Saturday, May 22, 2004

Washing wool yarn... 

Inspired by Jenifleur's less than Macbethian [but still irking] predicament, I thought I'd post a quick pic heavy tutorial in washing yarn, because there's no such thing as a stupid question unless it's a question that can be answered by one minute of googling, and I looked for about ten minutes and didn't find a good explanation of an easy method.

I could have sworn when I googled, that I'd seen a good online tutorial of washing wool yarn, but I must have been remembering images from these two handy sources:

  • The first (Twisted Sister's...) is more about dyeing, but has detailed info about washing and drying. The Spinner's Companion has info about using a niddy-noddy, yarn weights, washing, figure-eight ties, etc. Very handy resource for the beginning spinner.

    It's actually really easy to wash your wool. I do it all the time to get any spinning oil out and set the twist on my handspuns and it's really no big deal. But you would want to be extra careful with 1375 yds of laceweight because untangling it would be a sonofabitch. ;) The topic recently appeared on Techknit as well, (washing hemp in this case)and there are a lot of advantages to washing your yarn before you work it.

    Anyway, here's how I wash wool:

    You need to put it in a skein. If it's in a ball or on a bobbin you can make a skein by using a niddy-noddy, the funny looking thing on the right:

    If you don't have a niddy-noddy, it's cool; you can use the back of a chair, or wind it around your elbow and thumb. You can also make your own niddy-noddy out of pvc pipe. The May 8th entry of As The Yarn Turns has great, simple instructions on how to make your own niddy noddy from PVC pipe. An unfinished Ashford niddy noddy is about twelve bucks, if you're going to do much dyeing/spinning/washing you'll probably want to invest in a niddy-noddy as I found elbow skeining a pain in the er, wrist.

    So, it's on the niddy noddy, or looking like a big loop, an untwisted skein:

    You'll want to secure it at at least four fairly equidistant points with a figure-eight tie. I like to use a yarn that stands out in a contrast colour. Some people don't bother to do this, but it makes it easier for me and helps prevent tangling...and gives me something to do with those yarn scraps that are too long to really "just throw away," but too short to really use as part of a scrap yarn thing.

    Here's how you do a figure eight tie:

    Divide a section of the skein in half and thread the contrast yarn halfway through.

    Wrap it around one side and push it through, you will have one end coming out one side, and another end coming out the other side of the skein

    tie those loose ends together around the other half of the divided skein

    Do this about three more times, around the skein, more times if you are dealing with a wily skein which has given you reason to believe it will try to tangle itself as soon as you immerse it...sometimes you just get that vibe...

    Pop it off the niddy noddy. Or not, if you weren't using a niddy noddy in the first place ;P

    So, next step is to take it to the sink.

    Obviously, you want to make sure your sink is clean and free of any harsh chemicals or icky foodstuffs you don't want in your yarn.

    Place yarn in sink, place plug in drain, move faucet to a position in the sink farthest away from the skein, and turn the water on. You'll want the water as close to room temperature as possible.

    When washing wool, it is important to not "shock" it in anyway, no rapid temperature changes, and no agitation--which is why you don't run water right on to the skein unless you want it to tangle or mat. In the Twisted Sister's she mentions the formula for felting--AHA, i.e., Alkalinity, Heat, and Agitation. Two of these together can produce felting.

    So, I fill up my sink, and I rub a little bit of dishwashing liquid on my hands and foam it off in the stream of water. Dishwashing liquid does the job just fine, I like Trader Joe's Lavender and Tea Tree Oil 'cuz it smells good and it's pretty mild, but other people swear by Dawn. I'm pretty sure it's all pretty much the same:

    If you've got a stain, or you're concerned about the dye in the yarn, you can add some vinegar. About two tablespoons per gallon. Trust me, you'll be rinsing it and it won't smell like salad dressing or cat piss. I promise. The vinegar will help break down soils or oils and add acidity as extra insurance against felting.

    Squeeze the skein gently under the water to ensure saturation and let it soak for a little bit.

    At this point, it's about your preference.

    When I'm washing after dyeing, I let it soak for about five minutes, then gently spread the skein under the water, sort of spreading out the yarn, handling it only where the skein is tied. If I didn't figure8, it tangles, but I am "a dictionary definition of the word spaastic," after all. [Beastie Boys "Professor Booty"]

    Then, I pull the plug, and as the water's draining, I gently squeeze the water from the skein. Keeping the skein pushed against the opposite side from the faucet, with the plug in the drain, I let in fresh water, gently squeezing the skein to ensure saturation.

    You repeat this until the water is clear, and there isn't any more soap or dye running from the skein.

    Drain, gently squeeze as much water out as you can against the side of the sink, and lift out by the figure8 ties, holding them at opposite ends so the weight of the wet yarn is fairly equally distributed.
    Next, you have a few options.

    Some people put skeins in their washing machine on the spin cycle to get even more water expelled from it. When you take it out, it will feel almost dry.

    I was too lazy too walk down my stairs and past the garage to the laundry room, so I just held one end of the skein in my hand securely and whipped it around my head like a bull roarer. Then I switched hands and ends and did it again. Don't do it inside as the skein will lengthen and you might end up hitting something (or someone) with a wet whipping skein. My dogs think it's pretty neat when I do this, like a high mild sprinkler on the deck, and I feel like a wild woman.

    If it's fairly early in the day, and a nice day, you can just put a hand inside it on either side and stretch (like a quick wet block) hang one end on a plastic clothes hanger with another plastic hanger at the bottom and a very light weight on the hanger and hang it outside. Preferably not in direct sunlight, in case it heats up too quickly:

    In this case, the light weight was a dog toy, which the dogs had shown no interest in until I hung it up, so while I type, there is actually a pair of my running shoes hanging from it, as I didn't want them to pull it down by their toy.

    Some caution against using a weight, as it can stress the yarn and overstretch it so it loses its bounce. I've never used anything heavier than a pair of shoes, and never had a problem with stressed, overstretched, or bounceless yarn. YMMV, as they say.

    Other people dry their yarn in the skein like they dry their sweaters, squeezing out excess moisture by rolling it in a towel and then laying it out in some well aired place to dry.

    Whatever you can get away with.

    Okay, so I hope that was helpful at least to one or two people out there. Some people may say, "well, that's like, duh...so obvious." But I don't think it really is. We all have to learn some time, and it is really easy to end up with a tangled felted mess if you're just fartin' around.

    And I suppose, to others, with all the pictures and description, it might seem like a big hassle, but even with doing a load of dishes, and cleaning out the sink so I could wash yarn in it, making the skein and taking pictures of the process, it only took twenty minutes.

    If you do more than one skein at a time, it's the same, but for drying you might want to use one of those multple clothes hanger thingies like this one I bought at Target:

    Good luck, and have fun.


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