Fulling singles

For the past couple of months I have been spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle for knitting. When knitting with singles yarns the fabric may bias. Sometimes you want the bias for artistic reasons, but in my project I don’t. Instead I play with fulling singles.

I love spinning singles on my floor supported spindles. Typically I have used my singles as weft yarns in weaving project, and the energy in the yarn hasn’t made any difference in the woven textile.

Unbiased

This summer I bought Nancy Marchant’s Tuck stitches where all the samples were knit in singles. I totally fell for the structure and the stitch definition in the fabric and knew I wanted to challenge myself and experiment with a singles yarn in a knitted fabric. There are basically three solutions if you don’t want the yarn to bias:

  • You can use a balanced knitting pattern that prevents the bias, like ribbing, basketweave, garter stitch or moss stitch.
  • You can full the yarn
  • Also, you can knit alternately with yarns spun in different directions.

Fulling solutions

Come to think of it, I actually did all three, but for the purpose of this post I will focus on the fulling part. In Sarah Anderson’s book The spinner’s book of yarn designs I read that fulling is a light form of felting. The fibers in the yarn stick together and are prevented from living their energized selves. The singles will thereby calm down. Bonuses are that they will also be stronger and less prone to pilling than their unfulled equivalent.

Unfulled singles.
Unfulled singles.

There are few ways you can full your yarn. The three methods I have heard of are

  • steaming in a steamer. You put the yarn in a steamer and watch closely.
  • steaming with an iron. With this method you can hold a steaming iron above the skein still on the niddy noddy. This is perfect for warp yarn that you may want to stay reasonably straight.
  • shocking in hot and cold water.

What wools to full?

Before I write about my fulling process I will mention a few words about what wools to full. Not every type of woo fulls. Usually, what is generally called meat breeds and meat breed crosses don’t do a very good job of fulling. Others full when you glance sideways at them. Like the Värmland wool I used for this project. It has felted in the cut ends just by having been placed in a paper bag in my sofa bed together with other bags of wool. In this project I salute the fulling characteristics (after having cursed for a bit).

Noisy wool and pine cones

My favorite wool oracle Kia recently told me that you can listen to the wool to determine its felting possibilities before you actually try felting it. “Come on”, you may say, “you talk about listening to the wool all the time!” That is very true, but Kia means really listen. Orally.

Pine cones help explaining the scales on different kinds of wools. The old and rustling wools have scales that point outward. They catch on to each other for drafting but not enough for felting. The young and silent wools have scales that are snug to the fiber. These wools are champion welters.
Pine cones help explaining the scales on different kinds of wools. The old and rustling wools have scales that point outward. They catch on to each other for drafting but not enough for felting. The young and silent wools have scales that are snug to the fiber. These wools are champion welters.

Typically (and surely with exceptions) meat breeds and meet breed crosses rustle if you hold them by the ear and squeeze a bit. Other wools, like Swedish landrace and heritage breeds, are totally silent. Kia explains that on the noisy fibers the scales are pointing outwards, like ripe pine cones. That makes the wool easy to spin, but the felting abilities are not top notch since the scales don’t catch onto each other deep enough. The silent wools on the other hands, are like young pine cones with the scales close to the fiber. When agitated or shocked they close down, catching on to each other for dear life. Again, with exceptions from these examples.

Fulling singles

Until now I haven’t fulled yarn on purpose, so I just picked a method and fulled until I liked the result. I didn’t make any tests really, but followed my gut and dived headfirst into the full (pun very much intended) experience.

Shocking

I decided to shock my yarn in hot and cold water. Mainly because it seemed like the easiest way. After washing the yarn I filled two bowls with water – one with the hottest tap water (55 °C in this case) and the other with the coldest tap water (12°C). I read that some people filled the cold water bowl with ice cubes. Both methods seem to work well. The abrupt change in temperature shocks the wool and starts the felting process.

I am sure there are ways to microscopically determine a certain degree of fulling before you can actually see it. To make things easy for myself I just decided to go slow and trust my eyes and my hands in touching the yarn.

The strands in the right skein are still free to move while the strands in the left skein have started to catch on to each other.
The strands in the right skein are still free to move while the strands in the left skein have started to catch on to each other.

I simply put the skeins in one bowl, lifted, gently squeezed out the water and lowered it down in the other bowl. Back and forth until I noticed a difference. What I went for was what I had seen when I had previously accidentally felted skeins while dyeing. If this has never ever happened to you I will explain: The thing I look for is when the strands are no longer completely free to move around.

As soon as one skein was fulled to the degree I describe above I lifted it out of the water. The smallest skeins were faster to felt while the larger ones took a bit longer.

In the microscope

Writing about this actually inspires me to look at the yarn in my loupe. On the pictures below you can see that the fibers in the unfulled yarn (left) are looser in the spin. The fibers in the fulled yarn (right) are more compact in the yarn.

So what happened?

Looking at all my fulled skeins hanging to dry made me a bit nervous. It’s not like you can change your mind about fulling. It sort of sticks. What if I had felted all of them?

To find out I reskeined the fulled skeins after they had dried. The strands did stick together a bit, but no yarn was broken or damaged during the process. The reskeining also gave me the opportunity to calculate the new length after fulling. Out of the 15 skeins I fulled most shrunk only one meter (about 1 % of the total length), one shrunk around 3 meters.

I am very happy with my fulled yarn. The skeins look and feel equally fulled and work well in my knitting project. They yarn feels like it has a body – well rounded and strong. I trust that it will not break, despite its singleness. It is a pleasure to knit and doesn’t split.

Fulled singles with lovely stitch definition in a tuck stitch pattern.
Fulled singles with lovely stitch definition in a tuck stitch pattern.

Going back to that book with the single yarn samples I admired so much I think this yarn has potential to become something really lovely.

Happy spinning!


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