Category Archives: Techniques

How To Skein (or Reskein) Yarn for Free

Seriously, you don’t need any high tech equipment at all. You don’t need to pay your local yarn shop for the privilege of using their swift, you don’t have to shell out big money to buy a ball winder, you needn’t waste your husband’s time and hands every evening, or even become dizzy by walking yourself in a circle around the back of a chair! Skeining yarn is really quite easy. All you need is your own two hands and a nice, comfy couch. If you have a ball or cake of yarn that you want to turn into a nice pretty skein, here’s a picture-based “how-to” that will demonstrate how do it.

Start with a corporate skein (really an oblong center-pull cake):

Or a ball of yarn:

Or a cake of yarn that needs to be reskeined:

Now, what you want it to look like is this – a skein, or hank, of yarn:

First, sit cross-legged (or Indian style):

Set the ball in your lap. Unwind a couple of yards from the outside of the ball and loop it once over your knees, making sure to position it in the place where you want the yarn to wind. I’d advise letting some of the beginning of the strand of yarn hang down over your thigh, so that you don’t loose the beginning of it. Then start winding (this illustration is a good approximation):

When you get to the end of the ball of yarn, wrap both the beginning (which you’ve let hang out a bit) and the end of the yarn around the skein a few times. This keeps the large loop from tangling on itself.

Hold the yarn in both hands stretched out in front of you. Make the loop taut by pulling at either end. Then start twisting the skein into itself. Once the yarn is well-twisted (not overtwisted) bring both of the ends together and watch the center of the yarn twist automatically. Sometimes I hold the center of the loop under my chin as I bring my hands together to create a tighter twist. Here is a video demonstrating how skeining yarn works:

Pull or shake the finished skein to make it straighten out, and then you’ll have this:

Pretty! Now, keep in mind that if you want to turn a skein into a ball or cake, all you’ll need to do is reverse the process – unwind the skein, place it over your knees, and get started!

Adventures in Burn Testing

Right, so there is a good reason you should always do a burn test with unknown yarns. Because you could be completely wrong. Granted, I knew this before I even tested the yarn, because when I picked it up recently and felt it I was like, “WTF? This doesn’t feel like cotton! What were you smoking the day you bought this and insisted it must be cotton, Sarah?”

Anyways, on to the burn test. First, you need your tools and ingredients and such. There’s a special name for it all in science, but as the last time I wrote a lab report was when I was 17, I really don’t remember. Basically, you need the anonymous yarn, a lighter (or matches), a bowl to catch the burning yarn in, and a handy dandy clip to hold the burning yarn so you don’t burn off your little fingers (which I already did today in the oven, but that’s another story). Also, you need a burn test catalogue to compare your results with, like the lovely Burn Test Chart from Ditzy Prints.

Clamp a cut piece of yarn like this with your clip before lighting the sucker on fire. It’s important to hold it over the bowl so that in case you accidentally drop it, you don’t light your house, or kitchen table, on fire. Oh, right, and don’t play with fire in front of your computer on your computer desk with a used tea mug, like I did the first time I ever did a burn test.

Then you light it up, baby! Watch how it burns. If it doesn’t want to burn, and keeps extinguishing itself, that is not a bad thing, it means you’ve got animal fiber! Yey! Animal fiber hates burning. Good to know. Wear more wool, as you’ll be less likely to die in a fire … unless, of course, something explodes on you. Wool can’t help you there. If your pretty yarn finally catches fire, watch the way it burns. If the yarn tries to curl up and escape from the fire, that means … I forget what it means. But its important, yo!

Lastly, blow the yarn out and smell the burnt piece. Does it smell like woodsmoke? You’ve got something like cotton – a plant fiber. Does it smell like death? And make you gag? And remind you of burning flesh? Ah, that would be an animal fiber. Lucky you. Now go fumigate. Mine smelled like death with the lovely aftertaste of a chemical plant burning. I think that means I’ve got a wool/poly blend here, folks!

Now burn another piece of the yarn again, just for the fun of it.

After you’ve almost lit your plastic magnet clip on fire (note to self: use metal next time), take one of the burnt pieces of yarn and try to crumble a bit of ash off the end with your fingers. If the ash is white or gray, it’s plant fiber. If the ash is black and beady, it’s animal fiber. If it’s an acrylic of some sort, it won’t ash at all, but just melt together in a blob. As you can see in the photo below, mine melted and beadily ashed, confirming again (if my nose couldn’t smell the horror, for some reason), that it is a wool/poly blend.

I am an idiot, and couldn’t tell what is and is not cotton just by touching yarn. This yarn is a wool/poly blend, based on all of the burning I did. It also is a thread that has been knitted up in stockinette stitch so it curls up into itself, creating a curled tape yarn. It is moss-colored.

And our hypothesize ladies and gents? What brand do you think this yarn is? After much difficult research (browsing the stashes on Ravelry), I’ve determined that it is Lane Borgosesia Jacquard or ONline Linie 194 Solo, both of which are wool/acrylic blends of chainette yarns and are mostly used in making really ridiculous-looking ruffle scarves. Ta-da!

How to take a good fibery photograph

I think I take pretty good photos on Ravelry and Etsy, and all I use is a simple point and shoot camera – a little Samsung digital camera purchased at Sam’s Club. This is my model:

I did take a couple B&W photography classes growing up (one in middle school, one in high school), and I’ve always loved taking photos, but it really just comes down to a few simple rules. I’m so low-tech it’s funny.

1.) Indoors during the day: I fine a flat, plain white space like my desk to pose my yarn on. I open the sheers and wrap them around the desk, which creates a light box effect. Make sure that the sun is not shining directly on the yarn. The key here is a nice bright day with indirect light (and yes, cloudy days that are nice work too).

2.) Indoors at night: Use bright lights. I take two plain white/off-white pillow cases and cover my armchair with them. I turn on all the lights in the room and place them as close to the chair as possible. Make sure your background is plain. Busy backgrounds like carpets and prints detract from the item you are photographing.

3.) I turn off the flash first. I do not use the camera zoom. I use my macro setting, which is the tiny flower button on your camera:

4.) I get up close and personal (like within 6-12 inches) and hold the camera VERY STEADY in my hands. Sometimes I have to take several photographs because one or two might be blurry and shaky. I push down on the button HALF-WAY and allow the image to focus on something. When I can see that the part of the yarn or object I want to photograph is crisp, I take the picture.

5.) I pop the card into my computer, use a photo program like Microsoft’s built-in fix it tool (it’s part of Windows Photo Gallery) to auto adjust the image brightness and contrast, and my image is ready for Etsy or Ravelry.

And here’s a great “before” and “after” example of what these simple rules can do for you.



And here are some examples of how different lighting situations can produce different results:

Ravelry Stash Photo – natural lighting, indoors during daytime on bedsheets

Ravelry Stash Photo – artificial lighting, indoors at night on sheet-covered chair

Ravelry Stash Photo – natural lighting, indoors during daytime, use of macro tool for extreme close-up

I know it sounds crazy, but its really that simple. I know that it’s not just me thinking that its easy either, because I was at a friend’s house this weekend playing with her stash and I showed her how to take photos like I do. Now she knows how to as well. Here’s her latest photo:

Ravelry Stash Photo – natural lighting, indoors during daytime on white windowsill

Good luck!