by Katherine Vaughan
New spinners are often faced with a dilemma: they don’t want to “mess up” their lovely new fiber during their learning period, plus manipulating braids and batts is confusing while trying to manage all the other actions needed to properly use the spindle or wheel. At the same time, established spinners often have random bits of fibers and singles left over from previous projects, or received as bonus gifties when fiber was purchased from an indie dyer.
What to do? Create “monster yarn!”
Dr. Frankenstein created his modern Prometheus from parts salvaged from who knows (or wants to know) where. Why not take this same concept and apply it to yarn? The spinner has an advantage over the bad Dr., though: whereas the footbone connects to the anklebone, and so on, there is no necessary order to assembly for monster yarn, and you need neither Igor nor a nasty thunderstorm to make a skein.
Here is what you do need:
- Fibers of any type, color, and quantity. It is suggested that you start with about 3oz of fiber, as that will make a pretty typical-sized skein.
- A spindle or wheel.
This is a fairly simple process, with lots of opportunities for creativity and personalization of your monster yarn.
Step 1: Select the fibers to be spun.
For the monster yarn shown in this article (and in the Sea Monster Bag pattern), most of the fibers chosen were cool colors – blues, greens, and purples – with some tans and browns thrown in to mimic sand and driftwood, and a random bit of grey that looked sharkish. This is your first chance to influence the final product. Do you want a yarn that is more or less cohesive in its look? How much of any given color do you have? A single spun with wildly divergent colors has lots of visual energy on top of the textural interest native to handspun.
Established spinners can simply pull small sections off of rovings and batts from their (often large) stash. But those of us who do not want to molest our fibers, or who do not have an established collection of fiber, have lots of options for collecting monster parts. You can often purchase grab bags of fibers in small quantities from indie dyers; these are usually the ends of batts and rovings, tests, and other leftovers. WC Mercantile often has excellent grab bags for sale. Alternatively, sampler services such as the Phat Fiber Sampler Box are also good sources of fiber samplers, though it is often difficult to snag one of the monthly “fluff” boxes. Many spinners end up with sections of fiber and spun yarn leftover from old projects; these are ideal candidates for monster yarn as well.
Step 2: Prepare your fiber
Prepare your fiber by breaking it into roughly 0.25oz sections. Either lay out your selections in the order in which you choose to spin them or throw them into a pile or bag for random choice. Again, this is an opportunity for going bold or conservative in your monster yarn. If you’d like to manage the transitions from one color to the next, to avoid color clashes, go the first route. If, on the other hand, you live for serendipity, go the second route.
Step 3: Spin the single(s)
Spin your single on either a spindle or a wheel, at the weight at which you are most comfortable, and either worsted or woolen spun at your preference. Here is another opportunity for making the yarn unique; you can choose to split each section of yarn further to make the color repeats very short and more random, or you could create longer lengths of each color that do not repeat along the single. As the single is spun the color changes show up very brightly. Never fear, the plying process evens out some of the jarring changes!
If you will be plying this single against itself, you (obviously) only need to spin one single. If you’d rather ply two or more separate plies, just hold them on reserve until all are ready. It is handy to keep a bobbin with monster yarn in process to take up the extras left over from other projects. In those cases, simply join the monster single to the other project’s, and gently wind it onto your bobbin.
Step 4: Ply the single(s)
When spinning monster yarn on a spindle, it is recommended that you Andean ply a single on itself, if only to keep you from getting too much yarn on the spindle at once. From a wheel, this effect is easily accomplished by winding a center-pull ball and plying the center strand against the outer strand. As mentioned above, you could also ply 2, 3, or more singles together. Multiple strands could create a very interesting monster, indeed!
Because of the nature of this yarn, Navajo plying (self-plying 3 strands) is not recommended. However, if you have done careful coordination of your color sequence, this could in theory produce some Noro-esque color changes that would be fun and functional.
Step 5: Finishing
This yarn is like most others for finishing. Keep in mind that you will have a wide range of fibers in the yarn, and so it may be difficult to achieve balance in the skein, and blocking could result in changes in gauge across the skein. This is just another interesting feature of monster yarn.
The limits for the monster yarn you create are as soft as the depths of your fiber stash and willingness to play with colors and plies. Once you have mastered the 2-ply, bulky weight version, why not try plying three laceweight singles together, or a bulky against a laceweight single? To tone things down a little, you could try plying the monster single against a natural or monotonal single, which will give a modern barbershop pole look. Plying a thin monster single with two or three monotonal singles will have a modern tweedy effect. Thinking of trying your hand at art yarn? Monster yarn is a great candidate for experimentation with ribbon, beads and buttons, and other add-ins, since you are already working with small sections of fiber.
Monster yarn makes great trim on cuffs of mittens and hats, and is particularly well suited for bags, totes, and other items that are functional away from the body. But it’s also just fun to spin, and beautiful to look at. This is a technique that even new spinners will enjoy, especially since it is so subject to your own whimsy and standards.
So go, create life – no wait, wrong movie – yarn!
Photos © Katherine Vaughan