Ripening Yarn

Yarn is like a fine wine. While it can be used immediately upon production, the best yarn goes through a process known as ripening.

While I am somewhat shocked that there is not more literature devoted to the topic, it really should come as no surprise. Most knitters seem to instinctively age their yarn, with no prompting from the masters. However, it is always my mission to serve and educate, so I hope these words will help enlighten the few who do not currently age their yarn and may be missing out on the benefits.

The first thing to know is this: the process is not something that can be performed by the manufacturer. Ripening must occur at home, although not necessarily by the person who will knit it.

Upon purchase, the knitter may be tempted to cast on as soon as the yarn is home, or even before the yarn has left the shop! Avoid the temptation. An improperly aged yarn will still provide some enjoyment, but much of the experience is lost.

Instead, put the yarn in your knitting bag. Avoid having the yarn balled if at all possible. A balled yarn cannot breathe like it needs to and many of the ripening rituals will be impossible to perform.

Different techniques exist at this point, but my method generally begins with leaving the yarn in my knitting bag for a few days, especially over a weekend if possible. This allows the purchase to be shown to many people who can bless the yarn with their adoration. They should be encouraged to pet, caress and even dive in to the skein. The process loosens the fibers slightly, giving the yarn a better drape once it is finally ready to be knit.

After the yarn has received sufficient exposure to the outside world, it is ready to come home but should not be placed in the stash yet. First, open the skein up. Wrap it around your neck a couple of times and wear it as a cowl for a bit. Be sure to rub it against your cheek and give it a loving caress or two. Adore your face surrounded in fibery goodness in the mirror. This may or may not actually improve the yarn, but it’s a whole lot of fun.

Re-skein the yarn and place it in an open place in your home. The location should be clean, bright and well traveled. The dining room table is good provided there is no active eating going on. Over the next few days, give the yarn an occasional pet while looking lovingly upon it. I even like to thrust my nose into it and give it a good sniff now and then. Finally, your yarn is ready to be stashed.

Like wine cellars, stashes vary widely, but I do believe that there is a true and proper way to construct a stash. First, I will address the environment.

Children and pets that have a penchant for yarn should be eliminated. While I understand that some people are attached to their kids, do your best to let the yarn take priority. A fine yarn really is worth the sacrifice.

Moisture is also to be avoided. The kitchen or bathroom are not ideal for stashing, although the yarn may make a foray or two into these areas if you need some company for, say, your morning cup of coffee. Yarn responds to appreciation and exposure to its people. Give it lots of love.

Lighting is always a matter of controversy. There are those who say that a dimly lit area is best to protect the colors, but I am a firm believer that yarn is meant to be appreciated in all of its forms- including color. That means a brightly lit area. Spotlights that provide dramatic lighting directly above the stash are splendid, but a room with a large window will do.

To allow the yarn to rest, I am a fan of the wire rack modular shelving available at most department stores. Although they do have a “cheap” look, they make the yarn visible from nearly all angles. A mirrored curio cabinet is also appropriate, but it lacks the infinite expandability of modular shelving. Whichever option you choose, viewing the yarn helps it feel appreciated and (hopefully) makes it more cooperative once it comes time to turn it into its final form.

I like to leave the yarn in the stash for at least a few months. At minimum, a few weeks is necessary to really allow the yarn to be properly appreciated before knitting.A few years may be excessive as dust may begin to collect. If the yarn will sit for extended periods, take it out and give it a little activity to keep it loose and shake out the dust.

Under no circumstances should the yarn be stored in a dark closet. A forgotten yarn is a sad yarn. You will find that it can become resentful and will reward your neglect with unmanageable tangles. I’ve even heard of yarn, in a fit of rage, releasing eight legged skeletons on its owner in a plain display of spite.

Although the effort may be substantial, a well aged yarn is a thing of beauty. Follow this simple guide and you will be pleased.


Bill's picture

A wonderful, thoughtful essay...but not entirely practical.
It's fine for that one beautiful skein...but it's been years since I bought just one.
...somehow, I'm going to find it difficult to wear all my day's yarn purchases around my neck as a cowl....

AKQGuy's picture

Please attach a picture if you try.

bobinthebul's picture

Nice. :) Bill's post reminds me of another important issue - try not to separate the litter. A single skein is a sad skein; you should always get at least two so they can keep each other company as they're getting acquainted with their new surroundings and community. Cultural differences between merino and angora can be an issue at first, and interspecific fibers can fight like...sheep and llamas in the beginning. But eventually everyone will get along just fine and why go breaking up such a wonderful friendship just because you want to knit a sock?

MMario's picture

A concise and thoughtful essay - may I share it with my Yahoo group?

MMario - I'm not divorced from reality - we're having a trial separation

knittingman's picture

Please do! Perhaps give a teaser section and then link to the blog at

Potter's picture

Nice essay. Very enlightening, too.

Thomasknits's picture

Be sure not to wind the yarn into a ball before aging!

This was very entertaining.