Give It a Strong Finish!
Welcome to a new year of fiber, spinning and fun! We've always envisioned our blog being not only a place to let you know what is currently going on here at Created by Elsie B, but an educational platform as well, giving our readers tips, tricks and techniques to get the most out of your fiber. We periodically get technical questions, either on our Facebook page, in a blog comment, on Instagram or even via private message. While we are happy to send over whatever resources we have at hand, we want to have that information more readily available. Today we're going to dive into finishing, so you can create stable and stunning yarns from your spins that both wear well and give you the wow factor! Finishing isn't a particularly difficult process, but it is a quite important one.
When you're done spinning and plying, you will have a pretty compact parcel of yarn that is still on a bobbin. In order to properly finish, you need to remove your yardage to a skein where it is more open and accessible. The easiest way to do this is to wrap your yarn around a niddy noddy. This simple tool is incredibly useful and relatively inexpensive, so we definitely recommend having one on hand. (You can also use a skein winder like we do at Elsie B headquarters, but it's a more expensive tool.) Once all your yarn is wound off, use a figure eight knot to loosely tie your skein in at least four places. This not only holds the skein together but keeps the fibers themselves from excessive movement as the twist is still active at this point. Remove your skein, and you're ready to give your yarn a little bath!
2. Wet Finish
Arguably the most important step, wet finishing is essential to creating a quality skein of handspun yarn. (Some types of yarn, such as art yarn, benefit from alternative methods such as steam finishing.) Washing your spun fiber sets the twist, fluffs everything up and even cleans off any residual bits that you don't want in your finished yarn. Luckily, it's pretty simple to do! Fill a sink with warm to hot water with a small amount of rinse-free wool wash. Submerge your skein, allowing all the fibers to soak in water. Swish gently without agitation and allow the skein to soak - ten minutes is fine if you're in a hurry, but you can leave it in longer. Remove any visible debris, lift your yarn from its bath and squeeze very gently before laying it on a towel. Use the towel to pat and press any remaining excess moisture.
On a side note, there are times when you will want different results which require adjustments to this process. If you have a fiber blend that is prone to shedding, for example, you will want to purposely felt your skein slightly in order to full the yarn. To do this, alternate very hot and very cold water baths and agitate the yarn a bit as you wash it.
There are different names for this process, so whether you've heard it called thwacking or snapping, it's describing the same thing. Also optional, and a little weird, we like the effect that thwacking gives to finished yarn. It gives your skein a bit of a shock and helps to further lock your fibers right where you want them and fluff things up. To thwack, you literally take your damp skein and hit it against a smooth, hard surface. (Preferably outside or in any easy to clean area; it will splatter water!) You can also snap your yarn like a whip a good half-dozen times.
Spinning is an optional step, but we like to use it to speed up the drying process a bit. We have a manual laundry spinner at Created by Elsie B that we use during the dyeing process, and it also works perfectly for finishing yarn. It functions pretty much like a large salad spinner with an easy-to-use foot pump. In fact, for smaller amounts, a salad spinner would be a great alternative. (Just don't use it for salad when you're done!) We like spinning fibers this way because it is both gentle and effective, providing centrifugal force without risking felting.
Like most steps in finishing, you can do this a dozen different ways. At Created by Elsie B, we hang both dyed fiber and finished yarn to dry by draping it over plastic hangers. You can hang yarn from a railing or shower rod - just keep in mind that your fibers can still drip at this point. Some people drape their drying yarn over a drying rack or hang it outside in the sun. (Our photo shows Chincoteague drying on the back of a padded chair in the shower.) Most configurations will work as long you aren't hanging yarn over anything that could rub on your fibers and damage them. You can measure your finished yardage now. This will be quite easy if you used a niddy noddy or skein winder because you will have consistent lengths and can just count strands to determine how much yarn you have created.
At this point, you can take your finished yarn, twist it back on itself in the skein and store it as is. If you are planning on knitting or weaving it, however, you will want to pull from a ball. If you're really old school, you can hand wind a ball, but we like the ease of using a ball winder, personally. Store it like you would any other ball of wool yarn - aka, away from moisture and bugs in a sealed container such as a baggie.
There you have it! You have not only spun your own handcrafted yarn, but finished it beautifully and are all ready to weave, knit or crochet a stunning handmade project.
Do you finish in a different way? What variations of our process do you find work for you best? Share your favorite finishing techniques!