How to straighten used yarn
Recently I shared a post about unraveling thrift store sweaters to reuse the yarn. This continuation will show you how to straighten used yarn that’s been frogged, whether it’s from a thrift store find, or from a project of your own. Whether you are working with natural fibers like wool and cotton. or with synthetic fibers like acrylic and nylon.
The process of getting the kinks out of yarn is called blocking, much like blocking a finished project such as a sweater or scarf. There is wet blocking and there is steam blocking. If you are working with natural fibers, those from animals and plants, then you will want to use wet blocking. If you are working with synthetic fibers, you will want to use steam blocking.
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First it needs to be made into unwound hanks
I started out with the yarn I had unraveled from my thrift store find, which consisted of mostly acrylic (73%) and nylon (13%) with a little bit of wool (7%) and cotton (7%). I tried wet blocking first since that is the process with which I am familiar. It didn’t work for this yarn because it is mostly made up of synthetic fibers. So I steam blocked it next.
This first part about winding your yarn into hanks and tying them will apply no matter which type of fiber you are using.
The first thing you will need to do is get your yarn into the proper configuration. If you are used to buying yarn from indie dyers and specialty shops you’ve likely already experienced yarn that has not been wound into a center-pull ball or skein. These are sometimes called hanks.
I use a yarn swift for this, and you can get one that is similar to mine here if you are interested. But if you don’t have a swift you can use any object that is between about 34″ and 65″ around. If you have smaller amounts of yarn, you will want to use an object on the smaller end of that range, and conversely, a larger object for a larger amount of yarn. A swift is adjustable, so it can work anywhere within that range.
I loosely tie one end of my yarn to a spot where the plastic pieces join in an X, place the yarn ball in a bowl, and start turning the swift clock-wise until all the yarn is wrapped around the swift. Keep a little tension on the yarn as you wrap so that it isn’t overly loose and falling off the swift, but don’t overdo it.
You will tie the ends around the skein so that you create something like a figure eight around it. Split the yarn in half, pull an end between those halves but catch it under itself, then wrap it around the other half and tie a loose knot. Use scrap yarn or thread to tie the skein in other places making a figure eight as shown above. A tie every 12-18″ will be sufficient, but I would have at least four ties on any skein, even if it is small. These ties will help keep your yarn from getting tangled while wet.
Then your natural fibers need to get wet
Once I wound several of my yarn balls into hanks I had this curly pile. Isn’t it interesting how pretty this is? I don’t know why exactly, but I always love the look of yarn after it’s been unraveled.
Next, fill a small wash tub with cold water. I like to add a bit of Eucalan to the water to give the fiber a wash. If the item you unraveled has been used, you’ll want to wash it in this step. You can get Eucalan’s delicate wash here, which is my favorite because it doesn’t need rinsing out. You can use Woolite, available here, or any delicate wool wash that you prefer. Put the yarn in and gently press it under the water. Let it soak for about fifteen minutes. If it is an animal fiber, be sure not to agitate it. Felting isn’t likely when you use cold water, but we don’t want to take any chances!
Now it needs to hang to dry
I prefer to do this next part while standing in my shower. You could work over a sink, or you could work outside, but you will be squeezing water out of the yarn and hanging it to dry, so plan accordingly. You will need hangers or a drying rack, or possibly both.
I know, this looks like quite a mess, LOL. Pull each skein of yarn out of the water. If you grab it where one of your ties is positioned, it will be easiest to get it untangled. hold it from one end and squeeze the water out starting at the top and working your way down. Don’t slide your hand down the yarn, because that is abrasive, but squeeze, release, move down, repeat until you’ve squeezed all the way down.
Then place both thumbs inside the ends of the skein so that the skein is stretched between your hands. Bring your hands together a little, and then quickly move them apart to “snap” the skein between your hands. This step always seems a bit magical to me. The yarn just goes limp and drapey after that and the kinks come right out. Since I started this wet blocking process with my synthetic fiber yarn, it didn’t do that here, but your natural fiber yarn will.
Hang the skein from a drying rack, or loop it around the hook of a hanger and hang it from a shower curtain rod, or outside…somewhere it can drip without making a mess. If you feel it is needed you can hang a sack with a canned food item from the bottom of the skein to add weight. However, my experience is usually that natural fibers don’t need this weight. Leave it hanging until it is completely dry. Interested in a drying rack like this one? Get it here.
This is my synthetic-fiber yarn after the wet blocking was finished and I twisted it into a hank. It’s still very kinked and curled.
I block yarn frequently because I spin yarn. You always block your handspun yarn after making it to set the twist in it just right. So I already know that wet blocking is effective for natural fibers. But I wanted you to see it for yourself, so for this demonstration I unraveled a scarf from my finished projects collection that had fallen short of my intentions for it. I crocheted this probably 6 years ago, or so. It was made of wool held together with a sparkly thread. Then that was edged with cotton.
I followed the same process that I detailed above. The left photo is the scarf. The center photo is my curly, unraveled, tied skeins. The right picture is showing the skeins after wet blocking — nice and straight. So you will use that wet blocking process for all your natural fibers.
Synthetic fibers need steam
If you are working with synthetic fibers, you will need to steam block. I actually hadn’t done this before, but I had been told by others that steaming was the way to go with synthetics. So, I tried it out to straighten the fiber from my thrift store sweater and it was very effective.
You can try hanging the yarn in a steamy bathroom if you don’t own a steamer, but I think you will get better results with an actual steamer. If you go the steamy bathroom route, I would try adding the weighted grocery sack to the bottom. The steamer is preferable because it directs the steam right at the yarn. The one I have is no longer available, but you can get one of the same brand on Amazon.
You will hang the yarn from the drying rack, or over the hook of a hanger. Prepare your steamer. Place one finger through the loop at the bottom of the yarn hank and apply some moderate downward pressure. Hold the steam nozzle of the steamer very close to your yarn, maybe 1/4 of an inch away or less. Start at the top of the skein and very slowly move down, then rotate your skein to expose more kinked yarn, and repeat until you’ve steamed the whole thing. And…voila! No more kinks!
The top skein in this photo was steamed. The bottom skein was wet blocked. Note that this yarn is primarily acrylic and nylon, so steam blocking was the correct method to use.
Well, there you have it. Now you know how to straighten used yarn. From here you can wind it into a yarn cake or ball and use it, gift it, sell it. Whatever you like. Not sure how to wind it? You can wind a center-pull ball by hand with my tutorial found here.