This, my friends, is sad yarn. This is yarn which was wound into very tight balls by an ignorant knitter and then left to strangle itself into a sorry state of limp, crunchy, decidedly un-smooshy-ness for months (or, in some cases, years).
Fortunately, there is still hope. Though eons of constriction have taken their toll on these brave skeins, they have not quashed the indomitable spirit of the fiber!*
If you, too, find yourself in possession of abused yarn, fear not. We can rehab it. We have the technology.
Well, so long as it’s primarily animal fiber, we have the technology. You’re on your own with plants and synthetics. See, animal fiber is a lot like your hair. Add tension and it straightens, lengthens, and gets kind of limp. Wet it again, and it relaxes to its original springy state. If you have curly hair, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you have mostly straight hair but always have to flat-iron it after a shower to make itactually straight, you have a pretty good idea, too. If you’re bald…I got nothing. Grab the next person you see, make notes of their hair. Then brush it, and make more notes. Then shove them in a shower with some shampoo, and make more notes.**
Anyway.You’ll need a small tub or sink, some clothes hangers, Woolite (optional), water, a towel, and housemates who don’t mind you taking over the bathroom for hours on end.
Step 1: Skein
Chances are, if your yarn has been over-wound, it’s in a ball. Or this is rescue yarn from a frogged project, in which case it’s in a tangled, kinky mess. Either way, you need to re-wind the yarn into a good loose skein.
Make sure you loosely tie the skein in two or three places, otherwise you’ll end up with a nasty tangle faster than you can say “Elizabeth Zimmerman.”
Step 2: Submerge
Fill your tub/sink/bucket/stolen space helmet with lukewarm water. Aim more for ‘luke’ than ‘warm,’ especially if your yarn felts easily. If you want, you can add a little Woolite or other soap. My experiments have shown that Woolite tends to make the dyes bleed***, which can be a pain, so plan accordingly.
Then, dunk your yarn!
If you look in the lower right-hand corner, you can see bubbles trapped between the strands of yarn. This air-trapping property is what makes animal fibers so warm (both for the original animal and for the eventual recipient of the knitwear), but it’s not helpful when you really want to soak your yarn. To get rid of the bubbles, gently press the yarn down towards the bottom of the tub/sink/bucket/stolen space helmet, and hold it there until bubbles stop rising up. Be careful to press gently and try to keep the motion in one dimension (up-down) as much as possible. Agitating fiber in warm water tends to lead to felting, which is great if that’s your intent, but not so great if you actually want to be able to use this fiber again.
Step 3: Sabbatical
Leave your yarn to soak for half an hour to an hour, or the length of an episode of whatever TV show you’re currently addicted to. If you’re feeling really energetic, engage in a rousing game of Keep the Cat out of My Lunch (alternately titled Keep the Lunch out of My Cat).
Step 4: Suspend
Once you’ve rescued your lunch from the cat, it’s time to rescue your yarn from its bath. If you’ve used Woolite or some other soap, you’ll need to rinse the skein to wash out the soap. This needs to be done gently to avoid felting. I did this in a small tub in the bathtub, so I just fished the skein out, dumped the tub, refilled it with a little cool water, and gently pressed the skein in the clean water to get the soap out (you’ll probably want to do this a couple of times, dumping the tub and using fresh water each time).
Fold your skein carefully in a towel and press gently to remove excess water. Then, sling it over a hanger and sling the hanger over the nearest convenient towel rack.
Hopefully you have understanding housemates, because this generally incapacitates the bathtub for a good 24 hours (or more, if it’s humid out).
Also, if your yarn has bled at all, you probably want to put down a towel to catch the drips. Or you could spangle your bathmat with teal spots, but your housemates might object.
Step 5: Stroke
Pretty, smooshy rehabbed yarn! Try not to molest it too much in public.
Let us take a moment to appreciate the fact that in my house, even freshly-washed yarn is covered in cat fur. If anybody ever manages to turn cat fur into a bio-weapon, we’re doomed. I think two kittens and an adult cat could easily spread their fur around the globe within a week.
Happy rehabbing, and happy crafting!
*Hyperbole? Moi? Surely you jest.
**You can make these notes once the person it out of the shower. Unless your victim is attractive and unattached, in which case, go ahead and join them in the tub.
***My data: Rainbow Schoeller + Stahl Fortissima Colori Socka Color has a ridiculously long name, and bleeds if you soak it with Woolite. Rainbow Zitron Trekking sans Woolite does not. Green Trekking plus Woolite bleeds. Green Fleece Artist Merino 2/6 bleeds a little without Woolite and a lot with it. Blue Dream in Color Smooshy Sock bleeds a little with Woolite and not at all without it.