectly spun (she guesses that the spinner sat at an angle and not straight on the wheel) and that it will not knit up well and most likely will "pill" when washed.

I'm absolutely ignorant on fibers so I'm soliciting opinions from our MWK spinners on this. As this wool was quite dear, I have a substantial investment in it.




ronhuber's picture

I am not a spinner but I do know that all wool pills to a certain extent and it is the nature of the material. I think merino is worse than other wool but I have a friend who disagrees with me. It has been my experience that wool only pills so much and when that has been shaved or cut off, you will not see any more. Is your wool one or two ply? That might have something to do with the problem you are experiencing. Maybe too, the problem might be in how it was wound into a ball. It looks as if a winder was used and the winder might have twisted the wool as it was winding it. I wonder if you you put it back into a hank and wound it by hand if it would help. Hopefully, someone a helluva lot smarter than me can help you. Again, I can't get over how beautiful that blue is.

JPaul's picture

Jesse, I'm pretty new to spinning so I may not know anything, but I don't think it much matters where the spinner is sitting...the yarn generally enters the wheels orifice at an angle anyway.

It may just be that your handspun yarn is unbalanced. When you spin yarn, you introduce twist into the fibers, which is a type of energy. One way to counteract that energy is to ply two or more singles together. The twist introduced by plying counteracts or balances the twist from spinning and the yarn is balanced (it won't twist back on itself). If it's a plied yarn, then it's possible that not enough or two much twist was introduced in the plying process. If your handspun is a single, then it's going to be unbalanced anyway.

Unbalanced yarns aren't great for knitting because they cause the fabric to bias so it looks like everything is leaning to one side. (There are exceptions, like Lopi which is a lightly spun single that isn't too unbalanced). You can find patterns for knitting with "energized" singles that take advantage of this tendency to bias and use it as a design feature or find ways to counteract it in the knitting, but they are usually for scarves and accessories and not entire sweaters.

You've got a couple of options if this is the problem (and none of them are ideal). If you've got singles, you could actually have them plied together to give you a balanced yarn. It would be a heavier yarn and you would end up with less than half of what you have now. You could actually do this even if it's a plied yarn.

You can also try putting up the yarn into skeins and giving it a good soak and then hang it up to dry. This helps set the twist. If the skein is unbalanced, it will twist when you hang it up. Otherwise it will hang straight. If it twists, you can put a little weight on it which will help a bit, but don't overdue it because if it's too much weight the yarn will lose it's elasticity and bounce and it won't be as soft. The problem with soaking is that even if it helps set the twist, once the fabric gets wet again, some of the twist will come back.

Tallguy's picture

Oh, there are so many factors that are causing you a problem, and it is hard to know without really seeing the yarns themselves.

It's true that the spinner may not have done it "correctly", but that is not a clear answer. Each yarn is correct in itself, but you cannot normally mix them in the same project. That can be part of the problem right there.

The way the spinner was sitting has nothing to do with pilling! Pills come from shorter fibres in the yarns. That is a fault, if you can call it that, in the shearing and the processing. I like combed tops to spin, because all the shorter fibres are removed, and you get a wonderful smooth yarn. But commercial mills cannot afford to waste anything, even the sweepings off the floor, so it all gets put into the yarn. There is no real way to know until you have knit and rubbed the fabric for a time to see what will happen. It's the rubbing over time that will raise those short fibres and matt them together to give you the pills. Cutting them off will eventually get rid of all the shorter fibres... but that is not a solution. The softer spun yarn will actually pill more than the hard plied one.

The twisting is a different problem. You didn't say if the yarn was a S or a Z ply. That makes a difference. It may not have been washed after the spinning, and that too makes a difference. It may have been over-plied, and the only thing to do (as you have done) is to let some of the twist come out of the yarn. A pain, but a solution. The singles may have been over twisted in the first place, and again, there is nothing much you can do with it now.

I have found that some harhness can come from the dyeing process itself. Natural white can be quite soft, but the dyed yarn will be rough and harsh feeling. Some blacks and deep blues can be the worst. I don't know why -- yet! Again, nothing you can do about it now.

So just use the yarns as they are, and make the best of it. You can find a pattern that uses the yarns evenly throughout, and hopefully they tend to balance each other in the finished fabric. The only thing is to use these yarns separately in different projects, for the purposes they were intended. Next time, get yarn from the same spinner, who is consistent in his work. Even the same spinner can change from day to day!

