Sunday, March 15, 2009


As part of my preparations for the workshop in Grand Forks, I was coning off some skeins and was reminded that I had planned to discuss working with skeins at some point. Today seemed like a good day.

My preferred tool for working with skeins is a squirrel cage swift. Unfortunately they aren't very common, and when you do find a good one it's more expensive than an umbrella swift.

One of the advantages is that the sc swift is free standing so I have a lot more options about where I can work with it.

In spite of all the photos one sees of the umbrella swift being displayed and used in the vertical position, it is a lot more efficient to use it with the central axis horizontal.

Orienting it this way is a bit more awkward because you need some place to mount it, and then sufficient room for it to rotate and flare when the skein is totally used up. But it does work much better positioned this way than vertically.

When opening a skein, find the centre. I prefer skeins with at least 3 ties because if there are 3 or 4 points of containment, it is much easier to find the centre than if the skein only has one or two ties.

Regardless of how many ties the skein has, find the exact centre by examining the ties and ensuring that none of the threads are folded back over a tie.

Once you have found the centre of the skein, insert both hands and drape the skein over your wrists. (Best not to wear a watch or bracelet for this job.) Bring your hands together, then pull them apart swiftly, giving the skein a good 'snap'. Rotate the skein and repeat this snapping out of it until you have gone round the entire circumference of the skein.

Remember my rule - a thread under tension is a thread under control? By snapping the skein in this manner, you reposition the threads if they have come out of alignment and encourage them to lie straight in the skein.

Place the skein onto your swift, then remove the ties. I leave the tie that is attached to the skein itself for the last. Check the skein to make sure you are pulling the yarn from the 'outside' of the skein and that the leading end is not wrapped around any of the other threads in the skein proper. You may have to rotate the skein to get the leading edge to the outside. Try to have the threads lie as straight as possible - no twists in the skein.

I always pull off from the bottom rather than the top of the skein as it is mounted on the swift. This seems to encourage the skein to unwind more easily. (See photo at top)

It's time to leave for lace. The sun is shining and the snow is melting. Yippee!


bspinner said...

Have fun in Grand Forks. We were there over Christmas. Hope it's warmed up a bit since then.

Janet said...

Heh. Years ago now I bought an umbrella swift at Robin & Russ - I needed one and, although it cost more than I'd hoped to pay and getting it home on the plane was going to be tricky, the one they had was so beautiful I couldn't walk away from it.

Then I got it home and set up it vertically, the only way I'd ever seen one used. And cursed and swore and tore out my hair, 'cause the sides of the thing were so flat that nothing would stay on it - all my skeins just slid right off and onto the table or whatever I'd clamped it to. I regretted my purchase for years ... until it finally dawned on me to mount it horizontally.

Now it works perfectly, much better than any other swift I've run across in my time. Yes, it takes up a lot of room and there are precious few places I can actually set it up, but I've found those spots and if it means we can't do any laundry while the swift is in use, so be it. ;P

Peg in South Carolina said...

Good post. I agree about swifts, and even mounted horizontally, they don't work as well as other tools. I shall be more vigorous in my attack on 60/2 silk........(grin!)