This article discusses wick materials for making bubble wicks, the "string" used in tri-string and garland wands. For more information about tri-string loop styles and rigging bubble gear see the Tri-String Loop Styles article and the articles in the Rigging category.
Wicks, Cords, and LoopsEditWick is the term used for any material used to soak-up and release bubble juice. The wick may be string wrapped around a rigid wand's hoop to allow it hold more bubble juice or the material used for a Tri-String wand's "loop".
String, yarn, twine and other cord-like materials are common wicks. The choice of material is important. Some materials are better-suited to making bubbles than others. Some materials may (and this is a point of some controversy) be better-matched to some bubble juice than others. Natural materials tend to work better than purely synthetic materials but there are notable exceptions. The construction of the cord/yarn is as important as what it is made from. For example, a loosely braided yarn may work far better than the more common twisted version of yarn made from the same material.
The material from which the wick is made from is not the only consideration. There is significant variation between the suitability of similar materials from different manufacturers. Similar-looking 3/16" diamond-braid clothesline (with a hollow core) from two different manufacturers can behave very differently.
It is recommended that you experiment not just with different materials but with materials from different manufacturers.
Whether a particular material works well for an individual is partly a matter of personal preference and 'style'. To some people, absorbent cords that take on a lot of bubble juice feel right while to others the same cord may feel heavy and unresponsive. How you feel about a particular cord can make a big difference in terms of your success or failure.
Many people find a material that they like but not in a thickness that suits them. It is a simple matter to make custom cords from multiple strands of a material.
Twisted cords. See Rope and Cord Making for more information about making custom cords/rope.
Braided and Crocheted Wicks. Some people make custom cords by braiding or crocheting together string, thread, or twine. Many people swear by wicks made by braiding together the strands of de-constructed mop yarn or thin crochet yarn/string.
Looped-end mop heads can be an excellent source of wick material. A single mophead can provide 300 feet or more of material. Some mopheads provide almost 600 feet! Not all mop yarn works well, but some mop yarns are among the very best tri-string wick materials.
Not all mop yarn is equally suitable. See the Mop Heads article for some recommendations and tips.
A great many of the giant bubbles seen here on the wiki are made with composite tri-string loops that use mop yarn for the top-string and a lightweight bottom string (usually a single strand of twine or strand of deconstructed mop yarn).
100% cotton twine, yarn, rope, knit cloth (jersey material), gauze, and piping are popular loop materials. Make sure that the material is 100% cotton. There are many strings and ropes being sold as 100% cotton that are mostly polyester!Cotton Twine, Butcher's twine (also called cooking twine) is a versatile material. Twine is twisted string. A single strand is light and responsive and multiple strands can be twisted together (or braided) to make custom cords. A favorite of many bubblers is the 100% cotton twine available from Bed, Bath & Beyond. For more information, see the articles in the Twine category. Edward Spiegel often uses a single strand of soda-washed twine as the bottom string when making giant bubbles. Glowby the Bubbler indicates that the twine sold by Sears as Wellington 2lb wrapping twine is very similar once boiled to the often favored Bed, Bath, & Beyond twine. Glowby also advises that Bed, Bath and Beyond sometimes has 8-strand or 12-strand twines and that the 8-strand version works much better. See Edward's blog entry about BBB twine variations. NOTE JULY 2017: Glowby reports that the 8-strand twine he is finding at Bed, Bath and Beyond is no longer as good as the twine that they have carried in the past. He is not finding it as satisfactory (even after soda-washing) as the stuff that we have used in previous years.
T-shirt yarn . T-Shirt yarn is the name given to strips of t-shirt or jersey fabric cut from t-shirts (usually lightweight cotton undershirts). This is a popular and easy to find wick material. Using a a simple spiral-cutting technique you can get more than 100 feet of "yarn" from an extra-large cotton undershirt. See the T-Shirt Yarn page for more information.
100% cotton medical gauze bandage (very hard to find in the U.S. these days) has been mentioned as very effective,Diamond-braid cord. Some 3/16" diamond-braid cotton cord (often sold as clothesline cord) is very effective after the core (often polyster) has been removed. The 3/16" 100% cotton cord sold as SecureLine (it is made by Lehigh) at Walmart is one of the better off-the-shelf wick materials that we have found and was used to make many of the videos on this site. You must remove the core from the cord for best performance. See this video to see how to remove it. See more at: SecureLine Diamond Braid Cord.
Cotton Piping. Cotton piping has been found to be quite effective by many. Mike Miller has created some great bubbles with it. He prefers Wright's 6/32 inch Cotton Piping Cord which can be found at Joanne's Fabrics among other places.
Soda Washing WicksEdit
Soda Washing is a method of treating materials that is very effective for some (but certainly NOT all) wicks. Cotton twine seems to benefit strongly from this treatment.
