Dyeing yarn using a sock blank is both awesome as well as HUGELY annoying 5

20150411_190221I had some incredibly generous Ravellers donate some of their sock yarn scraps towards my sock yarn blanket which has been a tremendous help. Seriously, I went from a very lacking variety of sock yarns to now having dozens of different bits of yarn. Lovely lovely lovely people. Then, on top of that, one women even gave me sock blank! (For those who don’t know, a sock blank is a knitted panel of undyed sock yarn that you can use to easily make your own colourways and self-patterning yarn.) When I discovered the sock blank in the box of yarns she sent me I was extremely excited since I had looked into purchasing them myself in the past. I have been waiting to use this sock blank until I had a good opportunity to venture into dyeing, preferably without interruption or husband sighs while I inevitably get dye all over myself and the kitchen. He is a bit of a Tidy McCleanerson, and my inclination towards chaos and messiness can be stressful for him from time to time, and my having gotten dye EVERYWHERE (including on the front door somehow) has made him less than thrilled over the prospect of my doing any more hand dyeing of yarn.

My husband was away from the house for a full 36 hours this weekend. I seized the opportunity!

The same as last time, I didn’t go in to it with a particular plan or knowledge, I just winged it. Why I never go in to these things with a set plan is beyond me. Perhaps I secretly believe myself to be some sort of savant or natural genius when it comes to this type of thing and that I will just magically be awesome at it without trying.

Yeah… right…

Anyway, like I said I just winged this. So, what did I do?

  1. I soaked/saturated the blank in water. I don’t entirely know why, it just felt like the thing to do.
  2. I got out a 9×9 glass baking dish and created a sort of separated bowl and divider using tinfoil.
  3. I laid out the blank in the dish, putting half in the separated tinfoil bowl. Because I wanted short colour repeats I didn’t lay the blank out top half in the dish, bottom in the tinfoil bowl because that would have resulted in one long section of one colour and then one long section of another colour. To get the shorter colour repeats I put the blank in the dish dividing it left to right instead.
  4. I dissolved some blue Wilton’s food colouring in some hot water and a bit of vinegar and poured it into the dish, keeping it out of the tinfoil bowl divider.
  5. I dissolved some yellow Wilton’s food colouring in some hot water and a bit of vinegar and poured it into the tinfoil bowl side.
  6. I added some blotches of red and green along the center section that was held up by the divider out of the two main colours.
  7. I put the dish in the oven at 200°F for about an hour.
  8. Drain, rinse, leave it to dry fully.
  9. Once dry I unravelled it from the blank on to my swift.
  10. I unwound it from the swift, dividing the two strands into two separate balls
  11. I rewound one ball back on to the swift and then rewound it into a center pull ball using my nostepinne. Repeat for second ball.


I am super excited for how it ended up, but I do have some notes:

  • The colours are a little more easter-ish than I intended, mostly because I dropped a bit of pink dye around in splotches on both sides. I think I was intending for it to result in a more mottled look, which did work kind of. Mostly the pink just dispersed throughout making the yellow look orange and the blue look more mauve. Ah well.
  • What a colossal pain in the ass it was unraveling this yarn and reballing it. Holy crap. Now, in fairness part of the problem was that I sort of screwed up when I was unwinding the blank on to my swift. The blank itself unraveled really smoothly and easily, that wasn’t the issue. I started with the swift in a weirdly unexpanded state and then it just got worse and, well, you can see the disaster I created in the first panel of the above picture. (What was that about my secretly believing myself to be a natural genius when it comes to this kind of thing?)square
  • The blank was a double knit one, and reballing those two strands into two separate balls was irritating to put it mildly. I don’t know if there is some magical easier way of doing it, but it took me a long time. I may have to put this question to the actual geniuses on the Ravelry forums to see if maybe they can enlighten me because seriously… it was a pain in the ass.
  • I have knit one square (so far) using this yarn and I think it is pretty fantastic. Turned out basically how I was hoping in terms of the self striping within my tiny block. This yarn would probably look more varigated if I used it for a larger item (like a sock) but the stripes work out perfectly in my little squares. WIN!
  • Despite the huge annoyance I suffered while unwinding and reballing the blank, I still LOVED dying using the sock blank. It was a great way of creating a really cool colour way, really simplified the whole process. No tangles or shenanigans. I also love that it resulted in two identically dyed balls, and I can absolutely see how that would be fabulous if I were going to use this yarn for socks.


