What do you use singles for?

Common spinning philosophy is that you "have to ply" so that your yarn is balanced. After all, if singles are unbalanced, and intrinsically they are, then they are hard to work with. Right? Well, yes-and-no. Like all things in life, the philosophy has its nay-sayers. There are folks who only learn to spin singles, never ply, and work with their singles quite happily. They get confused when other spinners walk up to them and tell them their yarn is "wrong" because it isn't plied.

And, I agree -- it isn't wrong to not ply. The key is to understand what you are working with. My bestie, D, spins singles and crochets up a storm. Her crochet is lovely and her singles are gorgeous, strong yarn.

So, how do you work with singles? what do you use them for?

First off, if you want your singles to behave when you work with them, you have some options. You can block your yarn -- hang a weight from it while it dries to stretch it out. This keeps the yarn calm while you work with it, though since it is at maximum stretch it isn't very elastic. If I did this with knitting or crochet yarn, I would use a slightly larger needle with the yarn and then I would wash the item in warm water so the yarn could relax and puff up, regaining some of its elasticity, after I made the item.

Singles in knitting can bias. If blocked beforehand, you may not be aware of it happening -- in fact, they won't bias until you wash the item in warm water. And, there are stitches you can use to avoid bias from singles. Seed stitch, moss stitch, garter stitch -- any knit stitch that puts purls above knits repeatedly will prevent biasing from the active twist in the single.

Another way to make singles behave and prevent bias in knitting at the same time is to full the yarn. Wash it repeatedly in warm and cold water, agitating it. With fine wools or fibers (merino, cashmere, angora) it takes very little effort to full the skein. With long wools or smooth fibers (cotswold, suri alpaca) it takes more effort to full the skein. So, test the skein as you are fulling it and stop before it turns from a skein of yarn into a fulled yarn-necklace. Re-skein it while it is damp or as soon as it dries, to separate the strands. Fulled yarn has the twist locked in place, so although it isn't technically balanced, it also no longer exhibits kinkiness from active twist. It will knit calmly and the fabric will not bias.

Weaving with singles is exciting -- all that active twist has to do something. It's fun to explore with mixed-twist fabric, stripes of S singles and Z singles in the warp. To keep warp singles calm, it's standard practice to douse them in a "sizing agent" -- basically a rinsable starch to keep them stiff while weaving but rinsed out when the item is done so their active twist reasserts itself.

When you weave S singles and S singles against each other, they lock in place (similarly with Z and Z), and do not buckle or bias as a fabric. The fun happens with S singles against Z singles -- the combination puckers and buckles, creating a very textured fabric. Combining singles and balanced plied yarn gives you something partway between the two -- a mild texturing to the fabric similar to the "tracking" you can see with some yarns.

My bestie D tells me that crochet doesn't bias with singles, and she should know :-) I think that's because crochet goes up and down, left and right -- all the different directions keep the single's active twist at bay.

I tried embroidery with singles recently...ummm, it was a brief, unhappy experience. I haven't heard of people using singles for embroidery, but I also hadn't been cautioned against it. So, I tried. I now see why all my DMC floss is plied, and my next handspun embroidery project will use a balanced plied yarn.

That said, I have been doing a fair bit of Nalbinding lately, now that I am offering it regularly at Bazaar Girls in Port Townsend. Traditionally, wool Nalbinding is done with singles. It's great for separating the yarn into the yard-long lengths used in Nalbinding, and also for the felted joins that make it seem like Nalbinding is one continuous yarn.

Those are the needle arts I have explored with singles yarn. I'd love to hear if you have experience with singles yarn in another needle art, and if you would recommend it or not. How would it fair in: tatting, sprang, punchneedle, rug hooking, kumihimo, or your favorite needle art?


There are quite a few entries about singles yarn on Ask The Bellwether. These are a few of my favorites:

© January 1, 2014 by Amelia of Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.com/

1 comment:

Raubmaus & Pfotenprinz said...

Hi there! :-)

I *do* use my singles for embroidery. There are two secrets: First, let your singles set for a long time. A really long time. I wind them around paper towel rolls and just leave them untouched for several months. The second is "choose your fabric wisely". The looser the weave, the better (a thick, but loosely woven linen works well). It also works on felted items, but one has to stitch very carefully and slowly.

Great blog, thank you for sharing your spinning experiences with us!