Variegated yellow and red bulky yarns and a wooden gauge

Getting Bulky: How to Spin A Thicker Yarn

If you’ve ever analyzed a chunky or bulky yarn, be it as a singles or a plied structure, you’ve likely noticed its airy, low-twist attributes. While its modest beauty is easy enough to recreate with a little know-how, many handspinners have trouble putting a thicker intention to the treadle (or the motor, in the case of e-spinner enthusiasts), especially those spinners who typically spin a finer and/or more worsted-style default yarn.

There are many reasons to spin fatter yarns: they’re quick, fun to spin, and basically just plain gratifying, but equally important is skill building. If spinning a heavier-gauged yarn has evaded you thus far, the following information may be just what you need.

The bulky yarn breakdown

What, exactly, qualifies as a fat yarn? Well, that could be any yarn with a heavier wraps per inch (WPI) reading than your norm, but I’d consider any yarn purposely spun to a DK/worsted weight and beyond as such. There are a couple of hallmarks of bulky yarns to bear in mind: they are soft and light, with a low twist angle. Classically speaking, chunkier yarns are spun from a carded preparation, but you can absolutely attain the same results from a fluffed-up length of combed top.

three strands of bulky yarn in various yarn thickness
Can you guess which bulky yarn came from which fibre preparation?
Red and multi-coloured yellow bulky yarn
The answer, in left-to-right order: a carded strip of batt that’s been pulled into a roving, rolag, and combed top.

Once you’ve found your thicker groove, you can continue to challenge yourself to spin yarns with an even bulkier WPI.

An excellent hack for obtaining fatter results in one’s spinning is to first strip down your fibre so that it’s roughly the width of your desired end results. Carefully pre-draft the fibre strips, then slowly add a gentle twist using your wheel or spindle.

Whether or not you opt to try this hack yourself, keep the following in mind:

Fibre Tips:

  • Consider your fibre. It should have a good amount of crimp and fluffiness to it. The general rule is that a staple length between two and three inches is ideal. Somewhat fine to medium wools that are especially dense, including a low-micron Merino, work beautifully. Other examples are Down and Down-like breeds (Dorset Horn, Suffolk, Southdown, Cheviot, etc.); dense, toothier wools like Targhee, Tunis, Cormo, and Polwarth; and even some hardier breeds such as Falkland and Corriedale.
  • Prep for success. I mean this literally. A carded preparation, where the fibre strands are criss-crossed and not aligned, is easiest to work with initially. Your batts and roving can be made from fleece and/or commercial top. Personally, I have excellent results using a denser-wool combed top that’s been fully fluffed back into its glory.
  • Take a bigger pinch. Use your usual working (wheel) hand to pinch off more strands from your fibre source/drafting zone than your norm. Continue to challenge yourself by pinching off even more strands at once, to see just how thick a yarn you can spin.

Wheel & Spinning Tips:

  • Adjust your wheel. The take-up needs to be firmer than normal, so tighten your brake band a smidge. This helps hasten the yarn’s wind-on, before too much twist can build up in your singles. Conversely, your speed needs to be slowed. If you’re using a traditional treadle wheel, choose your largest pulley. If you’re an e-spinner enthusiast, you’ll want to work at a low RPM. Keep adjusting as needed, always in small increments.
two fingers showing the twist variance of a bulky red yarn
Twist is a funny thing… It always runs directly to any thin spots in your singles, making inconsistencies more noticeable.
  • Use a freshly spun plyback sample and check it often. (Granted, this tip fits into most every “how to spin (x)” article, but if it ain’t broke and all…). Once you’ve got a sample that pleases you, tie it to your wheel or onto a control card, and reference it often. The sample should share all the usual characteristics of an airy and bulky yarn, and referencing it throughout your spin can help with consistency.
  • Change it up. Spinning the same yarn over and over again can impact muscle memory, making it difficult to jump back into another type of spin. I find it helpful to spin a different way and/or to vary the yarn, its structure, and even the fibre I choose with every new spin.

Additional tips for chunky spinning

Many teaching greats recommend a woollen or woollen-style draw when spinning a thick yarn, and long/longish draws do indeed work well. For me, using a very short front or backward draw, with or without compressing the yarn, helps me better control the yarn’s consistency. Your own mileage may vary. (Want to learn more about woollen vs. worsted spinning? Check out Katrina Stewart’s Spinning up a Level, here in the School of SweetGeorgia.)

Don’t forget to breathe deeply and to relax. A thick yarn may be spun and plied in just a couple/few hours, providing nearly instant gratification.

So, start spinning thicker and let us know how it goes!

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