So, in summary, I loved using a sock blank for dyeing. I loved dyeing it and loved the end result, so I can overlook the unballing/reballing annoyances.


Oh, and as for my husband’s reaction to my having dyed while he was away? I made a point of cleaning everything up before he got back home so that he would have no reason to be grumpy over any future dye projects, and he was totally fine with it, until he saw the distinctly blue staining on our wooden cutting board… oopsie….

126 blocks down, about a squillion left to go!

Mission Accomplished (I think). The weekend visit with my in-laws was a great one, really fantastic to see them and get some quality time in with them, AND I was able to get in some knitting. Obviously not as much as I normally do on weekends, but I did make some progress. I did a proper count last night, and I am up to 126 blocks done (102 small ones, and six big ones I’m counting as 4). 126 blocks. That is a lot! How much? Well, lets do some math! (I know, I’m a nerd…)

Approx. 3g of yarn per block x 126 blocks = 378g of fingering weight yarn = roughly 1500 meters of yarn used so far

20 minutes per block x 126 blocks = 2560 minutes = 42 hours of knitting

44 total days since starting (2015-02-23 to 2015-04-08) / 42 hours of knitting = an average of 58 minutes per day spent working on this project


The box of some of the mini-skeins I have rewound into center pull balls. Not pictured is the bucket of additional sock yarns I have rewound, nor can you see the big sack of yarn waiting to be rewound.

I find it interesting seeing these values, though it is rather disturbing on some levels. 42 hours of knitting on just this one project and I’m not even a a quarter of the way finished? Geeze Louise! Still really enjoying the project though. Very easy, fun, almost soothing knit. I have made it a big wider, and that was a pain in the ass to do, but that was pretty minor. The pictures also aren’t doing it justice, it really is quite a thing to behold. A little ugly, yes, but pretty damn cool. I’m not totally happy with the randomness of my block colours – I feel like the top left corner is too dark/orange – but over all it is looking great. Speaking of math, though.. I really should calculate how many blocks I am going to need in order to have it be the size I want.

The other thing I have been working on is making all my many many skeins of sock yarn into center pull balls. Holy crap, what a ton of work that is, but I am DETERMINED. I should have kept track of how much time I have spent doing this because it would be a lot. Frankly, more time lately has been spent balling yarn than knitting! However, I am taking a break from making center pull balls for a while because the motion in making the balls using my nostepinne was starting to make my wrists ache.


Something else occurred to me the other day. I am knitting this project in fingering weight yarn using size 1US needles and is done in garter stitch which sort of accordions on to itself. My Stripes Gone Crazy sweater is done using fingering weight yarn but using size 3US needles AND it is in stockinette stitch which gives you a slightly larger knit for your work.

I am pretty sure that if I had been working on my sweater instead of this blanket I would have been done it by now.

No regrets, though. I will get back to the sweater eventually, but for now I’m going to continue to rock out to my sock yarn blanket.

A toothpick does not belong in a lock! [aka. Yarn balling is cheaper than therapy]

My yarn balling station. Not pictured is the huge additional sack of yarns waiting to be balled. 

I arrived home Friday evening to find that my kid had shoved a toothpick into our front door lock, which then broke off inside. My husband attempted to remove it using a small piece of metal but that just pushed it in deeper, effectively ruining the lock and locking us out of our house. Why they didn’t just go out and get a pair of tweezers to pick the wood out, I’ll never know. Worse yet, had they just waited until I got home I could have gotten it out because I had a pair of tweezers in my purse. To say I was irritated would be a gross understatement. Faced with either breaking a window, a vastly overpriced after-hours visit from a locksmith, or attempting to break the door down, my husband opted for breaking the door down. Scarily it wasn’t that hard to break down, but the damage was significant as you can see in this picture.

