I spent two hours on Wednesday untangling an eight-ounce skein of fingering weight yarn. It's Beautiful with a capital B yarn, hand-painted in lovely colors and so soft that I like petting the new skein. Half of the reason it took me so long was that there's a half a mile of fingering yarn in eight ounces. The other half is that it was tangled up, although not badly knotted. Coincidentally, I came across a knitter's blog yesterday that had photos of some badly tangled yarn.
So, I thought I'd describe my technique for untangling skeins of yarn here. I don't think it's unique or anything, but it does seem to work well for me. Maybe it will work well for someone else. It's not as if there's ever a shortage of tangled skeins, after all.
Well, there's no shortage until I want to take photos of the untangling process. I couldn't find anything in my sub-stash that a) was very tangled and b) would show up in photos. The best I could do was a mildly tangled skein of Noro Gisha.
Necessary items are a yarn swift, kitchen twine or slick yarn, a pair of scissors, something to fasten the swift to, a comfortable chair, and some patience. This isn't something to do when Life is falling apart around you; it's more like a meditation. Relax, go with the flow, don't hurry, trust the Force....
The first step is to mount the swift so that it's perpendicular to the floor, like so:
Then put the skein on it. Don't open the swift up too far. It should be wide enough to spread the skein out, but not so wide that the skein is completely stretched. The lower half of the skein should be hanging free.
When putting the skein on the swift, it's important to be sure that all the strands are going in the right direction. This happens when all the strands are inside the ties, not outside. These two photos are terrible (I moved the camera or was too close to focus or something), but you can see that none of the strands cross the outside of the tie.
The next step is to untie the ties around the skein and select one end or the other. There should be an inside end and an outside end to the skein. It's easiest to wind off the outside end, so if picking the wrong end can be fixed by just turning the skein inside out on the swift. Now the actual winding off starts. Roll the yarn into a small ball. If there's a tangle tuck the ball though the skein until it unwinds freely again. The following two photos show doing so.
Nice how the autumn-leaf colored yarn coordinates with the orange plastic on the cheap swift, isn't it? Even the orange Fiskars scissors match. The berry red trim on the chair seats doesn't, though.
Whatever happens, don't ever pull too hard and turn the tangle into a knot. Knots are really bad. Tangles are just tedious. Keep the tangles loose. It helps to kind of fluff the tangle and, even, the entire skein. With slippery yarn like this, just shaking the tangle may help a lot.
Keep winding and untangling until all the yarn is wound off into a ball. Don't worry too much about tension here, as the next step is winding the yarn off the ball into either a center-pull ball or another skein, which will remedy any tension problems. However, it's best to do either fairly soon so as not to stretch the yarn permanently.
I'll write about balls and skeins next. The only part that's at all complex is adding ties to the new skein, and that's reasonably obvious, I think.
It's apparent that a similar technique, sans swift, will work for tangled balls. That's harder, though, because there's no easy way to put gravity to work the way there is with a skein and a swift.