If you've visited my previous blog post in the series, 'The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Unspun Yarn, Part 1: An Introduction,' you should now have a grasp of exactly what unspun yarn is and its various advantages and benefits. This second part of the guide will provide an array of valuable tips to enhance your experience with unspun yarn.
Understanding Unspun Yarn: A Short Introduction
As the term suggests, unspun yarn is, essentially, unspun, and is often referred to as pre-yarn or wool roving. The journey of transforming raw wool into yarn typically involves steps like cleaning and carding—a process that aligns the wool fibers in preparation for spinning. For unspun yarn, this process halts after carding, leaving the wool twist-free and ready for use. To delve deeper into the concept of unspun yarn, you can refer to my previous, more comprehensive blog post, 'The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Unspun Yarn, Part 1: An Introduction'.
Tips and Tricks for Working with Unspun Yarn
Before You Begin: Preparation is Key
Unspun yarn typically comes in plates or wheels. Before embarking on your knitting project, it's advisable to hand-wind the yarn from plates into balls. This step is especially critical if you plan to knit with multiple strands of unspun yarn simultaneously while working on stranded-colourwork.
Take two plates of yarn and locate the ends on the outer side of each plate. Combine them and wind a ball as usual, ensuring it fits comfortably within your hand. Be sure to wind the yarn loosely to prevent strain that could cause the yarn to break mid-project. The goal is to create balls that are easy to work with and will unwind seamlessly as you knit.
The ball should be neither too small, which could lead to constant reattachment, nor too large, as the weight of the ball could contribute to breakage. While some knitters may prefer to skip this step, knitting directly from the plate, always remember to knit from the outer side of the plate and handle the yarn gently if you choose this method.
Although bypassing this step and diving right into knitting might seem tempting, working with a single ball is more manageable than knitting straight from the plate. Not only are balls more portable, but they also make working with multiple colors simpler than managing several plates. While you'll eventually develop your own preference, trying to work from a plate for the first time may prove challenging and could cause unnecessary frustration.
Personally, I adhere to this method every time. Over the years, it has become a part of my small cast-on ritual, initially inspired by Caroline's, the owner's of Höner och Eir's own cast-on ritual for Nutiden yarn. I take my favourite project basket or bag and wind up these compact balls of yarn. Don't see this as a chore—give it a try. I find that there's something profoundly satisfying and mindful about hand-winding yarn.
Casting On and Off with Unspun Yarn
Casting on and off with unspun yarn can present a challenge, particularly for those who are new to this type of yarn. If you're a beginner, a useful tip is to hold the unspun yarn along with a single strand of silk mohair or a comparable lace-weight yarn during these stages.
If incorporating an additional strand of spun yarn isn't practical, you can still achieve excellent results by being extra cautious, working in small sections, and felting the yarn as you go. While this method may require a bit more patience, it proves equally effective. This technique can be especially beneficial if your pattern calls for a more sophisticated technique, such as the Italian Tubular Cast-On/Bind-Off or any Sewn Bind-Off.
For your initial venture into working with unspun yarn, I suggest starting with a straightforward long-tail cast-on or a similar variation. The German Twisted Cast-On, also known as the Old Norwegian Cast-On, provides a stretchier alternative.
Please don't be discouraged if the cast-on step proves challenging—it will get easier with practice, and once you've accomplished this, the most difficult part is behind you until you're ready to cast off.
Handle with Care
If you're new to knitting with unspun yarn, you might need to treat it with extra care while knitting. Take your time and avoid pulling the yarn too forcefully, as this can lead to breakage. This is why I recommend winding balls; when knitting from a plate, you'll need to be extra slow, or the strand might break from tugging and the weight of the plate.
Despite your best efforts, breakage might occur. Don't worry; this is a normal part of working with unspun yarn and is easily fixable. If a break happens, simply overlap the two ends of the yarn and rub them together with a bit of warm water. The heat and friction will encourage the fibers to felt together, creating a strong bond.
Errors can and do occur. They are a natural part of hand-knitting, and at times we may need to unravel the last few rows or even the entire project. In general, when working double-stranded with only unspun yarn and using fairly simple stitch patterns or colorwork, this should not pose a problem. As long as you take it slow and treat your yarn gently, you should be able to salvage most of it.
Issues begin to arise when the yarn gets tangled due to more complex stitch patterns, or when it was used alongside a stronger yarn such as silk mohair. Although silk mohair can be a valuable ally while casting on and can offer many benefits to knitting, it can be a nemesis when unraveling. The strand of silk mohair, being the stronger and spun fiber, might cut the unspun strand, leaving you with a strand of silk mohair interspersed with fluffy, broken bits of unspun yarn.
