Using Poorly Spun Yarns: Tricks for Beginning Spinners

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Last Christmas, I received two skeins of hand spun yarn. On the surface, they looked lovely, natural, slightly scratchy but with a rustic sort of charm. When I sat down to wind them into balls for knitting, I was dismayed to discover they were the most unevenly spun and plied yarns I’d ever seen. In places, the yarn was thick enough to be chunky. In others it was as thin as fine lace. Little bits of ends stuck out in spots. The thinner spots felt like rough hemp twine while the wider spots looked as if they might just pull apart. As I wound each ball, the scratchy factor climbed until I wasn’t sure there was much, if anything, I could do beyond using them to tie up the pea trellises next spring.

The Folk reminded me, however, that we’re all beginners and these skeins were a gift. “Get Creative,” they admonished. They were right, of course. My early yarns weren’t all that great…and some still aren’t…yet, I found good ways to use them. What I really needed was to let my expectations go.

In places, the yarn was thick enough to be chunky. In others it was as thin as fine lace.

In places, the yarn was thick enough to be chunky. In others it was as thin as fine lace.

The beauty of letting expectations go is you can experiment. I didn’t expect much when I cast on my first 30 stitches that day. I ended up with a set of wristers and leg warmers that are, in deed, quite lovely.

If the thickness and twist in your yarn varies a lot as mine did, use it for very simple patterns that let your yarn be center stage. I chose a knit one, purl one ribbing because it creates a fairly flat and even fabric–a perfect stage for letting the inherent qualities of the yarn shine through.

My wristers and leg warmers are rustic and charming in a country, practical way. They go well with jeans and a tee-shirt layered under denim or flannel. They look at home when I’m out chopping wood, digging in the garden, walking in the park, or even choosing produce from the local farm stand. I’ve been surprised in the weeks after creating them to find I’m choosing them more often than some of the more elegant favorites in my collection. It’s their simple, slightly rough, durable feeling that keeps me coming back.

My legwarmers and wristers are rustic and charming in a country, practical way

My leg warmers and wristers are rustic and charming in a country, practical way

Other good choices for unevenly spun yarns are variations on the Knit-Purl ribs, like knit two, purl one or knit two, purl two. If you want to crochet, try rows of one smaller stitch, like the single or half-double crochet. You can vary the stitch by row, but don’t vary it a lot. A pattern of one row of single crochet followed by one row of half-double crochet repeated will keep it simple enough for your yarn to strut its stuff.

If you’ve got scratchy yarn, like mine was, aim to create garments that won’t to rub against your skin or will only be in contact with skin that’s less sensitive. I’ve made cowls with some of my poorly spun yarns, but those were all spun with soft fibers like silk and merino wool. This scratchy yarn would have been a complete failure so close to my neck. I had under an ounce of yarn, so I chose a set of wristers and short leg warmers. I notice the scratchiness of the wristers every now and then, but it’s easy to ignore. The legwarmers never feel scratchy even though I used the scratchier yarn to make them. If you have more than I did, like a few ounces, try crocheting or knitting a narrow belt or maybe a handbag. Scratchy yarns are often sturdier yarns, so they can stand up to the greater wear and tear that comes with that territory.

One you let your expectations slide and open yourself to playfulness in your craft, those less-than-perfect yarns you happen on (or spin yourself!) can become just as treasured as the stuff knit or crocheted from the really rich, expensive yarns. Just let go and see what takes shape!

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