grandcarriage's picture

Hooray! Something that makes my BFA in fibers pay off. The reason that the yarn twists upon itself can be two fold. JPaul is correct and right on the money with his advice. (The twist, incidentally, has nothing to do with how the spinner was sitting) What has happened is that your blue yarn is over twisted: That is, the twist put in by the spinning is excessive for the fiber: This is why it may feel a little harsh and why it twists upon itself when you are knitting. Re-skeining and trying to reset the spin as Jpaul describes will help cut down on the self twisting. You may want to add a little hair conditioner or lanolin wash to the rise water to soften the fiber for wearing. If it is a fine single, you may want to think about plying it (see if a spinner can ply it against the spin of the single: if the single is on a z twist, ply an s twist.) Now, what will happen when you knit, if it is a stockinette, on the knit side, one side of the stitch will line up in a vertical row, and the other will go off at an angle. The piece itself might have a bit of a bias twist as well (parallelogram vs square or rectangle). The solution to this is to knit or purl into the back of the stitch every other row. If you can twist these stitches opposite the twist of the yarn, so much the better. A heavily textured knit, such a bobbles, basketweaves, aran patterning, etc, will also disrupt the tendency to lean or bias. Little trivia: Yarn that needed to stand up to very heavy wear was often "overspun" because it was far more resistant to pilling: the small fibers that made up the pills were more locked into the yarn by the heavy twist.

ulf's picture

In Sweden we say that the yarn is over spun and that is commom on one-ply yarn that is home spun. When you twist two threads around eachother it becomes even and 2 over psun threads becames a yarn that is strong but a bit hard. A sulotion to your twisting problem can be to knit with two threads of yarn and let them twist around each other.

kiwiknitter's picture

My thanks to the spinners who replied; your advice was most helpful to me. I was able to validate your suspicion that the wool is overspun by showing it to some knitter/spinner acquaintances. I had forgotten to add some other details about the wool: it still has the lanolin odor on it and it's WPI put it on the DK to Worsted boarderline. I had a hell of a time getting a decent fabric and ended up on 3.5mm needles. So, what has become of this wool?

I love the colour (it is gorgeous) even if the texture was a bit rough. Since I already owned the wool, I decided to "waste" some more time and try to knit it up. What a trial that was! The yarn thread from work to ball kept twisting in on itself and then working it's way up to my finger where it would become lodged. The stitches looked like crap, very uneven and sloppy, slanting (no surprise!) to the right. I could not keep a gauge/tension and had to switch needle sizes several times to keep the gauge correct for my pattern. At the end of about 6" of knitting I took a good look at it and gave up. It was so discouraging that if I'd been a beginner knitter with less experience and self confidence in my ability, I would have chucked the work, wool and needles into the rubbish bin, set it all alight, and quit knitting forever. As it was, I was terribly discouraged with nagging doubts about my ability to knit and I sinking feeling that I'd wasted both a lot of time and money. To make myself feel better, I went out and bought some more wool and started another jumper. I intend to take the blue wool back to the co-op store and see what happens. I'm going to bring the project I was knitting with it along with what I'm working on now so that I can demonstrate that I actually can knit well but that this wool has a major problem. I hope to get some sort of monetary satisfaction.

Bottom line here is that I am feeling very put-off by homespun wool and I doubt I would ever try it again. That's sad for me as I like to live "as close to the source as possible" and using non-commecially produced wool would be a preferred option.

Again, thanks for the replies to this posting!

My knitting is totally tubular!

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on.  ~Billy Connolly

kiwiknitter's picture

The end of the story: I took this beautiful wool back to the store. The management team looked it over and decided that the problem could be caused by various things, overspinning, the quality of the fleece, the breed of sheep and etc. Someone there felt I had knitted it on needles that were too small (they didn't notice that I had knitted it on 3 different sizes!) and proceded to knit a swatch on 4.5 mm and recommended this size to me. Well, I'd already tried that size but I just listened. They told me that once washed, all would come right if knitted with 4.5 mm. So I took the swatch home and washed it. It was soft, yes but the knitting still looked like a primary school student did it. I took it back and was given a refund.

Now, I would really like to use hand-spun wools but I don't fancy another experience like this; it might not have such a happy ending of a refund. How in the world can I tell if the wool is spun correctly?

My knitting is totally tubular!

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on.  ~Billy Connolly

ulf's picture

Maybe you have to wear another pair of glasses when you knit with homespun yarn. The charm of it is that´s a bit uneven and the items looks very homemade. As you said: it looks like the first thing ever knitted. Don´t change the yarn, change how you look at it!

kiwiknitter's picture

Well, god knows I need to get a stronger prescription for my eyeglasses! However, even the managers of the store (co-op operation) couldn't get it to knit up right and they agreed there was something wrong with the wool (see my last posting). That was why they were willing to refund my money.

I like charm and don't expect my knitting to look like it was done on a machine but this was over the top. I'd say it looked "sloppy". When I look at how the other hand-knit with hand-spun wool jumpers in that same store look, I know what I was doing was just not on. I'm wanting to use more hand-spun but I a bit wary of it all.

BTW: nice to see you active again on MWK. It's been far too long since you posted. Happy holidays!

My knitting is totally tubular!

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on.  ~Billy Connolly