Before you unravel, consider the severity of the mistake and if it can be corrected without compromising the garment. For example, you could decrease a couple of stitches on the spot or use a duplicate stitch to rectify minor mistakes in colorwork.
Prevention before damage control
The thickness of a single strand can vary within a plate of unspun yarn, and you may find that some sections are thinner than others. Thinning can occur even when the yarn is held double—it can also happen because of the weight of the ball or plate and strain from slow knitting pulling the fibers apart. If you notice your stitches are getting more see-through and thinner, it's better to act proactively. Allow the yarn to break, unravel the last few thinning stitches, and simply overlap the strands again, reinforcing them as you continue knitting. It's better to do this in advance than to repair the garment or accessory later.
By following these few simple steps, you can reduce the chances of yarn breakage, ensuring your knitting experience with unspun yarn is both pleasurable and stress-free. Despite its fragility, unspun yarn is an extraordinary material to work with, due to its versatility, unique texture, and the ability to create cosy, lightweight garments.
Considerations for Your Finished Project
Durability and Wear
Garments crafted from unspun yarn can last for years when properly cared for. Yes, pilling may occur, and initially, it might happen quite frequently. However, you can easily use a razor to shave off the pills. Additionally, your sweater will subtly alter its shape over time, conforming to your body, gaining more drape, and softening considerably. With this natural change, there might come a time when your sweater might become a dedicated cozy piece at home or no longer fit for wear.
You might want to explore new ways to repurpose it. Consider felting it in a washing machine and transforming it into a pillowcase or perhaps giving it to your dog as an extra comfy bedding for the colder months. For all dogs, especially those without a double coat to regulate their body temperature, wool can be beneficial for the same reasons it is for us—it insulates and helps regulate body temperature. I know my huskies love sleeping on my 'unloved' wool sweaters in winter!
When washing your completed project, it's crucial to hand wash it using a mild detergent in cold or lukewarm water. Submerge the garment gently, allowing it to soak, and avoid unnecessary pulling or swirling, as this could cause felting.
After washing, roll the garment in a towel and gently press out any excess water, taking care to avoid wringing it. Allow it to air dry flat to maintain its shape, and refrain from hanging it to dry, a practice not recommended for any woolen garment.
Upon the first wash, the wool will begin to soften, and this process will continue over time. While many types of unspun yarn, such as Nutiden yarn from Höner och Eir and Manchelopis from Wooldreamers, are quite soft and lofty to begin with, it's important to bear this in mind, particularly if you're initially discouraged by the scratchiness of certain other unspun yarn types. These can include those made from specific types of sheep's wool, such as Plötulopi. However, remember that the more you wear the garment, the softer it will become, so don't be quick to relegate it to the back of your cupboard.
From personal experience, I can vouch for the durability and comfort of unspun yarn. After knitting it, my mossy green Loki Raglan sweater - knitted in Plötulopi - quickly became a reliable companion for all my chilly-weather hikes. Despite extensive wear, it's still holding up well. Over time, it has softened incredibly and developed a beautiful drape.
Given wool's inherent antibacterial and odor-resistant properties, frequent washing isn't necessary. If needed, you can simply hang the garment outside to freshen it up.
A Final Note
While working with unspun yarn may require a bit more attention and mindfulness, the unmatched warmth, texture, and distinctive aesthetics it offers make the effort entirely worthwhile.
If you're new to unspun yarn, remember to handle it gently and take things slow. I assure you that once you get the hang of it, it won't feel significantly different from working with spun yarn and it won't notably hinder your progress.
I encourage you to cherish this initial experience and seize the chance to truly savour the knitting process from start to finish. Often, we race through projects so swiftly that they're over before we even realize. Unspun yarn gives you an opportunity to slow down. So, take it easy and decelerate.
I hope that with the information provided in this guide, you're well-prepared to embark on your unspun yarn journey. Remember, the most crucial part is to enjoy the process!
If you've found these tips helpful and have successfully knitted your own pieces, I'd love to see your work! Moreover, I consider this guide a work in progress, open to improvement. So, if you have any questions about something I may not have included, feel free to drop me a comment. And if you enjoy these series of guides, don't forget to share your creations using the hashtags #UnspunYarnGuide and #woodlandsknits, and tag me on Instagram @woodlandsknits. Happy knitting!