Chaos Theory for Weavers

Does yarn sense your mood? If not, then how does it know to tangle when you are in a hurry?

Kathy Fitzgerald Apr 14, 2020 - 4 min read

Chaos Theory for Weavers Primary Image

Yarns look so innocent on the cone and on the tube. Photo by George Boe

Here is guest writer and weaver Kathy Fitzgerald with some musings on the battles that rage between yarn and weaver. —Susan

Skein of blue silk growing spherical,
Winding you off makes me lyrical
Until what I have got
Is a Gordian knot
For no reason remotely empirical.

I can’t be the only weaver who senses that fibers retain the vibrations of the living things from which they originated. What else explains the weird things that happen when a human picks up a seemingly inert length of string?

As soon as you touch them, yarns intuit your mood and act accordingly. Although probably the most common and frustrating ploy, impenetrable knots are only one of their tricks. When you’re in a hurry, you can almost hear the individual fibers rubbing against each other in glee, planning their campaign. Fibrous fibers excel here: think warping with mohair. If you’re preoccupied with something else, yarn knows it and quickly snags—pun intended—your full attention. Who hasn’t experienced unexplained umbrella-swift tangles and failures? Or ball- and bobbin-winder mayhem? What about that center-pull cake whose center pull cannot be located for love or money? Twisted and snapped warp ends in complex patterns are another favorite. Just try winding a warp chain with more than one thread at a time and tally all the ways they twist and coil and one-up each other. It’s like a miracle, an intensely annoying miracle.

secret life of yarn photo Kathy Fitzgerald in line

Seemingly nice and gentle yarn can turn on you in an instant. Photo by Kathy Fitzgerald

Sometimes cones and tubes come poorly wound (and, if I’m honest, it’s often the ones I’ve wound), and great loops of whatever-it-is fall off the end you’re not currently working from but impede progress anyway. The only solution is to unwind the cone contents onto the floor until the loop malfunction is reached and breached and then wind it all back on as mindfully as possible.

Helpful hint: If you are rewinding a cone by hand, grasp the pointy end firmly in your fist so that no loops come too close to that particular precipice.

A perpetual and foolhardy optimist, I start out looking on these aggravations as a game in which yarn presents me with a puzzle. In the spirit of fair play and waste-not-want-not, the yarn and I agree scissors are the method of last resort. Starting with my fingernails, I pluck away at what seems to be the center of the problem until I make it fluffier and worse. Then I turn to straight pins or needles to penetrate the labyrinth. One of my favorite untangling tools is a tiny awl I received as a gift from the woman who sold me my weaving bench. Yes, it’s very sharp and usually draws blood but can be extremely effective. When all these tools fail (which is usually at the same moment as my patience), then out come the trusty Fiskars. The knot’s gone, but there’s valuable yarn in the trash can.

Curses, another draw.

I suppose our best recourse is to be aware of the interconnectedness of all things and to respect the vibrations of all those others because in a cosmic sense, everything is one.

Well, that, and to keep the scissors handy.

KATHY FITZGERALD and her husband Tim pursue their respective solitary crafts in southeastern North Carolina. They may have invented social distancing.