How do I finish my skein?

Natalie and I spin!By Amelia © October 12, 2010

I find myself once again with a nice group of local learning-to-spinners, this time in Port Angeles actually on the college campus. Very fun! We had our first class last week, and I left them with notes on how to finish a skein. On reviewing my blog, I found these weren't clearly spelled out in any of the posts, though I've gone on about the variety of finishing we do on our skeins before, so here are my basic skein washing notes for your edification.

"The skein isn't done until it's washed" ... sometimes we call this wash setting the twist, but really what it is doing is waking up any dormant twist in the single so that the plying twist can balance against it.

You start with an already spun and plied skein, with suitable ties on the skein (at least 3 for an arm-wound skein, more for longer skeins).

1. Open up (as in, untwist) your rolled-up and twisted-on-itself skein.

2. Fill a sink with warm water and a squirt of dish soap, shampoo, or
wool wash (i.e. Eucalan, SOAK or similar; NOT Woolite)

3. Place your skein in the sink. You can hold it under until it stays
submerged if you like, but don't move it around.

4. Let it soak 10-20 minutes.

5. Lift out the skein and squeeze the soapy water out of it.

6. Empty the sink.

7. Fill the sink with just water, the same temperature as before.

8. Place your skein in the sink. You can hold it under until it stays
submerged if you like, but don't move it around.

9. Let it rinse-soak for 10-20 minutes.

10. Lift out the skein and squeeze the water out of it. Empty the sink.

11. Roll the skein up in a towel and press down on the rolled-up
skein-and-towel to get more water out

12. Unroll the towel-and-skein and hang the skein over a rail
somewhere (like your shower) to dry

There you have it.

The skeins above were from a variety of spinning experiments, both mine and my daughter's.

I would note that I don't mix dyed skeins in my finishing baths -- one red skein once leached onto an undyed white, leading to an unfortunate pinkness that dogged that skein until I found a nice forest green for it. Pink really wasn't its color!

It's a lovely skein of CVM wool, and is listed in By Our Hands on Etsy and


Past posts discussing finishing a skein:

When do you set the twist?

How do you make a good looking 2-ply yarn?


© October 12, 2010 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at


pdxknitterati/MicheleLB said...

Thanks for this! I have rediscovered my spindles that I bought last year, and have been experimenting with getting a consistent single, and making 2 ply and Navajo chain ply. Fascinating. But haven't washed any of the little skeins yet. Next on the agenda...

knitography said...

So you don't thwap it against the side of the tub, or snap it between your hands or anything? Or alternate between hot and cold water? These are all finishing techniques I've read about elsewhere. Is it a "depends on the fiber" kind of thing? Or personal preference?

Dave Daniels said...

Hi there! I've done pretty much the same thing for several years.
A fellow weaver told me once that he doesn't wet-finish his yarn that he'll use for weaving, he waits until the item is woven. I've tried that a couple of times and it's worked out well.
Is there a difference that you can see for processing depending on the end-use?

Amelia of Ask The Bellwether said...

Hi -- yes, how you finish your yarn (or whether you do at all, good point Dave!) depends on what your next plans are for it. These instructions are my basic, finishing 101 instructions. The post "How do you make a good looking 2-ply yarn" and others it points to talk about other ways of finishing, including rough finishing and whacking a skein on the counter.

The main reasons I'd wash *any* skein, even one for weaving, is the time delay between the start of the single and the completion of plying -- I'd like to walk up to my loom with all of the yarn at the same level of dormancy (or not) of twist. But that's me, and my love of order. I could totally see leaving it unwashed until fulling the woven item.

One reason why the basic instructions here don't include any roughness in the sink or whacking is that with this level of finishing, you can check the skein for balance and fix it. Once you've been rough with the skein, you can't modify the final level of twist in the skein, because it's been "stuck" that way with any fulling that's occurred.

And definitely, finishing based on end-use: weaving, just plain wash; lace knitting, I might whack the skein on the counter, but I won't rough it up in the sink (don't need to).

Socks or hard-wearing items, I will definitely rough-finish the skein. And, I've taken to very-rough-finishing my for-knitting handspun singles, so they are more controllable in the knitting.

I may steam-finish silk and cotton rather than rough tehm up, since fulling isn't going to have much effect at all on those fibers.

And I'm sure my finishing vocabulary still has room to grow -- other projects I've not done yet will dictate how I treat the fiber in scouring, preparation, spinning, plying, and finishing. But sometimes, I just do my thing, and decide how to use the yarn once it's been yarn for a while.

Catherine said...

Just curious, why not woolite? I just moved countries and it seems to be all that's easily available.

Kristi aka Fiber Fool said...

A great run down on the process. I've started putting Shout Color Catchers in my bath to prevent bleeding problems. I've never had a catastrophe, but I've had some yarns spun from gorgeous handdyed fibers end up with less color distinction due to bleeding and it seems to work.

Amelia of Ask The Bellwether said...

@Kristi: thanks for the tip!

@Catherine: I've been told Woolite can damage your wool. I checked into its MSDS (material safety data sheet -- available online )

It has two main active ingredients; Sodium laureth sulfate and Sodium dodecylbenzenesulfonate. The latter is pH-basic, which can damage wool if left to soak for a long time. If it's all you have available to use, put a glug of white vinegar in your rinse bath to try to balance out the effect of the pH-basic ingredient. And rinse well.