7 Ways To Finish Handspun Yarn (with Pros and Cons)

Now that you have spun your yarn, what should you do next? As with most things in handspinning, that depends upon what you want the yarn to do for you and the needs of your project!

Here are the ways that you can set the twist in your handspun yarn, including the pros and cons of each.

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Set yarn with water and dry

Pros: easy to do, works with most project

Cons: can make colors run if dyed

yarn hanging off hooks, bar and tied

The basic way to set or finish your yarn is to set the twist with hot water then let the yarn dry. You could put a bit of fiber wash in the setting bath if you want to but I don’t.

My basic procedure is to put the spun yarn on the niddy noddy, tie it in 3-4 places with twist ties or a cheap string to prevent tangles, wet set the yarn for 20-30 minutes then hang to dry.

I prefer to hang the yarn outside if there is a bit of wind or inside over the furnace vent in the winter.

There is also a fiber rinse that can be used on your set yarn, but not if you plan to dye the yarn, only if your next step is drying.

I haven’t used any of the fiber rinse products, but would consider it if I did not like the feel of the yarn once it was wet set.

Is Spinning Your Own Yarn Worth It? goes over the costs and benefits of spinning versus buying handspun yarn.

Wet set and weighted dry

Pros: easy setting, helps tame down over twisted yarn

Cons: can leave dents in yarn where attached for hanging or weights, overspun parts will reactivate with water

If you feel that your yarn could benefit from being a bit more controlled once it is dry, you can wet set the yarn then dry it weighted.

A weighted dry would be helpful for any yarn that is overspun or any yarn that you plan to use for something that you want the yarn to be smoother and dense (no fluff).

I use the clothes line to do a weighted dry (on the rare occasion that I use this method). If you have one, an indoor drying rack would work great to do a weighted dry, as well.

I pin the yarn out wide, with two or three clothes pins, or preferably metal clamps if you have a few hanging around, then hang a small weight on the yarn, just enough to pull it straight.

Be sure to monitor the drying progress of your yarn and rotate the yarn around, otherwise you’ll get dents in the yarn where clothes pins were and stretching on the side of the skein that had all the water.

Be sure to note that the twist will reactivate when you get this yarn wet.

Anytime you wash this skein or wet down whatever you knit or crochet it into, it will go back to close to the original level of twist. It’s a temporary fix, like flat ironing your hair (you have to constantly redo it).

But, since you really don’t need to wash wool all that often, maybe re-taming the twist is not a big deal for your project.

Polwarth three ply yarn with mohair locks put in at plying
This is a fun yarn I made with Polwarth as the main three ply and mohair locks put in while plying. While mohair does not felt, the Polwarth does, so thwacking the yarn helps keep the mohair addons in place.

Set with water and thwack

Pros: helps yarn bloom, quick step with noticeable results

Cons: poor choice when stitch definition is a priority

If you want your yarn to be set then finished with a bit of a poof, consider wet setting then thwacking.

Thwacking is taking the still wet yarn after it has been set and whapping it on the edge of a counter or other easy to hit and okay to get a bit wet surface.

This will make the yarn full or bloom (poof out a bit). It sounds a bit crazy, especially if you have been treating your wool gently up until now to prevent felting.

Forget all that now and start thwacking away and you’ll get a nice bloom to your yarn that will make it softer. This is more for a woolen spun or woolen like yarn.

If you are going to be using your yarn in a project where you want significant stitch definition and you are making more of a worsted type yarn, you’ll probably want to skip the thwacking.

Thwacking will full the yarn and give more puff to the yarn as well as the stiches, which is the opposite of the well defined stitches you are going for.

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Felt yarn while setting

Pros: holds fibers more securely in the yarn, strengthen singles

Cons: poor choice for yarns that need poof, not all wool or other fibers will felt

Another crazy thing to say when you are dealing with wool yarn is felting it, on purpose!

Especially for fine wools but really any wool that is easily feltable, felting is something that looms over us as an ever present potential disaster that will ruin the project. Not any more!

Lightly or not so lightly, depending upon your project, felting the yarn will make the fibers hold together better and will help to lock in any slippery fibers if at least some of the fiber is feltable.

Folks spinning with angora rabbit wool felt the yarn a bit to help keep fibers from shedding out of the yarn.

Another good reason to felt your yarn a bit would be if you are working with shorter fibers or are spinning a single, felting the yarn slightly will help lock them together and strengthen your yarn.

If you are making a woolen yarn, felting is probably not for you. Felting will compress down your yarn, the opposite of what you want to see in a woolen spun!

yarn spun from raw wool
Here is all of the dirt, grease and whatnot that came out of this yarn that I spun “in the grease”, meaning the wool was not washed at all, just spun. This is all of the junk that would normally come out in washing before carding and spinning. While this looks quite dirty now, a few rinses and the water was clear and the yarn nice and clean!