This was how my weekend began. Not awesome. Not awesome at all.

While my husband and kid went out to get some supplies to fix the door (new lock set, replacement wood for the door jam, a chisel, etc) I stayed home in part just to guard our now wholly unprotected house but mostly because I found this situation so hugely irritating that I just wanted some quiet alone time to process it all. I was in no mental state for knitting, my agitation and frustration would likely only lead to mistakes in my knitting which would just make me even more frustrated, so instead I put on some jammies, put on some stampylongnose youtube videos, curled up on the couch under a blanket and got to work balling my sock yarns. Earlier in the week I had received a couple of packages from some fellow Ravellers who donated some of their scrap sockyarn to my sockyarn blanket, so I frankly have a huge amount of yarns that needs proper balling.

The fruits of my labours. Lots of pretty little center pull balls of sock yarn!

One package I received has all the yarns done up in mini-skeins, and the other two were mostly balled up and still needed to be converted to center pull balls. On top of the packages I got in the mail, I also want to clean up and properly ball the rest of my sock yarn stash into center pull balls, so truly there is a lot of nostepinning (?) that needs doing.

Balling yarn is an undeniably tedious task. It isn’t thrilling or terribly interesting, but the tediousness and repetitiveness of it works like therapy for me. I find I have to focus on it quite a bit to do it properly and end up with nice, tidy, non-football shaped center pull balls. I am sure lots of people can mindlessly work up center pull balls using a nostepinne, and maybe with practice it’ll become a mindless thing for me too, but right now it requires focus. This is a good thing. The more focus and concentration required, the more distracted from the insanity of my life I get, the better I feel. And having something to show for it (ie. a box of nicely balled yarn) helps too.

It was about two hours before my husband and son arrived back at home, supplies in tow, and by that time the yarn had worked its magic. I was feeling better. The situation is still irritating, but it no longer felt like a disaster and I could even see some positives to the situation. The door is mostly fixed now, and honestly a lot more secure and safe than it had been before all this went down. I also finally got the new non-brass-coloured doorknob I had been wanting for a long time now. I’m also getting pretty good at using my nostepinne which is a skill that will likely serve me well over time.

Yarn therapy. Wool meditation. Zen balls. (Ha!) Call it whatever you want, but I felt better, thanks to the magic of yarn balling.

Nostepinne: the low-tech way to wind your own center pull balls 2

For a long time I was a big supporter of balling any yarn I purchase, regardless of how they were when I purchased them. I even balled some nicely wound center pull cakes, believing that a ball is much easier to use, tidier, and less likely to tangle. 017

Yarn Barf

noun, slang

1. A big tangled mess of yarn that comes out of a center pull ball when trying to retrieve the end.

The origins of this belief that center pull balls are terrible is due to the commercially wound center pull balls. Not the cakes, but the center pull balls, like the Kroy Sock Yarn balls in the adjacent picture. Those types of balls can be center pull and are supposed to be, but holy hannah they are very often a pain in the butt. Yarn barf, tangles, the ball collapsing as you go, etc. So because  I had such a miserable time with those kind of center pull balls I assumed ALL center pull balls (including cakes) were awful, and therefore balled every bit of yarn I got my hands on.

This was a mistake.

Balls DO have their benefits (they are pretty good at not tangling, and it is easier and faster to ball up yarn than it is to make a center-pull ball/cake by hand) but there is a bucket load of downsides, the biggest being that they are BALLS, and therefore roll all over the place, including under the couch to collect dirt and dust and the various flotsam and jetsam of life that resides under couches. There also is the problem that the ball needs to move around and roll to unwind, which means the yarn doesn’t always smoothly and easily unwind as you knit. I find I have to pull out slack from the ball, knit, then pull out more slack, knit, etc. It is a pain.

When I finally left a center pull cake as it was and just used it as a center pull cake I was converted. What a magical experience it was! No tangles, no collapsing, no rolling under the couch. Just smooth, easy, happy knitting. Once I discovered the wonders of center pull cakes I looked dejectedly at my stash and all the balls and got pretty sad. So many balls of yarn that used to be center pull…

I resolved to convert my balled stash into a center pull stash.

