What is yarn hacking?
Yarn hacking means taking commercial, mass produced yarn from your local big box store, combing it out into raw fiber, then blending it up and spinning it back into finished yarn.
Important side note:
This series works on the assumption that you already know how to spin fiber into yarn. There are loooots of very good how to spin tutorials online (That’s how I learned how to spin!) but this is specifically for intermediate or higher folks who are interested in adding another tool to their toolbox.
Side note for the side note:
I did not actually take my own advice – I taught myself to spin with hacked acrylic fiber because I had almost no budget. I would not recommend this for other beginners. It’s not really the best way to learn. (I think?)
Why hack commercial yarn?
Price: Cheaper per ounce then even the cheapest needlefelting wool out there. (and needlefelting wool is not that great for most clothing projects anyway)
Convenience: Fleece and fiber must normally be ordered online (and etsy is awesome for this) unless you are geographically local to a LYS that also focuses on spinning or a farm that raises fiber producing animals. (Or maybe your big box store has a section devoted to needlefelting, in which case you might be able to get some felting quality wool roving, or you are local to a once a year sheep and wool festival) On the other hand, almost everyone in the lower 48 (US-centric here, sorry) has a big box craft store or a wallmart with a yarn section that they can get to with a minimum of fuss or muss.
Customization: Look, when you are a baby yarnie it seems like those yarn aisles go on forever and have infinite variety and you could never ever need anything beyond that… until you fast forward a few years and are hitting your head on the limits.
- Yarn weight: this will vary a little by region, but for the most part 80% - 90% of the yarn at your local big box is going to be worsted to bulky weight. Because that’s what most people want to buy. If you are like me and prefer fingering to sport weight, this gets old fast. Especially when all the yarns that are available in those weights are designed for baby blankets and booties. (nothing against them but not my thing)
- Your own colorways: your favorite yarn line comes in all the colors you want but NOT in the painted/striping combos you want? You can make your own! Aside: this was my single biggest reason for doing this. I was raised by painters. A craft where I can’t create my own colorways is just begging me to screw around and find a way. Which leads me over to...
- Remix culture: I came at fiber arts having already had a longstanding background in remix culture – where we take the products of mass-produced corporate culture, break them apart, mash them back up and make nifty new things that are all our own. I seriously, seriously think that the fiber arts community needs more of this. It can bridge the divide between the low budget hobbyist and the professional cottage crafter, potentially improving the experience for both.
What kind of fiber can you get off the shelf?
- Acrylic: By far the most plentiful option out there for hacking. You’ll find the widest variety of stock colors, and because each manufacturer formulates their fiber just a leeetle differently, you can mix and match acrylic fiber in much the same way you would mix up different wool varieties.
- Wool: Pure wool skeins are harder to come by in your local big box, and are often blended with acrylic (not good for combing out in my experience) or are spun too tight to comb out easily. But there are some bulky “roving-esque” options that comb out easy and can then be worked with.
- Bamboo: Some big box stores will have bamboo or silk/bamboo blends available. They are a little more expensive per ounce then acrylic and wool, but still way cheaper then if you were buying roving.
I am a historical reenactor who spins as part of that reenactment. Can I do this?
Sure thing! There are hackable wool options out there. I will be talking about them shortly!
Downside – average grade sheepswool is the only “reenactor friendly” hackable animal fiber I have come across. If you want to work with flax, cotton, jute, silk, fancy wool, etc; the specialty shops are still your friend.
But I want to play with the fancy stuff!
This shiz ain’t for you. Yes, there are some alpaca blends in the nicer big box stores, but the percentage of alpaca to acrylic is normally low and they do not comb out well. Also, those yarns are higher on the price scale. I love alpaca and the other specialty fibers as much as the next spinner, really I do. But this is about hacking the simple stuff.