See Soda Washing for detailed instructions. Brian Lawrence has discovered that shrinking cotton twine by boiling followed by treatment with washing soda can radically increase the twine's capacity and effectiveness as a bubble wick. It is not clear whether this technique can be applied to other materials or not. It is not clear (August, 2012) whether this technique is a shortcut for breaking in the twine (which will naturally fluff up after repeated use) or whether it improves twine even more than natural breaking-in does. Below is a picture comparing, soda washed (and dyed) twine, well-used twine from the same source (Bed, Bath and Beyond), and unused unwashed twine.
The effectiveness of this technique has been confirmed by several people that have compared treated and untreated wicks -- including a few sets of blind testing where the person making the bubbles was not aware that they were comparing differently treated wicks.
(Updated July 2013) Glowby has performed some comparisons using bleach, washing soda, and hydrogen peroxide to treat cotton wicks. He found that washing soda was the most effective of these methods for increasing wick capacity. However, he also found that bleach-treated wicks seemed to shed their juice more rapidly which is beneficial when there are brisk winds. When bleaching, you have to be careful as a difference of minutes during the bleaching can is the difference between a great wick and something that falls apart. Thread:3886
See also: BBB Twine Exploration
Bamboo yarn and fabric is a bit of a natural/synthetic hybrid. It is not made out of bamboo fibers directly. Rather, bamboo cellulose is extracted and turned into a fiber using a process similar to the one used to create Rayon from wood. Bamboo yarn is favored by many bubblers. It seems to take on and release bubble juice very well so that when the material has been exhausted by a bubble, it does not retain a lot of extra juice. It is reported to be very friendly for closing and releasing bubbles. (Some materials can store a lot of bubble juice but are not so friendly when it comes time to release the bubble).
100% bamboo yarn is also quite light in comparison to the amount of juice that it takes on. However, 100% bamboo yarn (as of March 2011) is increasingly hard to find. Bamboo yarns currently (March 2011) tend to be dominated by blends. Bamboo/Soya has been mentioned by one enthusiast as being surprisingly bubble friendly.
BREAKING IN! Some bamboo yarn appears to require more breaking in than others. In fact, some bamboo yarn will perform absolutely terribly until it is broken in. Glowby The Bubbler has reported that a few methods can be used to break it in. One technique is to gently boil the yarn. (Glowby boils it for 30 minutes then soaks it in dishwashing liquid and water .) If you don't use that method 5 or so use-cycles (use, rinse, dry) after initial handwashing (with water and dishwashing liquid). After that, it performs spectacularly. The reason for this seems to be that it is treated with some sort of sizing that is fairly tenacious, perhaps to make up for its general fragility. Unlike cotton, which is sturdy, you can't just throw a skein into a washing mahine to pre-age it.
Tencel® is the registered trade name for a type of lyocell, a biodegradable material made from wood pulp cellulose. Fabric sold under the this brand specifically is manufactured by Lenzing AG. Often said to be environmentally friendly, it is fully biodegradable and made from trees managed for sustained harvest. The fabric is very breathable and moisture wicking.://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-tencel.htm
Jute twine is very effective for tri-string wands. It holds and easily releases a lot of bubble juice. For best performance, it requires some breaking in which softens the fibers. There are a few drawbacks to jute: it is very fuzzy which can froth up the bubble juice with repeated dipping, it tends to twist on itself. You can reduce the tendency to twist on itself by carefully retying the loop once the twine has been broken in and carefully checking for the tendency to twist on itself. If it does twist on itself, twist one end of the untied loop a few times and try again. If the loop gets twistier, twist the loose ends (after untying) in the opposite direction.
Enter 'jute' in the search box to see examples of bubbles made with jute twine.
Other Yarn Edit
Excellent results have been reported by people using other sorts of yarn. It is clear that both natural and synthetic materials are capable of providing excellent results. With so many varied yarn products, we are sure that there are a host of untried products that can work great. If you have trouble finding any of the recommended wick materials, explore yarn shops and experiment. Keep in mind that you do not need super-absorbent yarn. The secret of great bubble wicks is the ability to release the juice evenly. Giant bubbles don't require as much bubble juice as you might think. Many poor performing yarns soak up a lot of liquid and dump it all at once.Loops & Threads Links (brand) Pre-braided acrylic/wool/polyester blend knitting yarn. This knitting yarn, purchased at Michael's craft store, has been tested as a top-string wick with excellent results. See Edward's blog entry (which includes pictures of bubbles made with this yarn). This yarn is extremely lightweight when dry (much lighter than the mop yarns that I typically use for top strings) but seems to hold more juice than mop yarn when wet. When dipped, it picks up a lot of excess juice that you should let drip back into your dipping container. It might be categorized as heavy/drippy when wet. So far (Sept. 2014), it seems like an excellent top-string material but (for my taste) is too heavy/drippy to be used as a bottom string. This yarn has a very fast release hence it's drippiness. Make your bubbles fast and you can make enormous bubbles without drips. Grow the bubble slowly and you may have a drippy bubble.