My spoon nostepinne

Now, the obvious answer for making center pull cakes is a ball winder. I have a pretty fantastic swift (courtesy of my mother-in-law and father-in-law) and have been eyeing a ball winder for a time to complete the set, but I’m cheap. It is going to take me a while to work up the will to spend money on a ball winder. I then looked to other options, including DIY ball winders, and came across a device called a nostepinne. Weird word for what is a pretty simple tool. Basically, its a stick. It is a smooth stick, usually made of wood, that you use to wind center pull balls. You can get fancy dancy ones that are carved, you can get them in various widths, some have notches or grooves to hold the yarn, but seriously… its a stick.

I dug through my kitchen drawers and found a nice fat, smooth wooden spoon and decided to give it a try as a nostepinne. 2015-03-27 11.27.29The basic technique isn’t complicated and there are a lot of tutorials and explanations online for how to wind a ball using a nostepinne (I linked to a few at the bottom of this page), but the broad strokes steps are the following:

  1. Wind a starter section an inch or so wide. Just wind it around as you would normally until you have a good core to use for the “real” winding.
  2. Begin winding the yarn in a diagonal fashion (bottom right to top left is how I usually do it). Either use your fingers to hold it or catch the loops on the edge of previous loops in order to keep the diagonal loops from just slipping down the side.
  3. Continue to wind in a diagonal fashion while slowly rotating the nostepinne.

That’s it.  Well, sort of. Obviously this is the simple way of doing it and there are other fancier and perhaps nicer ways of doing it. There is a criss-cross method that results in a nicer looking ball and that probably has more stability and that looks a lot more like the cakes you get from a proper ball winder, but I haven’t quite figured it out yet, and doing it this basic diagonal way gets the job done. Once you’ve wound all the yarn you just side it off your nostepinne and you’re done!

I must confess that my first nosepinne-wound ball was a bit of a disaster. I accidentally wound my end (the end I would be pulling from the center to knit with) into the ball without noticing. The next time I tacked my end to the spoon nostepinne using a little hair elastic so that I wouldn’t lose it and then wound away. Lo and behold, it worked! It wasn’t beautiful or perfect, but it was definitely a center pull ball! Huzzah!

I have done a few since I have have some tips, or things I have found helpful:

  1. Be sure to secure the tail end to the nostepinne so that you don’t lose it later. Some nostepinnes have little notches or grooves for this. I just use a little elastic band. Do whatever works for you, but do secure it. It is very easy to accidentally wind that end in.
  2. Make sure your starter wrapped core (step 1) is substantial enough. You want some yarn accumulated so that when you start going diagonal there is something for the yarn to grip against. Otherwise the diagonal yarn will just slip and become a weird loopy mess.
  3. Don’t wind too tight, that isn’t good for your yarn AND your diagonal loops are more likely to slide down your ball.
  4. If you are having trouble keeping your diagonal loops from slipping try using a finger and a thumb as guides. Each wrap will hold the previous wrap in place, so your fingers just need to sort of prop the wraps up long enough to get wrapped over again.
  5. A tiny nosepinne-made center pull ball! Hurray!

    When a ball is done you need to secure the wrapping end somehow. You can’t just leave it loose because it will unwrap and make one hell of a mess. What I have found works is to make the last few wraps around the center of the ball snugly, and then tucking the end into one of those last wraps. It doesn’t need to be perfect or fancy, you just need it to not unravel on its own.

  6. After you slide your finished ball off your nostepinne, it helps to give it a bit of a squish. This helps it to collapse (in a good way) inside.
  7. If you’re going to use a spoon or some other random household thing as a nostepinne, try to find something a little wider than you think you need. If the thing you’re using as a nostepinne is too thin/narrow it can be hard to wind. I’d say thumb thickness is best.
  8. The more you do it, the easier it gets, the tidier your balls will be, so just keep trying!


Here are some additional resources on using a nostepinne: