Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Bloom is something that can be a good thing, or a bad thing.  In knitting, it's definitely a good thing.  Blooming is what they call what happens to a fiber the first time it's laundered after it's made into yarn.  Since this is fiber festival season, this is the time of year when you're most likely to be exposed to yarn in cones, or yarn that hasn't been processed to the point that it has bloomed.  Unbloomed yarn is usually a little cheaper than the same yarn post-bloom due to the step they skipped.

Unbloomed yarn is funny looking.  It's way too thin for the gauge it says it is.  It's extremely dense, making the hanks and cones very heavy.  And sometimes, it's hard to see the color characteristics.  If the yarn is marled, for example, it may not look that way before it has bloomed.

Fibers are shorn from the sheep, then cleaned, carded, plied, and spun.  Most of this is done by machine.  Sometimes there's a dye process involved, and that's also usually done by machine.  I've been in a variety of spinning mills, and although they all seem to handle the process a little bit differently, they all have one thing in common: the machines need to be oiled.

When the fibers are being carded and plied, they move through machinery.  The little fibers that float through the air can make a mess of the gears and belts and cards.  The way the yarn manufacturers manage to keep the fibers from gunking up the works is to treat the machinery with different lubricants at different rates.  As the fibers move through the process, they pick up minute traces of the oils and lubricants.

Here's the kicker.  Because all the fibers are passing through before they've been formed into plies, the oils get inside the yarns.  Each ply, now carrying a little lubricant, gets wound into yarn.  Different yarns have different numbers of plies, different size plies, and different amounts of twist per inch, but one thing remains true about all of them.  They all have machine oils in there.  Most commercial yarn manufacturers cleanse the yarn thoroughly, so this is really only a question in "boutique" yarns, and very small runs of colors or fibers.

This photo is of actual pre- and post-bloom yarn.  When you're at a fiber fest and you see yarn labeled as worsted, and to you it looks like DK or thinner, it's a good time to ask if the fiber has bloomed.  As you can see in the photo, the yarn may open up to more than twice the diameter it was before blooming.  After blooming, it will be softer, warmer, and it will lay better.  So has it bloomed?

What if the answer is "no"?  Loosely wind the yarn into a hank.  Bind the hank in several places with twist ties, or tie it with yarn.  Launder it according to the label directions, or wash it with Soak or Eucalan according to their directions.  Part of the washing thoroughly, of course, is rinsing thoroughly.  Then set the hank out to dry flat.  It may take a day or two, but it's worth it.  Knitting with your yarn before it blooms rarely creates a fiber as beautiful as knitting with it afterwards.

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

This is good information to know getting ready for Rhinebeck! Thanks!