Saturday, July 23, 2011

Yarns in Cones

When you're making a larger project like an afghan or  anywhere you'll need over 1200 yards of yarn, you're buying in bulk.  Why buy by the skein?  For many of us, there aren't any other options.  We can't buy by the cone.  Even if we could, hand-dyed rarely comes by the cone.  And when a yarn is very pricey (think Suri alpaca or cashmere) I usually want to buy as close to the exact amount of yarn I need as possible.  (I can't afford to have $50 worth of overage.)  Skeins make some sense.

But for some of us there is another option - cones.  Cones come in a variety of sizes, usually by weight, and are much cheaper than their skeined counterparts.  How much cheaper?  50 - 75%, and sometimes more.  Buying in cones means more time between shopping and knitting, because you've got some steps to make up.

In one local outlet (Daft Dames for Buffalo NY locals) there is a broad variety of coned yarns in every imaginable fiber, color and weight.  I asked one of the owners why the yarns, clearly of very high quality, are so much cheaper in cones.  She explained to me that coned yarns are two steps behind yarns you buy in skeins. 

In the process of making yarns by machine, the fibers are exposed to lubricants and oils that make the machines less likely to bind up.  (All those fibers that will one day become lint wreak havoc on gears and belts!)  When the machines finish making the particular yarn and it gets coned, it still needs to be washed and skeined. 

Skeining the yarn off, tying the skeins to keep them from opening into a tangle, and popping them in the wash is the first step to take when you get the yarn home.  Niddy Noddys, tools that have been around for hundreds years, are designed for the skeining part.  They are usually about 18 inches long, making each full wrap around the tool = 2 yards.  As you wind, you count, and you know how many yards you've skeined. Watch this video, and it will make sense.  Make enough skeins for your project, and wash them together, or in batches, so that you don't have to suspend your project every time you need to start a new skein.

Yarn pre- and post-bloom
The washing causes the yarn to "bloom".  Blooming is when the fiber returns to a state closer to its original state, but still stays made into yarn.  A coned yarn that looks like fingering can bloom to a Sport, DK, or even Worsted, depending on the fiber it's made from, and how it was manipulated in the yarn making process.  Blooming is a fluffing up, making the yarn springier, softer, and more able to trap air. 

How do you know what a yarn will be like after blooming?  Most places that carry coned yarns will have an example of each yarn knit up post-bloom.  No guesswork is required.

Each fiber and machining process is a little different, and it's always good to ask the staff at the shop what they recommend for cleaning the yarn for the blooming process.  If they don't have an answer, or you forget to ask, Soak, Woolite, and mild shampoo are all effective choices.  Remember a little goes a long way!

Hang your cleaned skeins over a towel rack or the shower rod to dry.  Rotate them a couple of times during drying to facilitate even blooming.  (Thorough drying may take as little as 12 hours or as many as 72, depending on skein size, temperature and humidity in your area.)

Post-drying, your yarn is ready for winding into a ball or a center-pull skein, just like a skein you would buy at the LYS.  Then you can begin your knitting project.  You've saved yourself a small fortune, and gotten to know your yarn just a little bit better before you start knitting.

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