Creating Sparkly Yarn with Sequins

 My inspiration this month comes from my visit with friend and fellow “Yearning to…” author Melissa Ludden Hankins. I was fortunate enough this summer to take a trip to Massachusetts to see my old friend. We walked together with our children from Melissa’s charming 1700’s home to the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Massachusetts. I had someone at the museum café take our picture in front of a sculpture. Later, it became clear why I was so drawn to it: it was one giant sequin! Oh, I do love sparkly things, which is the topic of my column this month.

I have been using my spinning wheel to create what I call decorative binders. These are yarns that you can use in many applications: by themselves, plied with another yarn, or even over a plied yarn. Use them to add a little pizzazz to a woven scarf, knitted sweater, or just to make a completely fanciful yarn.

Choose a very strong thread or yarn for the base on which the sequins will be threaded. I like to use threads that cannot be easily broken with your hands. And the reason I use this technique for attaching accoutrements is that once they are secured with the binding thread to the base thread the sparklies don’t move. This is very handy when you are knitting and don’t want the sequins or beads flipped to the back of your work.

Sequins come in all sizes shapes and colors, so there is lots to choose from. If you are not one of those “sparkly” people, you could also use this technique for beads, fake flowers, leftover bits of felt, or anything you can thread on a needle.

Equipment and Supplies

For this technique you will need:

– Spinning wheel

– Lazy kate

– Slow whorl

– A half-filled bobbin

– Two spools of sewing thread or fine yarn

– Sequins

Melissa and Stephanie

Melissa (left) and Stephanie in Salem, MA

You can find Mylar, sparkly, and variegated threads at your local sewing or craft store that will put bling in your creation. Choose a sequin that will travel easily through your orifice while the thread draws on. For this project I used the Schacht Sidekick with the standard flyer and orifice. (For larger sequins, you could use a Bulky Plyer Flyer.)

To set up your wheel, you’ll want to put a large pulley (whorl) on the flyer to slow the speed of your flyer so that very little twist is added. This technique requires a lot of stops and starts, so if you and your wheel are relatively new friends or just getting reacquainted, you’ll want to take some time to just treadle, stop, and start again. Whether you are using Scotch tension or double drive, the tension should be relatively high, strong enough to draw the yarn on quickly but not so strong that you feel like you have to hold the yarn back.

Begin by looking at the twist in your thread. Though it’s difficult to see without magnification, by holding the thread between your fingers and twisting it to the right (righty tighty, like a screw) you can observe if you are increasing or decreasing twist. This is important to know when you begin to create your yarn. If you have a thread that takes very little right twist to send it into a tangled over- plied mess, you might want to use a left twist when you are securing the sequins. Right twist can be used, but if the yarn already has a strong right twist you will run into a lot of kinks as the threads want to wind around each other while plying. This really isn’t a problem but will create more joins. This is where sampling, especially if you are planning a project, comes in handy.

Creating decorative yarns can be a little fussy, but after practicing this technique, you’ll find that it becomes easy. Give yourself time for your hands and brain to figure out how they should work together, and be gentle on yourself and your body. The process sounds complicated, but if you read through the next section and view the video, all will be clear.

First, thread a needle with your base thread. Then, slide a small handful of sequins onto this base thread. Place the base thread with the sequins and your binding thread on a lazy kate. (I like to keep the base thread with sequins closest to me, and the binding thread as far away as possible.) Sometimes you will need more tension on one thread than the other. If this occurs, I usually lace one thread between my toes on the foot closest to the lazy kate. This difficulty usually only arises when using sewing thread. If you are using a handspun yarn you can tension one bobbin on the lazy kate.

Now, tie both threads to the leader of your half-full bobbin. Ply these threads together for a couple inches. Now, hold the base thread in your non-dominant hand and slip some of the sequins up into the palm of your hand. Use your thumb and forefinger to move the sequin up to the end of your ply. Gently hold the sequin on your forefinger keeping the tension taut on the base thread. (The binding thread should be at about a 45-degree angle to your base thread on your forefinger slanting toward your dominant hand.) Using your dominant hand’s forefinger move the binding thread in a clockwise motion (if you are right hand dominant) keeping the binding thread underneath the sequin until you come back to the top. Let the twist enter the threads to hold the sequin in place. (This is where the video is worth a 1,000 words!)

Yarn with attached sequins

Yarn with attached sequins

Pull the binding thread under the sequin and up...

Pull the binding thread under the sequin and up…

s...then over the top and back to the side to secure.

…then over the top and back to the side to secure.

You’ll notice I left the treadling part out of securing the sequin. Remember earlier when I told you to practice starting and stopping with your wheel? If you build up twist in your initial ply, you can then stop and place the sequin and after wrapping it with the binding thread, move your hands down about an inch so that the twist will zip down the yarn. Give a couple more treadles to ply until the next spot you want a sequin, place the sequin and repeat. After a while you will not need to start and stop; you will naturally slow and speed up as needed. Make sure to change hooks on your flyer often so that you wind onto the bobbin evenly.

When you need to add more sequins to your binding thread, cut the base thread a couple inches away from your last sequin. Thread another handful onto the base thread. Open up the ply and place two inches of the base thread between the last two sequins secured. Hold the base threads together. Treadle, plying the base and binding threads together to secure them. Because some threads are very slippery, you might find that the only way to truly secure the base threads together is to tie them. If this is the case, tie the base threads together where you want the next sequin to be. The sequin and the binding thread will hide the knot. After the binder has secured the sequin, cut the excess base threads from the knot.

To finish a skein, tie a knot at the end of the yarn. You can use this decorative binder with another yarn, plying it in the opposite direction to which both yarns were last spun.

To set the skein I suggest you steam it and not wash it. (The color might wash off your sequins.) If the finished product requires washing, it is best to spot clean or dry clean.

This is just one way to create a sparkly yarn. I encourage you to trust yourself and create what

most inspires you. Inspiration is waiting all around you. And don’t be surprised if you start seeing sequins absolutely everywhere!

You can catch me teaching this technique in person at the Scotts Bluff Valley Fiber Festival in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, September 16, 2011.

secured sequin

Secured sequin

ply the base & binding threads between sequins

Ply the base & binding threads between sequins

Ply a few inches of base and binding threads to end

Ply a few inches of base and binding threads to end

(click here to view the video)

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Stephanie Flynn-Sokolov

Stephanie Flynn Sokolov trained in accessory design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She teaches classes in weaving and spinning around the U.S. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.