Fulling handspun yarn

Pros: yarn holds together better, great for singles

Cons: not great for art yarns or anything you want to be smooth

Fulling yarn is done by taking the finished skein and having two containers of water, one as hot as you can handle and one cold, preferably with ice.

You move the yarn back and forth between the containers, starting with the hot.

Put the yarn in the hot water, let it soak up the water for a few minutes, pull it out and press out the water (don’t wring it!) then put it in the cold bath.

Let it set to cool down a bit, then press out the water and put it back in the hot. Do this a few times until you feel the yarn has contracted down a bit, but is not felted, so no agitation, just soaking.

Fulling is great for anytime you have a single that you want to have a bit more strength but you don’t want to felt it.

With all this movement, an easy to felt fiber can start to felt on you, so be gentle. If this is a fiber you have never worked with before, try a small sample first and see if you like the results.

I have to admit, personally I am much more inclined to full handspun rather than felting it. Nothing against felting, fulling just tends to work better for me.

Set yarn while washing

Pros: cleans lanolin and dirt from yarn spun in the grease

Cons: not needed if you spun washed wool

Unicorn Power Scour is the wool wash I use on raw fleece. Occasionally, I also use a drop or two for wet setting yarn.

If you have spun your yarn with raw wool, setting the twist will also involve washing out the grease that remains in the wool.

This is fairly easily done by using a fiber wash in the wet setting water. I use Unicorn Fiber wash normally and have used it to wash yarn spun from raw wool.

It worked well and seemed to give me a nice, clean yarn after washing and a few rinses.

Can You Handspin Raw Wool? goes over some of the times when you might decide to try spinning “in the grease” rather than with washed wool.

Set yarn with steam

Pros: keeps color separation crisp, prevents free dye from coloring undyed parts of yarn

Cons: harder to do in bulk

For any yarn that you want the colors to stay in very specific areas, consider steam setting your yarn.

The steam will set the twist and keep the colors from running together, or more likely, filling in the undyed spots in your yarn making the spot specific dyeing look less dramatic.

If you are fine with the idea that the colors will bleed a bit into one another or mix at the edges, then don’t worry about steam setting, unless it is an easier way to set yarn for you.

If you want your color work, specifically color changes to remain crisp, you’ll want to be sure to use steam to set the twist in your yarn.

After steaming, you would still thwack or lightly felt the yarn, if you decide that is appropriate for your project.

multi colored yarn
This is some of the yarn I made for a crocheted rug. I decided to work with the yarn unset, since wet setting the twist seemed to be an extra step that was not needed. So far, using unset yarn is working well.

Don’t set the yarn

Pros: easy, eliminates the steps of setting and drying

Cons: no help for over twisted yarn, yarn can unravel

I know this one may sound crazy, but hear me out. Have you considered not setting your yarn, at all? You could just knit (or crochet or weave) with the yarn right after spinning it.

I’m not into weaving yet, so I can’t speak to that, but as far as knitting or crochet, working with unset yarn seems to be fine.

If anything, I think using unset yarn gives you some interest to the finished project once you are done with it.

Of course, when you are putting together a specifically fitted garment, “interest” may not be something you are looking for, since it is likely to also pull the piece out of shape.

For work where you are happy to see what you get and experiment a little, using unset yarn might be a good place to start.

Also, this is the part that folks tend to forget about, as soon as you get the yarn wet again, for whatever reason, the fiber will need reset, each time!

This means you can never really get away from the spun in properties of the yarn, you can only modify them. This is not a problem, just something to keep in mind with your work.

My experience with unset yarn

I am working through some of my wool stash with my current focus being a Dorset cross ram fleece, that I am using dyed and unset as the main fiber for a crocheted rug.

I don’t have a ton of experience with crochet, so this rug is pretty basic, colored stripes run short ways across a 24 x 50 inch doorway rug.

While you may not consider Dorset to be a rug wool, this fleece is about 18 months worth of growth, so it is longer than normal and from the feel of it, it’s in the 30 micron range.

The other big plus of Dorset, for anyone who is not familiar with the wool, is that it is very resistant to felting. That means that I can wash this rug without too much worry.

Update: my current project is a Jacob sheep wool rug using a peg loom and unset yarn combined with unspun roving, so all of this will be set by washing once the rug is finished and we’ll see what shapes up!

Read The Joy Of Handspinning Setting The Twist In Handspun Yarn for a brief overview of setting handspun yarn.

Frustrated and need some help with your spinning? Check out Woolmaven Handspinning, it’s a course designed for beginners to get you going spinning, at your own pace on your schedule!

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