Yarn Story: Special Singles

By Amelia © October 27, 2009

Many spinners seem to migrate to being plyers, spinning mostly 2-ply yarns. There are a special group who love singles, and spin many of them. There's the instant satisfaction of a single, the fact that you maximize your yardage-per-time. That trades off with the active twist it presents, and the need to control the drafting to get the thickness you want.

Therein lies the rub. Spinners become plyers because we learn to draft, and get very good at drafting -- we draft pretty much every fiber we can get our hands on about as fine as it will let us go. How fine is that? The finer the fiber, the finer our yarn, because what is happening is the feel of the individual fibers on our hands gives us a certain comfort level; fewer fibers, less comfort -- so thicker Romney fibers draft out into a thicker yarn, with the same number of fibers as the finer Merino fibers. Given those fine singles, we ply to get back to the thickness we want. I've a friend who spins the same single every time, and then plies 2, 3, 4, or even 5 strands together to get the thickness she desires in her yarn.

Developing the ability to stay present in your spinning and take control of the drafting will remove the need to make 5-plies from your standard too-fine single. It's tricky, though, if your spinning has become an automatic ability for you -- because you have to bring spinning back into the part of your mind that pays attention to what's going on, that can let you consciously control the drafting as you watch it. For me, this is Intentional Spinning writ large.

Now, some spinners just really can't get to that place. And Judith McCuin's book, The Intentional Spinner, has some great methods for the always-automatic spinner to adopt to alter their resulting singles.

If you want thicker singles on your wheel, try this:
  • Move to a larger flyer whorl -- this is a lower ratio, putting less twist in. remember, singles that will remain singles need only enough twist to hang together -- not enough to ply tightly. If you fold your singles over for a ply-back test, they should puff up and ply loosely. If they stay tight, they will be high-twist singles, which is a yarn classification worth study on its own -- see the work of Kathryn Alexander for her amazing use of high-twist singles.
  • Increase the tension on your brake band or double-drive band -- this increases the pull of the yarn out of your hands, so that you will let it go onto the bobbin with less twist and less drafting.
There are other changes you can try as well -- a thicker drive band and brake band will tend to make you spin a thicker yarn; a thicker leader on your bobbin helps you start out spinning a thicker yarn.

If you want to change your drafting habits, or develop a thick-single habit, I usually recommend pre-drafting the first time, down to the thickness you need for your singles, and then spinning without drafting. This is very hard for those of us with ingrained drafting habits. But if you can bring your drafting back under your conscious control, then you can alter how much you draft. Zero-out drafting by pre-drafting so you can see just how automatic drafting is for you, and then, unlearn it for a bit. Once you have control of your drafting back, pre-draft just a little, and see if you can draft just a little bit at your wheel. Re-gain control of your drafting with practice, introducing a little bit more at a time until you are in control of the drafting at your wheel.

Remember, how much fiber you draft defines how thick your yarn is. Figure out how much you need to draft for the thickness of the single you desire, and draft that much. No finer, no thicker.

Now that we've covered some ground on spinning singles, what makes these special? I followed all my guidelines above, definitely. They are a nice, low-twist single. But there are two other things about these singles that make them unique in my own spinning history.

First, the fiber: this is Pitt Island Merino. Go ahead, google it, or follow the link. These are cool! Semi-feral Merino on a small New Zealand island.

Second, the preparation: I purchased this from the farmer, who was also the processor of the fiber. They carded raw fiber into roving -- it might have been lightly washed, but there's still some lanolin, some sheepy smell, and some dirt in it. I seldom spin raw fiber, preferring to keep my wheels clean with scoured fibers. But, this was unique. Being lanolin-y, the fiber waited for a warm day so that it would slip controllably in drafting. It was actually a fairly fine roving, and I really wanted to see how it would wash out -- the unscoured roving felt fairly tacky and rough, but it was a Merino, after all. So, I didn't draft it much, and ended up with a 10-12 wpi single. The skein scoured into a nice Merino result -- not superfine, but lovely heathered natural color, and fine enough for a hat or scarf.

This lovely skein is available on my Etsy shop, By Our Hands. Perhaps it will add a special something to your next knitting project. There are 116 yards, 10-12 wraps per inch, in this 3.6 ounce skein.


See prior Yarn Stories for more tales from my wheel.

And for more tips on spinning singles, see Singles Yarn postings.


© 27 October 2009 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/


Dave Daniels said...

Singles or plied? That's always a question. When I sit down at the wheel, I've first got to decide HOW I'll use the yarn. For knitting, I like a nice 2 or 3-ply yarn. (Cabled gloves are 3-ply) But, for weaving, thin thin thin 2-ply is my ideal. I've got lots of bobbins of leftover singles that I'll waiting to try in weaving.
Your posts always remind me to consider other options and methods.

Sharon said...

As a new spinner I have difficulty not over-spinning a single, so I've mostly stuck with making two-ply yarn--but I really enjoy knitting and crocheting with fairly thick singles because of the beautiful stitch definition.

Your informative post make me excited to have another try at spinning a single on my only wheel, an Ashford Traditional.

I love the great information on your blog and need to spend more time reading through your great archive of information. The electric spinners you wrote about in your last post are very intriguing!

Anna McCarthy said...

I love thick singles. I spin Romney and Blue Faced Leicester and Perendale on my Louet all the time. I make very light but durable sweaters that I love. I also spin 2 and 3 ply on my Fricke electric because my ankles will not endure long sessions of fine yarn spinning any more. I really try not to get stuck in habitual yarn. The electric is not as soothing and spiritual, but I sure can turnout consistent fine yarn when I want...My new Perendale sweater is so bouncy and stretchy and light--I just love it.

pdxknitterati/MicheleLB said...

I'm a new spindler, and I keep spinning really skinny singles! So I ply. I'm trying to be more intentional about making fatter singles; I'll try your drafting tip.

Sandy said...

Spending a rainy morning reading new blogs. Just wanted to let you know I stopped by. I used to spin, years ago. Wish I could pick it up again. Just too many projects already!